Album review: DIXIE DREGS – Dregs Of The Earth, Unsung Heroes, Industry Standard (reissue)

DIXIE DREGS - Dregs Of The Earth, Unsung Heroes, Industry Standard (reissue)

BGO Records [Release date 06.10.14] www.bgo-records.com

OK.  I own up.  I thought Dixie Dregs might have been another Poco or Flying Burrito Brothers.  Yes, I knew that this was Steve Morse’s first major calling card, but even though liking his recent work I hadn’t investigated further.

Enter a three-album-on-two-CD set from BGO.  This corrects my warped and inexcusable ignorance.  I am sure I won’t be alone in giving the band a welcome reappraisal.  What emerges is very credible jazz rock fusion, poles apart from Poco and a considerable distance from Deep Purple.

As Neil Daniels’ liner notes explain, the band’s roots were in the early 1970s and their debut was released in 1975 in limited quantities.  They were picked up by Capricorn Records (home of The Allman Brothers Band) for whom they made three albums.

These reissues come from the Arista years in the early 1980s.  Dregs Of The Earth won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.  As you might expect there are virtuoso performances from Morse and not forgetting that Winger’s Rod Morgenstein was on drums.

The album typifies the band’s early meld of southern rock flavours, bluegrass and jazz/rock.  Although a country rocker like ‘Pride O’ The Farm’ sits uneasily with the fusion of ‘Twiggs Approved’ , Weather Report-ish ‘The Great Spectacular’ and the Return To Forever-on-steroids ‘I’m Freaking Out’.  ***1/2

The title of 1981′s follow-up may describe the band in the 1970s.  Unsung Heroes majors on the band’s fusion flavours, with the frenetic opener ‘Cruise Control’ and the Mahavishnu-esque ‘Divided We Stand’ with a great Morse solo and Allen Sloan’s violin harmonies.  ‘Attila The Hun’ brings to mind the work of David Cross (King Crimson) whilst ‘Go For Baroque’ gives Morse the chance to flex his classical fingers, yet another musical strand that permeates these albums.   ****1/2

To round off this excellent package, on Industry Standard (1982) the Dregs changed tack and included vocals (Patrick Simmons on ‘Ridin’ High’ and Alex Ligertwood on ‘Crank It Up’) and there’s a short classical piece featuring Yes man Steve Howe.  The reflective ‘Conversation Piece’ is only edged here by the wonderful ‘Vitamin Q’.

The band were evidently aiming for wider commercial acceptance but the mix of AOR and jazz/classical fusion was evidently confusing.  Although considered by many to be the band’s finest soon after they split, reforming briefly in 1988 and then – in 1994 – for the album ‘Full Circle’.  ****

For Morse-watchers, a must have, and for those guilty people like me, a rude if not unpleasant awakening.

Review by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.


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