THE ALBUM -- Dixie Dregs, "Dregs of the Earth," Arista (AL9528). THE SHOW -- At the Bayou, Thursday at 8 and 11. "Dregs of the Earth," the Dixie Dregs' latest album, pulls the listener into a bizarre experimental rock soundstage, ripe for fantasies. It's an absorbing maze of blues and boogie instrumentals, one that's great in small doses.
Known for their Mahavishnu Orchestra-styled bluegrass music, the Atlanta-based quintet sustains that comparison with this LP, written and produced by Dregs guitarist Steve Morse. Without any vocal assist, the tracks are as varied as possible: breaking from piano boogie to dreamy string expressions, merging bluegrass banjo with screeching electric guitar runs.
Yet, because it lacks any vocal distinction, the album ends up being too much of a good thing. In fact, one Dixie Dregs LP is all the average collector really needs -- after that, one intricate instrumental blurs with the next.
Only a couple of cuts sound "Dixie"-ish. "Pride of the Farm" has a country twang and bluegrass fiddle sound; "Broad Street Strut" is an easy, upbeat cut with lovely piano and guitar riffs that could be called southern. But progressive rock numbers are too loosely oriented to time and space to be given any regional label.
Perhaps the most accessible of these flights of fantasy is "Twiggs Approved" (in memory of the group's former road manager). The track has a strong, slow beat and steady bass line with jazzy keyboard punctuation. High strings offset a deep synthesizer growl with airy trills; instruments weave through dark and light moods, merging and surfacing for quick solo spots.
A meandering nine-minute suite, "I'm Freaking Out," runs the gamut from hot, short breaks to melodic, cool passages. It starts slowly with lingering piano notes, adds drums and then plugs in: electric piano, organ, violins, viola. The freak-out is confirmed with sci-fi synthesizer and wailing guiter wierdness.
With their reputation for instrumental exotica firmly intact after the "Dregs of the Earth" album, the Dixie Dregs will boogie, strut and generally freak-out when they play in town next week.