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Four Fresh Flavors in the '50s Rockabilly Recipe


SANTA ANA — The '90s rockabilly revival came to Orange County in a big way Saturday, with a four-band lineup at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana. Fortunately, each offered its own variations on the familiar recipe and demonstrated just how wonderfully timeless this raw, stripped-down sound can be.

Veteran singer-guitarist Ronnie Dawson capped the 4 1/2-hour program with a generous, rousing, nearly two-hour performance that, for the most part, placed his feet firmly on modern soil. Unlike many veteran performers who milk their oldies while touring, this likable Texan drew heavily from his two most recent albums, 1994's "Monkey Beat" and this year's "Just Rockin' & Rollin'."

His music has a fresh, contemporary feel to it, particularly on the newest release. Dawson and his mates--including guest guitarist Eddie Angel of Los Straitjackets--created an atmosphere ripe for adventure and growth.

The 57-year-old Dawson--who headlines tonight at Linda's Doll Hut in Anaheim--took it one step further in concert with the help of a young and impressive backing band. Lead guitarist Tjarko Jeen, upright-bassist Kevin Smith and drummer Lisa Pankratz (who has toured with the Austin-based Derailers)--all excellent players in their 20s--displayed both youthful zeal and an obvious kinship with this kind of roots music.

The foursome seemed to delight in discovering new nooks to explore as numerous songs were extended beyond their short studio versions. Jeen roamed into a riveting, bluesy solo midway through the swampy "Rockinitis," and Dawson and Pankratz engaged in a wild call-and-response frenzy during "Rockin' in the Cemetery."

Sure, many of the newer songs cover such familiar thematic ground as love's ups and downs, rockin' and partyin', and fast cars. And of his older material, the underdeveloped "Congratulations to Me," oh-so-familiar "Party Time" and cliche-ridden "V Eight Ford Boogie" were notably musty.

Still, it's easy to forgive such missteps when, as Dawson put it, "We do a lot of songs about crazy things."

Thank goodness. As Dawson sang, "You gotta hop / You gotta flop / Baby, you've got a lot" in the playfully rhyming "Wham Bam Jam," he gave a reminder that not taking rock 'n' roll too seriously can be a pretty joyful thing.

Anaheim's Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys similarly infuse their traditional sound with a dose of modern-day vibrancy. Presenting a mixture of western swing, rockabilly and honky tonk, the second-billed quintet served up nearly an hour's worth of engaging patter, accomplished musicianship and smartly written material.

Front man Robert "Big Sandy" Williams led the way with his smooth, often silky vocals. The band was equally strong delivering earnest love songs ("Music to Her Ears,") boisterous, party-it-up anthems ("Juiced") or twisted, good-natured declarations ("My Sinful Days Are Over.")

Santa Ana's Round Ups preceded Big Sandy with a percolating, crowd-pleasing set of western swing. The Round Ups are led by the husband-wife team of steel guitarist Buddy Dughi and bassist Little Susie. Their appealing set ranged from faithful Buddy Holly and Hank Williams covers to several promising originals, including the mini-drama "The Mink on Her Back Brought the Wolf to My Door."

Opening act Inbred Jed was well versed in a variety of musical styles and offered an "aw-shucks" presentation akin to that of Southern Culture on the Skids. Highlights from the Inland Empire-based trio's 30-minute set included "Homeward Bound," a careening, surf-rock instrumental titled "Surf Nazi" and Ken Wessel's fiery guitar soloing during "Doghouse."

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