released May 25th, 2010
from the album - Saint Ex
from all music
One of the many neo-hippie jam bands inheriting the road-warrior mantle left behind by the Grateful Dead, Widespread Panic established a devout grassroots following on the strength of constant touring and a loose, rootsy brand of Southern rock informed by jazz and blues textures. The group's origins date to 1982, when vocalist John Bell and guitarist Mike Houser first began playing together while attending college in Athens, GA. When bassist Dave Schools left academia to join the duo the next year, Widespread Panic were officially born. The band recorded its debut single, "Coconut Image," in 1986; drummer Todd Nance joined soon after, followed by the addition of percussionist Domingo "Sunny" Ortiz and finally keyboardist John "JoJo" Hermann.
Widespread Panic released their energetic debut LP, Space Wrangler, in 1988 on the tiny Landslide label. After several years of relentless touring, they signed to major label Capricorn, which issued the group's eponymously titled sophomore effort in 1991. Appearances on the 1992 and 1993 H.O.R.D.E. tours greatly expanded their fan base prior to 1993's Everyday, while 1994's Ain't Life Grand spawned the AOR hits "Airplane" and "Can't Get High." After teaming with fellow Georgian Vic Chesnutt to record 1995's Nine High a Pallet under the name Brute, Widespread Panic reconvened for the album Bombs and Butterflies, released in 1997. In the spring of 1998, the band released Light Fuse, Get Away, and 'Til the Medicine Takes followed a year later. Another Joyous Occasion (2000) and Don't Tell the Band (2001) marked the band's first albums of the new millennium. In June 2002, Widespread Panic returned to the road for their annual summer tour of the States, but within a month, founding member and lead guitarist Michael Houser had to bow out. Houser was battling cancer and returned home to Athens, GA, to rest while guitarist George McConnell stepped in to finish the tour. On August 10, 2002, Houser succumbed to complications from pancreatic cancer at the age of 40.
Houser's wish was that the band would carry on after his passing, and with McConnell becoming a permanent replacement, Widespread Panic did just that. Their next full-length album, Ball, was released in April of 2003. Night of Joy and άber Cobra, both of which appeared in late March 2004, featured live selections from two of the band's shows at The House of Blues in Myrtle Beach, SC, while they toured in support of Ball. These marked Widespread Panic's second and third live efforts, follow-ups up to 2000's Another Joyous Occasion. They returned to the studio later that year for the Halloween-themed covers record Jackassolantern, and again in 2006 for Earth to America. Free Somehow, the band's tenth studio album (and first with newcomer guitarist Jimmy Herring), followed in early 2008, with Dirty Side Down appearing in 2010.
Widespread Panic have struggled for a long time to bring the excitement of their live shows onto a studio recording. On their earliest records Space Wrangler, their self-titled sophomore album, and Ain't Life Grand the band didn't worry about it and the albums were mostly solid and engaging. As WP's live reputation began to spread through the jam band scene, however, that began to change; live records began appearing in streams. In the interim, WP seemingly forgot how to record in a studio. On 2006's Earth to America, WP began addressing the issue with some success. When Jimmy Herring joined for 2008's Free Somehow, they were still struggling with it, but formal song structures were beginning to replace framework riffs for long instrumental jams. On Dirty Side Down, WP finally learned that it is possible to have two distinct personas: one in the studio and another in concert. The concentration on songwriting here is evident from the first moments of the opening track, "Saint Ex." Complex melodic structures, dynamics, classic rock textures, and harmonic balance are exemplified as acoustic and electric instruments interweave seamlessly in a dreamy intro before a Latin percussion groove-laden vibe takes hold thanks to the hand drumming of Domingo S. Ortiz and bassist Dave Schools. Drifting, laid-back vocals are juxtaposed against hard rock guitars from singer John Bell and Herring along with Todd Nance's drum interludes. This is underscored on the driving, percussive blues-rocker "North," with blazing guitars, John Hermann's B-3, and Ortiz's congas. The title track is a knotty yet breezy Americana-styled rocker, while the ballad "This Cruel Thing," with a militaristic snare, Bell's moaning vocal, and an emotive refrain backed by Anne Richmond Boston, is a genuine surprise. "Shut Up and Drive" finds the tightrope between shuffling rocker and guitar jam, holds it tautly, and walks it without faltering. "Clinic Cynic," with Hermann's trademark piano work and producer John Keane's pedal steel, is a straight-up yet laid-back country-rocker. "Jaded Tourist" is a Southern rocker in the grand tradition without giving in to obvious tropes; it also brings gritty funk and soul to the party. The interplay between Hermann and the guitars locks the groove. At an hour long which may not bother Spread Heads Dirty Side Down is a tad long, but when the songs are this good, WP gets a pass. This is easily the band's finest studio offering in over a decade.
1 Saint Ex Widespread Panic 6:47
2 North Pampoon 5:42
3 Dirty Side Down Widespread Panic 3:57
4 This Cruel Thing Chestnutt 4:30
5 Visiting Day Widespread Panic 5:27
6 Clinic Cynic Widespread Panic 4:35
7 St. Louis Widespread Panic 2:52
8 Shut Up and Drive Widespread Panic 6:44
9 True to My Nature Hutchens, Widespread Panic 4:54
10 When You Coming Home Widespread Panic 5:37
11 Jaded Tourist Elder, Widespread Panic 4:28
12 Cotton Was King Widespread Panic 5:52