Best Southern Rock Band of the 1990s
Maybe this isn't fair. I'm clearly biased when it comes to Widespread Panic, the best Southern rock band of the 1990s. Only The Black Crowes come close, but Widespread's been more consistent. Anyone who knows me well knows I don't anoint this band lightly I shaved my body hair to see its Nashville City Stages concert in 1998.
This perplexed my sisters, who saw the band for free in Athens, Ga., not too long after that. But I had to go. And besides, another ticket "winner" swallowed a dozen live goldfish and proceeded to tell us how they were moving around (see Ma, I'm not the crazy one).
Widespread Panic makes you move and move and move even if your mind says no. When you're ready to stop, the beat moves you again. I'm of the mind it's impossible to stand completely still (even your toes jiggle). This intensity is noticeable on the albums, but the live shows are what makes this band the tops (Panic's played more than 250 in the last two years alone).
The band caters to its Grateful Dead-type following through memorable performances and one of the best artist Web sites around. Widespread groupies can download a RealVideo version of Bombs and Buttlerflies' "Aunt Avis," a Shockwave/Flash multimedia discography, or mp3 clips off Panic's old and new (see bottom of page) albums.
Though Widespread's last two studio albums have produced more hits, "'Til the Medicine Takes" (Capricorn) is its most complete album since "Everyday." Panic's sixth studio album and seventh overall features vocals and songwriting from the entire band, including drummer Todd Nance's vocal debut on the ballad "You'll Be Fine." John Bell's vocals have never sounded better, while both he and Mike Houser wail on the guitars. Nance, keyboardist John "JoJo" Hermann, percussionist Domingo "Sunny" Ortiz and bassist Dave Schools comprise the best rhythm section playing today.
The tightly crafted album stresses songs over jams, but fear not: "Bear's Gone Fishin'" would fit perfectly at the end of Panic's rendition of Robert Johnson's "Me and the Devil Blues." And they're not scared to try something new: Big Ass Truck's Colin Butler scratches on "Dyin' Man," a song currently gaining airplay. You can also hear a lot of influences on this album: "Blue Indian" has a western swing feel punctuated by "N'awlins" Piano, and provides the line for the album's title.
Producer John Keane's banjo pickin' gives "The Waker" a bluegrass tinge, while the Dirty Dozen Brass Band's horns make "Christmas Katie" a N'awlins-jazz favorite. "All Time Low," one of the most powerful tunes on the album, features gospel singer Dottie Peoples' soulful growl punctuating the song's end. Yet my favorite tune is the finale, "Nobody's Loss." Sounds like the fellas were sittin' on a porch ponderin' the complexities of life before comin' to the conclusion, "Nobody knows where to find us, cuz it ain't nobody's loss."
The fact is, if you don't get this album, it will be your loss.
Copyright © The Southerner 1999.