Earth to America
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2006, Volume 13, #6
Written by John Metzger
Second Skin, the opening track on Widespread Panicís ninth studio disc Earth to America, begins and ends with an atmospheric stirring of sounds; in between, it moves with such slow deliberation that it essentially signals the dawning of a new era in the bandís history. That Second Skin is a song of rebirth is certainly no coincidence. Even before the untimely death of guitarist Michael Houser, Widespread Panic had been stumbling along in search of direction, and his loss only added to the groupís growing pains. Over the course of the past seven years, the outfit has issued seven live recordings ó a sure sign, even by jam band standards, that something was amiss ó and sure enough, its studio efforts, of which there were only two, were hardly on par with the collectiveís best work. Donít Tell the Band was stuffed full of hard-charging but utterly soulless arena-ready rock, while Ball was little more than a mournful memento that, completed too soon after Houserís death, felt entirely transitional.
Earth to America, however, is something altogether different. Whether it was the passage of time, the scenic change brought about by the ensembleís jaunt to a recording studio in the Bahamas, or some combination thereof, Widespread Panic now appears to be fully re-energized and recommitted to fulfilling the promise that it demonstrated during the first decade of its career. Throughout the endeavor, veteran producer Terry Manning gives keyboard player John Hermann as much, if not more, of an opportunity to color the material as he does guitarist George McConnell, and he allows the bandís classic rock influences to bubble to the surface. On Ribs and Whiskey, for example, the collective affixes the acoustic blues of Led Zeppelin to a New Orleans-baked groove; Beatle-esque backing vocals drift through You Should Be Glad; hints of .38 Special and Lynyrd Skynyrd dot the landscape of From the Cradle; and shades of Jim Morrison lurk inside May Your Glass Be Filled.
Nevertheless, the best moments on Earth to America occur whenever Widespread Panic pushes its music in new directions by combining the percolating rhythms of its Latin-flavored percussion with the intoxicating, "funktronic" energy of Particle as well as the trance-inducing space of Ozric Tentacles. Thereís little doubt that the magical aura surrounding the studio pursuits of jam-oriented outfits is informed and elevated by the groupís subsequent live performance of the material, but both Second Skin and You Should Be Glad already feel fully realized. Most of the other tracks arenít far behind. Consequently, Earth to America provides a suitable foundation for the next phase of Widespread Panicís career, and its songs undoubtedly will join those from Space Wrangler, Everyday, Bombs & Butterflies, and íTil the Medicine Takes to propel the bandís concerts for many years to come. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box