Review : Widespread Panic - Dirty Side Down
PopmattersIn 2011, Georgia’s Widespread Panic will commemorate 25 years together. Change is inherent to any band that has been together for as long as they have. More often than not, loss is the source that inspires or drives the perceived change. When founding member and guitarist Michael Houser passed away due to pancreatic cancer in 2002, change was inevitable. Fortunately, for ‘Spread-heads, the band continued writing and recording and performing together, as was Houser’s wish.
The touring stalwart and jamband linchpin endured several key changes in the years since his passing. George McConnell stepped in as Houser’s “replacement” on guitar, and long time producer John Keane also filled in as a touring guitarist. After several tours and one recording with McConnell, the band replaced him with Jimmy Herring, a move that pleased fans as being more in tune with the band. Further, having worked with Keane in his Athens recording studio as a producer for nearly its entire career, the band recorded its next two CDs in Nassau with producer Terry Manning. The 2006 release, Earth To America, and 2008’s Free Somehow both deviated from the band’s bluesy, barroom southern rock, towards a much more polished approach, with hard-driving anthems clearly directed towards a more radio-friendly sound.
Funny how you always come back to the one you love, isn’t it? Dirty Side Down was recorded once again with Keane behind the boards in his home studio in Athens, and it’s quite a return to form and to the band’s roots. It’s the strongest songwriting of the band’s career, an album of multi-layered textures that will provide for extensive improvisation in performance....full text
AvclubA wash of noise reminiscent of Loveless-era My Bloody Valentine introduces one of the strongest tracks on Dirty Side Down, the latest effort by the jam-band road warriors in Widespread Panic. The track wasn’t written by John Bell and company; it’s a cover of “This Cruel Thing” by the late Vic Chesnutt, complete with delicately plucked guitar and a thoughtful croon that perfectly evokes the longtime Panic collaborator. The rest of the record trades on greater complexity and more varied instrumentation—like the alternately hard-driving and ethereal opener, “Saint Ex,” or the title track, which layers a friendly growl over insistent slide guitar that’s initially content to echo organ riffs, but occasionally launches skyward and into the album’s meatiest hooks.
Some of the best songs in Panic’s catalog are about life on the road, and “Shut Up And Drive” marks another worthy addition, marrying a propulsive, brushed beat to down-home guitars that break for shimmering solos. Then the gears catch and the song lurches back onto the highway. Dirty Side Down is an uneven record at times, but given that the band has been hard-pressed to reproduce the energy of its live performances in the studio, Down’s nimble rhythmic shifts and the playful lead-guitar work of Jimmy Herring provide a zip sorely lacking on the last two releases....full text
RelixThough most of the members of Widespread Panic have moved out of Athens, Ga., the band’s eleventh studio release proves that it hasn’t necessarily forgotten its roots. Dirty Side Down finds the band reuniting with longtime friend and Athens-based producer John Keane at his home studio for the first time since 2003’s Ball —and in many ways, returning to form.
The dark, multi-layered compositions that made the band a household name are back. In fact, many of the tracks feel like they could have lived on 1999’s ’Til The Medicine Takes, especially the haunting, stripped-down opening number “Saint Ex” and the album’s title track. The result is not only a reminder of Panic’s breadth of influences, but also its range of talents: all of the band members share songwriting duties and that unity shows—the band sounds more like Widespread Panic than anything it has released since founding guitarist Michael Houser’s passing in 2002.
Panic’s hard rock sound is temporarily set aside for keyboardist JoJo Hermann’s often-overlooked flair for New Orleans jazz. He offers lead vocals—his first time singing lead on a record in seven years—on “Jaded Tourist” and a totally reworked “Visiting Day” that recalls the slinky trademark organ grooves of Booker T’s “Green Onions.” And Todd Nance steps out from the drum kit to provide rare lead vocals on his own composition “Clinic Cynic,” a recently revived pop country-sounding tune, complete with pedal steel from Keane—though it’s a weird and a bit startling to hear John Bell singing backup....full text
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