Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

Well-rounded rock from famed jam band Widespread Panic

I frequent some music festivals and I enjoy live music. As a result, I have seen Widespread Panic many times. They put on a tremendous live show and I recommend catching them when they come to your town. I remember first hearing about Panic in the late 1980s, so the boys have been at it a long time. Over the years, Panic has put out 11 studio albums and 8 live ones. It is an impressive body of work with some truly classic songs. Today, I want to turn you on to what I think is their best studio effort, “’Til the Medicine Takes.”

They're known as a live band, but they nailed it in the studio on this one.

“’Til the Medicine Takes” was produced by John Keane, who has done a lot of work with Widespread Panic, as well as R.E.M., The Indigo Girls, 10,000 Maniacs, and others. I mention this because I find the production on this album to be fantastic. The guitar sound is big and driving, the percussion pops and fits nicely, the keyboards are sick, and John Bell’s trademark wail sounds beautiful. And for this album, Panic even brought in a guest turntablist, Colin Butler. Listen to the production when you get to the songs so you can get what I’m talking about.

The songs themselves are fabulous as well. There are a few love songs, but they always come at the topic from an odd direction. There are other songs about celebrating nature, hard times and drugs, and some that I frankly don’t understand. The players pull off some great individual performances and everything blends seamlessly, even synergistically. And to cap things off, the packaging is among the best I have ever seen in a CD, with silvery, psychedelic images of the band members in multiple fold-outs.

Because they are famously so good live, studio versions are impossible to find on YouTube. You’ll have to settle for these Amazon samples, but do go buy the disc. You won’t regret it.

  • Surprise Valley – Listen to how the various instruments all leap to the fore as appropriate. Even the bass solo rocks. The percussion is complex and impossible to ignore, but it doesn’t dominate the song. This rocking track ends with a 1-minute beautiful instrumental denouement.
  • Bear’s Gone Fishin’ – The lyrics are a little impenetrable, but Bell has always had a knack for turning a cool phrase. Even if you don’t understand what the song is about – which I don’t – it’s fun to listen to. Great backing vocals in this track, too.
  • Climb to Safely – This is the song that came on my iPod today and inspired me to write up this album. I love the keyboard work in this rocker that eventually turns out to be an odd love song.
  • The Waker – Bell has always been a prolific songwriter, but I really love the songs penned by the late, great Michael Houser. The melody is beautiful without being sleepy and the lyrics are deep and evocative. Producer John Keane adds the banjo on this track.
  • Dyin’ Man – This is my favorite song on this album and the reason I bought it. The scratching and production effects decorate a clever and hard rocking song about how losing a woman has ruined his life.
  • One Arm Steve – The crowd all gets up and dances when Panic breaks this one out in concert. It’s got a great groove and again the lyrics are cool as hell.
  • All Time Low – This song reminds me of some of The Rolling Stones bigger, more rocking tunes. It starts off pretty modestly, but by the end the drums and guitar are enormous, the piano sounds like a carnival, and the last few available square inches of sound are filled by gospel choir backing vocals. Fantastic.

In September of 2010, keyboardist John “Jojo” Hermann said in an interview that after one final studio release and one more summer of touring, the band is planning on going on hiatus. One can image that after this many years and the sad, untimely death of founding member Michael Houser in 2002 from pancreatic cancer, a “hiatus” may be permanent. That said, I urge you to look for their tour dates and catch them if you can.



October 6, 2010 - Posted by | Alt Country, Classic Rock, Jam Bands, Popular, Rock

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