The Widespread Panic album that did it for me was ‘Til the Medicine Takes. We wore that CD out and “Climb to Safety” still raises goosebumps. We’ve bought a lot of their albums and always found something to enjoy but over the past few years we kind of lost rack of the band and what they were doing. Then a guy I know reported that he’d caught their set at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival this past spring and they rocked.
Well, you know, Panic are a jam band and they’ve always been known for putting on great shows and great shows don’t always translate into great – or even good – albums so I didn’t run right out and pick up Dirty Side Down. But I hadn’t listened to the band in a while so I finally decided to give it a try. When a new CD comes into the house we often put it on for the first time as we sit down to dinner and check it out while we eat. Almost always, dinner and conversation trump the music and serious listening doesn’t happen until later. Not this time.
Dirty Side Down opens with “Saint Ex” and it blew us away. Eating went on very quietly and conversation stopped as the song took over. The track opens with a bit of guitar drone, like 10 zillion other songs, and then breaks into a couple of bars of what sounds like a picked electrified steel string guitar that shifts into a lead guitar segment that instantly grabs attention with a wide screen western sound that I find irresistible. The vocal comes in and we’re in familiar Widespread Panic mode, ok, back to dinner. Then a heavy descending rhythm guitar break hits at about 1:30 into the song and this is beginning to sound like Panic has grown in new and exciting ways. “Saint Ex” is a terrific song that kicks off a fine album.
When a band has been playing together as long as Widespread Panic and, moreover, has been placing a heavy emphasis on improvisation throughout that time, moments of magic can happen. There’s a refinement and sophistication in the interplay among the musicians that is hard to achieve in any other way. This produces studio recordings that are studded with moments, sometimes small and sometimes loud, that can take your breath away. Whether it’s Dave Schools extraordinary bass playing or episodes of subtle, intricate vocal interplay (which are just two of the things that struck me while I’m writing this review) repeated listening of Dirty Side Down is a highly rewarding experience.
If you’re a Panic fan you already have Dirty Side Down. If, like me, you know the band but have been away for a bit, now’s a good time to come back. And if Widespread Panic are a new band for you, Dirty Side Down is a great place to start.
For a great source for more live recordings of Widespread Panic than you could ever listen to, see our review of Driving Songs Vol. 2.