Earth To America
Widespread Panic, for those of you who aren’t in the know about such things, was one of the first bands of the 80s to emerge in the shadow of the Grateful Dead, who, of course, went on to spawn a whole jam band ethos that, thanks to festivals like Bonnaroo, is still going strong. The six-man band hails from Athens, Georgia, an obvious factor in their southern rock roots. The funny thing though is that they don’t necessarily sound like the Allman Brothers or any of the other more eclectic Athens groups like the B-52s or REM. Instead, Widespread Panic masterfully wallow and groove like the good jam band they are. And at this point in history, they might do it better than anyone else on the present scene.
Earth To America is the band's 17th release if you’re counting live albums, an impressive haul by any artist. It was recorded over a three-week period at the legendary Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas, so they most likely attained a level of inspiration within a comfort zone unknown to most mortals. How else do you explain “Second Skin,” the euphoric opening number clocking in at a little over 11 minutes and brandishing all the elements of an surefire epic — spacey intro with a slow, steady grind, facilitating a mesmerizing momentum maintained throughout the entire disc.
From there, it's a game of chance bewteen the down-home coziness of “Good People” and the hit-bound “From The Cradle,” although we’re talking about a band with few hits, but a huge following. “Solid Rock” is…well… solid as a rock, while “Time Zones” cruises down the middle of the road, similar in the vein of modern-day Santana, percussional flourishments and all. “Ribs And Whiskey” made me hungry and thirsty, its acoustic slide work uplifted by lazy, saloon-style piano lines and singer John Bell's voice washing over the lyrics like a crooner with a cause. “You Should Be Glad” is another lengthy jams that gallops along at a sprite pace. “May Your Glass be Filled” serves as an appropriate closer, floating into the sunset, awaiting a refill of some of that whiskey three songs back. After that, you sit back and savor the moment, infused with a feeling that Earth To America is a pleasure to embrace, experience, and ultimately get lost in.
~ Shawn Perry