7/21/06 REVIEW: Widespread preaching to the converted on 'Earth to America'

By Stewart Oksenhorn
July 21, 2006

Widespread Panic, "Earth to America"
produced by Terry Manning
and Widespread Panic (Sanctuary)

John, The Aspen Times' Spreadhead-in-residence, isn't particularly with "Earth to America," the latest studio album by his favorite band. Nor is he particularly concerned with the so-so effort; Panic is made for the live stage, not the studio.

"Earth to America" seems to play to these expectations. As far as studio recordings go, the band is on cruise control, turning out decent but hardly earth-shaking variations on their Southern rock. The fact that "Earth to America" opens with the slow, monotonous, 11-minute "Second Skin" is solid evidence that Widespread is playing to the converted. Only on "Ribs and Whiskey," an acoustic, boogie blues, does the band get even a little outside its realm; no surprise, it's the song that makes the biggest mark. Even bringing in guest players on several tracks (the Compass Point Horns, the Phuket Chamber Orchestra) has only a there-and-gone impact.

This would be less distressing were it not for the fact that Widespread has proved it can go into a studio and emerge with magic. In 1999, the Georgia sextet blessed its audience - and beyond - with "'Til the Medicine Takes," an ambitious example of jambandia that experimented with turntables and styles. As for "Earth to America," it is the kind of thing Widespread could do in its sleep at this point, forever and on.

Widespread Panic plays Saturday and Sunday, July 22-23, in Winter Park.