Widespread Panic: Earth to America 

Widespread Panic: Earth to America

There's so much music out there, good and bad, that it's easy to go through your days without ever hearing even some well-known bands. That's the way it's been for me regarding Widespread Panic; even though I've heard about them for years, I'd never heard their music. All that changed with their latest, Earth to America, and now I'm kicking myself for not finding these guys earlier.

If there were no other songs on this disc, it would be worth the money just for the Mississippi blues stomp of "Ribs and Whiskey," hands-down my favorite track on the album. Between the dobro (played by the album's producer Terry Manning, who cut his teeth working for the legendary Stax Records), the Tin Pan Alley-era piano stylings and a weary falsetto that would be right at home on a rickety porch on the Delta, the song radiates down-home blues style, and it sounds like the band had a hell of a great time playing it. Fortunately, this standout track is just the cream of a banner crop.

From the bass-heavy soul of the 11-minute opener "Second Skin" to the gospel-tinged hope of the fine closer ballad "May Your Glass Be Filled," the entire album is a celebration of American music styles, heavy on guitar, drums and piano, with the occasional blast of horns and strings. Most of the songs are originals, but the band pays tribute to a certain Robert Zimmerman by pounding out a Detroit-flavored, organ-backed cover of "Solid Rock," from the Dylan's 1980 Saved album, and make it their own. This year marks the band's 20th anniversary, and judging from this, they're nowhere near ready to pack it in. Order up some ribs and whiskey, polish up the dance floor and let these guys rock the stereo.

--Brandon Nolta

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