Widespread Panic, "Dirty Side Down"

77 Billboard Rating

The recording studio is generally considered anathema to those in the jam band community. But Georgia sextet Widespread Panic has quietly discovered how to make very good albums that carefully balance its chops as both players and songwriters. Its new album, "Dirty Side Down," plays to all of Widespread Panic's strengths, from the intricate weaving of John Bell's and Jimmy Herring's guitars with John Hermann's keyboards to a stylistic sweep that spans from the epic, prog-like opening suite "Saint Ex" to breezier fare like the title track and the spritely gallop of "Clinic Cynic." The band shuffles in a bluesy vein on "Visiting Day" and "Shut Up and Drive," while dipping into jazz on the short instrumental "St. Louis" and taking an R&B turn with the bouncy "Jaded Tourist." A rootsy cover of the late Vic Chesnutt's "This Cruel Thing" and the classic lover's-on-the-road lament "When You Coming Home" are quieter and more atmospheric, while "North" is grooving guitar rock with a swelling, buoyant chorus. This is an accomplished work from a group that understands itself completely, deftly straddling the line between instinct and craft.

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