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Music Review: Widespread Panic – Choice Cuts

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Written by Fumo Verde

Unlike other compilation discs you have heard me whine about, Choice Cuts, which covers Widespread Panic’s time on Capricorn from 1991 – 1999, takes a different view on what to put on such discs. Listening to the evolution of a band that has kept its dream alive by playing the way it wants can have interesting twists and turns, and WSP is no different. Choice Cuts chronicles the small drop of history that has helped shape a band’s ever-expanding following.

The first two tracks are from a time just before they signed on with Capricorn. “Travelin’ Light” (written by J. J. Cale) and “Chilly Water” off their debut Space Wrangler introduce you to their blend of Southern Jam Rock. Picking up where the Dead left off and adding a hard Lynyrd Skynyrd edge to the instrumental jamming is how WSP carved its niche into the music biz. Though these two tracks were recorded around the same time in 1988, they have distinctly different sounds.

Switching up the vocals between guitarist John Bell, bassist John Dave Schools, and keyboardist “JoJo” Hermann, who joined the band in 1992, gives the band a different texture to each song. The Jimmy Pagesque guitar playing by Michael Houser and Bell brings a deeper and more complex musical drive. This can be heard in “Rebirtha” off of Bombs and Butterflies. It has a ragtime swing along with some powerful guitar work. This tune, which last a good seven minutes and twenty seconds, has become my favorite one so far. The instrumental section is full of passion and soul; this draws you into the lyrics that become as complex as the melodies.

Each track on Choice Cuts is like a snowflake in the sense that each song has a different vibe to it, though the root of Southern Jam holds it all together. “Blue Indian” which keeps the ragtime beat along with piano, adds the western swing sound of the slide guitar. This track is totally different than the one that follows, “Climb To Saftey”. There we feel more of the Southern Rock as the guitars scream and fly through the melody the bass and drums are pounding out. “Weight of the World” is a funky dance number driven by Memphis horns and “Papa's Home” starts as wonderful slow blues before taking off for parts unknown. The disc closes with two tracks from their first live album Light Fuse Get Away, including “Pickin' Up The Pieces” when they were joined by saxophonist Branford Marsalis.

WSP is one of the few rock bands out there that can take you on a heavy trip and still bring you back in one piece. If you are new to WSP like me, this is a great CD to have, because it gives you a window into the sound of a band and it reflects the feelings they have expressed over the past decade or so. A very enjoyable disc, one I would suggest for those who appreciate fine rock that opens itself to other attributes of different musical genres. This compilation is a must-have. This time I have to thank the record companies. Ugh, I think I just threw up in my mouth.

See you in the parking lot.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • hatfields_brother

    Ummm… Herring hasn’t played on any studio album with Panic to date…

  • Randy

    yeah,,,this was 91-99,,,Herring joined in 06.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com Fumo Verde

    You guys are correct. I am new to the band and the liner notes made no clear mention of who the guitarist was. When I went to the WSP website, all I saw was Herring. I asked for it to be corrected. Thanks