Widespread Panic - Ball
Artist: Widespread Panic (www.widespreadpanic.com)
Label: Sanctuary Records (www.sanctuaryrecordsgroup.com)
Genre: Rock/Jam, American Traditonal, Southern, Blues
I have not had the great pleasure of listening to Widespread Panic's complete catalog yet, although I did hear their last studio effort Don't Tell The Band and Live in the Classic City. What I learned listening to those releases was that they personified jam band music. On Ball what you get is more of an unadulterated rock album served up with different styles and approaches. It is a positively gripping recording from start to finish. The 'finish' by the way has a surprise, so just remember it ain't over 'til it's over.
Although the faithful WSP fans may still be feeling disheartened with the loss of longtime guitarist Michael Houser, they will realize very quickly while listening to this new album that George McConnell has done an admirable job filling Houser's shoes. I have no doubt that founding member Houser, will never be forgotten and always missed; however, everyone will soon get over his absence and enjoy the music and smile, as Michael would have wanted it. I also have no doubt whatsoever that after some intent listening of this masterstroke of musical brilliance, most people that appreciate great musicianship and rock music will find many redeeming characteristics to savor throughout this disc.
What happens often when I listen to a consistent album such as this is I forget which tracks I enjoyed the most because I end up liking them all! You will notice on the track listing that "Travelin' Man," which is the closest thing to their jam band sound that the entire album ever gets, finishes at 5:27, in actuality it clocks in at over 16 minutes. When the first part of the song is complete, an instrumental stretch commences that reminded me of Genesis of all bands! I know it sounds weird but the instrumentation was eerie and it had that layered prog-rock feel to it. Prior to any of those out of the ordinary segments of the recording ever happening, the band kicks it into high gear making some of the best rocking music I have ever heard them play. "Nebulous," which is the longest track on the entire album at over eight minutes, is a good example of the changes the group has experienced since their last output. Their sound is cleaner and more polished than ever and I would venture to say that this could actually be their best effort to date. Even though I have not heard everything they have done, the production value and musicianship simply cannot get any better than what I heard on this album, it is that simple.
There are very few bands making music currently that sound as strong and fresh as WSP. The jam band purist may pitch and bitch about this album because it is so rock oriented, but I for one applaud these men for pulling themselves up by their bootstraps after such a devastating loss to their band and making one of the best albums of 2003. Take heart my jam band friends; even though this is a strongly influenced rock album, there is enough improvisation going on in most of these compositions that will take you off the beaten path to satisfy your listening needs and what you have come to expect from this band. They still qualify as one of the unique bands making quality music today, and they do it in an unconventional and musically pure fashion… they are still Widespread Panic.
1. Fishing - 4:57
2. Thin Air (Smells Like Mississippi)- 5:12
3. Tortured Artist - 5:14
4. Papa Johnny Road - 4:55
5. Sparks Fly - 2:24
6. Counting Train Cars - 2:51
7. Don't Wanna Loose You - 4:53
8. Longer Look- 4:00
9. Meeting of the Waters - 6:00
10. Nebulous - 8:10
11. Monstrosity - 4:19
12. Time Waits - 3:52
13. Travelin' Man – 5:27
Widespread Panic - Producer
John Hermann - Keyboards, Vocals
Todd Nance - Drums, Vocals
Domingo S. Ortiz - Percussion
Dave Schools - Bass, Vocals
George McConnell - Guitar, Vocals