In case you missed it, Widespread Panic came out with their 11th studio album – Dirty Side Down a couple weeks back and its one of their best yet. After working with Terry Manning at Compass Point Studio in the Bahamas for the prior two studio offerings, the band retreated to familiar “proving ground” with producer and longtime musical partner John Keane. And like most prior Panic albums, Dirty Side Down features both new and road-tested songs, including a few (“Clinic Cynic,” “Visiting Day,” “North”) that have been in the live repertoire for the past decade.
In a tribute to the late Vic Chesnutt, a haunting cover of “This Cruel Thing” sets the recording’s peak, as John Bell rises to the occasion with one of his strongest vocal performances to date. Although there aren’t too many surprises on Dirty Side Down, the band builds off its more multi-layered prog leaning rock that was explored on 2008’s Free Somehow with the cryptic “Saint Ex,” that fills the space with Jimmy Herring’s soaring leads.
“Shut Up And Drive,” is old school Panic with its broken sections and galloping rhythm, making it sound like an Everyday B-Side. “True To My Nature” is a live classic in the making with its up-tempo shout along mid section, while the band slows it down gracefully with the southern blues of “When You Coming Home.” Jo Jo Hermann delivers the lead vocals on the New Orleans flavored “Jaded Tourist,” that again features different distinct compositional sections, including flavorful harmony vocals from Bell. Mixing up laid back southern charm (“Clinic Cynic”) jazzy instrumentals (“St. Louis”), compositions from old friends (Jerry Joseph’s “North”) and plenty of dynamic song-writing, there’s no arguing the oxymoron that Widespead Panic is the best studio band in the jam scene.