Widespread Panic - Space Wrangler
Michael Houser - Guitar
John Bell - Vocals
Dave Schools - Bass
Todd Nance - Drums
Domingo Sunny Ortiz - Percussion
The Athens, Georgia quintet Widespread Panic deserves the name Jam Band probably more than any of their fellow piers (Minus The Grateful Dead of course). They have toured non stop for practically eight-teen years. They have gotten through line up changes, tour cancelations, album flops, unpopularity and even death. Very few have that much commitment, and have been playing a fabulous version of Jam Roots Rock through all of the tough times Widespread Panic has. So, obviously Panic definitely deserves your respect.
Widespread Panic was formed in the city of Athens, Georgia supposably during the year of 1982. The band was founded by guitarist Michael Houser and lead singer John Bell well they were attending college. Soon enough, bassist Dave Schools was added in and they were a true band. The band did not exactly grow their following and fame through this already spectacular trio. During they year of 1986 the band would add Todd Nance on the drums, percussionist Domingo (or Sunny) Ortiz, and John Hermann on the keyboard. Through this lineup they would release this debut album. And would of course go on to create brilliant ground breaking music.
Widespread Panic or just simply "Panic" as most would call them, are more of an offspring of The Grateful Dead than any other band within their genre. Their music isn't exactly alike, but it does carry the same ideas, and have some wonderful similarities. Don't take that in a "Panic isn't original!" way, because they have more than enough elements to make them their own unique band. Michael Houser, easily seen that he was heavily influenced by The Grateful Dead front man Jerry Garcia. His guitar playing incorporates a variety of noodeling styles, and has the power to shift a song with a single note. Which Garcia of course had. He manages to be the lead guitarist, and still not take anything away from the rythm, nor own the spotlight. Dave Schools, kind of an off shoot of Phil Lesh and John Entwistle. At times very leading, but he also relies his job to keep the rythm strong and sturdy. And of course you cannot forget the two drummers. On a more percussion led Mickey Hart, and the other, though all drummer, doesn't resemble Billy Kreutzmann's playing.
Widespread Panic plays a very jam induced "Roots Rock". Meaning they mix tradional music like Country, Folk, and Bluegrass with Rock. They actually have a very good Country Rock sense. And surprisingly they have some strait up Rock songs. Most of their tracks rely on a riff, but quickly feature rythm as they highpoint. Oddly enough Panic also includes an almost Beach Rock song onto their track list. Which to me, is actually the best and most interesting tracks.
Panic starts the album of with a rythmic piece entitled "Chilly Water". The track has a slightly dark and mysterious sense to it. Houser's playing is very unique compared to other tracks on this album. Not as much noodled, and he plays in a backed up leading fashion. Schools' strait bass line, leads the song and is quite catchy. Bell's voice and rythm acoustic playing keep the song very interesting. His voice is hard to describe. He's kind of a mix between Bad Company's and Free's Paul Rodgers, and The Grateful Dead's Ron "Pigpen" McKernan. The track is oddly enough very serious, and knowing this band and Jam Bands in general, they're not usually serious. The love of music and playing seems to usually put them in a state where it's about pleasure and silliness. Overall, the track is definitely different, but none the less good to hear.
Here's a happy, positive, album titled track. It sends off a much better vibe than it's previous tracks. The lyrics tell a though not an extraordinarily exciting story, they tell one that is enough to keep me interested and amused. The track is of course a jam, and has a catchy main riff that is played once in awhile. The piano work is also exceptionally catchy. "Space Wrangler" goes through many different tempos, showing off the bands ability to flow flawlessly, and their playing ability in general. Various solos are given throughout the song. Each helps to keep the song alive and amusing throughout the number. Definitely one of my favorite pieces on the album.
"Coconut", a very happy, feel good, almost Beach Rock like tracks. The lyrics are very interesting, as are the rymes and verses. I always find myself singing this song out of no where also. The track opens up with some very interesting and rather great sound percussion. Compiling whistles, bongos, random stick hitting, ect. Soon enough Bell hits the listener with that catchy line.
I like coconuts. They smell like pretty ladies lying in the sun.
. Pretty simple, but with out a doubt catchy. I love the guitar playing on this song more so than any other on the album. It is soooo Garcia influenced, and just kind of free. It seems as though most of this album was improvised, because it's not odd to hear random solos bounce up out of no where. May sound like musical masturbation (as would jamming in general), but it has always appealed to me. Perfect track, no flaws, all good.
A perfect follow up track to "Coconut", lies at number five. "The Take Out" is a Country instrumental. It's is lead by a violin that has little appealing outburst that grow bigger and more intense each line. There is no electric guitar played on this, leaving the spot light on the violin lines. Which always keep me coming back to this song. The track is rather simple, but satisfies me to a perfect degree. It's smooth and very relaxing, but of course tosses in a few seconds of liveliness during every entry by guest fiddlest David Blackman. I personally could not ask for anything more than what is given right here with "The Take Out".
Once again a great follow up with "The Porch Song". Though it gives off the idea that this would be some kind of Jug Band like track that you can imagine being played on the porch, it is not. It is of course a Country Rock song. Led by a great simple guitar riff. The song at first, came off annoying to me, but I've learned to really love it. And it is actually a concert pleaser. I even have a shirt based on the track :p. The opening guitar riff mixes with every instrument perfectly, and vise versa. Soon, enough Houser breaks out of the opening and the riff with a moderate passed well matching solo. The chorus (That appears soon after the solo) is quite catchy. The vocals, compare to various other tracks are slightly hard to understand. They are mostly sang in unison, which possibly the reason why, Overall, the track is great. A definite pleaser :thumb:.
"Stop-Go" is a pretty good track, with some great bass picking. Which is odd, because Schools usually doesn't use a pick. The time signatures are quite odd, almost each instrument has a different one. The track, lyrically and vocally isn't that lively, but the music is. The song, jam wise is magnificent. More unique than any song on this album, but it lacks something. I'm not sure what, but it's of course there. The song ends at a short four minutes and fifty-one seconds. Which for a jam that is as good as this, is way, way to short. I particularly love the breakdowns and tempo changes the song incorporated. And of course the various time signatures it includes. Music wise = Fantastic. Lyrically/Vocally = Boring.
"Driving song", is a nice, more beautiful musical piece. It is very different compared to each and every song on this album. Different forms of percussion are used, and David Blackman adds some great fiddle playing, that always adds interest. The song flows extremely well, and is actually quite one. Like nothing goes extremely far out and ruens the song. Houser does manage to put out a magnificent guitar solo, that is one of my favorites on the album. It's very clean and is definitely in the key. I also believe a twelve stringed guitar is used by Bell on this track, just simply adds a beautiful sound. Great tune.
Here's is the first of the three new tracks added. "Holden Oversoul" is a great, lively Country song. It's structure is very simple, but flows great. Especially some of the backing vocals (which I believe are done by Dave Schools) and the bass lines, each of course have a bass tone. Schools actually pulls out some slap and pop maneuvers in this tracks. They sound fantastic and are really great to hear from him. Houser, during some slaps lines whips out a great, progressive solo. That easily amazes me. In conclusion, simply an amazing song.
This track, "Contentment Blues", is more of a Hard Rock, Psychedelic, Progressive song. It doesn't really sound like a Blues song. But anyway, the song is pretty interesting, and the vocals are pretty humorous, even if they aren't supposed to be. "My chicken tastes good" is repeated a few times, which is kind of odd. Instrumentally the song is needless to say good, and the composition is even different compared to the rest of Space Wrangler. Well, it's not the common Widespread Panic you hear on the other tracks and the rest of their career, but it is innovative for them.
Now here is something I don't get. It's not that big of a deal, or is important in any way. But why did they stick the newer bonus tracks around this number? It's just odd. As is the song. It combines various noise effects, percussion, samples, and percussion effects. The song may be new. I can see why they wouldn't state it on the cover as they do with "Contentment Blues", "Me and the Devil Blues/Heaven", and "Holden Oversoul", being that it only runs at one minute and twelve seconds. Very weird, and probably a filler, or just for fun.
Here is a Robert Johnson/David Byrne/Jerry Harrison written song. The tempo is very slow, and the song just flows so well. I love how they add their Country Jam Rock style to this Blues song. I personally would choose Country over Blues any day, but that's pretty irrelevant. Bell manages to capture the passion Johnson puts out on this song supposably about him selling his soul to Satan. I love the keyboarding done on the track, it's fits perfectly. Various effects are used on the recording that add a mystique sense to the whole feeling of the song. The tune runs at a long length of fifteen minutes and eleven seconds, though it equally divides up the songs. "Me and The Devil Blues" ends at about six minutes, but it's hard to tell being that it lacks a median. It gets very noticeable when heaven starts. It once again gains that mystique feeling, even more so than the previous portion the track. "Heaven" is a lot more free, and just less controlled. Very chaotic, but it sounds great. It's not till ten minutes and fourty-four seconds when John Bell starts singing. Previously, the song is kept alive and interesting with various great solos, that are occasionally on the edge of going over the top, but luckily give out right before. I love the definition of Heaven that is given out. They basically say it's a bar, where the band plays "Our" favorite song, and nothing bad happens. Or something like that. Well, god song.
Fantastic album, nothing more is needed to be said. 8.8/10