(Various Genres/Jam Rock) Widespread Panic - Til The Medicine Takes
John Bell - Vocals, Guitar
Michael Houser - Guitar, Vocals
Dave Schools - Bass, Acid Loop
John Hermann - Keyboards, Vocals
Todd Nance - Drums, Vocals
Domingo S. Ortiz - Percussion
The Georgia native Widespread Panic has always been recognized as a fantastic improvisational band. Over the years, they have toured constantly in all different forms of venues, halls, and parks. At each one of these shows, they would of course vent their improvisation talents upon the audience. Well, Panic would in time win over some of the audience and have a cult following. But sadly enough, they were and still are looked down on by many. Usually improvisation fans, who look for ways to dislike a “Hippie” labeled band. But the band was much more than a group of “Hippies”. They played Roots Rock. A commonly heavy form of Country, and Folk of all kinds.
Through Widespread Panic’s earlier years, they had quite a love for Country music. The influence of Merle Haggard and many other Country acts were easily seen. Possibly as easily seen as their expected influence for the fathers of Rock improvisation The Grateful Dead. Bassist Dave Schools says that their was much influence playing wise coming from The Grateful Dead, but most of the influence was mental and physical. The Dead’s improv techniques, their band set up, and even how they took in influence effected Panic greatly. Some of that Dead influence may have pushed Widespread Panic to play other genres as their career lengthened.
In time, Panic would of course use their more new genres, like Native American Folk, on stage. Their stage performances would of course be better than ever. After a few albums, they would release ‘Til the Medicine Takes. An album full of good tracks, but few jams. But surprisingly enough, most say that this album resembles Widespread Panic’s stage performances more so than any other album. After seeing many DVD’s and listening to many live albums, I would have to disagree.
‘Til The Medicine Takes is a pleasant mix of Hard Rock, Psychedelia, and Folk. Each song moderately pleasing, but nothing to extraordinary. The consistency through “Surprise Valley” to “Nobody’s Loss” is kept alive and well through the band’s talent of timing and harmony. Though, commonly several members play a lead role, they always blend well. Though, when playing live, they occasionally sound rehearsed and like they are playing a note for note set, they are not. So, whether Schools is slapping and popping on a seven string, or Houser is tossing out some amazingly smooth Country licks, they always blend. And with that constant blend, they must find something to keep the listener alive. Which shows Panic’s other talent, their timing. An opening during ‘Til the Medicine Takes is rarely left open. Something will always fill in, and usually nicely. In this albums case, it would usually be John “JoJo” Hermann’s psychedelic keyboard. Hermann occasionally plays other forms of the keyboard, and always has a new tone. On the occasion, his choice of effect or tone almost ruin various songs, one being mystique filled “Climb to Safety”.
Instrumentally, the album is ace. Houser’s style had grown much over the years, and he has certainly hit his Rock peak during this very album. Though, he lays down a variety of Country riffs, the largest portion is mainly Hard Rock orientated. Any way you put it, it really doesn’t matter, for his solo remain exciting and a highlight to each song. His playing’s uncanny and undeniable resemblance to the style of Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia is also an attraction to Michael’s playing. Though, there is a resemblance, the two late guitarist certainly differ.
The work of vocalist John Bell is as amazing as usual. His voice has always been a combination of Gregg Allman and Paul Rodgers to me. He has an incredible ability to add as much power and accent to his voice at the tip of a hat. He also manages to use that ability ever chance he gets, which can certainly add much to a song. Bell and Panic’s lyrics are also a subject to be discussed. There are no low points in this topic. Panic’s writing is one of the factors that make them a fantastic band. The interesting and homey lyrical arrangement of “Blue Indian” definitely helps it become a top track. Widespread Panic does cover one song. The Native American influenced “Climb to Safety”. Which was supposedly written by Jerry Joseph.
This odd Psychedelic mix of Native American Folk, and Hard Rock is most definitely different. The album opens with a power and strange number entitled “Surprise Valley”. A fantastic song heavily based upon groove. The intro also features some magnificently played bass lines, and numerous cello, stringed bass players. “Surprise Valley” is would be the longest track on ‘Til the Medicine Takes, and features few lyrics. From there, the album moves along to a mediocre “Bear’s Gone Fishin’”. Nothing special at all, but most certainly nothing to complain about. Following the previous mediocre “Bear’s Gone Fishin’”, Panic performs a top notch cover. “Climb to Safety” is a fabulously written Hard Rock song kept sturdy by a bass line by Schools. “Climb to Safety” displays an odd mix of Doors like Psychedelia with a Native American vibe. All together producing a fabulous and unique track.
Widespread Panic lightens it up with the homey “Blue Indian”. A song that caught by attention more so than any other during my first listen. “Blue Indian”, a Folk song, displays a chilling vibe built up by pounding piano chords, and eerie pedal steel slides. Though the song is most sad and depressing, the chorus has a very positive vibe to it. A few tracks later lies “Dyin’ Man”. A powerful, almost industrial Rock track. The song is most definitely a Folk song, if it was broken down. Houser plays a slide, and does quite a good job. The melodies are also done very well. And the final highlight would be “Christmas Katie”. A slower Country tune. The track features perfection in the fields of melody and harmonies. Very catchy, and almost charming. John Bell’s attitude could not be better. Those great tunes, make up the rather good ‘Til the Medicine Takes.