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Widespread Panic: King of the Jam

Widespread Panic.
Widespread Panic.

While countless bands have tried to claim the throne left vacant by The Grateful Dead, Widespread Panic has made a strong case for itself. Its rootsy Southern jam-rock, informed by jazz and blues idioms, lends it credibility, but the music would be nothing without the musicianship and virtuosity that holds it together. Add to the mix a strong ear for melody within an improvisational setting, and the result is consistently powerful.

Formed in 1982, while its founding members were attending college in Georgia, Widespread Panic released its first full-length album, Space Wrangler, in 1988. The disc's promise, matched with a relentless touring schedule, helped to land the band a deal with a major label for its self-titled 1991 release. Subsequent records and tours helped to expand its fan base; "Airplane" and "Can't Get High," from 1994's Ain't Life Grand, even scored Widespread Panic its first hits.

On their newest release, Earth to America, the group members go even further toward tightening and focusing the most engaging aspects of their sound while jettisoning excess musical baggage. Though it retains Widespread Panic's improvisational sensibility, the album finds the band distilling its grooves to their essence, especially on the dense, 11-minute opener, "Second Skin."

Copyright 2006 XPN

David Dye is a longtime Philadelphia radio personality whose music enthusiasm has captivated listeners of World Cafe® since 1991. World Cafe is produced by WXPN, the public radio service of the University of Pennsylvania.