By: Phil Santala
There is something to be said for a band that waits almost 20 years and 16 albums to release a "Best of" compilation. That band is Widespread Panic, the album is Choice Cuts - The Capricorn Years.
All the songs on this anthology are taken from Space Wrangler (1988, re-released by Capricorn in 1992) through Till The Medicine Takes (1999). While Choice Cuts features a wide variety of Widespread's signature sounds it also suffers from some of the classic "Best of" pitfalls. Sometimes it's hard to figure out why Panic, who hand selected the tracks, chose some tracks and not others. Noticeably absent is showstopper "Postcard" from Everyday and the workhorse, every fourth show favorite "Space Wrangler."
That said, it is an excellent retrospective. Listening to album tracks many of us haven't dug out in years reminds us just how far this band has come. The growth of lead singer John Bell's harmonic range is simply astounding, something plainly evident on the first track here, J.J. Cale's "Travelin' Light," now almost 20 years old. And while one can complain about song selection most of these songs have been played an average of 417 times live. The compilation also does a sterling job of representing Widespread's successful collaborative spirit. Besides J.J Cale, songs by Vic Chesnutt, and Jerry Joseph are included on this release.
It is not just the songs that represent Widespread Panic so well here, it's the personal letter from JB in the liner notes, where he refers to his bandmates as "the boys." The letter is short, sweet and provides a fond look back, offering interesting insights into Panic for the rest of us. For those of us looking to get a little deeper under our second skin, this album is worth taking a longer look at.
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