Widespread Panic: Earth To America

By Kayceman

"I think it's mysterious. It has a tendency to sort of suck you in and take you on a journey and then drop you off in a really nice place."

Listening to bassist Dave Schools describe his band Widespread Panic's ninth studio album, Earth To America, you can hear the excitement and almost taste the passion. This "mysterious" feeling of a "journey" comes through immediately with the first track on the album - the eleven-minute "Second Skin." Written by Schools and longtime band-collaborator and close friend Jerry Joseph, "Second Skin" may be the band's best song in close to five years. With the help of wonder-producer Terry Manning and the huge string section he implemented (think Zeppelin's "Kashmir"), "Second Skin" was elevated from a great song, to one that will go down as Classic Panic.

"We obviously went back to our old way of doing things with Earth To America" explains lead vocalist and guitarist John Bell. What he's referring to is the contrast with their last studio album, 2003's Ball, where the songs were created in the studio, on the spot. With Earth To America (like almost all the other albums), most of the songs were road-tested first. But on the other hand, Panic made one drastic change with this album; instead of recording at home with producer John Keane (with whom they have worked almost exclusively), they flew to the Bahamas to work with Manning at his famous Compass Point Studios. More than having anything to do with Keane, this was just a chance to switch things up, to go to a new place, to have new variables, and to see how it affected the album. When asked where Manning really excelled, Schools says, "I think where his ability really came out was in getting JB to places as a vocalist. I think the vocal performance on 'Ribs and Whiskey' – it's something I've heard JB get into on occasion on stage, this sort of almost other personality comes out of him. I feel like this is the strongest I've ever heard John Bell come out on a studio record."

And it's not just JB. The new configuration of Widespread Panic as a whole has reached a new high with Earth To America. George McConnell has truly found his place and is adding his skills far more effectively than ever before. His slinky, snake-like guitar on "Time Zones" works perfectly with Bell's vocals, and his often understated guitar lines do well to keep the feel cohesive and to tie many of the songs together.

Two of the more impressive tracks are relatively unfamiliar to fans. "From the Cradle" features an incredibly captivating break-down with stop-start dynamics and an inspired performance by JB as he pushes the song to its apex. Balancing some of the more space-bound tracks, "Crazy" incorporates a wonderful structure that allows JB to tell a tale and to paint pictures with his words. JB elaborates, "'From the Cradle' predominantly came from Todd [Nance], he writes a lot of songs too. 'Crazy' we played a couple times but never very well. So we abandoned that pretty quick, about a year ago. We made two or three attempts at it, and it never felt flowy because there were more parts to it. Now here, I usually will not say things about what a song is about, but the inspiration for this song ['Crazy'] is Vincent Van Gogh, and when you listen to the lyrics I think that'll be obvious."

Two other songs that clearly stand out, "Goodpeople" and "You Should Be Glad," serve as prime examples of Terry Manning's tasteful touch. Both utilize Manning's Bahamian horn section, and both show subtle-yet-critical use of the studio. But more than anything, both swing with a confident swagger (in no small part due to the horns). While both songs are polished, they also maintain that "Panic Thing" where everything starts to move and shake, where the sound starts to take on a life of its own. Like the album as a whole, the songs are full of life and a fire that truly makes this the best album we've seen since Til the Medicine Takes.

Earth To America finds Panic stronger than we've seen them in quite some time. After the death of Michael Houser, both band and fans alike were left wondering, questioning, even drifting away from the music that had helped define their lives. Yes, things have changed. Like Schools stressed over the phone, "There isn't a Mikey here. That era has passed; it's over. And the fans can either quit bitching about it and accept it or just move on." While this is clearly true, what may be most intriguing about Earth To America is not what dyed-in-the-wool fans think, but rather what new ears hear. As producer Terry Manning states time and again in his discussion with fellow JamBase journalist Andy Tennille, Panic is one of the most mis-understood and under-rated bands of our time. Because they take chances, improvise live, and are committed to changing their setlist every night, they have been branded a "jamband." And while this term is virtually meaningless in 2006, I think it's safe to say that when trying to describe a band like Widespread Panic, it's incredibly limiting. Yes, they do jam on stage, but they also write incredible rock songs that resonate both on a very cerebral level and a deeply emotional one. Furthermore, they play so hard and with so much passion it's impossible to not simply revert to rock & roll - true, blue-collar, gritty rock & roll. The question remains, "Will people actually hear this record or simply assume they already know what Panic is all about?"

Earth to America, are you listening?

JamBase | San Francisco
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[Published on: 6/12/06]

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dgm68 starstarstarstarstar Mon 6/12/2006 04:22PM
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I really feel this is a strong album and doesn't have that "every song sounds the same" mark that a lot of earlier efforts have. With all the talk of line-up changes/additions/etc for the summer tour, I really hope the six-headed monster drops all of those notions and shows America why they are the number one band touring right now. Happy touring everybody!

gsu8406 starstarstarstar Tue 6/13/2006 02:22AM
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Just got the album in the mail yesterday. I really liked the way they gave you bonus material via email. the extras were great especially the part with Ribs N Whiskey and the piano JoJo used for it. have a couple of buddies who are going to the record release in NY and am really jealous. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to wait until Memphis.

cocheese starstarstarstarstar Tue 6/13/2006 07:58AM
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We're listening!

theivywall Tue 6/13/2006 10:40AM
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You should be glad, you should be happy to be alive. You should be glad the blood runs through our veins.


See ya'll at the Fox and in Chicago

damntheman420 starstarstarstar Tue 6/13/2006 04:58PM
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I'm confused about a Panic date- This web site lists the 7/18 date in Boise, while the local media (Idaho) has been listing them playing Brundage that day. I saw then at Brundage last year and the venue was absolutely great!

TheJuice starstarstarstar Tue 6/13/2006 09:48PM
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they did that date venue confuse last fall, in nashville. One said nashville, another source said antioch. they are just really close. and the only thing in antioch is an amphitheater so , probably the same case. Damn i'm glad i live in this great country

panic21 starstarstarstarstar Wed 6/14/2006 01:00PM
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All I can say about this album is WOW!!!!! I think Terry Manning should win some kind of award for what he's done- the production on this record is top-notch. The horns are perfect- except perhaps I could hear more of them- it seems they only appear at the end of songs. Look out America the absolute best band you never heard of is coming!!!!

Palmettopanic starstarstar Wed 6/14/2006 01:50PM
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This was a nice review by Cayceman, but I don't think it was necessary to include Schools' comments. Who's bitching and about what? Is Too Cool Dave Schools referring to the loooong time fans that gave him (and the band) the support all these years to help get him where he is today?
What...Now that he's way up on his pedestal and looking down, he doesn't care about their opinions. I wouldn't be surprised if he wants to drop Panic from the name entirely and just go with Widespread.

Songlines star Wed 6/14/2006 03:58PM
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this is a horrible album. Widespread is no longer a guitar band. I like Solid Rock and Time Zones. Thats it !!
JBs vocals on R&W sounds like his nose is plugged
If you want a dose of real PANIC check out Housers
Sand Box. Amazing energy and soul.

cocheese Thu 6/15/2006 12:04PM
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thejuice antioch is in the Metro-Nashville area, a lot of times they call it Nashville, some bands say Antioch. They are pretty much one in the same. Songlines you need to listen to Second Skin, because this is their second skin. They're moving on, and so should we. I'm sure they've had a lot more difficult time moving on. If Mikey was the only reason why you listened, then you never really were a fan, and not mention you're missing out on some other really great musicians. Yeah it's different than the past, but it's stil great Panic. I love how JoJo's panio playing skills were really highlighted. I do wish he would have gotten some lead vocals in on the album. Sandbox is an extrodinary album.

Summer starstarstarstar Thu 6/15/2006 03:05PM
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Although I do agree with you have schools comment was a little out of line, I have several friends that all they can talk about is how its not the same, comparing George to Mikey and talking about the "good ol' days". People need to realize that they are not the same band they were before Mikey died. They need to accept it and love it because it is still a really amazing thing, or not like it and move on.
I agree with him about it being the best album since 'Til the Medicine takes, Terry was great producer. From the Cradle Rocks!

torn&treyed Fri 6/16/2006 09:40AM
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I had seen panic a few times with houser.... Granted it was at the end but something always left me cold. Suddenly I was talked into seeing panic again with george. I absoloutely loved it. His guitar playing has fire. He is young and hungry. He creates moreinterpay on stage, pushes everyone else. I like panic more now than I ever did. Not to insult mikey or anything of the sort, but as a guitarist myself I have come to the conclusion that unlike say a trey anastasio or a warren haynes who have in betweens, you either liked mikey's playing or you didn't. What I am now seeing is that swarms of people are saying "yknow gee I never really liked panic that much before but now I dont know...." do the math

WonderBoogie starstarstarstarstar Sat 6/17/2006 08:22PM
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Kayceman, I always look forward to your reviews. You're always on point! ETA is a GREAT album and I'm in love with From the Cradle! Crazy, Good People and Second Skin are stellar as well.

See you all on the road!

leebarnhill starstarstarstarstar Wed 6/21/2006 06:58AM
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"There isn't a Mikey here. That era has passed; it's over. And the fans can either quit bitching about it and accept it or just move on."

I'm glad to see a member of the band come out and say that. I'm so f'in tired of listening to people say how Panic used to be so much better when he was still here. Maybe so, but I don't think you should look at it in that perspective. It's not about being better or worse, it's about being the same band, just w/some newly added flavor, which isn't always a bad thing.

BlueIndian starstarstarstarstar Wed 6/21/2006 03:26PM
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dear Terry Manning,
Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!!!!!!!!!

Palmettopanic starstarstarstar Thu 6/22/2006 12:56PM
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I do like this album more and more each time I listen to it. Second Skin could be shorter, while others longer. I wish JoJo and Mr. Ortiz would have been showcased much more on this album.

The horns on Goodpeople and You Should Be Glad sound a little cheesy and canned. I see these two songs being played at the WP and the DDBB shindigs, which will put some life into those shows.

The groovin' songs are From the Cradle and Time Zones, which lets George do his thing. I can't help but smile all through Ribs and Whiskey with the way JB's voice is smilin' like a mischievious imp.

I'll let leebarnhill's naive remarks slide since he really contradicts himself by quoting Schools, but then saying the band is the same with newly added flavor. Either that, or leebarnhill doesn't understand that Schools is saying the band IS different without Mikey, so accept it and realize this album reflects the Widespread Panic of the here and now.

Jessi22 Mon 6/26/2006 08:55AM
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I believe that varied style between songs on an album shows a mark of strength for a band. I think this album is definately their strongest yet. If anyone you know hasn't heard anything from it yet, send them this...

rgmbass starstarstarstar Tue 6/27/2006 09:46AM
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I wonder if anyone has really looked up from their computers lately.. Msybe you have changed alot since mikey... 5/6ths of the band is still there. George is a little faster, mikey was a little more "perfect" in his selection of notes; who gives a shit? its either good or bad period... i'll go with good

leebarnhill Tue 6/27/2006 01:40PM
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I guess I should have used the phrase "different but the same."

My bad man...

zmoney1 starstarstarstar Wed 6/28/2006 12:17PM
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after seeing WSP @ RR last weekend I must say I am hooked on E2A. I don't like comparing albums, its useless. But I wasn't feeling the groove quite right until I heard it live... now i get it.. peace and enjoy the music.

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstarstarstar Thu 6/29/2006 04:43PM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

It is useless to nitpick about it. Its useless to compare the albums. Its useless to bicker about what was better when. I saw the dead 14 times. I saw JGB twice. I have seen WSP 100 times.. You know what? I still go to see Ratdog, Phil, and Panic!!!! Why??? The spirit, the creativity, and the spirit are still there. Buddism teaches EVERYTHING is impermanent!!! Its true!! Fight, argue, bicker, stop going to shows, it doesnt matter, ALL THINGS CHANGE, accept it, and you can go on enjoying music because its different and ever expanding to achieve a new and lasting conciousness that can last for that moment in time. When a band plays a show, ONLY THAT SHOW MATTERS, not every show in the past.. Get this in your headz, and you will be free.. Peace, Ya'll..

nwilso starstarstarstar Sun 7/2/2006 04:48AM
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I think the album rocks. I think i've listened to the album about 100 times and I still smile everytime I hear it. Thanks guys

steve66 starstarstarstarstar Mon 7/3/2006 12:39PM
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DonnaT starstarstarstarstar Sat 7/15/2006 10:57AM
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As a new panic fan I'm so glad to finally hear comments on the Houser/George thing from someone who counts...Dave Schools. THANKS. As a good WSP fan I have done my homework and LOVE Houser/old WSP and the beautiful Sandbox album. E2A ROCKS!... but the live downloads have been even better for myself. "From the Cradle" is right on time...just can't get enough of Panic and can't wait until the KY show!!!!