Widespread Panic Ball

Ball represents a new chapter in the near 20-year history of this Athens, GA jam band. After losing founding guitarist Michael Houser to cancer last year, they have soldiered on, adding Houser’s interim replacement George McConnell as a full-time member. The sextet has also taken a different approach in regards to presentation of the songs. Unlike past albums where the band would road-test material and refine songs before recording, this time around new material was not given public performance before recording. This decision seems to have paid off, by not being able to second guess themselves due to public reaction they have created one of their best studio sets yet. Decidedly more rootsy than their past few studio albums, the band has spread out arrangements more, given the songs more air to breathe and have succeeded in creating a more structured piece of work. Apart from the Latino-feel of "Thin Air,” the album is more smoky and atmospheric than most of their previous work. From the strong, haunting introductory guitar and organ combo of album opener "Fishing” through the slide-led groove of "Papa Johhny Road” to the album’s epic, sprawling psychedelic masterwork "Nebulous,” this is a reinvigorated Widespread Panic, one that deserves attention besides their loyal jam band base. (Sanctuary)