Album Review: Widespread Panic's "Street Dogs" September 28, 2015 09:22
Written by Preston Barnes - Live & Listen
Photos by Live & Listen - Orange Beach, AL - 05.22.15
The boys are back with their long awaited 12th studio album, Street Dogs. Recorded in an old church that is Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, NC, Street Dogs was produced by longtime collaborator and friend of the band, John Keane. Different from most of their past albums, Street Dogs was largely recorded live and in one room. It sounds like Panic sought refuge from the many takes and lonely glass windowed rooms that generally take place in recording a full-length studio album. Playing in this format, however, probably better suits a band like Widespread Panic, which has always been referred to as a “have to see them live” type outfit, traveling from city to city as its many followers join them from show to show. You will feel a certain raw energy with each tune that is definitely maximized by the live recording format.
The band jumps into a heavy groove right from the get go in their version of the old Alan Price tune, “Sell, Sell.” This song has been a mainstay in Panic’s setlists over the past few years, and the lengthy album version they provide is much like any live version you will hear on tour. From the quintessential Dave Schools’ bass heavy breakdowns, to Jimmy Herring’s roaring wah wah infused solos, and accentuated by John Bell’s undeniable workingman vocals, “Sell, Sell” is a great starter that really sets the tone for the rest of the album. Following the jam-heavy opening track is one of the more popular new songs from the past few tours, “Steven’s Cat”. Along with its clever title, this tune is a great example of Panic’s ability to write solid rock n’ roll compositions. Bell has said that this song pays respects to many of the band’s favorite artists, most notably, Cat Stevens, who is alluded to in Bell’s lyrics. The next two songs blend together quite nicely, as the New Orleans inspired “Cease Fire” and its multitude of rhythms courtesy of Duane Trucks and Sunny Ortiz, peacefully flow into the relaxed vibes and textures of “Jamais Vu (The World Has Changed)”. Herring’s guitars beautifully whine throughout Jamais Vu, a song that Bell describes as a nod to the late Garrie Vereen, a long time Widespread Panic crewmember. The song is both lyrically and musically introspective, a signature technique and marking of how this great band creates and approaches music.
After the calm of “Jamais Vu”, Panic ventures into the blues with “Angels Don’t Sing the Blues.” From the basic blues signature of 4/4 and ending with a 3/4 waltz signature, this undulating blues number goes back and forth between various tempos, allowing each member to show of their blues chops. Halfway through the album comes the second cover in Murray McLauchlan's "Honky Red." This rocking number has been played many times over the years, so it was quite a treat for many fans to see it on the new album. “Honky Red” much like the 8th track of the album, “Welcome to My World,” provides that growling rock which is emphasized through Bell’s vocals and Herring’s masterful guitar work. “Welcome to My World” is a somewhat surprising song in that it differs musically from the rest of the album and sees Panic venturing off into a 70’s southern rock mold.
“The Positive House of Poor Thinking” is the first JoJo Herman song on the album, as his signature voice and piano playing shine throughout the song. The album ends on a blues and boogie woogie note with the songs “Taildragger” and “Street Dogs for Breakfast.” The Willie Dixon tune, “Taildragger,” is the third and final cover on the album and man is it a heavy blues tune. If you love some intense yet tasteful guitar playing, then this is the song for you. Finally, the album ends with the title track, which is the second song spearheaded by keymaster, Jojo. “Street Dogs for Breakfast” is your classic JoJo written song, as it is full of the boogie and cheerful as hell. You will want to throw one back listening to this foot tapping number.
All in all, Street Dogs is another solid installment in the already illustrious career of one of America’s most beloved bands. As they near their 30th anniversary, Widespread Panic continues to show why they are nowhere near stopping and are still at the top of their game. Furthermore, look out for the return of founding member and original drummer, Todd Nance, who is slated to reunite with the band in 2016. It should be another fun year for them, but until then, let’s all enjoy Fall tour and what look to be some legendary NYE shows in Atlanta.