Street Dogs

Widespread Panic

Widespread Records / Concord, 2015

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


You know how some records just ooze cool? This is one of them, and it's an autumn delight.

The six-man jam band recorded this disc live in the studio, with only minimal overdubs added, and most of the songs are the first takes attempted. Moreover, the "studio" was once a church, which contributes to the huge sound here. Finally, the drummer for this project is Duane Trucks, younger brother of Allman Brother Butch. 

All of this would be moot if the songs didn't deliver, but do they ever, with swagger and grit to spare. Nominally, Widespread Panic is Southern blues-rock-jam-country, and this is one of their finest offerings to date and a hell of a rock album. There's not a lot of subtlety, and not one song is shorter than four and a half minutes, with several over six. It's just fun.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It is admittedly classicist, too, with hints of Dark Side of the Moon, Traffic's "The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys," many other blues-rock bands of the last 40 years, and the group's Southern rock forefathers (Allmans and Skynyrd, naturally). But the 10 songs are modern and intoxicating, leaving nobody left behind in their musical scope.

"Sell Sell" is all attitude and smoking guitar - all hail the guitar solo, it will never get old - and "Steven's Cat" is more subdued (not quite stoner rock, but getting there) but infused with soul in John Bell's voice and the life-affirming solo that ends the song. "Cease Fire" tries for a vague Latin feel in the congas and Santana allusions before veering off into what sounds like a cover of Pink Floyd's "Breathe," which surprisingly works well thanks to the guitar punctuation. "Angels Don't Sing the Blues" is along the same lines but with a strong jazz guitar inflection during the instrumental parts; once it's over, you wonder if there's anything Jimmy Herring can't do, or at least why he's not more of a household name.

"Honky Red" lowers itself into the grime, a gritty blues-rocker where you feel Bell's words and almost will the guitar solo to set you free, which of course it does, if only for a moment. Music does that. The song is a cover, actually, but one the band has torn up live as of late, and as it winds to a close the hints of Neil Young's Crazy Horse filter through to add dimension.

Following that song would be tough, and the next three songs all lean hard into modern country-rock (think Zac Brown Band) but offer diminishing results; only the snarling "Tail Dragger" is worth a repeat listen for how Bell channels his gut into each word, sounding a bit like John Fogerty on CCR's "Born on the Bayou." And while closer "Street Dogs for Breakfast" closes the disc with a shrug, it's a fun bar band boogie that unwinds the crowd before last call.

A guitar album of the highest order, Street Dogs takes you where you need to go and kicks your ass on the way there, but buys you a beer afterward. Not many albums have done that this year. Check it out.

Rating: B

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© 2015 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Widespread Records / Concord, and is used for informational purposes only.