Picks and Pans Review: Bombs & Butterflies
A decade of slugging it out in clubs and theaters has deepened and matured Widespread Panic's free-flowing southern jam rock. They were on the original H.O.R.D.E. tour in 1992, one of the crop of bands playing tie-dyed rock for a generation born too late to have made the party the first time. They are perhaps the most psychedelic of the bunch, more grizzled and bluesy than Phish, more grounded and melodic than Blues Traveler.
Bombs & Butterflies is the group's best collection since their 1991 eponymous major-label debut. The Athens, Ga., sextet manages to be at once grandiose and grounded, making three-chord tunes soar thanks to muscular arrangements, a flexible rhythm section and the consistently inventive, expansive solos of keyboardist John Hermann and guitarist Michael Houser. There are even hooks to hang the jams on, allowing the songs to be open-ended without sounding long-winded or ponderous. Only John Bell's raspy voice occasionally grates. Echoes of the Allman Brothers Band, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane continue to ricochet around them, but Widespread Panic increasingly sound like themselves. (Capricorn/Mercury)