Free Somehow

You can’t say Widespread Panic isn’t aging gracefully. It’s been two decades since the band was gigging around bars in its native Athens. Ga., and the group has certainly earned its gradual rise into amphitheatre status as the South’s favorite jam band. In the studio, though, the band has never quite equaled the adventure of the live show. Free Somehow makes a big play to match the glory and occasionally succeeds with some diversity beyond the band’s usual bag of tricks. The opening “Boom Boom Boom” is a straightforward roadhouse march that seems like a B-side at best. But soon after the band lets new lead guitarist Jimmy Herring (Allman Brothers Band, The Dead) unleash his jazzy inflected runs that intermingle tastefully with a horn section on the stretched out “Angels on High.” Lead singer John Bell is also in fine form, expanding his whiskey soaked warble into a folkie Dylan-esque ramble on “Tickle the Truth.” The album peaks with “Her Dance Needs No Body,” a dark odyssey enhanced with orchestral strings that spirals into eight minutes of rock opera emotion. It’s a fun roller coaster, but still something I’d rather see live.
—Jedd Ferris