Earth to America marks the 20th anniversary of Georgia's premier road warriors on record (they actually formed in the early-1980s). To reward fans for their support, there's a lot of bang for the buck on this 62-minute recording, including 11-minute space-funk jam "Second Skin," which gets the party started. Sadly, 2006 also marks the fourth anniversary of Michael "Panic" Houser's passing. That year, they added George McConnell on guitar, recorded 2003's
Ball, and then took an uncharacteristic 15-month break. For their next effort, the sextet decided to shake up their usual production process by trading John Keane's Athens for Terry Manning's Bahamas-based Compass Point Studios (whose clients include Lenny Kravitz and ZZ Top). Manning also loaned the band Robert Johnson's Dobro for the Canned Heat-meets-Blues Traveler jaunt, "Ribs and Whiskey," another album highlight. Despite the loss of their co-founder, Widespread Panic's ninth studio effort isn't a downera thoughtful enterprise perhaps, but not a pessimistic one, as John Bell affirms in the penultimate track, "You should be glad." Fittingly, its followed by "May Your Glass Be Filled," an adaptation of a poem dedicated to Houser.
--Kathleen C. Fennessy