Choice Cuts: The Capricorn Years 1991-1999

by: Widespread Panic

Choice Cuts documents Widespread Panic's (the last of the old-school jam bands) tenure with Capricorn Records, from 1988 when Space Wrangler was reissued (from its original incarnation on Landslide) through to 1999's 'Til the Medicine Takes 11 years later. There's a huge problem with compilations like this: first, WP are better witnessed live than heard in a recording studio. The second is that, with a group like this, band choices are likely to be wildly divergent from the choices of fans. That is certainly the case here. Space Wrangler is a great case in point: the two cuts chosen from it, a cover of J.J. Cale's "Travelin' Light" and the band's own "Chilly Water," are OK -- the latter more representative than the former. But, that said, what was so revolutionary about WP on that recording was the CD issue with the bonus jam that combined Robert Johnson's "Me and the Devil Blues" and Talking Heads' "Heaven." There is still nothing like it out there. "Travelin' Light" gets to the band's more intense moments, but nothing like the dreamy intensity of that medley. On the second, self-titled album, while "Love Tractor" was a quirky crowd-pleaser live, its studio version feels stilted, though the consolation prize is the funky, horn-driven "Weight of the World," with Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love of the Memphis Horns prefiguring WP's gig with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band by a decade. The trippy "Papa's Home" from Everyday is here, along with a nondescript pair from Ain't Life Grand ("Blackout Blues" sounds like it was deeply influenced by Dickey Betts' country-ish material) and the slippery funk of "Rebirtha," which must have pleased Deadheads since it sounds like lead singer John Bell on an outtake from Terrapin Station. There are three cuts from 'Til the Medicine Takes and a pair from the underrated live monster Light Fuse, Get Away from 1998. These cuts, "Pickin' Up the Pieces" and "Pigeons" (particularly the former), are fine examples of the kind of snap, crackle, and spaced-out musicianship that WP are capable of when they are on. It's true that these are shorter cuts, but the energy is all in there. This is a mixed bag. It's an OK intro for somebody new to Widespread Panic, but for veterans it's a nonevent. ~ Thom Jurek

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