Reviews of new CDs from Widespread Panic, The Slack Family Bluegrass Band and "Weird Al" Yankovic 

CD Reviews

Widespread Panic, "'Til The Medicine Takes"The Slack Family Bluegrass Band"Weird Al" Yankovic, "Running with Scissors"(Click on a CD title or cover to order that CD from Amazon.com)
Play These Songs"Blue Indian""Surprise Valley""The Waker"

Real Audio RequiredWidespread Panic, "'Til The Medicine Takes" (Capricorn Records) — With its latest release Widespread Panic has added turntables, horns and gospel singers to their Southern jam-rock and it works.

Last year's "Panic In The Streets" cleverly captured the band at its best, in front of an audience. On-stage, John Bell's emotive vocals, Richmond-native Dave Schools' funky bass, Michael Houser's characteristic building guitar and Todd Nance's drum foundation are iced with colorful percussion from Sunny Ortiz and Jojo Hermann's creative key pecking.

WP's sound has never translated well onto a studio album, until now. Instead of trying to recreate its live magic on disc, the band has embraced experimental studio techniques.

Bell's vocal interpretation of the band's metaphoric lyrics has always been WP's secret weapon. Widespread Panic rarely plays a song about a situation, instead Bell sings as if he is the character in the song.

"Blue Indian" finds Bell as an old Native American poignantly crooning about the way life was. Guitarist Houser's tender voice shines on "The Waker," as he sings through the eyes of his infant son. The bouncing banjo beat and angelic backup vocals inspire a smile.

"Dyin' Man" offers the band's boldest experimentation. The driving beat and funky bass line is electronically altered by scratching turntables while synth loops accent powerful harmonizing by Bell and Herman.

— Carrie Nieman

Play These Songs"Summertime""My Funny Valentine""All Soul"

Real Audio Required -->The Slack Family Bluegrass Band (Planetary Records) — From the opening rampaging banjo licks, this 13-cut project is a tasty, traditional bluegrass gem. Recorded in a mere two days at Richmond's Sound of Music studios, it's remarkably rhythmical and tight. There's plenty of mandolin and banjo mastery, slick guitar runs and dobro edge. An ever- present, solid upright bass locks it all down. Joe Wharff's vocals are straightforward but very warm, real and unpretentious and nicely blended harmonies lend keen support.

The song selection is a little worn in places; maybe on their next effort the guys will venture from the oldies but goodies, especially since the three Wharff originals included on this recording are terrific tunes that easily stand up to the more standard fare. Sometimes a little bluegrass can go a long way, but this project shines with an energy and spirit that makes it a delightful listen throughout. Support your local musicians when you can.

— Ames Arnold

Play These Songs"Grapefruit Diet""Pretty Fly For A Rabbi""The Saga Begins"

Real Audio Required"Weird Al" Yankovic, "Running with Scissors" (Volcano) — I used to roll the carpet back in my den and roller skate to Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust." The only words I knew were "another one bites the dust" at which points in the song I would skate really fast. Later, I was sure Dire Straits sang "get your money for nothing and your chips for free." I thought the song was about gambling and couldn't figure out what MTV had to do with it.

When I don't know the lyrics to my favorite songs, I make them up and sing nonsense. So does Al Yankovic. It's been years since "Weird Al" smooched Queen with his parody "Another One Rides the Bus," but Yankovic's latest release "Running With Scissors" proves he's still a farce to be reckoned with.

On "Running With Scissors" the saga begins with "The Saga Begins," a richly lyrical "Star Wars" spoof on one of the most beloved and exhausting songs to date: "American Pie." The chorus goes like this: "My, my this here Anakin guy/May be Vader some day later/now he's just a small fry."

Other Weird Al parodies: "Pretty Fly For A Rabbi," a takeoff of the Offspring's "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)"; "Jerry Springer" to the tune of Barenaked Ladies' "One Week"; and "Grapefruit Diet," a sendup of the Cherry Poppin' Daddies' "Zoot Suit Riot."

Kudos to "Weird Al" for giving us more than the spic 'n' span wash of prefab music or Milli Vanilli mockery.

— Brandon Walters

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