CD reviews: Widespread Panic, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Donald Fagen

Widespread Panic

When Georgia jam band Widespread Panic embarked on its 2012 Wood Tour, it did things a little differently from previous tours.

First, only acoustic instruments were allowed, which was a pretty major departure from its bluesy electric guitar sound.

Second, instead of barnstorming 20 or 30 cities across the country, the band decided to spend multiple nights in just four. It played two nights at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, Md., then three nights at The Tabernacle in Atlanta, followed by three nights at The Fillmore in Denver and ending in Aspen, Colo. at Belly Up.

The best moments of those shows have been collected on a two-CD set, which demonstrates the band’s acoustic chops.

Opening with a cover of The Beatles’ “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” the recording is so pristine that you can hear the crowd singing the “you know it ain’t easy” part of the chorus.

Other highlights include special guest Col. Bruce Hampton singing “Fixin’ to Die” at the Atlanta show, as well as obvious crowd favorites like “Ain’t Life Grand” and “Tall Boy.”

For a band that is known as a plugged-in powerhouse, it’s pretty fascinating to hear it tackle these songs with only acoustic instruments.

Key Tracks: “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” “Ain’t Life Grand,” “Fixin’ to Die”

When the Black Crowes dropped into the national music consciousness in 1990, popular music was in a state of flux.

The ’80s were over, and its pop and metal excess, goaded in part by MTV (when they used to actually play music videos), was dissipating while the Seattle grunge sound was still stuck in Seattle.

Then along came Chris Robinson and his Black Crowes, and suddenly it was cool to be a real rock band again.

While the Crowes have suffered from frequent bouts of hiatus, Robinson has kept things going in quite a few ways.

His current project, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, has released its sophomore effort, “The Magic Door,” and the sound is more Grateful Dead blues than the Rolling Stones-like sound of the Crowes.

From The Allman Brothers-like boogie of “Let’s Go Let’s Go Let’s Go” to mellower offerings such as “Appaloosa” and “Sorrows of a Blue Eyed Liar,” there’s a lot to like here.

Black Crowes fans won’t have to stretch their tastes too far to enjoy the music of CRB, and newcomers likely will dig the laid-back hippie groove of the songs.

Some bands work hard to make their music sound like this, but in the case of Robinson, it all seems as if it flows directly from the guy’s DNA. Check out CRB for yourself, as the band takes up residence at The Pour House this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Key Tracks: “Let’s Go Let’s Go Let’s Go,” “Appaloosa,” “Little Lizzy Mae”

As one half of the ’70s jazz-pop juggernaut Steely Dan, Donald Fagen was 50 percent responsible for doing something few bands do really well: creating a signature sound.

That sound bled over when Fagen began making solo albums after Steely Dan broke up in 1981 (they reunited in 1993), and the sound honestly didn’t stray too far from his work in Steely Dan, much to the delight of fans.

Fagen’s latest solo effort, “Sunken Condos,” continues to follow that same plan, and it’s honestly his best solo work since his solo debut, 1982’s “The Nightfly.”

Playing with a swagger most have come to expect from him, Fagen still surprises with funky tracks like “Good Stuff” and “Memorabilia,” which sound like they would fit right in on classic Steely Dan albums like “Aja” and “Countdown to Ecstasy.”

Particularly great are the ridiculously funky opening track “Slinky Thing” and the bluesy “Weather in My Head.”

Fagen co-produces the album with Michael Leonhart, and I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be hearing about this album come Grammy time.

If you miss Steely Dan, then this album may take care of that.

Key Tracks: “Slinky Thing,” “Weather in My Head,” “Memorabilia”

By Devin Grant

Get the Charleston Scene newsletter

Live your most local life with the help of our handpicked music, events and food stories. Delivered to your inbox every Thursday.