Among the most popular heirs to the throne of scruff music, Widespread Panic has the uncanny power to pack venues (to the point of bursting) full of faithful, doped-up and ecstatic road warriors. With a little darker vibe than its musical forebears, the Grateful Dead, the band is led vocally by John Bell, who in appearance leans vaguely toward the brooding good-ol'-boy swagger of Southern rockers like the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet. Bell's voice has a sinister tone capable of rousing a rabble, and he's clearly not afraid to exploit the wah pedal. The late and much-adored Michael Houser has been replaced on guitar by George McConnell, a longtime WP fan. Paired with New Orleans's Dirty Dozen Brass Band for this outing (culled from two nights at the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach last November), the band moves somewhat heavily through lengthy takes of its own material, including "Bayou Lena," "Rebirtha" and the more recently crafted "Bust It Big." The disc's most buoyant moments arrive during covers of Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" and Bill Withers's "Use Me," when the eight-man DDBB latches onto these numbers' more funkified timing and horn-punches the jam-drenched groove. If you really like the Panic, you'll probably love every last note of Night of Joy.
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