One thing that can definitively be said about Widespread Panic is that they sound like no one else but themselves, whether they are playing covers live or performing original material. In some ways, that’s the worst thing one can say about them as well. On most of their studio recordings, Widespread Panic come off as so utterly unfocused and even generic that whatever killer grooves they lay down get overshadowed by loose jamming to show off their musicianship as individuals. Earth to America, recorded at the famed Compass Point studio in Nassau, is, thankfully, a new stripe. The music here feels meaner, leaner, and more concentrated in relation to songwriting and arrangement. Check out the dark, swirling voodoo groove on the 11-minute opener, “Second Skin.” Singer and guitarist John Bell sounds like he means every word that comes out of his mouth. The band staggers the guitars just in front and in back of the beat, laid down tightly by drummer Todd Nance and bassist Dave Schools. Guitarist George McConnell and keyboardist John Hermann create a big, evil sound using very little. The crescendos are terrific, and elevate the tune from its lockstep groove. They dig deep into funk-rock on “Goodpeople.” It’s an orgy of wah-wah pedals, and percussionist Domingo S. Ortiz‘s hands are everywhere. Hard rock prevails on “Solid Rock.” Ortiz‘s Afro-Cuban percussion makes “Crazy” into an intricate, slippery, and rocking Anglo-Cuban son. The other really long cut on this set, “You Should Be Glad,” is also Latin-flavored, with killer percussion and keyboard breaks and a horn section in the instrumental break. The only times Widespread Panic fail here are on the down-home acoustic numbers that don’t ring true and feel like filler. Had “From the Cradle” and “Whiskey and Ribs” been left off, the set would have been ten minutes shorter, but it would have easily been their best studio offering. Thank goodness for remote controls.