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Three Simple Ingredients: Organ, Organ and Organ

Widespread Panic tries to both honor and outdo The Band.
Widespread Panic tries to both honor and outdo The Band.

For its contribution to the Band tribute album Endless Highway, Widespread Panic offers neither a faithful cover of "Chest Fever" nor a recasting. Instead, the group takes an approach so obvious, and so unlikely to succeed, that few ever try it: They try to beat the original at its own game.

As anyone who's heard it knows, The Band's "Chest Fever" is essentially about three things: organ, organ and more organ. Garth Hudson was usually The Band's secret weapon, but on "Chest Fever," he stepped out and took the spotlight. His proclamatory introduction to the song incorporated classical, church music, blues and rock 'n' roll motifs into what would have been pure art-rock in the hands of anyone else.

Widespread Panic recognizes that and attempts to outdo Hudson by way of honoring him. Keyboardist John Hermann's own introduction heaves scraps of Hudson's original at one another until the whole thing collapses under its own weight and Hermann can only keep hitting fistfuls of keys to keep the thing going. From there, his group shifts into the song itself, using the horn-based arrangement featured in The Last Waltz. It's a fine version, but everything that happens from there on out is simply momentum realized.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Marc Hirsh
Marc Hirsh lives in the Boston area, where he indulges in the magic trinity of improv comedy, competitive adult four square and music journalism. He has won trophies for one of these, but refuses to say which.