Rolling Stone - 12/29/94-1/12/95, p.181
"...Widespread Panic come closest to capturing some of the Allmans' grandeur--fat organ, fluid guitar, dense percussion--but they summon up, too, a tad of the Grateful Dead's laid-back charm..."
Widespread Panic: John Bell (vocals, guitar, mandolin); Michael Houser (guitar, vocals); John Hermann (keyboards, vocals); David Schools (bass, vocals); Todd Nance (drums); Domingo S. Ortiz (percussion, vocals).
Additional personnel: Eric Carter, Adrienne Fishe, Ronnie Gizmo (vocals); John Keane (guitar, vocals, pedal steel guitar); David Blackmon (fiddle); Dwight Manning (oboe).
Recorded at Keane Recording, Athens, Georgia. Includes liner notes by Col. Bruce Hampton.
All songs written by Widespread Panic, except "Can't Get High" (Daniel Hutchens/Eric Carter) and "Junior" (Junior Kimbrough).
Personnel: John Bell (vocals, guitar, mandolin); John Keane, Michael Houser (vocals, guitar); John Hermann (vocals, keyboards); Domingo Ortiz, S. Dominto Ortiz (vocals, percussion); Eric Isa Carter, Dave Schools, Eric Carter, Adriene Fishe, Eric Carter, Ronnie Gizmo (vocals); David Blackmon (fiddle); Dwight Manning, Dwight Manning (oboe); Todd Nance (drums).
Audio Mixers: Clif Norrell; John Keane; Caram Costanzo.
Recording information: John Keane's Studio, Athens, GA.
Photographer: Jackie Jasper.
Unknown Contributor Role: Michael Houser.
Like fellow jam band Phish, Widespread Panic released its debut in the late 1980s and gradually built a devoted following before reaching a new level of success in the mid '90s. Although the ensemble never achieved the level of fame that Phish did, AIN'T LIFE GRAND brought the Athens, Georgia-based group a significant amount of attention, thanks in large part to tight, accessible songs that lent themselves to improvisatory expansiveness when needed, but weren't immediately over-indulgent. The lilting title track, the laid-back "Airplane," and the lovelorn "Can't Get High," which became a minor radio hit, are all excellent examples of Panic's restrained spin on the genre. Further belying its jam-band tag, Panic offers up other relatively straightforward tunes here, including the folk-tinged "Raise the Roof" and the searing "Blackout Blues," and manages to bookend the disc with the hard-driving Southern rock of "Little Kin" and "Fishwater." Of course, Widespread Panic does indulge in some instrumental flights of fancy on this outing, revealing that while they've earned their hippie-leaning reputation, the band isn't limited by it.