John Hermann

Smiling Assassin

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Fans of John Hermann's keyboard work for the Athens, GA, jam band Widespread Panic may be confounded by this side project. Three days in a Mississippi recording studio with a few musical friends and neighbors resulted in an album's worth of blues and honky tonk tunes. Only two clock in at longer than five minutes -- and those just by mere seconds. But if Smiling Assassin lacks for extended jams and extraneous key changes, the album certainly packs in its share of spirited performances. North Mississippi All-Stars Luther and Cody Dickinson keep things loose and lively on lead guitar and drums, respectively. Blue Mountain's Cary Hudson plays fiddle on the album's title track and contributes some fierce amped-up harmonica to "Run You Down." Hermann's nasal twang may sound nothing like Gregg Allman or Dickey Betts, but his songs could easily be mistaken for Allman Brothers Band rarities and outtakes -- if the Allmans were just another Georgian garage band. A cover of Doc Pomus' "Lonely Avenue" -- a duet with Panic singer John Bell -- brings this accomplished debut to a close with a satisfied, drunken swagger. Guest appearances are also made by Widespread Panic's Domingo Ortiz, Todd Nance, and Mike Houser, as well as longtime Panic producer John Keane.

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