It would be easy to dismiss Trey Anastasio’s second solo offering as Phish reincarnated. Truly, the album doesn’t deviate too much from the style that Anastasio molded with the band in the years leading up to the one-year hiatus, now in its second year and still going strong.
Yes, the self-titled effort does remind of the light-hearted nature that convinced die-hard fans to give up bathing for a month, cover their bodies in rags, and eat veggie burritos while dancing around wildly in circles to Phish’s music.
The band’s website does its best to make clear that the success Trey has found to this point has been random and unexpected. Everything the band did was spontaneous, as Anastasio kept inviting friend after friend to come in and jam before coming up with the 10 members that will tour this summer.
But it looks like the rich get richer. Because here is what every Phish fan was deep down hoping against – the new album hits its mark well. It’s good, and maybe the rest of his phunky ensemble could just as easily fall by the wayside.
Trey takes a successful formula and spices it up a bit, adding a horn section and female vocalists to the beats Phish thrived on. The jams are still there, they’re just a bit more eclectic (at least compared to Phish’s studio releases – very little exists that’s more eclectic than a live Phish show), a bit less guitar-driven, a bit more polished and frankly, a bit better.
Sure, every song on Trey Anastasio recalls of an old Phish number. But Trey seems headed down a different direction, almost more reminiscent of a Dave Matthews or John Popper. Ballads like “Flock of Words” would be an afterthought with Phish, a sweet ballad that deviates from the formula, but is still a good piece. Yet with the new album, there is no norm, and such songs exist on their own. The group pulls out the blues, jazz and everything in between. What would be straight jams on a Phish album become “At the Gazebo” here, where the many other instruments in play overpower Trey’s tremendous abilities on the guitar.
And yet, Trey’s guitar dominates “Ray Dawn Ballon” in a way that fans remember. The background doesn’t matter; it’s impossible not to be mesmerized by what the leader is doing up front.
How does it compare? Hard to tell – Phish never thrived in the studio. But Trey doesn’t do enough on the offering to stand alone. Again, it seems like we’ve heard all this before, maybe with a few less instruments, but it’s too familiar. It’s a lot like the girl who dumps you and then shows up two years later – you’re happy to see her again, but you wish that she’d changed a bit so you could get your mind off the past. “Last Tube” sounds like every Phish song ever recorded, only with a slightly heavier blues push. Same goes for “Either Sunday,” “Drifting” and “Mr. Completely.” Not a bad thing because we liked them the first time, but we didn’t buy a Phish CD.
Or did we?