to build an individual identity which can also work as a viable commercial
entity apart from the mega-group that gave one fame and fortune is a challenge
that many famous names - from David Gilmour to Mick Jagger - were confronted
the same is true, of course, when it comes to the members of US rock quartet
Phish, a giant live attraction in the 90s, still a quite respectable commercial
entity to this day.
could argue that the fact that Trey Anastasio - the guitar player, and singer,
who penned about 90% of the music performed by the group - proved to be the
most successful member of the group when it comes to formulating a fresh
individual identity is not terribly surprising, except for the fact that
Anastasio's solo career has showed stylistic traits that, while not completely
alien from the music performed by Phish, inhabit very different climates. True,
Anastasio as a solo artist has produced his share of so-so material, the recent
Traveler (2012) as an album that while not being entirely successful has to be
admired for his daring choices. But Anastasio has always avoided easy moves.
compared to Anastasio, the other members of Phish have proved to be very
reluctant leaders, also not very prolific writers.
player and singer Mike Gordon can write original songs, while his love for
traditional American music such as Bluegrass, and his strong affinity for
Calypso-influenced climates are a strong ingredient of his songs. Of course, an
ingredient that proves to be "a change of pace" in a group's output
can prove to be "not enough" when it comes to sustaining a solo
things a bit, this has proved to be Gordon's dilemma: whether to cultivate a
personal aesthetic which is not commercial enough to build a career upon, or to
perfect a kind of "Phish-light" formula with a larger appeal but
which, in light of its ingredients, will be forever compared to the music of
brilliant extra episodes are the fruit of his collaboration with guitarist Leo
Kottke: Clone (2002), and Sixty Six Steps (2005).
first solo album proper, Inside in (2003) is a bizarre work that still sounds
great, trombones and steel guitars going hand-by-hand with Gordon's
unmistakable humor. The album was just a studio work, though.
five years later, The Green Sparrow was a great step forward, Gordon showing
great chops and maturity both on (electric) guitar and various keyboards.
Though a kind of "Phish" aroma was impossible to avoid, the music
sounded quite personal, and ready to be performed on stage. An album that still
sounds good - interested readers will have no trouble finding my in-depth
readers won't find my review of Gordon album #3, though. To me, Moss (2010)
sounded like a tired replica of The Green Sparrow, almost like Gordon had put
the tracks that sounded best on this album, instead featuring on Moss all those
tracks that had been recorded at a time when all musicians were tired, and
ready to go home. Let's not forget, though, that by then Phish had regrouped
for the second time, releasing Joy (2009). So it's quite likely that by this
time Gordon's priorities had changed.
looks like in the new phase of their career Phish prefer to concentrate all
group efforts in a compressed time frame. So when it comes to "life on the
road" it looks like the previous "never-ending tour" that was
typical of the first chapter in the life of the group is now a thing of the
past. And so, while we wait for their new album, produced by Bob Ezrin, to be
released, Mike Gordon has found the time to record his solo album #4, taking it
onstage in a brief tour.
penned all the material with (guitarist and singer) Scott Murawski, who's been
a member of Gordon's group for quite some time now. It goes without saying that
this is a choice not entirely devoid of risks.
many instruments - such as organ, accordion, percussion, and pedal steel - are
featured on the album, all played by competent musicians, the most important
decision when it comes to the album sounding good has to do with the chosen
drummer, who's Matt Chamberlain (whom I listened to for the very first time on
Fiona Apple's debut album, Tidal, from 1996). Chamberlain is a good timekeeper
and a fine "colourist". Also a fine practitioner of the creation of
live loops, and one of the first drummers alongside Butch Vig to adopt this
strategy. Chamberlain sports a long list of collaborations. (His most recent at
the time of this writing being, I think, his performing with Soundgarden, Matt
Cameron being busy with Pearl Jam).
and engineering are by Paul Q. Kolderie, who needs no introduction. The album
sounds fine, with a good first floor by drums and guitars - here the bass
contribution is more streamlined, with a different task, compared to what it's
usually played by Gordon - and vocals above, sitting well in the track.
it was to be expected, the weak point are the songs, the repertory here
sounding not too far from what I'd call "generic American rock".
Songs are quite short - eleven tracks for a bit less than 50' - though I'm sure
there will be solos live.
definitely not a snooze-fest, the album sounded boring to me, and a poor
competitor to the Spring blue sky outside my window. Murawski's vocals are a
bit ho-hum, and there's a dated "70s FM rock radio" groove the does
not definitely help. Above all, this is an album that lacks ambition, and which
never sounds convinced of its own "necessity".
quick look at the songs.
starts with effects, acoustic guitar arpeggios, vocals. It has a lazy groove,
mid-tempo, a formula that's repeated several times on the album. The chorus
reminded me a bit of Paul McCartney "rock", à la Maybe I'm Amazed.
Little World is a vivacious mid-tempo, which reminded me of mid-70s Steve
Miller Band. A fine groove, this one will play great live.
has a bluegrass melody played as a rock song, with fine acoustic/electric
guitars, à la Who's Next.
Road is a fine reggae, with a puzzling arrangement choice: the talk-box here
sounds a bit too close for comfort to the one featured on Haitian Divorce by
Steely Dan (played by Dean Parks and Walter Becker).
Something is an ordinary track, with mediocre falsetto.
is a "funk" track à la Mike Gordon, with fine bass and drums.
is another mid-tempo, it reminded me of Phish.
World has Mike Gordon on vocals, acoustic guitars, and the accordion.
is a welcome note on the album, a fine mix of psychedelia and bluegrass.
Black Line has a mid-tempo groove halfway between Grateful Dead and Phish.
There's a guitar solo with wha-wha (here Trey Anastasio definitely comes to
sports fine acoustic and electric guitars, and a very fine bass part. It's a
good album close.
© Beppe Colli 2014
| Apr. 10, 2014