February 2003

Trey Anastasio
Elektra CD 62749-2
Released: 2002

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ***1/2 *
Recording Quality **
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2 *

I have a confession to make: Despite being a Vermonter and a music lover with very diverse tastes, I’ve never been a big fan of the rock group Phish. One of the very few groups from my small state that makes it big in the music industry, and I, a native son, am not a follower. Weird, huh? Still, when a good friend and modern-rock fan suggested that Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio’s self-titled album was worthy of my consideration, I was intrigued.

While the influences in Anastasio’s music are many, the main inspiration is Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead. Anastasio carries on that jam-band, let's-have-some-fun-while-making-good-music tradition that the Dead did so well and that Phish cultivated further. There’s a tight-yet-loose-jointed feel to Trey Anastasio that seeps out of every song. Anastasio and friends are more contemplative here than rocking, but that adds to the enjoyment factor, as it allows the listener to fall into the music more deeply. The track that best exemplifies this and also demonstrates Garcia’s inspiration is "Last Tube." You can almost see the smiles on the musician's faces and hear them tossing back laughter as they recorded this one. At over 11 minutes, this conglomeration of diverse styles is welded together into a song so beautifully rendered that you will wish didn’t have to end.

Further, you’ll hear styles that cover everything from rock to blues to jazz to world -- all there for you to pick out at your leisure. One of the more enjoyable aspects of this melding, however, is that none of the influences calls attention to itself; they just sort of blend into the overall soundscape.

Take"Ray Dawn Balloon," for instance. You’ll hear echoes of Sergeant Pepper’s-era Beatles sound combined with a touch of folk and bluegrass. This is an interesting combination, one that makes for a mighty tasty sonic treat. Also, listen to "Alive Again" for an enjoyable blend of Latino music with pop/rock.

It is a shame that the sonics on Trey Anastasio don’t come up to the level of the music. While it’s easy to follow most of the musical lines, none of the instruments is all that clearly recorded. The low-level detail that helps bridge the gap between canned music and live music is missing from this album. Anastasio’s vocals have an edge to them that sounds a lot like microphone overloading. It doesn’t happen on every cut, mind you, but when it’s there, it’s noticeable. Many of these problems are those that arise when you spend six months recording, as Anastasio and friends did here at The Barn back home in Vermont.

If you are a Phish fan, this disc is a must-buy. If you’re a Deadhead and you’re casting about for music that can help fill the void, then check out Trey Anastasio and find much to enjoy. And if, like me, you love to explore new musical horizons (even if they’re to be found in your own backyard), then this CD may offer you a new musical vista.