Phish frontman Trey Anastasio has always used his solo efforts as an alternative to the traditional sounds of Phish’s guitar, bass, piano and drums approach. While Phish is known mostly for it’s lengthy and improvisational live shows, Anastasio has always used his solo, live and studio efforts to add sonic textures and dynamics that branch out from his norms.
On “Traveler,” his first studio album since 2009, Anastasio enlists the help of producer Peter Katis, who has worked with artists such as Interpol, The National and The Swell Season. A myriad of guest musicians also appear on the album, including members of The National and Bon Iver.
The album’s sound is one that might need to grow on those who are used to Anastasio’s work with Phish. A pop-influenced, adult-contemporary flavor has taken center stage alongside lyrics that have surely matured from Phish’s usually goofy, nonsensical vernacular. Katis keeps Anastasio from drifting too far away from this formula by keeping track lengths down — the longest track being just over 6 minutes.
The lead track, “Corona,” sets the scene for the lush sonic landscape that is to follow. As a new song in Anastasio’s immense musical catalog, this one is sure to please fans both new and old.
“Let Me Lie,” makes its third appearance on an Anastasio studio effort. It first was released on his 2006 solo album, “Bar 17,” and then rerecorded during Phish’s 2009 reunion album, “Party Time,” appearing on a bonus disk for those who purchased the box set. Much to the dismay, grunts and groans of many fans, Anastasio has, for some reason, kept the song around and evolving. But perhaps this version is where the evolution comes full tilt. The addition of Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman’s backing vocals fill out the sound in a way the Phish format couldn’t.
“Frost” is a beautiful song and a welcome addition to the repertoire. It is followed by “Land of Nod,” a mostly instrumental track that showcases some of Anastasio’s Frank Zappa influences. Toward the end of the track, “I was asleep for so long” is sung over and over again, which one can infer as a reference to Anastasio’s past substance abuse issues that he has since overcome.
As another track that began as a Phish offering, “Pigtail” has seemingly and permanently been handed over to Trey Anastasio’s band. The studio version exemplifies why, and the female backing vocals, in addition to a complimentary horn section, do much to round out the sound.
The Zappa influences of “Scabbard,” the album’s most bizarre track, could not be any clearer to those familiar with the late musician’s abstract, unconventional musical stylings. For those purchasing “Traveler” in hopes of getting something reminiscent of Phish’s sonically complex jams, this is the track you do not want to miss.
Anastasio’s band began covering Gorillaz song “Clint Eastwood” during their 2011 spring tour. Ever since, it has remained a staple in the band’s live performances, so much so that they decided to cover the song in a studio setting. Anastasio gives way to Jennifer Hartswick on this track, and her sassy, soulful vocals breathe new air into the classic track.
It is clear that, since becoming sober, Anastasio has rejuvenated his love for music and composition. The clarity of his modern day lyrics, compositional work and recording techniques show a man who has matured in many ways and who clearly enjoys every day of his life.
Phish is coming off its best tour since the band reunited in 2009. Anastasio’s band has proven a force to be reckoned with and serves as a great outlet for all of his ideas that just don’t quite fit into the Phish realm.