Anastasio solo debut has a little too much to offer

by Sam Lederer | 5/6/02 5:00am

There is something to be said for an album that has a sense of continuity to it. I'm not saying that every album should be some drawn-out concept album, but there should some resemblance between the songs on a recording. Former Phish mastermind Trey Anastasio's self-titled debut solo album has no continuity whatsoever -- it is a veritable grab bag of music.

After Anastasio's attempted super group Oysterhead failed miserably, the jam-band icon set out to make an album that all could embrace. Combining the perfect amount of structure (a nine-piece horn section) with his superb improvisational skills, Trey put something for everyone on this album. This is where it went wrong.

The album has a little too much. There are straight groove tunes such as "Drifting," there are hard rock songs like "Cayman Review," reggae is incorporated on the Marley-inspired tune "Either Sunday," and there is even some Latin flair on "Alive Again." As if these songs weren't random enough, the combination string ballad elevator music songs "At the Gazebo" and "Ray Dawn Balloon" complete the utter chaos of the album.

The first cut on the album, "Alive Again," was somewhat believable with its jazzy fire and cheesy hook. But the overachieving "Flock of Words" showed me how ill-conceived this album really is. Despite his intimate and soothing voice, Anastasio lacks the believability to undertake an autobiographical piano ballad.

"Last Tube," at an unnecessary 11 minutes, also tries too hard to be the typical jam marathon tune. The song loses its way early, as the percussion cannot hold together the song's varied melodies and lengthy jam sections. Like "Mr. Completely" and the rest of the album, "Last Tube" lacks direction. After the first two minutes of the song, I was asking myself: where is this going?

I never got an answer to that question. Like a lost driver, I only found dead-ends and endless U-turns. After listening to the cool, yet busy, "Push on 'Til the Day," I thought I knew the pop-oriented direction in which Anastasio was taking me. The blues-flavored "Night Speaks to a Woman" instantly shattered this notion. While the song possessed a wide range of difficult and interesting guitar riffs, tacky backup vocals ruin the song's credibility.

This was a common trend of the CD: good musicianship spoiled by ambitious, yet ostentatious, attempts at genius. "Mr. Completely" epitomizes this aspect of the album. By trying to cover everything, the song loses its way as it jumps from sonic guitar riffs at one point to pop vocals in the next section. Similarly, the heartfelt flute solo and viola line on "Flock of Words" are ruined by the song's ridiculous attempt at sincerity.

"Drifting," too, is shot down in its prime as cookie-cutter lyrics spoil an otherwise upbeat country jam. The honest and soft beat is not allowed to shine to its full potential.

The entire album, though, is not without merit. The outtro on "Push on 'Til the Day" is quite strong and interesting. Anastasio's horn section forcibly shows its strength on "Alive Again." Percussionist Cyro Baptista, in particular, makes his presence known on this track.

Trey, too, flexes his muscles on this album. His riffs on "Night Speaks to a Woman," echoing the song's melody, are impressive and demonstrate his skill with the six-string. His wailing funk guitar on "Money, Love & Change" is also interesting.

Some of Anastasio's arrangements are also noteworthy. While it fails miserably, his big band sound on "Gazebo" and "Balloon" is a commendable and adventuresome idea. The jazz-tango flavor of "Alive Again" is spicy and upbeat.

But the randomness of the album destroys any hope of greatness. What Oysterhead's "The Grand Pecking Order" lacked in understandability, "Trey Anastasio" lacks in predictability.

Producing a solo album can be a very hard thing to do -- this I acknowledge. But expectations are raised when the artist has had such an illustrious career as Trey Anastasio. I'm sorry, Trey, but this album does not cut it.