Combining elements of classical music, jazz improvisation, and signature searing guitar lines, Bar 17 exists as Trey’s most musically mature and accomplished solo album to date- yet not so many people even know it exists. Released in 2006 after the Mike & the Italians (GRAB) tour, and featuring more virtuoso musicians than you can shake a stick at, this album is filled with gems, and could be quite the Phish feeder come next year. With some songs you certainly know, and other you probably don’t, everyone should familiarize themselves with this album before March.
Due to the awkward release time in Trey’ career, during his post-70 Volt Parade days of 2006 in which he toured as The Trey Anasasio Band with Tony Hall on bass, Jeff Sipe on drums, Ray on piano, and backup singers Christina Durfee and Jennifer Hartswick. Towards the end of this year, in his fall tour, Trey’s inconsistencies on stage became apparent, and while he was playing some of the songs of Bar 17, his newest album never got the musical exploration or fan credit it deserves. Putting together a collection of over 40 musicians who guest star on various tracks, Trey included everyone from John Medeski to Peter Apfelbaum, Dave Grippo to Marco Benevento, and Mike Gordon to Tony Markelis in his project.
The result is a coherent set of emotionally driven songs that move fluidly from the beginning of the album to the end. Featuring a string quartet on multiple songs, arranged by Orchestra Nashville’s Don Hart, collaborator on Time Turns Elastic, Trey infused this album with classical influences that blend with his striking guitar tone as if they were meant to go together. With a mature vibe to the album, some of its pieces wind up in wailing walls of sound and guitar textures that you never saw coming. It is these types of compositions I think we will see Phish feature prominently in their return.
“What the heck is on this album?” you might be asking. Well, lets look at the album’s highlights.
Host Across the Potomac: Featured prominently on Mike and the Italians tour (I much prefer that name to the silly acronym of GRAB), this song contains a driving groove during its verses and a sublime resolution in its lyrical and symbolic chorus- “The time has come, for desks and chairs to be elevated.” A song that stood out in the summer and fall of 2006, it seems odd that this one was dropped for the time being. This could very much reemerge in 2009.
If You’re Walking: A whimsical tune with a catchy melody and percussive beat, this one is a pleasant listen with musical lyrics. Possessing a mellow groove for Phish to springboard off of, they could develop some interesting jams from this if they chose to play it. This one doesn’t necessarily have that Phish “sound” that many others on here do, but it could be a welcome addition with jam plugged into the middle before the lyrical reprise.
Bar 17: The title track begins with the a string quartet and a very subdued feel. Yet as the gorgeous composition progresses, the laid back textures give way to some slowly building guitar work with elements of jazz improvisation highlighted by Trey’s emotive tone. One of the highlights of the entire album, this was brought out a few times in the fall of 2006. With an eight and a half minute album version, live versions could be stratospheric. The diversity of feels contained in this song, along with its soaring poignant peak, could translate Bar 17 into a latter day Phish epic. This seems likely if you ask me.
Let Me Lie: This song has received its proper due in my coverage of Trey’s recent tour. It seems to be a new Phish ballad with some improvisation taboot.
What’s Done: This is another song that starts in a very down-tempo place, yet is accented by ripping guitar phrases behind the drone beat. A song that builds into “My Bloody Valentine”-eqsue walls of sound and distorted guitar dissonance, this once could be an absolutely psychedelic masterpiece if Phish took it under their wings. With a climactic lyrical chorus that fits congruently with the musical texture of the song, this one integrates a heavy Pink Floyd influence in creating its massive sound.
Goodbye Head: A compositional masterpiece that was all over Trey’s shows in 2006, he noticeably left it out of his most recent tour. A tune that 100% sounds it was written specifically for Phish, its uplifting musical path is blissful. With lyrics of childhood awe written with his daughter, Eliza, Trey has put together the next truly masterful multi-part composition. With several non-repetitive segments of composition, this one seemed like a perfect fit for Phish when they weren’t around. A fusion of the precision of Divided Sky with the flowing, tension releasing jam of Reba- we can only hope that this one is being practiced in The Barn over the next months.
A Case of Ice and Snow: A stunning song that was featured prominently on Trey’s Northern Exposure Tour, it appears as an acoustic track on this album. When performed over the past weeks, A Case of Ice and Snow provided a highlight of many of the shows it was played in. With an surreal guitar improvisation, and powerful lyrics, I’m beginning to become convinced that this one will land squarely in late second sets of Phish shows in next year. It would be breathtaking.
Gloomy Sky: An almost-ambient soundscape with a diverse instrumentation, this song’s music describes the comfort of watching through your window as the rain falls on a gray afternoon. Boasting beautiful harmonies and appropriately delivered lyrics, this song is one I’d personally love to see Phish incorporate- though I’m not sure everyone would agree with me. It’s a piece that lends itself to patient, layered improvisation that could land you in another universe without even realizing it.
Shadow: An “adult-contemporary” sounding song with extremely layered vocal tracks, it provides a slightly more upbeat feel while still retaining the classical-sounding vibe of the album. Trey’s guitar sprinkles melodies throughout the song before jumping into a spirited guitar solo over the refined backdrop of a string quartet. Backed heavily by an orchestral arrangement, the vibe of this song would be hard to reproduce with a four piece- even if they are Phish.
Cincinnati: A rarely-played TAB fan favorite found itself onto the last track of Bar 17. This song features a delicately composed introduction, giving way to a impressive horn arrangement and the most driving jazz-rock fusion grooves on the album. Topping the album with triumphant lyrics and a composition that could find a place in Jesus Christ Superstar, Trey exits his most accomplished album with a more uptempo feel than is characterized throughout.
Honestly, what I am most excited for in Phish’s return is the large amount of new material that we will experience. Sure, I am extremely psyched to see them drop Tweezers into the abyss, bust mind-expanding Bowies, and rage to twenty-minute YEMs. But this comeback is not about nostalgia; it is not about the past. This comeback is about now- where the band members are at this point in their lives- and the music they play will most definitely reflect that. I can’t wait to discover what pieces Phish will choose to unveil, and am more excited to see where they will take them. While Phish will certainly sprinkle their classic jam vehicles throughout their shows, the parts that will be the most exciting will be the parts uncharted and unknown.
Isn’t that what this is all about anyway?
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
This one comes by popular request, as Roseland was the only recent Trey show not posted to Phish Thoughts during the tour. With a lack of audience sources, I wasn’t able to readily find one while on the road. But thanks to Ginseng Jeff, my man behind the music, we have a 320kbps copy for your enjoyment. A solid tour opener, this opened the door for the smoking seven shows that followed. Enjoy this last installment of Trey’s Northern Exposure Tour!
I: Sand, Cayman Review, Let Me Lie, Gotta Jibboo, Dragonfly, First Tube
II: Alaska, Last Tube, Sweet Dreams Melinda, Valentine, Drifting, Brian and Robert*, Chalkdust Torture*, The Way I Feel, Spin
E: Heavy Things, Burlap Sack and Pumps
SATURDAY (3/7) HAMPTON TICKET CONTEST: I have been contacted by Dr. Trip, who is running a contest on his blog for one free Saturday night Hampton Ticket. The contest details are here! You have to purchase $25 dollars of merchandise form his site to be eligible. WIth the ticket madness going on, I’d thought I’d pass this opportunity along.
“Sitting in Limbo” (full song) Richmond, VA