Vida Blue/Trey Anastasio

VIDA BLUE (Elektra)

After a 15-year, extremely successful career of steady CD recording and nonstop touring, Phish took a well-deserved break in 2001. Rumors have recently begun circulating that there will be a brief Phish tour at the end of this year, although the band’s Web site makes absolutely no mention of any upcoming activity whatsoever. In the meantime, most of the band’s members have remained active with side projects, with both guitarist Trey Anastasio and keyboardist Page McConnell releasing debut solo CDs in June. What follows is a closer look at both of these releases.

Teaming up with fellow jam band veterans bassist Oteil Burbridge (The Allman Brothers Band, Aquariam Rescue Unit) and drummer Russell Batiste (The Meters), Page McConnell has created seven songs—half of which are instrumentals—that clock in at a total of just 45 minutes. Utilizing McConnell’s collection of vintage electronic keyboards, the pace of these songs is laid back and loungy, much more so that the more energetic sound of Phish’s material. With unusual titles like “Where’s Popeye’s” and “Most Events Aren’t Planned,” most songs on this CD sound very similar to the jazzy/funky groove music created by bands like Galactic and Medeski, Martin and Wood. That’s not a negative thing; it’s just nothing really new. Perhaps the strongest attribute that Vida Blue offers is the fact that McConnell’s vocals are given center stage, rather that being in the background as they are with Phish. This is not a bad effort considering it is a debut, but if Vida Blue stays intact long enough to release a sophomore CD, it would be to its advantage to attempt to give its songs more depth, imagination, and diversity.

Besides playing in the band Oysterhead, along with Primus’ Les Claypool and the Police’s Stuart Copeland, Trey Anastasio is also in another project: a self-titled band composed of eight members and himself. As if that weren’t big enough already, there is also a list of about 20 names in the “additional musicians” section of the CD’s liner notes, playing such instruments as flute, cello, French horn, oboe, and viola.

The 12 songs on this disc range in style from the sleazy, funky “Night Speaks to a Woman” to the slow ballad, “Flock of Words” to the steady, driving rhythm of “Last Time.” The most interesting, attention-grabbing song, by far, is “Mr. Completely,” a ’60s psychedelic pop-flavored rocker that features Anastasio’s hottest guitar solo on the disc. More songs of this caliber would have easily transformed the CD’s overall status from good to great. Like McConnell’s Vida Blue, Anastasio doesn’t do anything groundbreaking or out of the ordinary, and many of the tracks could have easily been put on either one of Phish’s last two releases which, unfortunately, were among the band’s weakest efforts. To hear the songwriting level that Anastasio is truly capable of, one would be better off sticking with stronger CDs from Phish’s early to mid-career, like Rift, Picture of Nectar, and Hoist.

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