Trey Anastasio's Traveler
Words By Kevin Hahn
Stream Trey Anastasio's Traveler Here
To be clear, I am not a Trey Anastasio solo-act/band fan. I believe his abilities, which we all have become accustomed to through his many years of consistent shredding, improvisation, and joy from Phish, are hindered by the composure and overall lack of creativity within the Trey Anastasio Band. Trey surrounds himself with a plethora of amazing musical talent (Jennifer Hartswick, Cyro Baptista), but in my opinion his past album releases have been missing something. I couldn’t place a finger on what Trey’s band was missing until I listened to his most recent release, Traveler. What was it you ask? No, it was not the absence of a thumping bass, beautiful piano melodies, or the lack of emotional creativity. Traveler is missing one of the more important aspects of producing/performing for musical audiences each and every day…Soul.
Yes, I said it. Trey produced something that does not interact with the listener in the emotional capacity in which Phish brings us to time and time again. Now, I do not want to compare his solo-act/band to Phish, because that would be inappropriate for all parties involved. But along with that notion comes the fact that fans of Trey’s musical talents come into all new projects, albums, and anything to do with Trey with very high expectations. Traveler, in most cases does not meet or even come close to exceeding my personal wants from a Trey album. "Corona," "Let Me Lie," "Frost"…the first three songs of the album and not one brings us any insight into what the Trey band can actually do. "Corona" starts with a very interesting piano/synthesizer combo, but goes nowhere from there as the usual “pop” sounds from past Trey albums comes into full force. "Let Me Lie" is a piece that leaves me thinking the lyrics seem unfinished and more adaptable to an orchestral concert setting. (Was an amazing experience seeing this song with the Denver Orchestra/Trey) "Frost"…as many of us PhishHeads know, certain songs just don’t hit that “spot” and this is definitely one of those (think "Time Turns Elastic"). But can the seven songs following make up for the twelve minutes I have already wasted?
"Land of Nod," the fourth song on the album is the first moment of anything funky or interesting to come about. Great sound effects, various use of synthesizers, and overall lack of musical composure push this song into a head-bobbing frenzy. Go Trey go! "Pigtail" and "Scabbard" come next, and even though they lack the PUNCH Trey is capable of dishing out, they are much better composed pieces than the first three songs of the album. "Scabbard" in particular shows off the vocal chord mastery, which is Jen Hartswick, and gives away to a very trippy/Phishy ending. Now, if I were to say guess a cover-song which Trey wants to call his own, I am willing to bet not many people would guess "Clint Eastwood" by the British 3D-Projection band The Gorillaz. With the randomness of the cover comes an actual highlight of the album. Trey and Hartswick do a great job tag-teaming the vocal/rapping responsibilities and with a song that could definitely be a downfall, turn it into a small joy for us phans. Three songs left and not much time for Trey to keep up the course of redemption he has navigated after his abysmal start…
"Architect" is the eighth song of the record…and in order to refrain from a rage of loud cursing, shouting, and overall anger I will move on…quickly. "Valentine" is almost as bad as the previously mentioned, but does not dive into the depths of utter awfulness. The horn section is emphasized nicely with Trey praising the lyrics in a “Time Turns Elastic” sort of way. But does a nicely composed horn section save this song from my wrath? In the end, no…as I skip to the last/title song of the album "Traveler". Lyrically speaking, this is the best and most soulful piece of the entire album and what better time to have it come than the last thing your audience will listen to. "Traveler" also features the only moment of “high shrieking insanity” which Trey’s guitar provides for us time and time again with Phish. The chorus plays well into a smooth melodic song, which highlights Trey as the leader of this uber-talented group. It is a nice end to a generally disappointing album.
So where does the Jedi of JamBand music go from here? Personally, I hope we see some increased levels of Soul and Funk with his future releases and then maybe I will finally become a solo Trey fan. I was hoping to fall in love with Traveler and preach to the skies that Trey has mastered the solo album. Unfortunately, I cannot, and must heed to some very important advice another Jedi received a number of years ago:
“You must unlearn what you have learned.” –Yoda
Maybe if I follow the above Trey’s next album will just hit the spot…just maybe.