Trey Anastasio Band 'Paper Wheels'
Words By Brad Yeakel (Opti Mystic Outlooks)
I must admit that while I am a HUGE Phish fan, TAB never did much for me. It wasn't that they weren't good, it was that stylistically they weren't my bag. Over the years, my enthusiasm for Phish has grown and ultimately my appreciation for all things related have blossomed as well. With this in mind, I volunteered to review Trey Band's latest effort, Paper Wheels.
The opening track, "Sometime After Sunset," was one of my favorite tracks on the album. The relaxed groove had the signature Trey vibe and the horn arrangements seemed to bolster his guitar lines with accents and harmonic depth. As a champion of the road, I'd imagine the perspective that nighttime is similar in every city or town is accurate, though in my personal experience there are some places I'd much rather be than others.
"The Song" mellowed the energy further, and while listening to it with my fiancé, she mentioned that it had a sitcom theme song feel. Unfortunately, her observation was accurate and it made it difficult for me to get into the tune. Lyrically, I felt the idea was strong, but the execution seemed a bit cheesy. Redemption was found in the vocal harmonies where Trey and Jen Hartswick were on point.
The following tune was also a tad mellow for me. I thought the lyric "never is a point in time that doesn't have dimension" was pretty cool, and once again the vocal harmonies were better than average. Hartswick's vocal talents were definitely key to my enjoyment of the album thus far.
"In Rounds" might have been my favorite tune on the effort. The chorus reminded me of the silly lyrical work of Tom Marshall with Phish. They were firing on all cylinders by this point in the album, and the instrumental work began to rival the vocal layers they were nailing. Bass, horns, drums, keys... All tight. When Trey's lead guitar work started I found myself adrift in some of my favorite tone in the world. Those Languedoc guitars always sound great, but I am particularly partial to the "Ocedoc," my guess of the guitar used in this song. I wouldn't be surprised if Phish plays this next year.
"Flying Machines" felt like Trey's soft rock jam, as the tempo, tone, and overall vibe of the song were subdued, tranquil, and bromidic. Once again, Hartswick's vocals carried my interest through.
"Invisible Knife" stepped things up a bit. Though the tune was still breezy compared to a Phish tune, the vocal harmonies were simply stunning on this track. I also noted a slight resemblance in the guitar lead to that of Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."
Once again the lyrical content of "Lever Boy" triggered thoughts of Tom Marshall's poetic work. Trey sounded like he was pushing the upper edge of his register, but still sounded comfortable for the most part. I felt the horn arrangements on this one were possibly the strongest on the album.
"Bounce" started very relaxed, but ultimately developed into another of my favorite songs on Paper Wheels. I found myself wondering how this song hadn't been written long ago by any of a thousand bands. The hook "Bounce too high, too high, too high," seemed so obvious. It was obviously not super high concept, but had the desired effect. This tune seems like it will make it into the Phish catalog eventually.
"Liquid Time" was not my favorite tune on the album. With an idea like liquid time, I expected more from the concept. I'd have probably been happier if it was an instrumental.
The title track was an upbeat one, but I had mixed reviews on the lyrical content. I felt it had a few of the strongest lines in the album, but there were also some that left me wondering how they made it in. My favorite was "feel like sunshine feels." I wasn't as big on "we'll all speak French some day," though it made sense when the French spoken word layered atop the outro.
"Speak to Me" quickly brought to mind another Trey tune... "Night Speaks to the Woman." I enjoyed the rhythmic aspect a lot. Russ Lawton kept it chugging away, and everything else seemed to fall in line around him.
"Cartwheels" closed out the album with another happy tune. While the prior tune seemed a more appropriate exclamation point to the album, this song probably had the emotion they wanted to leave with us. Once again, Hartswick's harmony and background vocals were stellar. I would probably say her vocal work was comparably impressive to anything Trey contributed.
In summary, I thought Trey's new album was pretty good. I couldn't quite wrap my head around how prolific 2015 had been for the Crimson Kid. Phish New Years Miami, GD50, arguably the best Phish tour in well over a decade, and a new solo album with full tour before returning to Phish and MSG to put a New Year's Eve cherry on top. Bravo.