Album Review | Vida Blue Crossing Lines
Words by Kevin Hahn (Split Open & Shoot Photography)
Ever since my first Phish show in 2010, I knew the way Page McConnell played the keys was exactly how I wanted to play them myself. I immediately felt a musical connection with how he smoothly transitioned from one aspect of his piano “spaceship” to another, jumping from keyboard to organ, and then right into a grand piano solo. The “Chairman of the Boards” as many of us Phans call him is a national treasure in my humble opinion. He is not only a member of one of the greatest bands of all-time, but he has ventured off on his own in a variety of projects to explore elements of music that his Phish brethren might not be so accustomed to. Vida Blue, Page’s hard-hitting, electric-focused band and ultimately the gateway into his creative mindset is one such example of music done outside the world of Phish. (To be exact, only two songs have been adapted/blended for both groups to cover, “Final Flight” and “Most Events Aren’t Planned”)
Joining Page for the last 19 or so years Oteil Burbridge (Dead & CO) and Russell Batiste Jr. (The Meters) form a fiercely talented trio that have only graced us with two other album releases in their time together. Their chemistry is undeniable from the music we have received from them previously, and it was only a matter of time before Page rounded up his uber-talented friends for another musical go-around. Adding a guitar to the band was a want Page had from their previous tours, so Adam Zimmon (Spam Allstars) brings another fantastic addition to Vida Blue’s latest release Crossing Lines. A bit less heavy than the last two releases, Crossing Lines brings us into the lyrical world of Mr. McConnell and truly shows off his more tender musical traits. Almost feeling a bit restrained at times, this view into how Page goes about his way outside the world of Phish is a journey through melodic piano riffs, beautiful textural guitar work, and of course one of the best rhythm sections we could ask for.
“Phaidon” has beautiful interplay between Page and Adam on the guitar, giving way to a straight forward drum beat alongside the playful lyrics. (“Hope you understand, I can't change who I am, there is no one to blame”) “Checking Out” is a more traditional Vida Blue song with the well-known funk connection of Oteil and Batiste Jr. hammering away on the high-hat before letting Page make his always loved space-age keyboard sounds. “Where Did It Go” almost has a Trey Band like feeling with its giddy up-beat nature, where as “Real Underground Soul Sound” feels straight out of a Neville Brother record. “If I Told You” has the Spam Allstars rejoining the group for a raucous dance party highlighted by the incredible drumming of Batiste Jr. As always, Page utilizes a plethora of his favorite toys, giving us a bit of New Orleans inspired B3 organ playing accompanied by some more traditional grand piano sounds/tones.
My two favorite songs from this latest Vida Blue release seem to come from a different end of the musical spectrum. “Analog Delay,” which kicks off the album features all four band members going to town on their respective instruments with Page’s vocals slowly filling up the space behind them. Adam Zimmon’s crazy guitar effects blend perfectly with Batiste Jr.’s absolute bone crushing drum work, giving both band members various moments to shine throughout the song. On the much slower side, “Maybe” is an ode to the origins of my love for Page and his ever-evolving uniqueness when it is time for him to step behind the keyboards. A very melodic tune filled with textural playing from Adam and Oteil, “Maybe” brings us full circle with how Vida Blue has changed from a trio powerhouse into a beautifully composed musical quartet. (“Maybe the stars that will your eyes, can turn and reverse and face surprise…”)
All in all Crossing Lines is a great way to bring Vida Blue and Page’s solo catalog back into the forefront of the Phish world, and hopefully the jam-band landscape behind that. I can imagine Trey and the boys taking several of these songs for long, transcendent, and maybe even psychedelic jam-filled journeys this fall and beyond. It is always a joy to see these “supergroups” get back together, and hopefully Vida Blue will continue to tour in 2020 with their newly invigorated musical senses and the absolute love they have for each other when putting this music together. Page did himself some major justice with adding Adam to the band on guitar and bringing the Spam Allstars back into the fold for a 2018 recording session and of course their contributions to this record. I truly cannot wait to see what is next from the “Chairman of the Boards,” so might as well grab a sandwich and hang on tight.