Review: Phish – Joy

JoyphishArtist: Phish
Album: Joy
Genre: Jam Band
Label: JEMP

2009 has been a milestone year for veteran musicians: Dave Matthew’s Band released Big Whiskey & The GrooGrux King; The Dead took their first tour in four years…and now Phish has returned for their latest studio album, Joy. Yes, here they are, 25 years into their career with an estimated 800 live shows (never once repeating a set-list), 14 studio albums, an emotional breakup, and at least $1.5 million in seized narcotics at live gigs.

But these statistics are beside the real point here- Phish is back and just as magnificent as ever. They once again have successfully stirred, blended, and liquefied a healthy serving of various genres into the blender including but not limited to reggae, rock, funk, jazz, and blues. This time they have also reunited with Steve Lillywhite, producer of the much-celebrated 1996 release, Billy Breathes.

When I first popped this CD in, I wasn’t sure how the group would break the ice after nearly half a decade of silence, but as soon as, “Backwards Down The Number Line” kicked in, I knew they were picking up right where they had left off. It’s bright, simple, and it’s a toe-tapper. About two and a half minutes into the album, I’m quickly reminded of Trey Anastasio’s delivery of modest yet intricate guitar melodies greatly resembling that of the late-great Mr. Jerry Garcia. It’s a rather trivial statement, but the parallels are undeniable all over the album and not only in the guitar work.

A quick diminuendo on a smoky organ leads into track two, one I find myself coming back to over and over again, “Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan.” The track shifts back and forth between the relatable chorus, “gotta blank space where my mind should be” and Mr. Anastasio soloing effortlessly with crunchy Santana-esk riffs.

Listener’s then drift into, “Joy,” the title track that offers a somewhat familiar ballad that is strikingly similar to the ever popular, “Farmhouse.” The uplifting melody insists in all sincerity, “We want you to be happy, don’t live inside the gloom,” complete with choral ‘ooh’s’ and ‘ahh’s.’

From there, the album takes off into several directions including the funky, “Sugar Shack,” bringing deserved attention to Mike Gordon’s grooving bass lines, and the rock n’ rollin,’ “Kill Devil Falls.” But perhaps the most notable (and most talked about) song on the album is the 13 minute and 30 second composition, “Time Turns Elastic.” Anastasio began working with this piece back in 2008 when he teamed up with Orchestra Nashville, and with much critical acclaim, performed it again in early September with the New York Philharmonic. The spacey and adventurous composition flows between several moods throughout the multiple movements, similar to the Dead’s masterpiece, “Terrapin Station.” Page McConnell holds down the fort with his piano playing that gives direction, structure and foundation. Jon Fishman is consistent with detailed percussion fills and drumming technique.

Phish is known for taking a rather small sound, and amplifying it for arena-size shows. Granted, there are great differences between a live performance and a studio album, especially for Phish, a “collective consciousness” known for exceptional improvisations (or jamming, dude). On this album, they have tightened up their studio sound in several respects. No, it is not a groundbreaking album, nor has it really pushed the envelope and challenged their musical roots, but I think this album is exactly what Phish fans expect and hoped for from the ensemble and by all means, Phish is completely authorized to do so. It’s a tastefully introspective album with thoughtful nostalgia in every corner appearing in the form of lyrical motifs like, ‘time’ and ‘memories’ that will surely find it’s place on any fans shelf next to Junta, Billy Breathes and Farmhouse.

Rating: 8.5/10

Key Tracks: “Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan,” “Sugar Shack,” “Time Turns Elastic”

Written By: Chris Parise

James Shotwell
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