Modern jamband legends Phish finally called it quits, apparently for good, last year, and guitarist Trey Anastasio return to record racks with his second rock solo album. Although diehard Phish phans may not be excited with his focused, straight-ahead sound, it's a well-made and well-played disc which underscores Anastasio's skill with melody rather than his eccentricities.
In fact, if there's any overarching musical touchstone that can be made with Shine—the way Phish was always compared and contrasted with the Grateful Dead—it might have to be the rocking pop of Scottish band Del Amitri. Both have that same flowing melody and guitar riff-driven arrangements, not to mention Trey's previously undiscovered vocal similarity to Del Amitri's frontman Justin Currie.
Most of the way through the album, Anastasio has a song called "Spin" which is hard not to take as this album's anthem: "So lift up now if you're all alone/Better start or you'll never know," he sings over swirling guitar and keyboard patterns. "When I finally rise and I open my eyes/Looking around and I'm enjoying the view."
The song "Invisible" was, indeed, inspired by Phish and their Coventry Festival final shows. With the veneer of shimmery '70s folk-rock, Anastasio relives the mud-soaked concerts and asks himself, "This time, what are you waiting for?/Is it your time to walk away?" Anastasio has stated that he made the song's finale a "sort of joyous release." He says, "It's about how sometimes sinking is the best thing that can happen."
"Come As Melody" features a chunky Black Crowes-style guitar riff-drenched chorus counterpointed with a slow-build arrangement that continually ratchets up into a wall of sound, even including a string section which are more felt than heard. And on the layered "Love Is Freedom," he cuts loose with his guitar for the most extended soloing of the album.
Anastasio collaborated with producer Brendan O'Brien who has also overseen work by artists from Bruce Springsteen and The Wallflowers to The Offspring and Stone Temple Pilots. O'Brien not only produced and performed on the record but co-wrote 5 of the album's 12 tracks.
An evolving sound is exactly what Anastasio wanted when making Shine. Like artists he admires including John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, and Lou Reed, he wants to be able to challenge himself and his audience in ways that may not always work out for all parties. This is not yesterday's Trey Anastasio, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is the work of an excellent musician sounding more coherent than he has in, well, perhaps ever.