Phil Lesh & Friends - There and Back Again

Phil Lesh & Friends
There and Back Again


First Appeared at The Music Box, August 2002, Volume 9, #8

Written by John Metzger


On paper, Don Gehman appeared to be the perfect person to produce There and Back Again, the debut studio recording from Phil Lesh & Friends. After all, his touch spun folk-pop into gold, capturing the Americana roots of artists like John Mellencamp, Bruce Hornsby, Hootie & the Blowfish, R.E.M., and Tracy Chapman. It’s exactly this type of vision and focus that is sorely missing from much of Phil Lesh & Friends’ live performances, where the band’s wildly exciting music too often is buried between aimlessly ambling jams. Alas, it just wasn’t meant to be, and all Gehman succeeded in doing was highlighting the weakness in the latest batch of songs from Lesh and his ensemble.

As a whole, There and Back Again is a loosely based conceptual piece that deals with the deaths of Allen Woody and Jerry Garcia as well as Lesh’s own flirtations with the other side. As such, its songs admirably (and expectedly) embrace love and life, but its lyrics wind up reading more like bad poetry from a suburban high school student than the profoundly poignant sonnets one might expect. Even lyrical contributions from Robert Hunter can’t save the day, and one is left wondering if this can possibly be the same masterful wordsmith who penned brilliant phrase after brilliant phrase for Jerry Garcia’s many compositions.

Over the years, however, many songs have utilized indelible melodies and fiery instrumentation to rise above otherwise paltry lyrics and become classics. Unfortunately, There and Back Again fails here, too. Several songs, most notably Celebration and Night of a Thousand Stars, sound more like knock-offs of Christian rock than anything else. Still others, such as keyboardist Rob Barraco’s Leave Me Out of This and guitarist Jimmy Herring’s Around and Around, draw more from today’s generically inept jam band scene than the fire and brimstone beginnings of the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band — two groups that one expects the participants in Phil Lesh & Friends to fully comprehend, mutate, and expand upon, not utterly ignore. It’s only on two of guitarist Warren Haynes’ compositions (The Real Thing and Patchwork Quilt) that the band even begins to tap into any underlying emotional edge, making these the lone bright spots on an otherwise forgettable album. starstar

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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2002 The Music Box