The Horseshoe Curve
The 5th Round / The Horseshoe Curve: Memorable Song #7 for 2007
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2007, Volume 14, #8
Written by John Metzger
Tue August 28, 2007, 05:00 AM CDT
Former Phish front man Trey Anastasio always has had a lot of ideas running around in his head. Lately, however, he seems to be predisposed to tending to them one at a time. Oscillating between instrumental excursions and singer/songwriter fare, his solo canon increasingly has brought a picture into view that he probably didn’t intend to create. While he may have planted the seeds that sprouted within Phish’s songs and albums, it now appears as if Mike Gordon, Page McConnell, and Jon Fishman were the ones who provided the necessary nurturing and nourishment that allowed them to grow up tall and strong. Although each of Anastasio’s albums has focused upon a specific flavor, the individual components from which they have been constructed often have been incomplete and academic. It’s almost as if he loses interest just as things are beginning to coalesce.
Fortunately, Anastasio’s latest effort The Horseshoe Curve fares better than many of his previous solo excursions have, though this has as much to do with its organization as it does with its content. In fact, it initially appears as if the set will be plagued by the same lack of inventiveness that sank Shine and, to a lesser extent, Bar 17. The Horseshoe Curve begins and ends in a rather conservative fashion. There’s nothing particularly risky about Sidewalks of San Francisco, which kicks off the eight-track endeavor with surprisingly little fanfare. Likewise, the concluding Porters Pyramids slips by without making much of a lasting impression. Wisely, Anastasio’s horn section — which consists of saxophonists Dave Grippo and Peter Apfelbaum, trumpeter Jen Hartwick, and trombonist Andy Moroz — rather than his guitar dominates the proceedings, casting a cool mellowness over the crackling rhythms of the former and the pensive percussion of the latter selections. In both cases, however, the songs fail to assert themselves. Instead, they feel like abbreviated ideas that may (or may not) blossom in a concert setting.
As its cover and its title suggest, The Horseshoe Curve’s intensity peaks during the four compositions that are tucked into its middle. Although Burlap Sack & Pumps could be viewed as nothing more than an extension of the concepts that Anastasio has been exploring for years via Phish’s You Enjoy Myself, its horn-slathered funk-driven arrangement not only is a riveting concoction that inspires movement and dance, but it also brings some much needed focus and passion to the endeavor. Intriguingly, Noodle Rave smashes John Coltrane’s Africa/Brass into the burbling fusion of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, and the heady jam that results from the collision works better than one might expect.
Anastasio’s restraint on some of The Horseshoe Curve’s material might come as a bit of a surprise, but it pays huge dividends on the pair of concert cuts that lie in between Burlap Sack & Pumps and Noodle Rave. Both The 5th Round and the title track effectively highlight Anastasio and his outfit at their improvisational best. The 5th Round fades in with a blast of big band horns, while the blend of Latin and R&B rhythms that ensues keeps it moving swiftly along its path. Anastasio allows the groove to carry him, and as the percolating percussion becomes more manic, his guitar assumes the steel-on-steel tonality of a freight train with a full head of steam gliding upon a track that is less than stable. It proves to be the perfect setup for the title song, during which an actual freight train raced past the arena, blowing its horn, thus joining the fray and providing the inspiration for a fanciful, jazz-rock flight. If only the ensemble had been able to maintain this momentum for the duration of endeavor, The Horseshoe Curve would rank among Anastasio’s more engaging outings, with or without Phish. As it stands, however, the unfulfilled potential of its lows cancels the supreme blissfulness of its highs, leaving another middling effort in its wake.
The Horseshoe Curve is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box