The break-up of Phish in 2004 has offered a new perspective on the quartet, it’s members stepping out on their own, their solo projects deconstructing the band’s sound. Trey Anastasio, the “early adopter” of solo projects, is defined by quirky lyrics and guitar pyrotechnics. Keyboardist Page McConnell illuminated his ivory-plated heart-strings on last year’s eponymous debut. And despite a long history of sit-ins, backing appearances and collaborations, and a far-reaching, odd debut solo album, bassist Mike Gordon finally brands his sound with his sophomore release, The Green Sparrow.
Revered as an eccentric, Gordon’s personality quickly emerges on “Another Door,” his laid back prowess riding a cache of bass lines that bob, weave and glide, playing hide-and-seek within crisp, breezy song structures. Wielding words like cream pies, Gordon plies offbeat lyricism throughout, lending “Voices” introspection in the third person and sprinkling “Morphing Again” with nursery rhyme honesty. Friends Anastasio, McConnell, Bill Kreutzmann, Chuck Leavell and Scott Murawski join the spirited “Travel To Far,” marking a guest-laden treat on an album that features Gordon on most instruments.
While enjoyable throughout, The Green Sparrow’s strongest song and centerpiece is “Andelman’s Yard,” a composition that digs deep into Gordon’s ability as a composer and player. The track offers the most improvisational segment on the album, with acoustic guitar and bass that bubble like Alka-Seltzer in cold water, pushing through lead segues that boomerang from the song’s core with ease and style.
The Green Sparrow is the product of a year off the road for Gordon, and it was a year well spent. There are certainly phrases that run amiss, but these challenging idiosyncacies are inherent in Gordon’s songwriting and playing – the “did he mean to do that” element that often emerged in Phish’s low-end. And Gordon’s other contributions to Phish are all here, too, from the lazy falsetto to odd time signatures and nimble abstractions.
But in the end, The Green Sparrow succeeds in revealing the true sound of Mike.
The Green Sparrow is out now on Rounder Records.