I was surprised when I learned that the latest Trey Anastasio album Traveler, released October 16th via Rubber Jungle Records/ATO Records, marked his ninth solo album outside of Phish. The various arrangements of Trey Anastasio Band have yielded some amazing songs over the years with Trey able to pick and choose his playing partners, collaborators, instruments and musical styles. Traveler sees Trey taking the contemporary big band formation and mixing it with other modern day influences and musical stylings.
Along with some heavy production work, especially on some of the vocals, the album takes on an almost indie-pop feel at times but also features familiar song structures and lyrical styles associated with any album that has Anastasio and Tom Marshall collaborations on it. As a result, the album bounces in different directions from track to track and never seems to really settle on an overall theme.
“Corona” opens the album and serves as a fun opener of sorts with driving guitar work and vocals from Trey early on. The song then goes on to feature some interesting xylophone arrangements and harmonized vocals before ending abruptly.“Let Me Lie” provides a new interpretation of the song that’s also played in the live setting by both Phish and Trey Anastasio Band. This introspective song gets a pop makeover here and features a much faster and harder drum beat courtesy of Bryan Devendorf of The National. This band, a favorite of Trey’s, has their influence all over this album as it also has Matt Berringer lending a hand on vocals and was co-produced by Peter Katis who also helped produce some The National’s more acclaimed albums like Alligator and Boxer.
“Land of Nod” is one of the tracks that steers the album in a relatively unknown and fun new direction. It features precise horn charts meshed with an almost drum and bass-like opening few minutes that sounds like nothing I have ever heard on a Trey or Phish release. The song features more of the aforementioned heavily produced vocals as well as harmonized theremins to give the ending a spacey feel. It is one of the true musical treats on this album.
Traveler contains some more material that may be familiar to those who attend shows regularly. “Pigtail”, a song played by Phish once before in the fall of 2010 adds to the heavy pop influence on the album with more harmonized vocals and a signature Anastasio guitar solo. “Clint Eastwood” is a song heard regularly on TAB tour these days and this version doesn’t stray much as the swank vocals provided by Jennifer Hartswick and hip hop style production provide a more than respectable cover of this Gorillaz hit. Another song that’s a regular in the TAB rotation, “Valentine”, also appears later on in the album. This track is really well produced and mixes the full horn sound with the driving rhythms behind this song beautifully. While all of these songs make for easy listens, I found it curious that Trey decided to devote three tracks of his solo album to songs like these instead of other original material.
One of the more interesting tracks on the album is “Scabbard” which brings the Frank Zappa influence to the surface with its elaborate musical orchestration and synth sounds that surround another vocal section full of pop flavor. Intricate acoustic guitar work and more blissful string accompaniment at the end make this one of the more complete tracks on the album. The ending has an almost Radiohead-feel to it before gently fading out.
The album’s title track doesn’t really have to much offer and other parts of this album seem to meander with no known direction at times. Overall, the album seems to be the result of Trey taking his renowned style of rock and improv and blending it with elements of pop and indie rock. There are a few choice cuts and certainly moments of brilliance, but don’t expect Anasatasio’s Traveler to go down as his signature album by any means.