Ah, the solo project! That curious bastard child of restless ambition and “artistic differences.” If one plays in a band long enough, sooner or later the urge to go it alone, even if only briefly, just becomes too strong to ignore. Sometimes it’s vanity. Sometimes it’s a genuine artistic need to follow a new course. But more often than not, the results totally blow. Did anyone really prefer Thom Yorke’s solo record to anything Radiohead has done? Certainly, there are exceptions — Broken Social Scene’s Leslie Feist comes immediately to mind. But generally speaking, solo projects are like a last-call hook-up at a college dive bar: When the lights come up, you know deep down it’s a bad idea. You also know you’re probably gonna do it anyway.
With his debut solo effort, Native & The Deconstruction, Morgan Lamphere somewhat bucks that dubious trend and delivers a solid, if unspectacular, collection of tunes that represents a modest departure from his earlier work with local psychedelic jam outfit Named By Strangers.
Originally the group’s drummer, Lamphere transitioned to NBS’ lead guitar player before the band went on indefinite hiatus in 2007. In the meantime, the multi-instrumentalist — save for a few guest appearances, he plays every instrument on the record himself — focused his energies on songwriting. While NBS claim myriad jam-based influences — including virtually every Grateful Dead-spawned progeny — Lamphere’s work bears the mark of a healthy interest in straightforward rock. Hints of Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and more contemporary inspirations such as Coldplay can be found sprinkled — though not always liberally — throughout.
Like Page McConnell with his 2007 self-titled solo debut, Lamphere seems to have made a concerted effort to tone down the headiness and get back to basics. But where the former Phish keyboardist ventured into the piano-pop terrain of early Elton John or Ben Folds, as a solo artist Lamphere resides — or at least vacations — in acoustic-rock territory populated by the likes of John Butler or State Radio.
Sonic differences aside, the fundamental similarities between McConnell and Lamphere’s solo efforts continue. Both albums possess functional lyricism, but falter somewhat when each writer attempts to outstrip his poetic abilities. And just as McConnell’s disc suffered no noodle famine, Lamphere’s disc is inescapably jam-inflected, occasionally resembling groove-popsters Dispatch or, at times, early Strangefolk. To borrow an old adage: You can take the musician out of the jam band . . .
Morgan Lamphere releases Native & The Destruction Wednesday, January 30, at Nectar’s with a little help from his Named By Strangers pals and Boston’s Chillmark.