I'm sitting here with a stupid smile on my face, and it's Trey Anastasio's fault. The legendary axeman's new CD, Shine, inspires the same indescribable elation as his ex-band Phish once did, before they succumbed to weighty pondering and repetition.
There was joyful exuberance in Phish's best music, and it's terrific to hear some of it again. Shine is a victory on two fronts: First, Anastasio sounds like he's rediscovered the joys of playing music. Second, he's managed to capture that joy on tape.
For his (official) sophomore solo outing, Anastasio enlisted producer Brendan O'Brien, who has worked with some of the most vital rockers of the last 20 years. Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Neil Young, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine are just a handful of the mega-selling rock acts O'Brien has "shined" up. In addition to production duties, he contributes bass, keyboards and drums to several tracks.
The title cut opens the album and sets the upbeat tone. "And the light shines on what we all ride on / And when the day's come and gone / You know we all ride on." Just more than three minutes long, the tune flashes like a quick smile from an old friend.
Not all the album's lyrics are so breezy, however. Several had me wondering if Anastasio was writing about the end of Phish. "I tried to tell you all we had was a wrapped up scene / like I knew that it would / It all seems thin, but it sure feels good," he hints on "Invisible."
Of course, Anastasio's musings have always been open to interpretation. If deeper meanings aren't your thing, you can simply let the music wash over you, enjoying the bright bursts such as "Air Said to Me," or the killer guitar work on "Wherever You Find It" and "Spin."
While Shine may not please every Phish fan, such expectations and limitations are the very things Anastasio is attempting to put behind him. Make no mistake about it, this disc represents a surefooted step into the future. By jettisoning the baggage, Anastasio is again free to explore.
Shine's cover art features him holding his guitar over his head as if offering it to the gods. To me the symbolism is obvious: From here, the only direction is up.