The Green Sparrow
An excellent bass player, a versatile multi-instrumentalist
(various guitars, keyboards, and an agile, highly-skilled, bluegrass-flavoured
banjo), singer, writer of lyrics loaded with surreal humour, also a gifted
and much-appreciated filmmaker, Mike Gordon was for me the most difficult-to-pin-down
member of the highly celebrated (and by now destined to stay dormant forever,
or so it seems) US quartet named Phish.
it's true that immediately after the split, Trey Anastasio - the guitarist
and singer who had written about 90% of the group's repertoire - started
a solo career that in many ways looked like a continuation of said group,
though with different coordinates, whereas the other three former members
didn't appear as determined (at least, when it comes to the long-term implications).
(Beyond his songs, his stage presence, his stamina, and his appearing quite
at ease occupying the edge of the stage, it was the sense of direction
he provided, his making it appear as the group's voyage was in a way necessary,
that had been the most valuable aspect of Anastasio's contribution.)
said, what Gordon has released until now has been quite good, though not
in great abundance when it comes to numbers. I have to admit I still listen
with great pleasure to Clone (2002) and Sixty Six Steps (2005), the two
albums he recorded with guitarist and singer Leo Kottke. (Two albums, those,
that in my opinion were greatly undervalued, for whatever reason, with
not many bothering to even listen.) And I still like listening to Inside
In (2003): a bizarre combination of trombones, pedal steel, percussion,
banjo, and bass, it's the kind of mix that on first listening may sound
like something almost
"random", but that after a few careful listening sessions - or,
to those who have a natural propensity for the bizarre, immediately - reveals
itself to be a quite deliberate effort.
Green Sparrow appears to be a more "classic-sounding" work -
we could maybe call it "traditional" - that can be easily filed
under what can still be called "American music". Ten songs, for
a CD that's of LP-length.
is a work that's quite easy to underestimate (it happened to me, on first
listening), since this time Gordon's goal appears to be a kind of "hidden
complexity", placed inside an accessible framework. And the lyrics,
while retaining that taste for the surreal and the dream-like that's so
peculiar to him, appear as having a sense of narrative that - compared
to Inside In - is, if not quite traditional, at least somewhat accessible/understandable.
in Gordon's studio, Cactus Unlimited, in a lengthy period during 2007-2008,
and then in New York, at the classic Electric Lady Studios, produced by
Gordon himself and by trusted men John Siket and Jared Slomoff, mixed by
John Siket, The Green Sparrow puts together a lot of different instruments
and approaches, with very fine instrumental moments and a few "special
guests" that make good musical sense. To me, here Gordon sounds a
much better vocalist and guitar player than before, and every track sounds
as being the fruit of great craft. Nice recorded sound, excellent bass
Door is a classic opener, with the excellent Doug Belote on drums (performing
well all over the album), with Gordon on bass, guitars, and keyboards.
A nice drum intro, the song has an "almost funky-calypso" air,
a linear vocal part, simple bass lines, an "organ". Nice instrumental
passage with an ascending bass line, then a quirky-sounding intermezzo
bizzarro, starting at about 1' 50", with guitars and "mysterious
(almost like a Clavinet through a wha-wha pedal).
has again the Gordon and Belote team, Page McConnell (of Phish fame) is
on organ, also various voices. Nice transition of the "tiny-sounding"
intro guitar and the main piece. As it's also true for many tracks on this
album, here the bass part is simple, but the accents fall in quite different
places than those of the vocal part. An "almost-calypso" mood,
filtered voices (almost as through a vocoder), with a very "dream-like" effect
in the song's chorus. Piano, a guitar solo, and a nice bridge featuring McConnell's
Further Down resembles Phish - a lot. Electric guitar courtesy of Trey
Anastasio (with a couple of pick hits ą la Jeff Beck at 2' 42" - 2'
43"), excellent drum groove by Joe Russo (of the duo with Marco Benevento),
organ (is it a real Hammond? the bass sounds solid, the Leslie is quite
realistic) played by Chuck Leavell, who has a fine solo.
has a fine drum groove by Russ Lawton. The melody is sung with finesse
by Gordon, a few acoustic guitars, a nice bridge. The bass part has a nice
counterpoint role that reminded me a lot of Phil Lesh, while the slide
guitars in the solo (also played by Gordon) reminded me a bit of Jerry
Garcia's pedal steel.
Too Far is the only track that didn't impress me much, mainly because it
sounds too much like Grateful Dead (this is obviously intentional, starting
with the fact that here Bill Kreutzmann sits on drums). The piano is mainly
used as a rhythm instrument, at times almost honk-tonk (it's Chuck Leavell
again), there's a nice organ (it's McConnell again), a classic bridge,
and a guitar solo by Trey Anastasio that sounds as he's almost quoting
Jerry Garcia's licks.
Yard is the longest track here (6'), maybe also the most beautiful. Here
Gordon plays everything himself. There's a calypso-sounding rhythm, played
"automation", acoustic guitars, melody vocals, clean sounds. The
bass enters con brio at 2' 20", and starting at 2' 50" there's
a long, nice instrumental interlude.
Blip opens with a funky-sounding bass groove (it's my favourite moment
on the album), dry-sounding drums by Belote, organ, vocals, and winds (trumpet,
trombone, baritone sax, flute), the whole producing a feel that sounds
like a jazzed-up R&B. It's a fine arrangement, and a nice track, a
bit like Steely Dan.
Again has Joe Russo on drums, a nice, light, mood, a fine bass, and an
airy-sounding chorus. It doesn't jump at you, but it's good.
almost surprised me, with its almost-funky rhythm section, that
"sharp" guitar, percussion, almost-rapping vocals, plus organ (performing
a nice solo with a touch of "percussion") and vocals both by Ivan
Neville - and voilą, it's almost like a New Orleans groove!
is a nice close: a lazy calypso, a fine rhythm section, very good piano
by Gordon, acoustic guitars, and a touch of organ (it's Chuck Leavell again,
I was glad listening to him in such a fine form).
© Beppe Colli 2008
CloudsandClocks.net | Aug. 26, 2008