‘Brooklyn’ shows Phish near top of its game
Phish, “Live in Brooklyn”(JEMP/Rhino)After listening to the three-CD set “Live at Brooklyn,” recorded two months before Phish’s final concert, Phans have to be wondering why the band broke up. It sure wasn’t because they couldn’t make the music come alive onstage any longer.”Live in Brooklyn,” a full concert from Keyspan Park in Coney Island, finds the band playing a lot of material from the early days, when complexity, length and goofiness were the rage. But there is nothing tired about the way they handle it, as “Mike’s Song,” “Weekapaug Groove” and “The Divided Sky” all get intense workouts. The quartet were still doing interesting things with the timing of their vocal phrases, trying choruses and harmonies in the oddest places. In the 18-minute “Suzy Greenberg,” the band returns to jam on “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing,” which had opened the show, an indication that playfulness was still a possibility. Phish even debuted a song, “Nothing,” a pleasant tune from the then recent CD, “Undermind.”Give Phish credit for this: till the end, they were playing long shows at, or near, the peak of their abilities. And maybe that’s better than allowing the music to fall off the cliff.
Jackie Greene, “American Myth”produced by Steve Berlin(Verve Forecast)”American Myth” is reminiscent in a way of “Time Out of Mind,” Bob Dylan’s latter-day masterpiece, from 1997. In “Supercede,” a 10-minute masterwork, the singer laments, “I wish that I was loud so you could hear me,” and later, “This place is dark and there ain’t a spark of who I used to be.” That song doesn’t stand alone in expressing a desperate search for connection, with one’s own past, with one’s self, with a lover, with something. The sense of being lost carries on through “So Hard to Find My Way”; in “Just as Well,” there’s even the suggestion that the sense of being lost is clouded in a fog: “I think I think too much and my thoughts are getting thin … Ahh, it’s just as well.” As on the Dylan album, the cover images here show Jackie Greene in shadows, unclear and gloomy.The huge difference between “Time Out of Mind” and “American Myth” is that the former was made when Dylan was in his mid-50s and staring his mortality in the face. (Around the time of the album’s release, Dylan suffered a serious heart infection.) Greene is 25, monstrously talented, and should, by all rights, be sanguine about what life holds. Instead, he seems plagued, and not only by what is within him. In the caustic blues “Hollywood,” Greene, a product of northern California, turns his eye south, and finds there a sickening parade of greed, corrosion and phoniness.”American Myth” is not as relentlessly bleak as “Time Out of Mind.” Greene can still allow himself an optimistic moment like “Love Song; 2:00 A.M.,” here he is wistful and delicate, as if he can’t muster up the same energy for the upbeat as he can for the sad. The album ends with “Marigold,” in which the singer, trying to sleep, “paints his room in judgment and doom.” Something tells me that when he does drift off, he’s not going to be comforted by the American dream.Despair hasn’t been rendered with such a sharp eye and stirring emotion in a while. With the help of producer Steve Berlin, saxophonist from Los Lobos, the words are wrapped in rootsy blues and rock that makes the songs hard to ignore. If Greene has a grip on malaise and musicianship like this at 25, one wonders where he will be at 55. Let’s hope he makes it.
Sean Watkins, “Blinders On”(Sugar Hill)Sean Watkins, singer and guitarist from acoustic group Nickel Creek, flies solo on “Blinders On.” Or not exactly solo; he gets help from a large contingent of players, including Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, and fiddler Sara Watkins, Sean’s sister and Nickel Creek bandmate.”Blinders On” is Watkins’ third solo CD, and to date, the work has been insanely inconsistent: his debut, “Let It Fall,” was instrumental-oriented and wonderful; the follow-up “26 Miles” was so emotionally mushy as to be unbearable. Stylistically, “Blinders On” borrows the emphasis on songs from “26 Miles,” but mixes in the textured production reminiscent of Nickel Creek’s later recordings (and even a little bit of the Beatles). In quality, the album is back in the range of “Let It Fall,” with Watkins successfully experimenting with sounds and styles, as on the sonic pastiche “Happy New Year.” Lyrically, Watkins still dwells way too much in internal staring and gloomy landscapes: “I’ve had enough of these gray streets endless and empty,” is the opening to “No Lighted Windows.”Nickel Creek performs Aug. 19 in Snowmass Village’s Massive Music and Movies series.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com