The obvious question trailing Trey Anastasio’s latest: How much did he take home from his summer vacation with the Dead? Answer: About what you’d expect from a player whose music has often been shaped by a certain anxiety of influence regarding that other, older jam band. The upshot is business as usual, with a bump.
Check the exquisitely mellow, Jerry Garcia Band-style bong-hits-in-a-hammock jam at the end of “Flying Machines,” or “Sometime After Sunset” — more proof that Anastasio must wind up as Shakedown Street in any “What Dead Album Are You?” quiz. But these aren’t actually the high points. Better yet is “In Rounds,” with its Joe Tex nods and a groove mortgaged to the Meters. It’s the record’s toughest jam, in part because the soloing isn’t all guitar: There are funky organ and horn charts, too, with Anastasio’s elastic rhythm showing the same team-player brilliance that shone alongside Phil Lesh in July. The percolating vocal arrangements on “Invisible Knife,” which echo some of Sufjan Stevens’ more intricate work, are another refreshingly inventive touch. Like those horn parts, they show what Anastasio can do as a solo artist — and should do more of — that differs from Phish. But is it possible for this guy to produce an upbeat song without a smirky chant like “Heads removed!/Heads removed!” (“In Rounds”)? “Bounce” is even more shameless — “Too high, too high, too high” goes the reprise. But it’s such an instant arena-boogie classic, it’s tough not to just cave and take one more hit.