PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Trey Anastasio: The Horseshoe Curve

Greg Schwartz

In a time when he clearly needs to focus on his sobriety, it would be unreasonable to expect Anastasio to be putting out a new album of fresh material.

Trey Anastasio

The Horseshoe Curve

Label: Rubber Jungle
US Release Date: 2007-07-24
UK Release Date: Available as import

The release of The Horseshoe Curve comes at a curious time, what with former Phish guitarist/bandleader Trey Anastasio being amidst one of the most challenging phases of his life. Busted for heroin and un-prescribed pills last December, Anastasio finds himself in a probation situation where he’s subject to random drug testing and where one more slip will land him in prison.

This puts the pre-eminent guitar hero of his generation in something of a musical jail cell, unable to hit the road and play this year due to his legal constraints. In a time when he clearly needs to focus on his sobriety, it would therefore be unreasonable to expect Anastasio to be putting out a new album of fresh material. What to do then? Go back and finish up some older stuff that’s been sitting on the shelf.

The album is an instrumental affair featuring the lineup Anastasio took out on the road from 2002-04, with a five-piece horn section complimenting bassist Tony Markellis, drummer Russ Lawton, keyboardist Ray Paczkowski and percussionist Cyro Baptista. The focus is on Anastasio’s skills as big band leader and arranger, rather than guitar hero.

“Sidewalks of San Francisco” establishes the tone of the album, with a jazzy, groovy jam that relies on flute and horns to play the lead melodies. “Sidewalks” blends right into “Olivia,” a more restrained take on basically the same groove. Anastasio contributes a bit of lead guitar toward the end of the track before giving way to the horns.

The album picks up steam with “Burlap Sack & Pumps,” where Anastasio’s arranging skills definitely shine. He plays single-note lines while the brass pump out their own melody in unison, leading into a tight and jazzy funk jam that again features the horns. But it’s nothing new to most of Anastasio’s fans, as the song has been featured on his solo tours since 2001. Some fans may start to wonder if they accidentally inserted a disc from Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe -- while it’s safe to say that most of Anastasio’s fans love saxman Karl D for his adventurous and groove-laden jams, it’s not necessarily what they might expect from a Trey Anastasio album.

The highlights of the album are the next two tracks, “The 5th Round” and the title track, both of which are live concert performances. “The 5th Round” starts off with the band already amidst a hot jam, and Anastasio finally cuts loose for the first and only time with the melty lead guitar work he’s known for. He also veers into some Hendrix-like feedback and psychedelia, as the rhythm section grooves out behind him while the horns take a backseat.

The title track continues with an up-tempo, locomotive groove (inspired by a train that passed by the venue at the 2002 Pittsburgh show from which the track is taken). An extended virtuoso flute solo from Russell Remington takes the lead, while Anastasio offers some shimmering rhythm guitar behind it. The flute solo gives way to a jazzy piano solo that the track fades out on. The track is a hot jam that clearly has the crowd grooving out, as their cheering attests. Creating those kind of grooves is Anastasio’s other claim to fame, and this one is clearly a keeper.

“Noodle Rave” starts off as a meandering sort of jam with Anastasio indeed noodling lines behind the horn section. A scorching sax solo picks things up, but the guitar just sort of sits in the background. “Tube Top Tony” and “Porters Pyramids” conclude the album with a jazzy low-key vibe, with Anastasio again sitting back and doing more conducting than playing.

In summary, there’s some good music here for fans of the jazzed, Afro-Cuban funk sound that the Trey Anastasio Band lineup is known for. Orchestrating a 10-piece band into a tight unit is certainly more of a challenge than playing with a quartet, and The Horseshoe Curve highlights Anastasio’s skills in this area.

Fans looking for something Phishier from Anastasio’s recent output will find more satisfaction in the download of his 19 July 2006 Cleveland show from LivePhish.com. The show was the only one released from last summer’s tour with Phish bassist Mike Gordon and the Benevento-Russo Duo, and features a smoking performance from Anastasio that shows he hasn’t lost his taste for tearing it up on lead guitar when he feels inspired to do so.

Anastasio has been searching to find his way since dissolving Phish in 2004; he’s toured with his 70 Volt Parade unit, played shows with Dave Mathews & Friends, and then toured last summer with Gordon and the Benevento-Russo Duo, as well as with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. This year represents a personal hurdle that put music on the backburner for probably the first time in Anastasio’s life. In railroad lingo, a horseshoe curve is a track layout used to reduce the gradient a train must travel uphill. The Horseshoe Curve album clearly represents the same, giving Anastasio a chance to catch his breath and look at the big picture during the uphill personal climb he currently faces.

As to the future, perhaps Anastasio can find inspiration from another of Lesh’s musical pals, Ryan Adams. Adams has conquered some well-documented drug problems of his own, been clean for over a year and is winning rave reviews for his new album and current tour. Adams and Anastasio are both prolific songwriters who enjoy dabbling in a wide variety of musical genres. In 2005, Anastasio’s tour merch featured a T-shirt with his name above a mythical phoenix rising. If fellow Deadhead Adams can come back strong from admittedly nearly killing himself with hard drugs, it bodes well for seeing a phoenix-like rise from Anastasio down the line as well.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.