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The Story of the Ghost

~Album Review~


Phish hails from Burlington, Vermont and is known as one of the biggest jam bands in history next to the Grateful Dead. Their following is enormous and their song vault is huge to say the least. They are a band who values their instruments and the sounds they can make them produce rather then the amount of money they can make by playing together. Phish is very much opposed to the modern “prepackaged and industry made” bands of today, so it is no surprise that the four members, Trey Anastasio on guitar, Page McConnell on keyboard, Mike Gordon on Bass, and Jon Fishman as the drummer, started their band in 1983 when they were in high school. They continued their music together throughout college where they would eventually start to tour the north-east in an effort to get their music exposed to the ever demanding following that was growing behind them. Their previous albums have been more attuned to experimental jams and contained more light hearted kinds of lyrics. Their seventh album, The Story of the Ghost, proved to be their most ambitious and solid album to date.

Ghost was a new starting point for Phish, and it is obvious in the maturing sound of their music as compared to older Phish albums. This fourteen track disc hints at sounds of funk, jazz, rock, blues, and of course, jam style playing. In this album, Phish uses their subtle way of jamming like never before, with airy grooves that are uncluttered and simple, except for the intricate composition piece “Guyute.” These jams are accompanied with a relaxed style of vocals and harmonious blends that are familiar yet more developed then their previous albums. Besides a few loud rocking tracks such as the thundering bass lines that carry “Birds of a Feather” and the electrified guitar solo that pulses out of “Limb by Limb,” The Story of the Ghost is an album of mellowness. Because of this unhurried vibe, the album appears fresh sounding after each listening, especially due to the trance like melodies and the intricate interaction between their instruments. This album does not get old after successive hearings but rather more intriguing and interesting with each listening.

Though Ghost has a superb sound and is original in composition it is not flawless. Songs such as “Shafty” and “Fikus” are more like fragments of songs than actual songs themselves. But die-hard Phish fans will agree that experimentation has always been one of the staples that go with listening to one of the leading jam bands in history, and these two songs are full of it. Much more developed is the song “Meat,” which grooves along to a funky organ style sound in the background and a dirty guitar style of playing with vocals that compliments them. Another well developed track is the twisting and turning song, “Guyute,” which is a complex composition that stretches an unrepeated eight and a half minutes. This is the only track which breaks the five-minute barrier set by the other songs and which already proves to be a classic Phish song that will last the test of time.

Of all these songs, the fluid and smooth interplay between instruments seems to be the primary attraction. But the heart and soul of the album is unearthed on the second half of the disc, where simplicity and a direct sound with conciseness rules. “Limb by Limb” starts this movement by using layered voices in a call-and-response kind of dialogue. “Brian and Robert” follows this sound with its wordless harmonies and gentle vibe that evokes a sense of assurance. The bluegrass styled song, “Water in the Sky” is full of complementary melodies and syncopated drum beats and a refreshing fast paced piano in the background which suits the style of the song very well. The even more soothing track is the psychedelic “Wading in the Velvet Sea.” This song starts out with a slow and dreamlike sound and chant, “I’ve been wading in the Velvet Sea,” and quietly builds into a fierce moving anthem which in turn, pulls listens in rather than leaving them waiting for the climax.

Anastasio, McConnell, Gordon, and Fishman had nothing to prove in making this album as instrumentalists. This strong and unshakable album shows that Phish has moved beyond their fancy solos and quick paced finger picking, to a more mature means of expression. The Story of the Ghost affirms Phish’s new outlook, one in which composition and songs are the primary focal point of a developing band, rather then solos, which makes up the soul of true jamming style.

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