Angels Come On Time – The Slip
So The Slip are on Rykodisc now. That's pretty huge.
They look a little different through the tinted plastic. And it's not just
the green pallor on their faces.
Something about them is a little more inside. Gelled-up. On the cover,
they have vacant expressions, like they've been staring down a camera lens
way too long. They seem to have been carefully posed.
The packaging is pro, even beyond the translucent green exterior. The liner
notes are peppered with names and places from the Phish pantheon. (Recorded
at The Barn. Engineered by Pete Carini. Trey Anastasio "gets a gold
star.") I don't want to read too much into that or nothin', but suffice it
to say that they seem to have taken, if not necessarily a step forward, a
step toward… toward a different financial equation. Into the big
Listening to this disk, it's hard to believe I really once thought these
guys could be the next Medeski, Martin and Wood. Which is ironic, because
one of the new tracks, "Get Me With Fuji", comes closer to sounding like
that trio than this trio ever has before. But I guess there's no better way
to miss the depth than by mimicking the surface.
The Slip on this album have a lot more in common with the Dave Matthews
Band, the Flecktones and Graceland-era Paul Simon than they do with
That's not to say the qualities I originally admired about them are
necessarily gone. But they have been redirected. These guys are still
three of the most musically literate cats playing on the scene. Their
virtuosity is a constant presence. But now it's usually relegated to the
In a way, I admire that. They seem to have devoted themselves to writing
some catchy, happy songs – the kind you could actually play for your mom or
your little sister – and using their enormous talent to bring them to life.
And they're right about one thing: your chops should support your music.
They should not be the reason for its existence.
Once upon a time The Slip were the closest thing we had to a bebop jamband:
challenging, aggressive, fueled by real jazz, not just that which is merely
"jazzy". Three or four years later, they've chosen to hoe the same
folk/bluegrass/pop field that so many others have before. Admittedly – and
not surprisingly, given their copious talent – The Slip do it way better
almost anyone else. Your average band of West Coast crunchies probably lies
awake dreaming of writing a song as powerful and fully realized as
"Sometimes True to Nothing". But damn, am I the only one who liked The Slip
better when they spent most of their time writing charts instead of
And it's not just vocal versus instrumental. It's a matter of dynamics.
You can pretty much infer the general vibe of Angels Come On Time
title alone. To describe it as "mellow" would not be sufficient. It
teeters on the edge of vanishing from existence altogether. And Brad Barr's
embarrassingly earnest pseudo-spiritual lyrics – "Thrice you have rescued me
from falling grace/Once when I was a beggar and you were the rain on my
face/Once when I was crippled and you carried me/And once when the blindness
of others taught me how to see" – come damn close to pushing it off.
The maddening part is, this is an exceptionally well-made album. The
production – handled by the band members themselves – is stellar, both in
concept and execution. I like what's going on at the edges of these mixes a
hell of a lot more than I do what's at the forefront. There are
cool details scurrying around your peripheral awareness, spicing up every
track. The whole thing has a great warm, inviting sound to it. It sucks
you in, then lulls you to sleep.
Though not necessarily in that order.