Inside In – Mike Gordon
Ropeadope Records 93185-2
Despite fourteen guest musicians, Inside In is all Cactus. A unity
prevails even though much of the material has piled up over the years. It
is very much a studio album — or, rather, a home studio album. These
tracks are settled and revisited, a foundation tinkered with and tinkered
with. It's a headphone album, the depth and layers revealing themselves
slowly. It requires attention, slowly fading into the background when
denied such and paying off when indulged.
Most of the tracks build themselves around the trio of Mike, Gordon Stone on
pedal steel, and drummer Russ Lawton. The trio needs little embellishment,
heart of the album with but a little help from James Harvey on keys. Lawton
is predictably sharp, but it is Stone's steel that shapes this slippery,
often downright elusive album. Mike admits an obsession with the
instrument, and he's not hiding it here. Stone brings the sweeping grandeur
to the deep-throated "Beltless Buckler", the spook to "Outside Out," and the
slink to "Soul Food Man," the album's most Phish-ready tune and arguably
its best. "Take Me Out," the other contender, opens and closes the door.
Jon Fishman lays the beats on the first-version intro, and Mike fills all
the holes – guitar, keys, lead and harmony vocals, and bass.
It's a beautiful opener, ebbing out and rolling back again, striking with a
confessional clarity, eschewing the non-sequitur paradoxes that riddle the
remainder of the album. Were it not for the convincing delivery, the open
and straightforward lyrics ("There's nothing left inside me that feels like
home") would seem out of character from a man more apt to explore surreal
tales of aliens in small towns, piles of facial shavings, and house plants.
Here, it feels more like a man stepping out from behind the red curtain of a
Magritte painting or moving the green apple away from his face.
I don't know where this belongs in the Phish canon, and I don't know that it
matters. Inside In contains coherent moments of blissful drift,
leadening groove, and baffling contradiction bookended by plain-faced
revelation. That's not to mention
Col. Bruce and the looming threat of vomit. That's more than enough.