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Published: 2007/04/23
by Jesse Jarnow

Page McConnell – Page McConnell

Sony Legacy 88697 06837 2

Page McConnell is the rock and roll equivalent of a modest country cottage: removed from the world, perhaps in a mist-filled glen, and not altogether unpleasant. For his first solo album, the once-and-future Phish keyboardist plays music that sounds very much like his former band. There are worse fates than to sound like one’s self, especially when done with such sweetness, and a blatant disregard for anything remotely hep.

As jam-happy as ever, McConnell's songs sprawl and deviate. And, when they don't, they at least swirl right and proper. Sometimes, they do both, like on "Heavy Rotation," where a wall of keyboards curls between verses like Garth Hudson's synthesizer's experiments on The Band's "Life is a Carnival," before unfolding into an intricate jam featuring McConnell's Phishmate Mike Gordon on bass.

The songs navigate by classic rock. Is it predictable for a rock keyboardist to sound like Elton John, as McConnell does on "Maid Marian"? Sure, and maybe it feels a little silly to listen to it, with its splattering electronics, but there's also an ethereal post-Beatles John Lennon bridge, and a respectably catchy chorus. There's a lot to like. Likewise, it's probably best not to listen to the vague political ruminations of "Close To Home," with lines about "imperial dynasties" and "the secret society… running the show" who "make sure the two-party system remains." Besides, they're buried anyway (the vocals, not the imperial dynasties), and there's a great drum sound and a killer bridge, or least a few bars where everything seems like it’s drawing together for a magnificent burst. "I know the sun is gonna come out again" McConnell coos gently, and it does, for a second, and the vibrations are all good.

Phish drummer Jon Fishman is present for fully two-thirds of the album, Gordon for three songs, and Trey Anastasio for one. On "Back in the Basement," the latter two join McConnell, legendary session drummer Jim Keltner, and guitarist Adam Zimmon (who sounds a bit like Anastasio himself on other jams) for an eight-and-a-half minute excursion. The song is entirely perfunctory, the jam is casual and hot.

There is nothing weighty about Page McConnell. In fact, it is so light as to feel frictionless. This is both the album’s saving grace and its biggest semi-failure. Assuming one likes Phish to begin with — in the present tense, that is — it’s all perfectly pleasant, just as nice to have filling the house as any of the classic Phish shows sold on the web lately. But the album doesn’t stretch much beyond that earnest goal. When you’ve got a country cottage, sometimes you just don’t need to be that ambitious.

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