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Mike Gordon
The Green Sparrow
Rounder Records
www.mike-gordon.com


If there was ever a member of Phish that I had hopes of being something more than a long-haired, jam band freak, it was most definitely Mike Gordon. To his credit, he's done some fantastic projects, including the amazing albums he has recorded with acoustic guitar virtuoso Leo Kottke. So when the opportunity presented itself to hear his latest record The Green Sparrow on firmly established folk music label Rounder Records, I had high hopes, and figured I'd give it a shot.

Unfortunately for me, the first song on the record was a meandering, although musically clever, jammy song with deeply entrenched Grateful Dead sounds. I was a bit bummed. How could a musician move past this and do greater things and then fall back into it so easily? I chalked it up to comfort and figured I'd probably skip ahead a couple songs just to make sure Gordon was really falling into old traps so easily. But something happened when "Voices" started… even though the music had that jam band type of sound, there was more here than Phish had ever quite done… the vocal effects and neatly understated syncopation of the song caught me up, and I was pulled in. The bouncing melody of "Traveled Too Far" is downright infectious (like all three great Phish songs), while the counter-rhythmic trickery of "Morphing Again" has an almost Paul Simon-esque vibe going, as it moves from phase to phase, swapping guitar lines with drum rolls in a catchy interplay.

The songs on The Green Sparrow have that same joyful playfulness that so many of Phish's songs contained, but there is a limit to their meandering presence as the songs that Gordon has written for the record are, by and large, more focused and cohesive than much of his prior band's catalog. "Dig Further Down" shows that Gordon is more willing to experiment with rhythms within a rock context. The story of the tune is worded cleverly, giving an obvious glimpse into the maturing songwriting that has been occurring in the mind of Mike Gordon. This song has a fully realized rock band sound, replete with grooving organs that underlie solid rhythms and gritty electric guitars. Scattered throughout the record are the kinds of tones that Phish was known for, leaving no doubt that Gordon, who produced the album himself with help from a couple of others, knows exactly how instruments are supposed to sound on record.

While Gordon's musical virtuosity has never really been in question, his songwriting has improved considerably, as the songs on The Green Sparrow clearly show. He still lives in a bed of jam band glory, which only makes sense, as this is where his fanbase truly lies, and where his roots were built. But for those willing to look past a little bit of noodling and that chorus-y, late Grateful dead vibe song structure, there are truly some fine songs to be found here. Gordon isn't just a one trick pony, or an able sideman to great guitarists, he is truly a fine musician in his own right and this latest solo record is proof that greaster things are yet in store for him… and for you.

-Embo Blake

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