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Phish Delivers a Stew of Americana

** 1/2 PHISH, "Farmhouse," Elektra

May 12, 2000|RANDY LEWIS

Nobody's going to stop thinking of Phish as a latter-day Grateful Dead after hearing this album, but the Vermont quartet's model this time out seems to be the Band's "Music From Big Pink."

As "Big Pink" came to life in the Band's home studio in upstate New York, Phish's 11th album (due in stores Tuesday) was born in guitarist Trey Anastasio's restored, 150-year-old barn-studio in Vermont.

Musically, there's a feeling of timeless Americana in both, but Phish simply can't manage the kind of incisive look inside the fabric of American society and culture that was the Band's signature. Phish's lyrics generally just add sonic texture rather than provoke mental stimulation.

Besides the Band and Dead echoes that dominate "Farmhouse," there are dashes of Santana-like Latin rock, Crosby, Stills & Nash country-rock philosophizing and Allman Brothers instrumental propulsion. The last, the nearly seven-minute "First Tube," is where most of Phish's hallmark experimental jamming is relegated. The group is in a comparatively concise mood on the rest of the songs, most which gently churn for three or four minutes.

The result is like a stew that's been simmered for hours--distinct flavors melt into subtle relief, occasionally with provocative complexity, but too often with soggy blandness.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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