Having reclaimed some of their studio mojo on 2014's critically lauded Fuego, jam institution Phish were more than willing to take another chance with studio legend Bob Ezrin at the helm. Instead of the five-year gaps that preceded their last two studio LPs, Big Boat arrives a mere two years after Fuego and rides a similar sonic wave with its focus on streamlined songwriting and more concise lyrics. Like many Phish productions, a number of these songs were honed on-stage during tours in 2015 and early 2016, and the easy buoyancy of tracks like "Blaze On" and the funky horn-laden "No Men in No Man's Land" feel like they could have been in the group's canon for years. These are nicely captured, feel-good staples that will likely have their best moments on-stage, contracting and expanding each night at the whim of the band. Where things get more interesting are on songs like Page McConnell's "Home" and "I Always Wanted It This Way," two tracks where Ezrin's classic rock touch and Phish's progressive tendencies neatly dovetail. As on Fuego, Ezrin has a good handle on the band, knowing how and when to showcase their legendary live prowess, but also how to spin Phish's studio efforts into something distinctive and polished without losing their charm. The warm melancholy of Trey Anastasio's "Miss You" and the thunderous rock of Jon Fishman's opening salvo, "Friends," each play well through the filter of the man who produced 70s titans like Alice Cooper, Kiss, and Pink Floyd. While most of Big Boat sails through familiar waters of funky rock, soul, and even zydeco, fans hoping for something a bit more stretched-out and expansive are treated to the closing opus, "Petrichor." Initially a piece Anastasio composed -- and performed -- for guitar and orchestra, the 13-minute multi-parter runs the gamut of what Phish have to offer and plays to all of their instrumental and compositional strengths.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger