Named after Nectar Rorris, proprietor of the bar that hosted their earliest gigs in Burlington, Vermont, Phish's third album, A Picture of Nectar, marked their major-label debut. Nearly a decade into their career by the time of its 1992 release, the quartet had spent the better part of the '80s honing their distinct craft, releasing a pair of well-regarded indie albums (1988's Junta and 1990's Lawn Boy), and building the rabid, grassroots fan base that would grow into a major cultural network over the coming decades. Using Elektra's budget, they set up camp in Burlington's White Crow Studios in the summer of 1991 to make what is possibly their strongest and most focused record. With a sound built largely on improvisatory jams, quirky songwriting, and deeply musical chops, the added production value on Nectar actually heightens rather than detracts from the immediacy of their playing. It expands on their mix of styles drawing from psychedelia, jazz, bluegrass, and '70s rock over the course of 16 tracks, which range from the nearly nine-minute-long epic "Tweezer" to the 30-second a cappella "Catapult." While there are plenty of excellent songs built for the stage, like the aforementioned "Tweezer," "Guelah Papyrus," and future live staple "Chalkdust Torture," they also stretch out in the studio with tracks like the lovely, acoustic instrumental "Faht" and the experimental pop of folk-pop of "Glide." For all of its freewheeling variety, A Picture of Nectar manages to be extremely cohesive, firmly establishing Phish's unique brand to a much wider audience than they'd previously enjoyed. While they would continue to grow both on-stage and on record, this album captured a very vital period in their career and ranks as possibly the most essential studio album in their canon.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger