Paper Wheels

Trey Anastasio / Trey Anastasio Band

(CD - #)

Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Trey Anastasio spent the summer of 2015 filling in for Jerry Garcia on the Grateful Dead's Fare Thee Well tour, so perhaps the incandescent '70s vibe on his 2015 album Paper Wheels -- his tenth solo project and one recorded with his regular touring outfit the Trey Anastasio Band -- shouldn't come as a surprise. Despite appearances, this isn't cause-and-effect because the time line doesn't precisely scan: TAB cut the album in 2014, prior to Trey's invitation from the Dead. Nevertheless, clearly some kind of soulful, sunny spirit clearly flowed through the guitarist in the mid-2010s because Paper Wheels percolates with the same New Orleans-inspired rhythms, and trades in wide-open vistas that aren't too far removed from the Mars Hotel. Characterizing this as a mere tribute is misleading because Anastasio doesn't hesitate to weave in a few of his other signature obsessions, including a healthy dose of slyly cloistered modern jazz in the tradition of Zappa and Steely Dan, which stands in nice contrast to a song sense that often leans toward pop, but what elevates Paper Wheels is how comfortable Trey is in the studio. Once again paired with his trusty co-producer Bryce Goggin, Anastasio not only gets TAB to play elastic, flexible grooves, but the album sounds warm and inviting, while his songs seem sculpted even when they hover around the six-minute mark. What Anastasio achieves with Paper Wheels is tricky -- he's made a jam band record with defined hooks and songs that neither dilutes his identity or compromises it -- but he makes it seem easy.

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