Traveler is Trey Anastasio's first studio solo album since 2009's orchestral art pop sleeper, Time Turns Elastic. Peter Katis was enlisted as co-producer; his résumé includes work with the National, Interpol, and Jónsi. Along with the Trey Anastasio Band (TAB), the credits are littered with guest appearances from violist and violinist Rob Moose (Bon Iver), vocalist Kori Gardner (Mates of State), and the National's Matt Berninger and Bryan Devendorf. There are a few completely new tracks here, while the balance includes studio takes on tunes played live by either TAB or Phish. As a solo artist, Anastasio's recordings are usually quite consistent, and Traveler is no exception. The set's first single is a new song, "Scabbard." Anastasio crams in his love of Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Radiohead, and pop music. That said, it contains his signature ability to capture a simple melody -- in this case three, simultaneously -- and wrap them in an accessible but harmonically and dynamically adventurous package. His singing, along with help from backing vocalists Natalie Cressman and Jennifer Hartswick, makes the cut a clear standout. Also included here is the third, and perhaps most successful, studio version of "Let Me Lie," and a studio take on the labyrinthine, reggae-drenched prog that is "Land of Nod." And speaking of reggae, perhaps the album's biggest surprise is the cover of the Gorillaz's "Clint Eastwood." While the band has been playing it live for nearly two years, this reading underscores the punchy vocal by Hartswick. "Valentine," which appeared on the live TAB at the TAB in 2010, is treated to a horn-saturated workout here. And in spite of its weave of shimmering synths and tom-tom heavy drumkits and layered vocals, it feels nearly organic. Other highlights include studio versions of the elegiac ballad "Frost" (with gorgeous strings courtesy of Rob Moose), and the raggedy pop/rocker "Pigtail," with its light, funky backbeat and locked-down bassline. Given all the recent activity by Phish and TAB, Traveler reveals that with its four brand-new songs and revisioned versions of live staples, Anastasio's creative force is healthy and his taste is, as ever, impeccable.
by Thom Jurek