The Horseshoe Curve
The Horseshoe Curve is a big hello-there both for those who never cared for (or got) Phish and the formerly faithful who felt abandoned by the last couple of solo albums from the defunct jamband’s guitarist and de facto leader. The fumbling singer-songwriter of those efforts is gone, for now at least, replaced by an in-control funkmeister who’s been spending time with his Tower of Power and James Brown records (or sounds like he has, anyway)—and maybe a little Sun Ra and Miles, too.
Fronting a 10-piece band, half of them horn players, Anastasio leaves the vocals behind and gets down to business: These eight instrumental workouts, mostly remnants from a few years back left unfinished till now, are pumped with muscle and stewed in soul, drawing from Afro-Cuban and Memphis (Booker T.)/NOLA (Meters) rhythmic traditions, classic uptown funk and a modicum of the eccentricity and experimentalism that has always marked Anastasio’s work.
It’s not a guitar record—there are spells when Anastasio lays back or sits out all together—but when he does chime in, his lines, shifting from Sharrock-skronky to Montgomery-melodious, are lyrical, smart and quite often incendiary. Only the two live tracks, “The 5th Round” and the title cut, drag on longer than necessary, although the latter is redeemed by Anastasio’s fiery interplay with Russell Remington’s flute, bringing to mind Herbie Mann’s 1969 collaboration with Larry Coryell on the classic Memphis Underground.
But it’s the studio recordings that make The Horseshoe Curve a winner anyway, and many of the more memorable moments—the spit-shine five-part horn lines; the crisp percussion and aggressive bass from, respectively, Cyro Baptista and Tony Markellis; the thoughtful, introspective Hammond B3 and piano from Ray Paczkowski—happen when Anastasio isn’t even in the picture. That’s a bandleader.