In 2000, after nearly two decades of endless gigging, the members of Phish decided that a self-imposed hiatus would be the best way to get their creative juices flowing again. Side projects were formed, and all four musicians released solo albums. But it is Inside In, the debut from bassist Mike Gordon, that is the most impressive. Gordon's peculiar personality is stamped upon every aspect of this album, from the artwork and the liner notes to the music and the lyrics. The album's core players -- Gordon Stone on pedal steel, drummer Russ Lawton, and multi-instrumentalist James Harvey -- are all fellow Vermonters. Inside In also features a smorgasbord of special guests, including bluegrass legends Buddy Cage and Vassar Clements.
Songs range from the melodic and somber opener, "Take Me Out," to the funkified "Soulfood Man." A screaming guitar solo accentuates "Couch Lady," and Gordon himself provides the licks on the Phishiest tune on the album. In fact, he plays all the guitars and basses on the album, as well as a number of other instruments. The strangely soothing "Exit Wound" highlights his falsetto, and "Take Me Out, Pt. 2" is a straight-ahead country tune that features not one but two pedal steels playing together. Despite the genre-hopping variety, Inside In has a sense of cohesion: No matter what the song sounds like, you still feel as if you may be listening to it in a dream.
For a Phish fan, it is nice to see Gordon step out from behind the shadow of bandleader-by-default Trey Anastasio, but the strangeness of Inside In may be inaccessible for most listeners.
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