Vida Blue: Crossing Lines

Benjy Eisen on October 3, 2019
Vida Blue: Crossing Lines

It can’t be easy finding the right guitarist for your pet project when your other band is fronted by Trey Anastasio. Thus, Phish’s Page McConnell made a respectable call in 2001 when he formed Vida Blue as a trio with then-Allman Brothers bassist Oteil Burbridge and then-funky Meters drummer Russell Batiste Jr.

After a 15-year pause, Vida Blue is back, and the most immediate difference might be the addition of guitarist Adam Zimmon. He’s not really “new”—he toured with the group before, as a member of guest accompanists the Spam Allstars. But in 2003, when McConnell brought the rest of The Spam Allstars into the studio to record The Illustrated Band , Zimmon was touring the world with Shakira and wasn’t available for the sessions.

He’s a welcome player on the official roster: He’s not really the “guitar slinger” type and he shows zero interest in riding Anastasio’s coattails. But his soundscape atmospherics on the backend of “Maybe” make for an easy album highlight, and he proves himself valuable—and tasteful—elsewhere.

For his part, McConnell has evolved as a composer. Some tracks, like the opening double run of “Analog Delay” and “Checking Out,” have more in common with modern electro-pop than the sort of classic jazz standards that his early originals swung for.

McConnell’s unsophisticated lyric writing has also come of age, employing vague descriptions that don’t entirely obscure the projected meaning while remaining loosely relatable (“Not that I’ve seen it all/ But as I can recall/ I always get where I’m going”). Collectively, the lyrics seem loaded with indecision, even paralysis, yet spoken from a place of secure identity. It’s grown-up stuff.

As for crossing the Phish barrier, the instrumental “Real Underground Soul Sound” could easily be a frontrunner but, notably, that songwriting credit actually goes to Batiste. And if “If I Told You” rings a familiar bell, then it’s because Phish already released it (on 2009’s Party Time ). Like everything else on Crossing Lines , it benefits from the older, wiser Vida Blue treatment. Their two previous releases swung for the fences but Vida Blue hits this one out of park.