Mike Gordon: The Green Sparrow

By: Eric Liebetrau

On his second solo album, The Green Sparrow (arriving August 5 on Rounder), Mike Gordon tightens the screws a bit, reining in many of the experimental flights of fancy that marked his quirky yet enjoyable debut, Inside In. Gordo fans shouldn’t worry, though. There’s plenty of his oddball personality, skewed worldview and sinewy bass work shining through this well-constructed album. Cut down from the original batch of more than 60, these ten tracks fit together naturally, displaying both focused songcraft and the potential for expanded improvisation in the live setting

Gordon’s unmistakable bass breaks through the main riff of “Another Door,” a thumping, rhythmic opener about the acceptance of new experiences and fresh beginnings: “If nothing else seems like it did before, then you made it through another door.” As usual, Gordo falls in near-perfect step with the percussion – tasteful, never showy, but always filling in the right holes

“Voices” is the first of a few songs that directly reflect Gordon’s experiences recording with Leo Kottke. Fans of the duo’s collaborations will note this track’s similarities to “Can’t Hang,” a brief composition from Sixty-Six Steps. This time, though, Gordon lays down some heavier, more pronounced notes and a clear message about the importance of striking a balance between introspection and external awareness. The short middle section should serve as a solid launching pad for a nice funk-rock jam

“Dig Further Down” begins like a cross between “The Wedge” and “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing.” The chunky, tom-tom and ride-heavy “Wedge” rhythm continues throughout the track, ending with just the drums and bass before the beginning of “Pretend.” A sweet acoustic lament, it’s loaded with elliptical, often contradictory statements about the elusive nature of companionship and how it evolves into a deeper relationship – or doesn’t. Anyone who has read Gordon’s book, Mike’s Corner, will appreciate the warped misdirection of the lyrics; it’s also just a damn catchy tune

The only track featuring collaboration from Gordon’s Phish-mates, “Traveled Too Far,” offers the most potential for improvisation, and should become a staple of the upcoming tour. This version is a veritable guest-fest, with Trey Anastasio and Page McConnell joining Bill Kreutzmann, Chuck Leavell and Scott Murawski on a guitar-and-piano-driven rocker that would have found an equally suitable home on McConnell’s recent solo album. It’s concise here, but the live version could go in a number of different directions, hopefully one of which is the deep, dark, room-filling rock of “Carini” or, appropriately enough, “Mike’s Song.”

Gordon then jumps on all of the instruments for the well-mixed “Andelmans’ Yard,” another Kottke-esque tune, which demonstrates his musical versatility, most notably on acoustic guitar and mandolin. Though the bassline on “Radar Blip” is really just a reworking of “The Moma Dance,” the initially straightforward lyrical delivery gives way to a more soulful second half, complete with accompanying horns and female backing vocals. The airy “Morphing Again” – which includes the “green sparrow” title lyric – seems partially formed, a B-side that made its way to the album, but “Jaded” picks back up on the funky, new-school soul vibe of “Radar Blip.” The closing track, “Sound,” has the loose feel of an impromptu barroom jam – you can imagine Gordo leading on piano as friends and acquaintances add their accents to the laid-back shuffler

Leading up to the release, Gordon noted that he worked to create a fun atmosphere on The Green Sparrow. He succeeds in that endeavor, and also shows his ability to create a collection of cheerful, but sufficiently eclectic, tracks that should have appeal well beyond Phishheads and jam-rock fans.

JamBase | Gordonia
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