Elektra Records, 1988


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Since the mid-1980s, the alternative quartet Phish has been struggling to make a name for themselves through almost non-stop touring through one area of the country at a time. Their hard work has started to pay off, as their latest album Billy Breathes has had moderate success.

But long before the days of regular airplay (or even a single), there was an album they sold at their shows to try to dredge up more interest in the band. Originally released in 1988 (and picked up by Elektra in 1992), Junta gave Phishheads their first taste of their lads in the studio - and kids, it's pretty damn tasty.

This two-disc set kicks off with "Fee," a light little number that features the keyboard work of Page McConnell more than the guitar work of Trey Anastasio (though he establishes himself as a very good lead singer on the track). The production quality of this first effort stands out as amazing, just one sign of things to come for both the album and the band.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"You Enjoy Myself," a number which has become a staple in the live set, shows off the mastery all four of these musicians have with their respective instruments. Whether you're getting hooked by Anastasio's flowing leads, you're soothed by the keyboard work of McConnell, you're getting into Mike Gordon's thundering bass lines or you're dancing to Jon Fishman's drum work, the music hooks you in like a... well, let's not go to puns.

Some of the longer tracks on Junta don't seem to last as long as the CD timer says they did. "David Bowie" is a solid instrumental prformance (with rare interruption of vocals), as is "The Divided Sky." The first half of this disc, for the most part, is fun to listen to.

The fun continues, to a point, with "Fluff's Travels" and "Contact," though the band's silly side is first heard on the latter. Despite the rather simple subject matter of the song, it is another solid performance that makes it enjoyable. Even one of the live tracks, "Icculus," shows off the good humor of the band and the side that has drawn their legions of dedicated fans.

However, not all is rainbows and roses on Junta. The band occasionally seems to stretch for material, such as on "Dinner And A Movie." And, of the three live tracks added on to the CD version, only the previously mentioned "Icculus" is worth listening to. "Union Federal" is often boring, occasionally painful, and seems to last much longer than 25 minutes. For all the comparisons that Phish have had to the Grateful Dead, this isn't what the Dead would have called "Space" - or jamming, for that matter.

However, Junta is an interesting first portrait of a band beginning to cut their teeth, and has lots of solid material to keep the listener returning to the disc. If only it had been pared down to a single disc, it would have been perfect. Still, it will do for an interesting two hours.

Rating: B

User Rating: B+



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Elektra Records, and is used for informational purposes only.