On May 8, 1989 "Phish" released their sprawling, ambitious double debut album "Junta".
Originally released only on cassette in 1988, the album was independently recorded and produced, and quickly became a cult favorite among "Phish" fans. The album's title is a nod to the band's first official manager, who helped them secure a record deal with Elektra Records.
Phish was formed by guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, and drummer Jon Fishman at the University of Vermont in 1983. In 1985, keyboardist Page McConnell joined the group, completing the band's four-piece lineup. Together, they would go on to become one of the most beloved and influential jam bands of all time.
"Junta" showcases Phish's eclectic and improvisational style, which draws from a wide range of genres including rock, jazz, funk, and bluegrass. At over two hours in length, the album is a journey through the band's musical universe, full of surprises, twists, and turns.
The album contains mainly nontraditional structures and arrangements based on jazz fusion and improvisation, resulting in symphonic-like epics. The songs are characterized by intricate instrumental interplay and complex compositions that allow for extended improvisation.
The album kicks off with the energetic "Fee" which sets the tone for the rest of the record. Other highlights include "You Enjoy Myself" a fan favorite that features a memorable vocal jam and an extended bass and drum segment, and "The Divided Sky" a mostly instrumental, twelve-minute epic that begins with a nice acoustic intro and builds to an explosive climax.
One of the album's most memorable tracks is the epic "Fluffhead" which consists of multiple interconnected sections and tells the story of a character named Fluffhead. The song is a prime example of "Phish's" storytelling abilities and their willingness to take musical risks.
(Photo: courtesy BC Kagan)
Throughout the album, "Phish" demonstrates their penchant for experimentation and improvisation, weaving together intricate instrumental passages and unexpected musical flourishes. The band's ability to seamlessly transition between different styles and moods is particularly impressive, as they move from funky grooves to psychedelic jams to Jazz and delicate ballads.
While "Junta" may not be as accessible or concise as some of "Phish's" later albums, it remains a landmark release in the band's discography. It is a landmark album that established "Phish" as a force to be reckoned with in the world of jam bands. With its blend of technical prowess, musical experimentation, and whimsical storytelling, "Junta" is a must-listen for any "Phish" fan and a testament to the band's enduring legacy.