When the Covid Omicron variant forced Trey Anastasio and his mega-popular jam band Phish to postpone their 2021 New Year’s Eve festivities, like many of us, he hunkered down for yet another long winter without friends, family, or fun. But Anastasio also channeled his energy into writing a batch of pretty and powerful new songs that he recorded quickly and unaccompanied in this solo acoustic debut. Clocking in at 33 minutes—shorter than many Phish prog-rock jams—Mercy contains nine concise, sparsely arranged tunes that put the spotlight on his singing and acoustic guitar work.
The dreadnought guitar on the recordings was commissioned from the Burlington, Vermont, boutique company Circle Strings by Anastasio collaborator and Phish keyboardist Page McConnell. This special instrument features a 100-year-old German spruce top, koa back and sides, and a 75-year-old mahogany neck. A black pearl inlay inspired by a Roy Lichtenstein work was chosen by McConnell, who gave Anastasio the guitar as a birthday present in September 2021.
Anastasio playing this guitar, masterfully layered upon itself and exquisitely captured by engineer Mike Fahey, is reason enough to give this album a listen. The songs are accessible (a challenge in some of Anastasio’s earlier work) and rife with metaphorical references to the elements throughout his earnest lyrics: water, waves, rain, snow, light, sun.
Opening tracks “A Little More Time” and “Mercy” both beg the listener for another chance at life and a fair shake in troubled times while the album closes with a lonely plea to “Please, please, please, please help me” join the “Ever Changing Tide.”
“Arc” is a melancholy but positive ode to relationships, while “6 ½ minutes” contains philosophical commentary on pandemic-influenced confusion, with Anastasio singing, “I can’t even tell any more what’s a lie and what is real.” “Blazing Down the Twisted Wire” includes the strongest wordplay and even a whistling component reminiscent the Phish classic “Reba,” while “Flying Blind” is probably the “Phishiest” song on the record.
Almost 40 years into a composing career and more than five years after his first solo acoustic performances, Mercy is a welcome addition to Anastasio’s varied catalog—and the jams are not missed.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.