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Umphrey's McGee - 2014 - "Similar Skin"

(54:18, Hanging Brains Music)


*****
                 
TRACK LIST:

1.  The Linear 3:48
2.  Cut the Cable 3:53
3.  Hourglass 3:23
4.  No Diablo 4:13
5.  Similar Skin 6:05
6.  Puppet String 6:29
7.  Little Gift 3:14
8.  Educated Guess 5:48
9.  Loose Ends 5:01
10. Hindsight 3:24
11. Bridgeless 9:00

LINEUP:

Jake Cinninger  guitars; vocals
Brendan Bayliss  guitars; vocals
Joel Cummins  keyboards; vocals
Kris Myers  drums; vocals
Andy Farag  percussion 
Ryan Stasik  bass 

Prolusion. The US band UMPHREY'S MCGEE was formed back in 1997, and has established itself as a popular staple in the US live circuit, more often than not regarded as a part of the so called jam band scene. Over the years they have released more than a dozen of live and studio albums, and appear to have established themselves fairly well among a key audience without ever becoming pigeonholed into any specific genre-oriented crowd as such. "Similar Skin" is their eighth studio production, and was released through their own label Hanging Brains Music in 2014.

Analysis. When I first encountered this band a few years back, I had the pleasure to cover two of their albums within a few years span, both of them affairs with compositions that, on the one hand, came across as somewhat loose in general structure, but on the other hand gave the impression of being smooth, well worked out affairs, with occasional lapses into progressive rock-oriented sequences as some kind of proverbial icing on the cake. A touch of Americana, a wee bit of psychedelic rock touches, some improvisational bits topped of with more or less classic progressive rock, if you like. This time around the band has taken their songwriting skills, as well as mix and production, over to a rather different landscape altogether. If this is a case of a band developing due to age, experience and influences brought in through side ventures such as Ohmphrey or merely a band opting to explore a different sound altogether, I can't really tell, but Umphrey's McGee as of 2014 is a markedly different sounding band. If that is for the better or the worse will depend on the individual listener, presumably. A distinct feature the band still holds on to is the use of tight, plucked guitar and instrumental details, especially in the verse passages of their songs, with occasional piano and keyboards supplementing the dual guitars, which tend to dominate those sequences. On this album, these are mainly explored as dual and often intricate guitar arrangements, supplementing each other rather than as a single plucked guitar supplemented with Americana-sounding details, as was much more common in the earlier phase of the band I was introduced too. An additional factor this time around is that these passages are in the minority, as harder-edged riffs are used much more extensively, both in verses, interludes and chorus sequences. Sometimes with both guitarists having a go at providing tight but often subtly dampened riffs, at others with the second guitarist either soloing or providing plucked gentler guitar details. This gives the album a sound if not similar then at least comparable to bands such as King's X and Rush, to some extent. In a token, darker toned excursion towards the end of the CD, Hindsight, the band actually comes across as being placed somewhere at the halfway stage between King's X and Soundgarden, but that composition is an exception, Those fond of the gentler territories this band explored in previous years get another exception here catering for their needs, titled No Diablo, and the concluding track Bridgeless is a third exception here, this one a quirky, multifaceted affair that features sophisticated, quirky sequences with improvisational qualities exploring out from multiple variations of the band's core plucked, gentle guitar motif foundation. I understand that this latter track is an old live favorite of the band, one they have performed live this past decade or thereabouts, now finally being included in an album. Personally I found this to be a smooth but refreshing production, the alternating gentler and harder edged sequences, adding a nice nerve and edge to the material. And while different from the earlier albums by the band I'm familiar with, they maintain some core aspects of their style that makes this production sound like Umphrey's McGee too, albeit as a band that has chosen to explore a different musical landscape this time around.

Conclusion. Existing fans will have explored this album in depth by the time that this review is published, and while I suspect that the album may not have gone down all that well with their entire established fan base, I applaud the band for continuing to venture out to explore and expand their boundaries rather than replicating material of the exactly same nature as they have earlier. For those who haven't given this band a check yet, this particular production is one I'd recommend to those who know and enjoy bands like King's X and Rush as they appeared in the late 80s.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: September 14, 2015
The Rating Room


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