Although they've been around since 1997, I had never heard of Umphrey's McGee, hailing from South Bend, Indiana. The band are proud of not fitting a single 'pigeon hole' in the ever present attempt of fans and journalists to put music in a category. With influences ranging from U2 and the Police to King Crimson and Yes, it might indeed be impossible to put them a single place - except the category of bands absolutely worth being he ard, although I cannot judge that fully after just hearing their latest effort The London Session.
This album contains 10 tracks, all but one (a Beatles cover) of which have been released on earlier albums by the band. This may seem it's a compilation album, but it isn't. Instead, the band recorded this album in Abbey Road Studio 2 in London, the place where one of their two most important influences (The Beatles, the other one being Led Zeppelin) recorded a lot of their music.
All tracks are recorded live - 6 being recorded 8 times to make sure they got a good recording, the last 4 were recorded in a single take as a 'mini-set'. Listening to the album, while knowing this, makes it clear that this is a band which members have been playing these songs together for years already. It all fits, the harmonies are there, not a beat is missed.
The many influences, and the band's original compositions with various tempo changes and wonderful guitar solos complete the picture. The opening track Bad Friday is a funky rock track (just like, to a lesser extent, Comma Later) while Rocker Part 2 clearly shows that the band can rock like Led Zeppelin as well. Long time favourites The Beatles are honoured by the sublime (and modernised) cover of I Want You (She's So Heavy) and the clearly influenced Umphrey's McGee track No Diablo. The influence of the 70s progressive rock acts become obvious in Plunger and Out Of Order, both of which have numerous changes in tempo and feel, while Comma Later seems to indicate that the band also took some ideas along from 80s pop rock.
The capstone of all this is the humour of the band (their debut album in 1997 was called Greatest hits III), shining through in the lyrics of Eat: a repeated half spoken, half sung “I want to eat, it's such a treat” in a track that is musically again as varied as Plunger or Out Of Order.
Sound wise, the album is a great listen too, with all instruments clearly present in the mix - worthy of an Abbey Road recording.
All in all, Umphrey's McGee was a pleasant surprise to my ears, even if not all tracks on this album would fit the prog pigeon hole (as if the band would care...). I like the variation, the sound and the humour of this band, and expect to check out their earlier albums as well.
**** Angelo Hulshout (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
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