The London Session
A Day at Abbey Road Studios
by Taco Olmstead
There are few bands that have ceaselessly impressed me; Umphrey’s McGee is one of those bands. When I received their latest album “The London Session” slated for release on April 7th and recorded in a mere 12 hours at the world famous Abbey Road Studios in London, I dug right in.
Albums, despite their lackluster sales in the age of internet still intrigue me. It is a wonderful way to ascertain where a band is creatively. It is like a musical time capsule, forever holding the progression of the band in a moment. In this case, it is a great moment to take note of. The fact that this album was recorded in twelve hours makes an even stronger case and not just for the album, but for the band as well. To be able to record in a studio that has been graced by so many notable musicians is a feat in and of itself, let alone to unleash such a wondrous audio experience for your listeners.
The first track, “Bad Friday” starts off familiar enough in the first few opening bars and transitions into a funk infused dance track while still adhering to recognizable UM sensibilities. It is an ample reminder of where UM came from and where they are headed. The second track, “Rocker Part 2”, wades back deeper into familiar territory, reminiscing with the listener both musically and lyrically on the particulars of how you came to fall in love with this band. This created ample comfort for the third track “No Diablo”. This is a much lighter and airy track that puts a bounce in your bob and gets your fingers popping. At this point I was truly impressed by the ease in which the band so easily transitions through different styles of music, different flavors and showcases their evolution throughout the last 15 years of listening to them.
Track 4,”Cut the cable” tumbles into the room followed in by acoustic guitar arrangements and a lighter fare easily digested and complimented with lyrics and vocals. The music and the lyrics put me into an introspective space and laid me down lightly for the laid back opening pitch of track 5 “Out of Order”. The band continues down the lane of introspection and made me feel like I was sitting atop a hill in the golden sunlight of memories, reminiscing with my dreams, my hopes and my setbacks.
I’ve always felt that a good album is made up of really good music while a great album lends more to the listener than simply great music. A great album, to me, is an experience that personifies the elements of the band, blending them together and delivering an emotional journey to the listener. In the case of “the London Session”, this is exactly what they deliver, an experience. They set the stage and tone from track to track and the band does an excellent job of this. A great story gives you an introduction; then the story builds and delivers a climactic turning point, when answers and innermost thoughts of the writer are revealed. For me this was track 6, “Glory”.
With “Glory” the band sheds the weight and nuance of their lyricism and really lets the music speak for itself. The music embodies the title here and leaves you wondering, asking questions of self and touches off emotions like only great music can. I’m a sucker for great piano tunes, shredding guitars, rolling snare fills and clever bass lines, this track covered each of these bases, tying them all into a crescendo that makes me want to weep in, well, the” glory” of everything I love about great music. If you sit yourself down in a dimly lit room, play this track and lose yourself in it and escape with dry eyes I would have to ask you if you had a soul, this tune really is that good. What “Jessica” was to The Allman Brothers “Glory” is to Umphrey’s McGee, and again, this tune really is that good.
Track 7 “Plunger”, rings in like an alarm clock and reels us back in with that old school Umphrey’s Sound that has set this band apart from the monotony of the Jam Band sound. Just when you think you are going to be settling into the same old Umphrey’s along comes Track 8 “Comma Later”. This track comes in soft and turns into a dance number that echoes the many influences of this band giving you a sound that is not a typical UM sound but maintains the roots of their musical vision.
Track 9 “Eat” harkens back to the darker UM tunes, the hard edged prog-rock bite that we all love, the whole while flirting with something much stronger and certainly not a typical UM sound. A hard hitting track preparing you for the final track, a fantastic cover well timed nod to where they were recording, The Beatles “I want you (she’s so heavy)”. It is no easy task to properly cover a Beatles tune, but UM takes this cover and really does a great job with it. I found it to be a perfect and fitting final track for an album blessed with so much eclectic musical influence and evolution, balancing the tone and ambience for the listening experience. While most albums are snapshots of where a band is at a certain time, in the case of “The London Session” it is a masterful portrait of not only how far this band has come, but where it is going.