This was a week that was full of amazing new albums by some “sure thing” acts and others that happen to have put out some incredible material this go round. With releases by Gov’t Mule, Umphrey’s McGee, Waterboys, Steve Vai, Cassandra Wilson and more, it was not an easy decision to pick one to review. I sampled all of these pretty extensively and came up with a couple viable options, but since I didn’t have the time, I passed on Gov’t Mule’s live work “Dub Side Of The Mule” and opted for the equally compelling “The London Session” by jam favorites Umphrey’s McGee. Normally, it may not be a big deal to fly somewhere to record an album, but when that trip takes you to Abbey Road Studios,…. well that’s something else entirely. The one day session started as a joke between their manager and their producer, but soon became reality. With only about twelve hours to record, the band knew they couldn’t use all new material, so they went the route of re-recording some older songs and stripping down a couple fresher cuts. Even with using broken-in tunes, they did not have the time to record the vocals, so they did that back in the states.
The opening track is the newer Brendan Bayliss number, “Bad Friday”. This funky Talking Heads infused tune got it’s first studio recording at Abbey Road. Sweet!!!!
“Rocker Part 2” is fittingly titled and overall has the vibe of Steve Vai playing a Rush tune. Definitely shows the heavier side of Umphrey’s McGee’s original music.
One of my favorites off of their last album, “No Diablo” gets done-up with a stripped down approach, featuring some ivory tickling on the legendary Steinway Model D, which was used on several Beatles albums.
Another song off of ‘Similar Skin’, “Cut The Cable” is also done with an acoustic approach in mind. The Steinway gets some more play, but the guitars truly shine and add melody, that lies a little deeper on electric versions.
“Out Of Order” was one of four songs that the band recorded once, with little to do, but track the vocals at a later date. It’s a song that conjurs the sounds of vintage Umphrey’s McGee and allows for a little spontaneity.
How can you not love the Steinway beginning the awesome instrumental anthem, “Glory”. Eventhough, this song always seems like a segue and is never long enough, this is one of my personal favorite tunes, probably by anybody. There is something extra special about hearing a cut like this played in such a magical place.
“Plunger” takes off with it’s driving guitars, done in only one take. It is not the longest version of this song I have heard, but it sounds as good as any version I know.
I am not familiar with the Jake Cinninger tune, “Comma Later”. It’s got a late 70’s, early 80’s vibe, with a sound that is reminiscent of the legendary Earth Wind & Fire.
“Eat” has a rocker edge and to start, seems to be almost a tip of the hat to Black Sabbath, that is until the lyrics and the Cookie Monster inspired vocals step forward. It is a fun track with some pretty incredible electric guitar.
The last track was really something for the band and a way to pay tribute to The Beatles, but they decided to put “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” on the album anyway. It sounds incredible. The playing and singing is all quite stellar. Somewhere about the halfway mark, the song gets exotic with the tempo and that adds a level of musicianship that is tremendous.
It may not be a new album, but how can you not appreciate the songs and more importantly where “The London Session” was recorded. The energy is tangible and feels like legacy and the world where music used to be the result of hard work and experience. Not every track is my favorite, but considering how long they had to record everyone of these ten cuts, it is a piece of gold. If you are a fan of Umphrey’s McGee, you will of course want to pick it up. For fans of jam music, this is probably one you will want to have, as well. That’s What I Know, So That’s What You Know!! Enjoy!!
HAPPY LISTENING!!!! 😉