(All Album Reviews by Windhawk)
(originally written for www.prog4you.com)
Umphrey's McGee is a new and welcome musical experience for me. Formed in 1997, this is the groups 6th release, and their third studio album. And they take us on a musical journey that is quite original.
The music can be described as a mixture of late 70's/early 80's AOR rock and fusion. The songs are driven by subtle nuances in instrumentation, where laid-back but hypnotic guitars, keyboards and drums weave complex and subtle soundscapes that draws the listener into a dreamy landscape of nuances and improvisations.
The first track on the album, "Believe the Lie", is one of several highlights on the album. The song, as the album overall, has a very laid back feel. A simple but hypnotic guitar riff is the driving force of the song, and a very nice and clean vocal and well thought out rhythms weave upon the guitar to create a song which is instantly pleasing to listen to. Add some jazzy elements at times, and you've got a good song, overall.
The following five tracks are nice. Nothing really exciting, nothing really bad, but nice.
Then comes four more strong tunes, all of them quite different in style. "Intentions Clear" has a jazzy feel to it, a laid back sound and a hypnotic sax performance by Joshua Redman, that keeps you listening intently throughout the song. "End Of The Road" is an instrumental, where the acoustic guitar weaves a strong and captivating melody, with the harmonica (courtesy of Huey Lewis) adding to the mood. "Passing" starts out sounding much like a 70's prog tune, has a bit more tempo and rough guitar sound than the rest of the album, and with vocal harmonies any Gentle Giant fan would find of interest. "Ocean Billy" is the most proggy tune on the album, starting out quiet then gradually growing into a song with an emotional guitar sound and synth in the background, with a nice use of Latin-inspired rhythms. 4 minutes into the song you get a break with some seconds of complete silence, before the song builds up into an epic and mighty sounding ending.
The album then finishes off with a nice sounding acoustic track, "The Weight Around"
All in all this is a good album, but it cannot be recommended to every prog fan out there. As the group improvises quite a bit, and clearly has been influenced by jazz and fusion, that in itself will alienate some prog fans. A soundscape that is very laid back and subtle will also alienate quite a few people, you won't find a lot of aggression or drive in this music.
In other words: This album will probably not be of interest to the die-hard prog metal fans. But if you like your prog more subtle, and you like music where concentrated listening rewards you with a plethora of subtle nuances to discover, this album should be of interest to you.
Reviewer: Olav Björnsen