Umphrey’s McGee – Similar Skin


Review by Gary Cordwell

Nothing Too Fancy Music

Release date: 10 June 2014

It’s those quietly subversive ones that you have to watch. The ones that look innocent and play the game until you suddenly realise that they have their own bizarre and twisted agenda! Such is the case with American sextet and jam band stalwarts Umphrey’s McGee and their seventh studio album Similar Skin. This is their first album released via their own newly formed independent record label (Nothing Too Fancy Music) and sees the band (now in its 16th year) dropping some of their more recent, dancy, electronic experimentation in favour of a more succinct, guitar oriented sound… y’know, melody, choruses, less noodling, that sorta thing!

The production feels almost soft-focus, although it is wrapped in a sheen of radio friendliness. Mellow keyboards and an almost 80s style bass unperpin a soft rock, AOR sound. It feels like slipping on a favourite old gig t-shirt and driving along on a Summers day, the top down and a soft rock station on with riffs, fills, choruses drift past creating a warm smile of recognition. It’s easy not to listen too hard, it slips by so smoothly. Steely Dan kept coming to mind – intelligent, geeky, slick and mellow… but perhaps a Dan in a parallel universe, a Dan with Robert Fripp on guitar because at about the halfway mark this record starts getting weirder.

Yes, the production stays slick so it keeps its cohesion but quirkiness begins to filter through – the riffs take on a harder, more metallic edge and the arrangements become odder… Faith No More odd! It begins to get decidedly proggy. Time signatures become more elaborate, solo’s get more intricate, vocals get growlier. It gets darker and heavier, Dream Theater riffage mingles with jazz rock and Zappa guitar explorations. Kiss choruses disappear into swirling keyboards!

However weird it gets though, that accessibility is never consumed, and the friendliness of the production keeps you on board, following the band down every strange detour. This release could really break Umphrey outside of jam band circles. Existing fans will be predisposed to love it, several songs are already live staples, and new listeners will surely be enticed in by its easy, Summery nature. Umphrey’s are a very different beast than the Grateful Dead or the Allman’s and highlight what a diverse bunch these jam band dudes are. It will be interesting to hear how these carefully crafted gems are used as a springboard to take off into places unknown live.

Umphrey's McGee – Similar Skin7 out of 10

Track listing:

  1. 1.The Linear
  2. Cut The Cable
  3. Hourglass
  4. No Diablo
  5. Similar Skin
  6. Puppet String
  7. Little Gift
  8. Educated Guess
  9. Loose Ends
  10. Hindsight
  11. Bridgeless



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