By Jason Turngren
When Umphrey’s McGee announced that they had a new album coming out only ten months after their most recent studio release, Similar Skin, naturally fans grew anxious and excited for it’s release. Learning that the album was recorded in one day at Abbey Road Studios was the icing on the proverbial cake.To top that off, the track listing is absolutely mind blowing, the perfect selection of tunes for the task.
The London Sessions kicks off with ‘Bad Friday,’ a track which made it’s debut on New Years Eve 2013 at the Fillmore in Denver, CO and has quickly became a crowd favorite. With stunning guitar work intertwining the mesmerizing vocal harmonies this track seemed perfect for Abbey Road Studios.
“Rocker Part 2” has been in Umphrey’s McGee’s live rotation since New Years Eve of 2007 at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, but this is the first time their live classic has received any studio treatment. The heavy prog-rock feel at the front end of the song is sure to bring memories flooding back from live performances attended over the years. Listening to “Rocker Part 2” alone in the comfort of your own home, it’s tempting to throw your arms in the air after Jake’s sensational guitar solo leading into Chris’ drum break down mid track.
After being released on their most recent studio album ‘Similar Skin,’ it was interesting to see how they would alter ‘No Diablo’ for ‘The London Sessions.’ Listening to both versions of ‘No Diablo’ back to back it’s safe to say they “took it a little easy” in Abbey Road Studios. The new version has more of an acoustic vibe that softens the instrumentation and really magnifies the lyrics to help bring out the vocal harmonies that ‘Similar Skin’ didn’t capture as strongly.
‘Cut The Cable’ is another song that was featured on the previous Umphrey’s studio album which Umphrey’s took a little slower this time around. Having originally been a semi-bluegrassy tune, it was a bit jarring to hear the prog-rock version ‘Similar Skin’ had brought us. Abbey Road seems to of had been the perfect place to slow it down a bit and bring us back to the familiar acoustic version we were introduced to years ago with 30db.
To call “Glory” a crowd favorite would be a massive understatement. Having been played over 250 times since 2002, it’s only release has been off of the now out of print ‘Local Band Does OKlahoma’ live release from 2003. Joel’s piano intro is guaranteed to send shivers down your spine as excitement fills your eyes. Abbey Road set the space necessary for this song to breathe. It’s hard to think of any other studio doing ‘Glory’ justice the way Abbey Road has.
“Plunger” is a track you might have to throw a good pair of headphones on in order to find a difference between this release and it’s debut on Umphrey’s McGee’s third studio album ‘Anchor Drops.’ Besides having a brighter sound and clearer direction, the addition of “Plunger” is an amazing throwback to their earlier studio release
After making its live debut in 2012, “Comma Later” found a nice fit on ‘The London Sessions.’ With a Steely Dan like jazz feel to it, this track flows with the same intensity as it does in the live setting. Good headphones are highly recommended for enjoying this song to it’s fullest extent, with eyes closed it feels as though each instrument and vocal track is happening all around the room.
“Eat” was introduced into Umphrey’s live rotation in 2006 and was placed on their 2007 ‘Live At The Murat’ album. The heavy metal beginning gets you groovin’ and going, with Jake professing his love for eating something sweet, it is in fact such a treat. What has generally been known as purely an instrumental track these lyrics seem to be improvised. Whether they were or not, it was a welcome surprise to those not expecting to hear Jakes metal voice.
A trip to Abbey Road Studios wouldn’t be complete without peppering in a Beatles Cover. ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ is one of the Fab Four’s heavier songs that fit in well with the vibe of the album. It is also a song Umphrey’s has managed to master performing live over the last nine years. Sounding exactly like the way the Beatles intended it, Umphrey’s McGee found a way to make it their own without sacrificing the integrity of the original recording.
With old and new tracks, new renditions of previously recorded tunes, along with a cover, ‘The London Sessions’ is an album that covers a wide variety of what Umphrey’s McGee is. Forever changing, altering and bringing something new to their fans. This might be Umphrey’s most diverse album yet in that respect. Coming off almost as a live set of music this album shows us many variations of old and new favorites along with a cover, what more could us Umphreak’s ask for? ‘The London Sessions’ truly is a masterpiece and to have an albums worth of songs in one recording session proves these guys are a powerhouse capable of just about anything.