Nothing screams "non-hardcore fans need not apply" than a collection of outtakes, unfinished tracks and main release rejects. But today (April 3), jam band Umphrey's McGee is introducing such an album, The Bottom Half to the public, and I'm happy to report that that this sextet has plenty of the good stuff leftover for both the fanboys and newbies alike to enjoy.
Formed in the late nineties, South Bend, Indiana's own Umphrey's McGee is a throwback to when music was handcrafted, both in the writing and the playing of it. They are akin to what you get when you take Phish and strip out most of the goofiness and excesses and leave the muscianship intact. Arguably, they are the successors to that now-defunct king of jam bands.
UM seems to be doing more than just picking up the crown and putting it on its collective head, however; lately they are even pushing this elusively-defined genre forward from The Grateful Dead and Phish. The fantastic ensemble playing is there, to be sure, but they have a better sense of when to actually end a song and avoid mindless noodling. The songs have actual structures and the lyrics are thoughtful and meaningful without getting overly philosophical. They actually sweat the details on the vocals; it feels like the singing is an ends onto itself and not brief interludes betweens endless instrumental wanking. All the while, they thrive on chance-taking with unpredictable melodic shifts and draw from an limitless well of sources for inspiration; from the prog rock of King Crimson to the gentle country-rock of Graham Parsons and everything else in between. These guys look like they weren't even born when most of the music they recall was popular, yet they play like a bunch of old vets. No mind-altering chemicals or extremely open-minded dispositions are needed to enjoy the challenging but accessible sounds of Umphrey's McGee.
All of that and more is found in the odds and ends collection The Bottom Half. Aptly described as a sequel to 2006's Safety In Numbers, these tracks were was left on the cutting room floor when Safety was assembled for release and plans to make it a double cd release were dropped. Listening to both, it seems they chose a somewhat more serious mood for last year's album and the resulting collection brought the group greater success and popularity. And rightly so.