Okay, let get some items out of the way. First, within the next two weeks, I will publish a multi-post interview with Brendan Bayliss of Umphrey's McGee. Check back in to learn more about this intriguing unit from Chicago, IL.
Next, one of the questions I plan to ask is "If Merriam-Webster were to come to you and ask you to write the dictionary definition of 'jam music,' how would it read?" My reason for asking is quite simple: Umphrey's McGee refers to themselves, among other genres, as a jam band. Yet, they don't seem to fit the mold of a jam band. There is so much happening in this music, I found it rather difficult to pigeonhole this group into one category.
This brings me to my thoughts on their most recent release Anchor Drops. There appears to be more influences here than Imelda Marcos, the former Phillipino First Lady, owned shoes. The band slickly slips into jam mood on one cut, then jazz, southern rock, progressive, only to go twangy on the next. But here's the good part: IT WORKS! It works because the six musicians that make up Umphrey's McGee (Joel Cummins: keyboards, vocals; Brendan Bayliss: guitar, vocals; Ryan Stasik: bass; Andy Farag: percussion; Jake Cinninger: guitar, Moog, synthesizers, vocals; and Kris Myers: drums, vocals) are all accomplished musicians. Furthermore, how can one not appreciate a band how titled their FIRST release, Greatest Hits Volume III.
The Washington Post wrote "Umphrey's McGee scrambles your brain but never quite toasts it." One listen to Anchor Drops reveals manic time changes, piercing guitar work, and a rhythm section that truly "anchors" this group. Ryan Stasik and Kris Myers are as prolific as rhythm section as any that exists in music - period. As intricate as their music gets, these two never touch.
Lyrically, I found Umphrey's McGee to be closer to poets than lyricists. As with their musical arrangements, and much akin to poetry, the lyrics keep the listener thinking. Little is done in a straight forward manner that allows the listener to hone in on the message. Instead, one is given the freedom to decipher meaning for themselves, as with many great poets.
Umphrey's McGee have taken the genre of "jam music," chopped it up with their patented Ginsu knives, added some fresh, organic ingredients, placed it into a pot and cooked it up. What emerges, especially on Anchor Drops, is a gourmet feast fit for even the most finicky of musical taste buds. Grab a bottle of wine (preferably Merlot [I wonder if you can figure out why!]), or a six-pack of beer, and serve yourself this delectable treat.
On TGB rating scale, this album lands between Mercury and the Sun.