Album: Similar Skin
Album Reviewer: Michael Mariscal
A studio album from a jam band will rarely blow you away. They’re usually full of good songs, and hopefully some good solos too. But for jam bands, studio albums are not the priority. So generally, the studio albums you’ll hear from a jam band are lackluster. Just like the band itself, these albums are made for the live stage rather then the recording studio. Each song refrains from using instruments outside the core four (guitar, drums, bass, keyboard) and is created not to be a piece of a larger album but a spot on a set list. The end result is a compilation of shortened and tightened live songs. A useful tool for marketing and revenue, but a dishonest effort nonetheless.
With their album Similar Skin, jam band Umphrey’s Mcgee falls into these same pitfalls. The song’s feel randomly placed together, connected in only the time they were written. It’s everything you could hear live, aside from some cut solos and a slightly higher sound quality. The first song, The Linear, was exciting and undoubtedly entertaining with its climactic solo when played live back in 2010. But with its solo cut and crowd nonexistent, the song as the first track on this album lacks the energy it had before.
That said, this is still a good album. With a band as full of technical talent and songwriting ability as Umphrey’s Mcgee, it’s hard for it not to be. The best songs on the album leave some room for improvisation. After all, they’re a jam band—that’s what they do best. Take Puppet String: free flowing guitar fills and some open space (combined with an incredible bass line) makes this the best song off the album. But the guitar led epic Bridgeless makes for a close second. Clocking it at exactly nine minutes, the song makes good use of every minute it’s given, jumping from calm, whirling piano sounds to blood-pumping metal-like guitar riffs and solos. It ends with the album in a climactic, uplifting duet that everyone should listen to. It’s the kind of song fans should dream of closing their concert.
So even though it’s not conscious enough in its construction, this is still an album worth hearing. It will be on my ipod for a long time; I give it a four.