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Published: 2004/06/30
by Pat Buzby

Anchor Drops – Umphrey’s McGee

Hanging Brains Music/SCI Fidelity UM0006

These Midwestern boys have paid their dues. In
modern terms, this means not only years of gigs and a
self-released CD or three but even a DVD, as well as
one of the roughest personnel changes imaginable
(drums). Anchor Drops, though, is the sound of a band
reaching maturity.

As fate would have it, though, Umphrey's have dropped
this particular anchor at a crucial moment in jamband
history. This will be among the first CDs to get
reviewed with a certain heavy question in mind: will
these guys inherit the crown that the Grateful Dead
once held and Phish have recently given up?

It's hard to say, because the answer depends on not
only this band's music but their ability to grasp a
historical moment. On the evidence of this CD, they
have the advantage of being as many steps away from
Phish as Phish were from the Dead. The GD had their
proggy moments, but Phish traded greater expertise in
that field for a lessened depth in folk/country roots. Likewise Umphrey's, whose one homey moment on this
disc ("Bullhead City," with whiskey, card games and
farm animals all accounted for in the lyric) is
pleasant but shows the signs of tokenism, but who lay
on the superhero unisons and post-Dregs/Vai flash with
a shamelessness Phish never matched.

That may not be everyone's cup of bongwater, but for
the fusoids among us, this CD is an expedition through
skewed meters and oddball choruses which yields new
secrets with each listen. Leading Umphrey's closer to
the Dead than Phish is their lineup, which centers on
the chemistry between two guitarists: elusive
vocalist/lyricist Brendan Bayliss meets shredding muso
Jake Cinninger, although the two also delve into each
other's territories at times. The other four come off
as able (especially chopsy new drummer Kris Myers) but
less assertive.

Those lyrics don't catch this reviewer's ear just
yet, but Umphrey's have at least one trick up their
sleeve. Applying what could be termed the "Wash
Uffizi" principle, they leave certain passages out of
the lyric sheet, notably the conclusion ("It's all
your circus now") of "Wife Soup," which happens to be
one of the most notable peaking points of a CD that
I've come across in some time.

In short, to return to the beginning, this is the
sound of a band reaching maturity, and what a sweet
sound. Well-timed, too, given the responsibility that
their elders have handed them. It's their circus now.

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