Umphrey's McGee: Safety in Numbers

By Haig Assadourian

The latest studio release from Umphrey's McGee makes a statement: they are not a jamband. Yes, their proclivity to progressive chord chaos in live shows may have suggested that they could ably fill the shoes left by Phish's departure from the scene, but their latest release is a thoughtful, song-oriented exposition of tracks typically clocking under five minutes each. Leave the guitar noodling to others this time around. This collection is grounded in emotional delivery and structured atmospherics.

Some familiar live tunes, "Believe the Lie" and "Ocean Billy," make their studio debut accompanied by excellent original compositions threaded together with a decidedly melancholic set of lyrics. “Rocker”'s slide guitar accompanies the sober moans of Brendan Bayliss telling us that no matter how much effort you put into something, "Life can take it from you anyway." The emotional honesty in these themes of mortality, loss, and regret lend a timeless quality to the top-notch guitar melodies from Jake Cinninger and Joel Cummins' keyboard soundscapes.

The most distinctive tune of the album, "Liquid" flows with kaleidoscopic melodies reminiscent of XTC's (or perhaps their Dukes of Stratosphere alter-egos') best work, portraying an adult's introspection that evolves into a dream-like climax. UM's signature power-chord progressions and vocal deliveries are still present in tracks like "Words," but I found the overall musical variety in this release to be remarkable.

In what turns out to be a pleasant surprise, MTV grand-daddy Huey Lewis contributes his harmonica and vocals to "Women, Wine & Song," which is one of the few feel-good songs in the collection that advocates the pursuit of the best things in life. The other guest musician, Joshua Redman, contributes his sax to "Intentions Clear," filling out the song with rich texture and tasty little solo riffs.

The contemplative mood also permeates “End of the Road”'s guitar instrumental and "Passing"'s ambient tale of personal scars. "Ocean Billy," the penultimate song on the album, has been in UM's live repertoire for quite some time. Its power drumming is wrapped by gentle studio strings. "The Weight Around" is a heavy (pun intended) ballad finale that emotes personal loss. The acoustic guitar introduction reminds one of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here." So it may be no coincidence that Storm Thorgerson, who designed that and other Floyd album covers, lent his talent to this cover sleeve as well.

Safety in Numbers is a big step forward in UM's maturity, offering fans and newcomers a solid collection of songs that satisfies the spirit with emotional content and delivers impeccable musicianship to keep your ears happy and your brain buzzing.

JamBase | Colorado
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[Published on: 3/24/06]

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Redworm starstarstarstar Wed 4/5/2006 08:01PM
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Bought it today on lunch break, and it was the lift my day needed. Ocean Billy is amazing to hear out of the studio. The entire album is awfully tight , but from End of the road on it really takes off. well done UM!

youngphan starstarstarstarstar Thu 4/6/2006 07:58AM
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Definitely picking this album up, Umphrey's may not be a a direct decendent of phish but phish wasn't a direct decendent of the dead, my point is that UM is the best most innotive band around, the band i am willing to drop all responsibilties and follow for the summer. Just as the dead and phish were Umphrey's isn't a jam band or in the jam scene they are their own scene they are Umphrey's McGee

fightclubche Thu 4/6/2006 11:11AM
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In what turns out to be a pleasant surprise, MTV grand-daddy Huey Lewis contributes his harmonica and vocals to “Wine, Women & Song,”

Women, Wine & song...

bBlack starstarstarstarstar Fri 4/7/2006 08:20AM
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This album is awesome from top to bottom. My personal favorite is "Words." This album demonstrates umphreys commitment to pursuing new musical directions as a lot of the songs on the album are not what you expect to hear from umphreys. Can't wait to hear these songs live.

Rebacreates star Fri 4/7/2006 05:13PM
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This album is sub par. I've been seeing these guys since 2002 and the stuff on this album doesnt even compare to anything they do live. There new songs are no where near as funky/interesting as there old stuff. Save your money, or spend it rather on a Yanni album. Im sure itll provide at least some laughs. Dont get me wrong, i love umphreys, but this stuff doesnt represent who they are.


memphish starstarstarstar Fri 4/7/2006 08:27PM
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This album is a departure from their past releases. It focuses more on concise song writing and personal heartache, then proggy themes. It has some of the best lyrics they have written to date, and Words andIntentions Clear, will become monsters in their live setting.

Well Done UM, Well Done

Wilson75 starstarstarstarstar Sat 4/8/2006 01:21AM
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People people...this is a great followup to Anchor Drops.....well produced and chalked full of great Umphrey's flare

BORTMULE Sat 4/8/2006 02:01PM
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there are 2 Umphreys McGees right now. One is the live show, another is studio records. there is a lot of overlap, but are separate creative entities in the band's eyes.

stevefelix starstarstarstarstar Sat 4/8/2006 03:27PM
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I believe 'Safety in Numbers' will go down as a classic album in the sense that it is a turning point for Umphrey's McGee. I heard some of the songs live in Chicago last week at the CD release party and they are finely crafted tunes. The deliver is true to UM's passion for excellence. Buy it. Listen to it. Tell others about it. They will thank you.

krsmall starstarstarstarstar Sat 4/8/2006 06:11PM
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umphreys is the best band out there now get the album its rockin

M0Er0N starstarstar Sun 4/9/2006 03:47PM
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got the cd (pre order) and after hearing it a few times it grew on me. but that song liguid . wow thats a bad song. reminds me of all the bad music of the 80's.. wish they would of left out liguid and intentions and added 2 different songs like all in time and higgins or pay the snuka

trainsong82 starstarstarstar Tue 4/11/2006 11:49AM
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A great album, well crafted and thought provoking. I had to laugh at "MOErON" saying that "Liquid" and "Intentions" should be left off the album. LOL, first, "Liquid" is a reworked Ali Baba's Tahini song, and IMO has a adds a great break from the meloncholy feel of the other songs....and "Intention Clear", how could you possibly say this was not album worthy? Not only is this probably the centerpiece of the album, but look for it be a monster in the live setting. Great job UM, can't wait to hear these songs live!

Curran starstarstarstarstar Tue 4/11/2006 01:51PM
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I'm listening to the album right now and I love it. Can't wait to see UM @ summer camp. It has been a couple of years since I have seen them live and I can't wait.

lexky starstarstarstarstar Tue 4/11/2006 04:22PM
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long time fan. this is a fuken beautiful album. great studio production. brendan, jake have great voices. thats good to hear from a "JAM" or prog rock (whatever the f' they are) band...

jachapma starstarstarstarstar Thu 4/13/2006 02:00PM
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MOErON: "wish they would of left out liguid and intentions and added 2 different songs like all in time and higgins or pay the snuka"

Did you listen to the CD or just zoom through and hear the songs you already knew? You're the kid that blew from "Believe the Lie" right to "Nemo" and "Women Wine and Song." You're also the kid screaming for "All in Time" the day after they play it. Umphrey's is obviously moving in a different direction right now. They are allowed to do that. This isn't "Greatest Hits Vol. IV." It's "Safety in Numbers," an indictment of life, death, and all the little things in between. Besides, why the hell would they put songs that are seven years old on a decidedly "new cd?" Sure there are some in current tour rotation, but they are also much newer than the other staples.

Higgins? I'm not even going to touch that one. You embarassed yourself enough.

phishnut83 starstarstarstarstar Sun 4/16/2006 01:36PM
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Ok first off...i need to clear out the riff raff because i'm sure people who really know and have appreciated Umphreys and their new album. First off, to the person who has already been ripped in half for his comments, you have no idea what you are talking about. When a band produces a "new" album, they are supposed to have "new" songs. Not reiterate the songs that they have been playing in the studio. Now there is nothing wrong with those songs, but they did not fit in with the concept of this album. And to that Yanni don't deserve my time, but i'll give it to you. You obviously have seen them before live however you know nothing about UM. Just because this album doesn't have their funk, rock and jamming that they are famed for in their live setting, does not make this a bad album. They are still the same band and these songs represent them as well as any of their other songs. This album marks a new progresssion in the evolution of Umphreys. Many of these songs will see great additions in the live setting and become fabulous songs. Umphrey's is not a jam band...they are defined by their own original sound. They will continue to amaze me and everyone who knows what they're about.

rebubula7 Mon 4/17/2006 10:07AM
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I love when someone makes a jackass out of themselves and the true fans tear 'em a new one! I love the new album. Bands aren't static, they are ever changing and so their sound must go in new and exciting directions. Can't wait for summercamp!

Aoraki starstarstar Mon 4/17/2006 11:21PM
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What the heck is their so much fricken hype about Umphrey's??? They are just another hippie jamband doing the same thing that has ALREADY been done by many others...Hate to be negative, but come on, this band annoys the shit out of me..

zaqck starstarstarstarstar Fri 4/21/2006 08:22AM
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big umphreak, got the disc the first day it was out, its still growing on my, loving every song, WORDS is where its at right now and track two...forget the name..its all good. the whole old live tracks to studio thing is ok...not what i was expecting but thats what i like about it

rebubula7 Fri 4/21/2006 12:34PM
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If you read the other article on Umphrey's: "Secrets to our success" you will realize where this album is coming from. It puts the whole thing into perspective. This is album is deep, very deep. Love it!

phunkysounds26 Mon 4/24/2006 03:18PM
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i've heard UM from back when they were playin at my high school-long ago. they have grown as a band and i cannot believe i have seen them in random states and playing the late night bonnaroo for some 50 thousand plus. i like this album, it is not true to um form-they seem to be losing a little bit of heart with this album. i dunno if its just them changing and their scene growing, but they could do better. i still love em tho.

rebubula7 Thu 4/27/2006 11:23AM
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You're right they did some heart....a very dear friend of the band was killed new years 2004 after their show. you have to understand where an album comes from before you can understand the message.