831. UMPHERYâ€™S MCGEE â€“ LOCAL BAND DOES OK â€“ 2002
Umphreyâ€™s McGee came out of South Bend Indiana building a loyal following mainly by constant touring. The band straddles the line between jam band and progressive rock often being compared to bands like Phish and The Grateful Dead. Personally I was never a big fan of either of the above mentioned bands, but I enjoy most of what Umphreyâ€™s does. I really think it is the prog element of this band that brings their sound more to my personal taste. One thing that this album demonstrates is that this band can pull off just about any musical style there is. They are all over the place stylistically with plenty of instrumental fireworks to please jam and prog fans alike. The vocals are nothing spectacular and their lyrics are serviceable, but nothing mind blowing (better than Phishâ€™s however). Highlights include â€œAndyâ€™s Last Beerâ€, â€œRingoâ€, â€œProwlerâ€, â€œUncle Wallyâ€ and â€œNothing Too Fancyâ€. This album seems to come the closest of their studio discs to capturing the bandâ€™s live sound, although live many of these tracks are stretched out far beyond what you hear here. I give this one a solid 4 stars.
832. UMPHREYâ€™S MCGEE â€“ ANCHOR DROPS â€“ 2004
Umphreyâ€™s continues their exploration of modern jam band and progressive rock with their 2004 release Anchor Drops. This one is similar to their previous effort with a mix of vocal and instrumental songs that cover a wide variety of musical styles. The jam band thing is prominent, but there are also songs here like â€œMiss Tinkle's Overtureâ€ that are pure progressive rock. The band even throw in a country ballad (actually a duet with an excellent female vocalist) that almost sounds like something Alison Krauss might do. The band feature chops galore as all the instruments are in fine form. The band still seem to have a hard time capturing their live energy in the studio and none of the songs go much beyond the 5 minute mark here, but overall this is a good album that grew on me with repeated listens.
833. UMPHREYâ€™S MCGEE â€“ SAFETY IN NUMBERS â€“ 2006
Another studio album from a band that is mainly known for their live shows. The title of this one pretty much says it all. The band play it â€œsafeâ€ on this one not taking any real chances and continuing down the path they have gone on their previous two albums. I have to admit that I was disappointed with this one. Being a fan of progressive rock I have always liked the more adventurous side of Umphreyâ€™s music, but much of that is missing here. This is by far the bandâ€™s most â€œsongâ€ oriented release which I assume is designed to get them airplay and a more mainstream following. Unfortunately it makes for a rather bland album. This is not to say that there is not any good material here. â€œLiquidâ€, â€œNemoâ€, and â€œOcean Billyâ€ are all good. â€œWomen Wine And Songâ€ could have fit right in on a Little Feat album circa about 1975, and is a decent song. Actually there really isnâ€™t anything here that is bad, but a lot of it is just kind of blah compared to what I know this band is capable of. The bottom line is if you are looking to explore Umphreyâ€™s music I would recommend â€œLocal Band Does OKâ€ or â€œAnchor Dropsâ€ before you pick up this one.
834. UNDER THE SUN â€“ UNDER THE SUN â€“ 2000
For a time it looked like Under The Sun was going to be the next big thing in progressive rock, especially in the United States. This their debut album was received with almost unanimous rave reviews. Their live shows were greeting with equal applause On the strength of this momentum the band was invited to perform at the premier progressive rock festival in the U.S. NEARfest in 2001. Then, it all seemed to fall apart and to my knowledge they have not released another album since this one 8 years ago. Itâ€™s a pity, because this is a really good album that straddles the line between progressive rock and metal. The music is all solid and the vocalist has a unique voice that really does not sound like anyone else that I can think of. My favorite tracks are â€œBreakwaterâ€, â€œDream Catcherâ€ â€œThe Time Beingâ€ and the would be single â€œSeeing Eye Godâ€ which is simply a great little rock track. Although these guys are somewhat similar to other Magna Carta label bands at the time I think there is enough uniqueness with them that push the band to a different level. I liked this album a lot and enjoyed seeing the band live at NEARfest. Hereâ€™s hoping that they eventually put out another album. If you never got this album back in the day it is definitely worth a look.
835. U2 â€“ HOW TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BOMB â€“ 2004
U2â€™s most recent disc is another high quality release. The album starts out with one of their all time great singles in my opinion, â€œVertigoâ€ and is for the most part strong albeit a bit pedestrian the rest of the way. My reaction to this album is fairly typical of most U2 releases. I always like them, but they never blow me away like they do for a lot of people. This album hits me about the same. I like it, but donâ€™t love it. The material here is fairly straightforward with the band not taking any major risks like they did on many of their late 80â€™s and 90â€™s albums. This can be seen as a great return to form by some or a blatant attempt to pander to the masses by others. I guess I fall somewhere in the middle. â€œBombâ€ is one of the rare albums in my collection where I think the singles are actually the best songs on the album. Along with the aforementioned â€œVertigoâ€ Bonoâ€™s lament about his father's death â€œSometimes You Canâ€™t Make It On Your Ownâ€ is a heart wrenching killer of a song and another of the albums top cuts. Overall I give â€œBombâ€ about a 3.5 star rating. Above average, but not great. The band has certainly done better, but this one has enough to like about it to make it worth a listen.
836. VAN HALEN â€“ VAN HALEN â€“ 1978
When Van Halen hit the record stores and airwaves back in 1978 it was truly something unique. Today there are hundreds of guitar wizards out there who have copied Eddie Van Halenâ€™s style, but back in the day there was no one else who sounded like this band. I never really became a Van Halen fanatic over the years, but I have a lot of their stuff and have always enjoyed pulling the albums out for a listen now and then. This their debut remains one of their all time best in my opinion. The album spawned 4 hit singles but with the exception of â€œRunnin With The Devilâ€ it is the lesser known songs that I think are the best here. â€œIâ€™m The Oneâ€, â€œAtomic Punkâ€, â€œIce Cream Manâ€ and â€œOn Fireâ€ are my faveâ€™s here.
837. VAN HALEN â€“ VAN HALEN II â€“ 1979
Van Halen II is definitely a step down from the bandâ€™s debut to my ears. Starting the album off with two straight covers gained them hits, but is not very original, and seems to be an indication of a struggle to come up with new material. This album always seemed like a summer party album to me. Great to listen to as background music at the beach or rolling around in your car with the windows down, but not something that I would take out for a serious headphone listen at home. Eddie shines on â€œSpanish Flyâ€, and â€œSomebody Get Me A Doctorâ€ and â€œBottoms Upâ€ are both patented David Lee Roth rants, but overall I find this album rather ho hum, and I think the first album blows it away.
838. VAN HALEN â€“ WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST â€“ 1980
After the somewhat lackluster â€œIIâ€ album Van Halen made a nice comeback with this one. In fact I think this is one of the bandâ€™s best discs. Things get started with the heavy rocking â€œAnd The Cradle will Rockâ€¦â€ and â€œEverybody Wantâ€™s Someâ€ both big hits and great songs. I am not a huge fan of the next track â€œFoolsâ€, but after that â€œRomeo Delightâ€, the short Sabbath like instrumental â€œTora Toraâ€, â€œLoss Of Controlâ€ and the bluesy acoustic â€œTake Your Whiskey Homeâ€ are all great tunes. â€œCould It Be Magicâ€ and â€œIn A Simple Rhymeâ€ close out the album and are both good tunes as well. By todayâ€™s standards this album would only be an EP at a little over 30 minutes, but at least it is all original material with no covers. This is one of the bandâ€™s best discs and essential for fans.
839. VAN HALEN â€“ FAIR WARNING â€“ 1981
â€œFair Warningâ€ is kind of the black sheep album in the Van Halen catalogue. Other than â€œUnchainedâ€ the album did not receive a lot of airplay (at least compared to the bandâ€™s other Roth era discs) and is probably the least commercial of their late 70â€™s early 80â€™s works. The band took some chances on this one which for me is a good thing. This is also probably the least party / fun oriented album of the Roth years. There was tension within the band by this point and it shows. There are no acoustic guitars to be found here either as the majority of the album is hard and heavy. The first use of keyboards by Eddie can be found here on â€œSunday Afternoon In The Parkâ€. These would become more and more a part of the Van Halen sound on later albums. The album really starts out strong with â€œMean Streetsâ€, â€œDirty Moviesâ€, â€œSinners Swingâ€, â€œUnchainedâ€ and â€œHear About It Laterâ€ all solid tunes. The second half of the album is not quite as good, but still decent. I would probably rate this one as my 3rd favorite of the Roth years. Although it did not spawn a lot of hits and was a commercial disappointment this one is well worth owning for fans of the band.
840. VAN HALEN â€“ DIVER DOWN â€“ 1982
I am not sure if the band was just in a writing slump or what, but this album contains 5 cover songs (The Kinks â€œWhere Have All The Good Times Goneâ€, Roy Orbisonâ€™s â€œPretty Womanâ€, Martha And The Vandels â€œDancing In The Streetâ€, â€œBig Bad Billâ€ and the traditional western â€œHappy Trailsâ€). For an album that is less than 35 minutes long this is a lot of non-original material. I have read that this whole project was kind of thrown together after the band had cut a single and the record company wanted it followed up by a quickie album. If that is the case it would certainly help to explain the contents of this disc. Of the original stuff there some nice short instrumentals, especially â€œCathedralâ€, but as always with Van Halen albums the instrumental stuff is too short and never really develops into anything. Of the new tunes â€œLittle Guitarsâ€ and â€œThe Full Bugâ€ are both good. Overall though this is probably the weakest of the Roth era albums and the last one I would purchase if I was filling out my collection.