The term “bottom half” conjures up images of scraps, or leftovers, but is far from a good description of the latest release from Umphrey’s McGee.
Longtime producer and sound caresser Kevin Browning masterfully produced the first disc on The Bottom Half, which features songs that have been performed live for years but have never gotten the full studio treatment. The second disc is full of outtakes, acoustic gems, and alternate versions of songs on Safety in Numbers (SIN) and The Bottom Half's first disc. SIN was originally supposed to be released as a double disc, one acoustic and one electric, but plans changed as the band fell on some personal hardships.
Disc one kicks off with the title track, containing some fantastic horn arrangements from Jeff Coffin (Bela Fleck and the Flecktones). “Bright Lights, Big City,” a tune written by Karl Engelmann of Ali Baba’s Tahini and Mother Vinegar, is funkier than the live versions and has plenty of layers and colors in the background and some fancy vocal remixing.
“Great American,” a beautiful instrumental which came from a "Jimmy Stewart" at the Great American Music Hall in 2004, has a great guest appearance from the ultimate Flecktone, Bela Fleck.
“Memories of Home” and "Divisions" are two tracks released on the vinyl versions of SIN, and until now have been unvailable for those that don’t have a record player. A brand new song, “Red Room,” has some similar chord progressions to “In the Kitchen,” but with a country vibe.
Last, but certainly not least, is an acoustic version of one of the oldest songs in UM repertoire and a fan favorite, “Divisions,” one of Brendan Bayliss' most heartfelt songs. This song chills the bones when Bayliss hits those high notes, and is a fantastic glimpse into what UM can do in a live setting when they expand on the core of the song.
Disc two consists mostly of treats for the hardcore fans. The disc is made up of banter in the studio, outtakes, and alternate version of songs from the SIN sessions, but there are some gems scattered around.
The few new tracks ("Fresh Start," "Alex’s House," "Rocco," "Biscuits & Gravy") don’t get the full-on production of the first disc; they are raw versions of what presumably will be some great song to bust out this year, and "Alex’s House" is already getting a great work out on the road.
Bayliss plays a great, stripped down acoustic "Believe the Lie," and Jake’s got his old tune "Never Cease" laid down for the first time in the studio.
Across the board, this is a great two-disc set. However, while the first disc has some winners, Umphrey's won’t win over any new fans with disc two, as it really is for the die-hards. Either way, we are left with a glimpse into the minds of one of the hardest working, and most respected, bands on the road.