New lineup, expanded sound, refined digs. 2014 was a big year for Hartford-based jam band The McLovins, releasing their fourth full length studio album Beautiful Lights earlier in the year, with a CD release party at Garcia’s shortly after. A coming-of-age album for The McLovins, Beautiful Lights gives us sounds that are an entry into the mid-leagues of regional jam bands with followings in various reaches of the country. To top off Beautiful Lights, The McLovins have released a funky four-song EP this past summer, Funk No. Uno.
The McLovins had already released three full-length albums prior to Beautiful Lights, which are good listens and made for awesome live sets but were largely based off the jam-and-shred platform which made for a better live presentation. On their newest full-length album, the band steeped the tea for just the right amount of time and built off their foundation to refine their sound and focus on the songwriting aspect. One of the great things The McLovins have demonstrated with this album is their ability to write and record a solid four to six minute studio track that can render into a longer jam when performed live.
After guitarist Jeff Howard left the band in late 2011, founding members Jake Huffman (drums, vocals) and Jason Ott (bass) welcomed Justin Berger on guitar and added Atticus Kelly on keys. Not only did the urge to record new material fall into place after that, according to Huffman, but the change-up also brought in some new ideas and influences which possibly drove some of the tighter song structure we see on Beautiful Lights.
With twelve songs totaling a little more than what would fit on a typical LP record, the album is laid out in a way that gives it that feel of an A and B side. As far as influences, Jake Huffman attributes them in two takes, which shapes that album-side feel. Huffman told NYS Music, “There are two different vibes, this really old school Grateful Dead-y type sound, and then you have this other type of sound like Lotus or Disco Biscuits. The first half of the album and the second half of the album have two totally different types of vibes.” The difference is pretty clear too, listening to the album from start to finish. The first five tracks fit well with a summer party groove and the flip side renders, for the most part, an Americana-rock experience. Several of The McLovins’ influences shine through as well with occasional Trey Anastasio style licks that sing, soar and don’t snore and other throwbacks to The Band (particularly on “Yankee Rose”) and The Grateful Dead, with a very brief, maybe accidental, tease of the start of a verse from “St. Stephen” on “Shivers”.
Instrumentals can sometimes make or break a record, or might just be there like too much water added to a can of condensed soup. The title track and only instrumental track off Beautiful Lights particularly caught our attention. A cohesive, open-to-interpretation instrumental, this song is in some ways like an aural Rorschach test. Dim the lights, close your eyes and let it take you to your city’s evening star-lit overlook or in a sunny field running toward the next big thing on your horizon. If the jam band world had its version of “Eye of the Tiger” it would be this song. Paired with the following a capella tune “Cold Cold Iron” these two songs jet up as the divider between the two halves of the album.
The Funk No. Uno EP also marks a new strut for the McLovins. It is, after all, only an EP but features four tracks built off their native style blended and molded with an added horn section and heavy influences of jazz, fusion, R&B and plenty of funk. Unlike the complete 360 in sound Mumford & Sons pulled on their latest Wilder Mind, the sounds of Funk No. Uno are like a side of sriracha to kick up the main course – there’s no ditching the old here. It would certainly be awesome to hear more of this from the band down the road.
Beautiful Lights and Funk No. Uno are a far cry from a disappointment to the ears and worth adding to your library. If you’re not familiar with The McLovins, we’d suggest checking out their earlier releases and bootleg soundboard/live recordings as well.
Key Tracks: Beautiful Lights, Yankee Rose, Birthday