Editor’s note: The Understorey’s February 4 performance has been cancelled.
The Understorey truly is a marriage of music: the band’s history began when vocalist Jess McCumons and guitarist Matt McCumons sang together at their wedding. Starting off as a duo in 2011, the McCumonses have since grown the Understorey into a full seven-piece band, with Dave Wak on drums, Billy King on lead guitar, Miles Shultz on keyboards and trombone, Graham Lapp on bass, and Jenny Jones on backup vocals (and doubling as booking agent). Most of the expansion occurred during the recording of its debut album, Tending Embers, which came out in June 2013. The couple brought in additional instruments for the recording and liked the effect so well they made the session musicians bandmates.
The expanded band that recently played the Ark to a packed house did not disappoint. The show began with Jess, solo on the grand piano, playing a new song called “Family Stones.” It was the perfect introduction to her powerful, soulful voice. After bringing the rest of the band out, the Understorey ran through most of Tending Embers before taking on a pair of covers, the Zutons’ “Valerie” and “You’re No Good,” a song made famous by Linda Ronstadt.
The band is at its best as a precise, tight R&B unit that allows Jess and Jenny to shine. There is little to no soloing, but it’s a well-oiled machine that drives the vocals to the forefront–with special force in the band’s powerful encore performance of its song “Fat Birdie.”
As they have since their wedding-day collaboration, Jess and Matt continue to handle the songwriting duties. They also still play from time to time as a duo, and it’s in that form that the McCumonses will appear as part of the “On the Tracks” songwriter showcase at the Chelsea Depot on Wednesday, February 4 (see Events listing). It’s a great opportunity to sample a fantastic local voice in a stripped-down setting, but make sure to catch the full band, too. Jess says the band is working on new material and even exploring a different sound in hopes of releasing an EP sometime in 2015.