String Cheese Incident: Song in My Head
Words By Brad Yeakel (Opti Mystic Outlooks)
String Cheese Incident recently released their first record in almost a decade. With an evolving sound, a hiatus, multiple side projects, and distractions ranging from interests to family, the sound on the album was surprisingly familiar. Much of the record was on par with their best efforts to date. I should know, the band's Boulder street party to release the album was the 99th time I'd seen the band.
Colorado Bluebird Sky has been a fan favorite since SCI returned to the game. The tune seemed to connect with the String Cheese of old, revitalizing the sound that originally hooked so many fans. With lyrics that celebrate the idea of packing up and moving west, the song seemed to almost remind the band of how this whole journey started. While I felt it was a great opener to the album, I expected it to be the closer, and was reminded that this was an album, not a show... a point that was not readily apparent given Kyle and Kang's solo work.
What really excited me when I heard about the new album was the inclusion of "Betray the Dark." Once again it seemed that the band was connecting with a part of their past. I personally have loved BTD since the first time I heard it live. I found this slightly reworked version just as satisfying as ever.
Kyle Hollingsworth's "Let's Go Outside" has always reminded me of his other popular solo tune, "Way That it Goes." While WTIG has been overplayed, "Let's Go Outside" has been used a bit more sparingly. I liked the song and thought the recording was solid, but generally felt this was more of a Kyle Band song than a String Cheese tune.
The title track, "Song in My Head," was another Billy Nershi tune. When it debuted at Red Rocks, I was not impressed. Over the time that has passed since then, the song has been developed, tweaked, and improved overall. It was a pleasant surprise to hear the studio version. Once again Kang lent his mandolin skills to the jam and livened it up. It also worked nicely as a concept for the album.
Keith's contribution to the album, "Struggling Angel," left me conflicted. On one hand, the song was written for Sarah Gewald, a friend of the band that passed away. I found it compelling that the band wrote a song to remember her. On the other hand, the tune lacked the patent SCI energy that has made them one of my favorites. The studio album compensated a bit more than the live versions I've heard, by conjuring shades of Dylan, Neil Young, and Willie Nelson. A more Americana vibe helped to give the heavy subject matter a more fitting vibe.
The next tune was Kyle's "Can't Wait Another Day," a tune which sounded a lot like the early calypso-infused, island Cheese. This song grew on me since it first appeared. Some parts of the song were better than others, but the more I've heard the tune, the more I've liked it. Jerry Harrison did a great job producing this album. It seemed like his involvement helped to remind the band why they started making music together.
Nershi's amped up grass groove, "So Far From Home," was another strong part of this album. With speedy picking, scorching organ, and great support, the song revved the engine and hammered it down the dusty road.
The first time I heard "Rosie" was a DANCE PARTY. Discotronica was born with Neo-retro flair. The last few times I heard it, I was moderately disappointed that they didn't really improvise at all. The album version provided a slightly different take, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
"Stay Through" had a reggae rhythm and dropped in the stylistic icing that truly made the album one of their best ever studio efforts. With the high energy and good vibe sound of this song, the album had equal parts of all things Cheese.
To close the album, they chose "Colliding." This song was another from Kyle Hollingsworth's ethereal, spacey, exploratory collection, and really did have the substance to be the exclamation point on their first studio expression in nearly a decade.
Overall this album is among the best String Cheese has produced. Just when I was beginning to question their commitment, the boys came out and reminded me that when it comes to the Cheese, roots run deep.
"Song in My Head" is available for purchase on iTunes, in record stores, and at www.stringcheeseincident.com