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Friday, April 18

Album Review: The String Cheese Incident - Song In My Head - SCI Fidelity Records/Loud & Proud Records -4/29/2014

The String Cheese Incident 
Song In My Head
SCI Fidelity Records/Loud & Proud Records

It’s hard for one to deny that they were excited to hear that String Cheese was going back into the studio after nine years to put together a brand record.  This is one of those musical queues most jam band fans have found themselves standing in for the better part of the last decade.  Consisting of Bill Nershi (guitars, vocals), Michael Kang (mandolin, violin, guitar, vocals), Keith Moseley (bass, vocals), Michael Travis (drums, percussion), Kyle Hollingsworth (keyboards, vocals), and Jason Hann (percussions), The String Cheese Incident has not only been one of the leaders of the jamband scene, they have also created a community and environment that are entirely unique from the rest of the scene. Their new album, Song In My Head, is a project the band specifically designed to encompass everything that is The String Cheese Incident and it does just that among it's well-timed beats, driving rhythm, guitar licks, fiddle jams, bass rides, in the studio it sets a pace that keeps the bar brilliantly high for these titans of the Live Music World.

Produced by Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads) and engineered by Eric Thorngren, the band did an excellent job of capturing the same kind of improvisational  components we see at live shows. Most jambands have a hard time capturing that certain element that defines the live experience in their studio works. Perhaps the reason SCI was able to pull it off is the fact that each song on the album has been in the band’s live rotation for months, if not years, already. Each song feels as tight as a studio recording, yet as loose as the comfortable and free live setting. Michael Kang even said, “We almost tricked ourselves into being really relaxed about it.” And yet, the band felt that the producers brought a certain “energy” and “urgency” to the recording. The songs they selected for this recording turned out to be spot-on as well. SCI has an astonishing ability to write simple and relatable lyrics, like those seen in pop music yet they are so far removed from pop at the same time due to their complex melodies and progressive jams.

 “Colorado Bluebird Sky” begins the album with a high energy, bluegrass tribute to the band’s Colorado roots. The middle portion of the song opens up to breathe, starting with a lull and building up with an electric guitar solo. Here we see the similarities to their live persona. The funky “Betray The Dark” slithers through the mind with its hypnotic rhythm and lead guitar combo. The dynamics of the rhythm section, especially during the keyboard solo seem to swell as if pushing to get out but can't quite hit that release. “Let’s Go Outside” employs a tension and release tactic. The verses are staccato with electronic drums and distorted guitar, and they are a little dark. The chorus, on the flip-side, is very euphoric. “Song In My Head” is just a fun song. Period. Everybody knows that feeling of having a song stuck in their head, and the irony of that feeling being portrayed through music is just wonderful. “Struggling Angel” slows things down. The song is a tribute to Sarah Elizabeth Gewald; long time friend and supporter of the band, who passed away. The emotion poured into this beautiful tune is clear from beginning to end. Yet, even this ballad of mortality is given a positive turn. Instead of mourning the lyrics say things like “wash away all your sadness” and other reassuring phrases, representing exactly the kind of community SCI has built.

Kicking off the second half of the album, “Can’t Wait Another Day” is a bouncy light-hearted feel-good tune. The composition incorporates new chord changes for another incredible live-jam-like solo section. “So Far From Home” brings out a fast-paced four-to-the-floor drum beat. The wah, wah pedal in the electric guitar solo slams home this fireball of a tune. Funky, nu disco and afrobeat could all describe “Rosie,” with its mind-bending keyboards at the lead and chanting vocals in the beginning and ending. Primarily an instrumental tune, the long solo section in the middle hits every member of the band, including drums and percussion. “Stay Through” has a laid-back reggae feel. It is a very positive tune telling us that no matter what happens, we have to keep on truckin’. Finally, “Colliding” brings back the four-to-the-floor beat, with a catchy lead guitar lick and psychedelic background tones during the verses. This song about unity has a progressive bridge, with a structure reminiscent of Yes or Rush (pre-1980s of course). Funky electric bass, speedy vocals, and drum fills lead into a build-up of vocal harmonies. Finally, the chorus kicks back in and then the melody from the bridge hits hard for a strong end to a great album.
Words: Ragin’ Randy Harris
 ©Grateful Music LLC