Thursday, June 23, 2005

Review: String Cheese Incident - One Step Closer

The String Cheese Incident are releasing a new album, "One Step Closer", due in stores and Amazon shipping queues on June 28th, 2005. Their last studio album was "Outside Inside" in 2003. In the interim, they have been on tour - releasing almost every concert on CD, Kyle Hollingsworth has released a new album, and the Friends of Cheese have grown considerably.

The new album is an introspective collection recorded in the hills of Colorado and produced by Malcolm Burn, who produced Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, among others. He actually co-wrote and played on some of the tracks, enabling a catharsis among the band. For the first time, each member sang and contributed at least two songs. Other collaborators include Robert Hunter and Jim Lauderdale. The album is a build-up to their BIG Summer Classic 2005 tour and they will be playing in Milwaukee at Summerfest (YES!).

The album is a masterpiece in simplicity, minimalism, and rich, powerful lyrics. Listening to it, oftentimes, creates an upswell of emotion that threatens to overwhelm the silence in one's heart with a chorus of joy. It ably captures the recording process, which was not studio-driven, but a more back-to-the-roots, in-the-hills approach.

One of the finest things about the band is the individuality of the voices expressed by each of the band members. It is not often that individual excellence does not eclipse the rest of the band. The band, or perhaps Malcolm Burn, ably manages to allow all the players their time in the sun, without losing any of the consistency and tightness of a good album.

"Give Me The Love" sets the soundstage with a blend of castanets and gentle keyboard notes. It raises a plea for selfless love, for 'the love that knows, all the love there is'. Co-written by John Perry Barlow, Malcolm Burn and Michael Kang, it is a minimalist song, like many on the album.

The next song, "Sometimes A River", is replete with hooks, and wistful realism that life can change course mid-stream. I love the imagery of "You danced in my dream in a white dress/I watched from the top of the stairs/ I woke up looking to find you/But you were not there"

"Big Compromise" is provided by the guitarists Billy Nershi and Jim Lauderdale. Again, the piece is light on orchestration and baroque, relying on a simple melody and soft vocals. Sometimes, breaking up is 'the big compromise'. "There was this couple out on the street/One look could show they were feeling the heat/All I could think as the man turned away was/I wish I could give him the courage to say/You're right, you're right, it's time for the big compromise"

"Silence In Your Head" is balladry at its best. This is so good it puts Coldplay to shame. "The silence in your head/Is louder than a hurricane/The silence in your head/Will never let you go/With the rising of her chest/You feel the shallow breath/Will nothing be the same?/All you give is all you get". Kyle takes the reins, aided by Malcolm Burn in the writing.

"Drive" pumps up the tempo, and is a quintessential song of the road, or Pather Panchali, if you'll allow me the pun. A true collaborative effort, most of the band members chip in on the composition, along with guest work by John Perry Barlow. Kyle's keyboarding is similar to work on the early albums."Highway glimmered with morning dew/Reflected the rain in your eyes/The trees pass by like Van Gogh's brush/What were you leaving behind?"

"45th of November" with Kyle and Robert Hunter is a mystical look at the quantum ways of the future. The difficulty of fathoming the connections between cause and effect, here and there, 'the proper combinations' are explored, with the insight that 'we keep the faith of years/Or we blow the whole thing up in one good fight'

The title track, "One Step Closer", is scripted by the guitarist Billy Nershi. It is a romantic melody, on rediscovering a love not quite left behind, but that somehow slipped by in the slipstream of life. "We went down to the river's edge/And we walked along the sand/Laid down in its shadowy bed/The water rushed past our heads/I thought of something you said"

"Rainbow Serpent" modernizes the mythological benevolent Aboriginal protector being of Australia into a commentary on modern life, madness and delusion. The tempo is different here, with a measured beat pacing out the twists and turns of the song."All the while the rainbow serpent smiles/Watching all her children's final mile"

"Swampy Waters" has a true swamp-rock feel to it, coupled with a jazz beat. Somehow the pacing of the words in the middle section does not work, although the imagery is vivid and stark. One feels this is a deliberate effect. The later guitar build-up is impressive and textured. "Somewhere angels are frowning/I need a good dream, as good as it gets/Don't touch me, I'm still expanding/Just one more bullet for my Russian roulette"

The album wraps up with "Brand New Start" , a harmonica-driven sonnet on love regained, a new hope, signifying perhaps new directions for the band.

The sparse clarity of the album is a refreshing change in an age of over-produced, electronic-rich monstrosities. The live concert tour also promises much fine music on the road. The album is packaged with a 30-minute DVD comprising recording out-takes, sessions, and bonding scenes set in the Colorado hills.

More fine reading at

One Step Closer/String Cheese Incident Never Odd or Even/Kyle Hollingsworth Untying the Not/String Cheese Incident Anchor Drops/Umphrey's McGee Outside Inside/String Cheese Incident October 30, 2004 Chicago, Il: On the Road/String Cheese Incident

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