The String Cheese
SCI Fidelty Records 1009
Few music fans have ever questioned the String Cheese Incident's musical
talents within the live setting. Often sauntering through numerous musical
genres and establishing a variety of sonic textures, the band typically
satisfies every listener's musical tastes. While the live setting has made
the String Cheese Incident, their studio albums, "Born On the Wrong Planet"
and "Round the Wheel", leaned towards mediocrity; exhibiting
talent, but too often sounding overtly condensed and schizophrenic.
Certainly an allure existed on the previous studio albums,
schizophrenia being an endearing quality to fans, but nevertheless a
hollowness appeared which undermined the String Cheese Incident's technical
and musical abilities.
Commentary concerning the band's studio prowess is no longer pertinent with
the highly touted release of "Outside Inside". Months before the album's
release, Steve Berlin and the band discussed the "gigantic steps taken",
even being brash enough to state, "we have finally created an album
revealing our musical talents". The commentary is more than a mere marketing
ploy by the band's label, actually summarizing the band's creation
succinctly and conspicuously. Where past efforts often lacked sonically in
both the production and songwriting dominions, "Outside Inside" perfectly
combines astute production qualities with poignant, politically based songs;
eventually making "Outside Inside" a blend of Paul Simon's "Graceland" and
the Meters' "Look-Ka Py Py" with a pinch of Bill Frisell's "Nashville" added
for good measure.
Opening the album with the title track, Outside Inside, the band
conceivably "cleanses the doors" of past studio mistakes in a measly four
and a half minutes. Particularly noteworthy are not the astounding vocals,
nor the Phish-esque progressions, but the vivaciousness which exists in the
song. Michael Kang's electric mandolin does not sound stunted, but
full and complete. As the song progresses, a jam ensues, with Allman
Brothers-like arpeggios, and some of the finest soloing by Kang caught on
disc. The comparisons to Trey Anastasio may persist, but for once
Kang's playing actually approximates Anastasio's sonic fullness.
Despite the band's maturation and sonic improvements, the eclecticism -which
makes the String Cheese Incident a thriving entity- remains
present. Standing out on the album, the Latin, calypso, African strains of
Search are dumbfounding. Where Round the Wheel sounded like a
pastiche of influences lacking a worldbeat cohesion, Search succeeds
wholeheartedly, mixing Kang's sensible calypso lines with Michael Travis
intuitive world-based percussion and Bill Nershi's intoxicating lead vocals.
Slow and playful, yet never childish or crass, Search marks the
dubious first moment (true fans may mention Little Hands as such a
song) where the String Cheese Incident has perfectly melted their influences
into a common whole.
After displaying their Meters-styled funk and horn-driven jazz on Black
and White and Lost, the album’s finest track, Rollover
arrives. Lyrically, the track could be the sister song to Little
Hands in describing the desert, the confinement of Native Americans and
the American government's lack of humanitarian compassion. Musically, the
song has grown enormously from its first performance two years ago at the
Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach. The reggae section, which accentuates the
destruction of human beings by a ruthless government, is now in a minor key,
reminiscent of Bob Marley's more punctuated activist songs.
Every listener will find moments worthy of commentary: whether the Grateful Dead inspired Drifting,
the Karl Denson fueled Black and White or the acoustic bluegrass
strains of Up the Canyon. The
band has never sounded quite so effervescent or lucid, and how the band's
lyrics are finally worthy of their musical creations.