The String Cheese Incident

On the Road: 04-18-02 Nashville, TN

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Maybe it was the place, Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium where the Grand Ole Opry was founded; maybe it was the crowd; maybe it was because the band had entered the Deep South stage of its tour. Whatever it was, it is on full display on this triple-CD collection in the String Cheese Incident's On the Road series, recorded the night before another tremendous gig in Birmingham, AL, and two before a pair of wonderful shows in Atlanta. The magic evident in disc one's opening track, a complete reworking of the nugget "Orange Blossom Special," offers a bead on the unfolding of one of the best shows in the entire tour. Disc one follows with Ralph Stanley's "Think of What You've Done," led by Michael Kang's stunning mandolin and fiddle work matched only by Bill Nershi's flatpicking expertise. The set moves out of newgrass into wonderfully exotic cover territory with a read of the Beatles' "I've Just Seen a Face," with an amazing mandolin solo by Kang and some truly wondrous accordion slithering by Kyle Hollingsworth. This is followed by a trippy version of Weather Report's "Birdland," with bassist Keith Moseley driving the entire mutha for the band and Nershi getting some of the most gorgeous melodic feedback ever. Disc two is the jam disc, three cuts long, including the wondrously intricate Afro-Caribbean-flavored "Rhum 'n' Zouc" followed by "¡Bam!" and Kang's ethereal "Water." This is the place where the bandmembers measure up to themselves as they work hard on subtle communication, pushing envelopes and trying out new chromatic thematics and lengthening melodic improvisational ideas, turning them into spontaneous schematics. Disc three finds the band returning (at least partially) to a more song-oriented base with a lovely country-driven version of Bob Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumbs' Blues." Just as quickly, however, the fellas cook it up, swirling and storming into "Grand Ole Jam," where bluegrass, Latin jazz, and rootsy, greasy rock all meld into a gumbo of gargantuan proportions. Three of the band's most treasured and time-tested originals are further mutated as the set continues with "Daryl," "Joyful Sound," and the truly profound "Restless Wind." The evening closes with Hollingsworth's 11-and-a half-minute reggae-inflected jam "Don't Say," with long cadenzas and one of the most lyrical vocal lines for three-part harmony that exists in the SCI repertoire. The uplifting melodics combined with a funky backbeat that is steamy and dark create a wonderful paradox that is resolved by the force of sheer rhythm in Michael Travis' hands. This is certainly a candidate for the "if you can only have one" category of the SCI shelf.

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