The String Cheese Incident

Song in My Head

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Despite dozens of live volumes over 20 years of playing together, Song in My Head is only the fifth studio offering by Colorado's String Cheese Incident. Their last, One Step Closer, was issued nine years ago, in 2005. Though some of this material dates back a decade and has been vigorously road tested, it has never been previously recorded. The challenge here was to get succinct versions of these tunes, while keeping the band's signature kinetic spark. The band wisely chose Jerry Harrison to produce and Eric "ET" Thorngren to engineer. For a group used to sprawling through multi-hour live dates, Harrison made perfect sense: as a songwriter he is as focused as much on structure as he is sound -- how to uncover subtleties and make them central motifs -- and as an experienced producer with a stellar reputation, he understands how to rein in excess without being dictatorial. Thorngren understands the band's live mix intrinsically; he provides a detailed yet uncluttered mix. The longtime remains: guitarist Bill Nershi, Michael Kang on mandolin, violin, and guitar, bassist Keith Moseley, drummer Michael Travis, keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth, and percussionist Jason Hann; all but Travis and Hann. "Colorado Bluebird Sky," which features guest Chris Pandolfi on banjo, employs an electric approach to bluegrass, with a ringing chorus, tight instrumental breaks, and multi-part harmony. "Betray the Dark" is a snaky exercise in rhythm with nods toward Latin rock à la early Santana, and features a smoking organ break. The title track is a choogling boogie rocker with a catchy chorus and some knotty midsection changes in the bridge. "Can't Wait Another Day" breezes through airy Caribbean and Nigerian rhythmic patterns; its bassline and the Rhodes solo are standouts. "Rosie" makes plentiful use of both Fela's Afrobeat and the Talking Heads' layered, angular, Anglo-funk, while the reggae-flavored "Stay Through" actually attempts to engage modern R&B. Song in My Head is not without its flaws: the country-tinged ballad "Struggling Angel" and the clipped attempt at rock on "So Far from Home" feel half-baked, like they had to be included to cover all the band's bases. Nonetheless, SCI fans -- and make no mistake, that's exactly who this record is for -- will likely be delighted that despite studio economy, the band manages to retain its live energy in the studio even as it grows musically.

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