When a group is known primarily as a jam band, it doesn’t always offer hope that their instrumental prowess will translate to a studio album, much less begin to capture the sense of excitement that comes across in concert. That especially holds true for String Cheese Incident, a band with an enormously dedicated live following, but have yet to make an album that fully lives up to their obvious ability to create epic live performances.
With that in mind, Believe provides a slight change in their MO, via a set of songs underscored by distinct melodies that don’t necessarily depend solely on their extended instrumental excursions. Produced by Jerry Harrison, an erstwhile member of the Talking Heads, the music veers from upbeat entries like “Sweet Spot” and the over the top giddiness of “So Much Fun” to pensive ballads such as the Celtic-like anthem “My One and Only” and the harmony-laden sound of “Down a River,” the latter of which shows off sensitive songwriting that extends well beyond the narrow niche they’ve confined themselves to before. Not content to hew to a narrow divide, they push some parameters as well, showing exceptional ambition with the majestic sweep of “Flying” and reverting to disco-like daffiness on “Stop Drop Roll,” a song that would best have been left in the scrap pile.
All in all, Believe is an enjoyable effort, albeit somewhat inconsistent. Their seventh studio album to date, it reflects the confidence and creativity that are a natural outgrowth of nearly 25 years of steady performance. By varying their template, they offer themselves the opportunity to move beyond that template and into realms where there’s opportunity to expand their reach. Ultimately, Believe makes faith in this band well-founded.