Steve Kimock has amassed an impressive resume during the course of a varied career to which he adds significantly with Satellite City, quite like one of the year’s best albums. Having toured with the post-Garcia Dead offshoot the Other Ones and the Rhythm Devils (which also featured Phish’s Mike Gordon), he most recently became a member of Bob Weir’s touring unit in late 2016, this after having subbed as guitarist in Ratdog roughly a decade prior. The San Francisco guitarist has also participated in a number of other collaborations, during all of which he has displayed both versatility and gumption. It’s little surprise those talents are likewise reflected in his eponymous band, as they toured earlier this year and all of which effectively translate from the stage to the studio and, ultimately, on to this excellent record.
Road-tested musicianship pervades these nine-tracks and, like so many of Kimock’s own solos, unfolds slowly but surely underneath a spoken interlude opening the first track “Friend of the Sun.” While similar content appears toward the end of the album, on “Orson,” a six-minute introduction to any album with such effects can test a listener’s patience. But the emphatic drum work of the leader’s offspring, John Morgan Kimock, imparts a bristling drive to the performance, more than enough to draw in genuine music lovers open to absorbing the shifting sounds.
Likewise, the title track is inexorably enveloping. Subtle touches of percussion and Bobby Vega’s unobtrusive yet insistent bass-playing frame Leslie Mendelson’s insinuating vocal to conjure up a ghostly effect. Produced by Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools and recorded at Bob Weir’s TRI Studios, Satellite City was clearly focused enough to accommodate multiple ideas to create such an all-encompassing atmosphere and it’s not coincidental that this track, like so many of the nine, crystallizes around Kimock’s guitar work.
That’s also why the lighthearted and ever-so-slightly bawdy “My Old Man” works so effectively as a closer to the nearly hour-long album (not just because Mendelson is so convincing!). Steve Kimock’s developed a fine touch for punctuating such a performance as this one and he is equally effective during elongated cuts like the title song as well as within abbreviated ambient passages such as “Satellite City Prelude;” just shy of three minutes, this track features the leader’s dexterity on acoustic guitar in such a way it segues seamlessly into “Careless Love,” where the deceptively wispy voice of Mendelson personalizes the music. Her straightforward reading of the lyrics is no more or less affecting than her wordless singing on this song she co-wrote with the bandleader.
Also, the author of another one of 2017’s standouts, Love and Murder, this woman is the unsung heroine of KIMOCK and Satellite City. Playing keyboards in addition to assuming the lead vocalist role (and co-writing original material), Leslie Mendelson acts as an integral participant on instrumental selections such as the sweet and delicate “Mother’s Song,” where Kimock lets fly with sharp, arcing lines that correspond to the rumble of his son’s drumming toward the end. The namesake of this group doesn’t flaunt his long-term Grateful Dead connections (or the fact the late Jerry Garcia admired his playing), but chooses instead to reference it indirectly via such open-ended intervals as well as the inclusion of a cull from the repertoire of the JGB, “Waiting For A Miracle.”
The chiming guitar figures that so effectively introduce that song of Bruce Cockburn’s are yet another instance of the diverse skills Kimock, Mendelson and company bring to this album. And the tactile quality of the sound of “Variation” alone is indicative of the expert engineering of Rick Vargas in recording and John Schimpf in mastering. Meanwhile, the linchpin bassist of both Widespread Panic and Hard Working Americans proved himself most astute as producer, in forging unity from the alternately ethereal and down-to-earth forms that comprise Satellite City.