Following a few years worth of growing pains, an apparent identity crisis, and an album with good intentions but questionable results, The String Cheese Incident release their fifth studio album, One Step Closer. But they inevitably sold themselves short on the new title, ’cause this latest effort is far more than just a step – it’s more like leaps and bounds closer.
Striping away the excess and shedding all the erroneously sterile, techno-Cheese they got wrapped up in as of late, this time around the band calls on producer Malcolm Burn (Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Daniel Lanois) to shed some much needed light on things, and it shows. Leaning heavily on honest, roots rock songwriting rather than loosely contructed, over-the-top jam foundations, The Cheese finally settle down in a comfortable Colorado home and make the album they’ve been striving for. Burn so inspires the six-piece (they recently added percussionist Jason Hann to the band) that each member sings and contributes at least two songs, and collaborates with an outside source – the first for any String Cheese studio album.
Guitarist Bill Nershi’s poignant “The Big Compromise,” and “One Step Closer” relate the struggles the band has seemingly surpassed with his signature mountain rasp, and he would easily carry the album as he always has if it weren’t for the unexpected gifts of some of his bandmates. Unassuming bassist Keith Moseley calls on Todd Sheaffer to co-write “Until The Music’s Over,” easily the best song he has ever brought to the Cheese table, and quite possibly one of the band’s greatest to date. Drummer Michael Travis offers another notable milestone, giving the record a distinct punkabilly flair in “Swampy Waters.” And keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth truly comes into his own with the Robert Hunter penned “45th of November” and the alt-county ballad, “Silence In Your Head,” the latter being a particularly strong piece for both he and the band.
Burn plays an important writing/guidance role (confirmed in the accompanying DVD), but the partnership goes well beyond producer. If he was able to bring this wavering beast just one step closer, he did his job. Thankfully he pushed and prodded enough to get it in stride and stammering forward.