JBO Reviews the Latest SCI Album; Lend Me A Hand | JamBandsOnline.com

JBO Reviews the Latest SCI Album; Lend Me A Hand

November 23, 2023
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Review by Ely Yarborough

String Cheese Incidents’ newest album “Lend Me A Hand” is very much an album which we here at JBO ADORE. It is an incredibly honest record that dives headfirst in feelings of self doubt, isolation and loss. Not to say we have a downer on our hands, far from it in fact. The themes presented are filtered through the bands eyes, which often has a gentle wink of faith that things usually work out right…even if it doesn’t seem like they can at the time.

The lead off title track is “Lend me a hand”, a feel good bebop about the uncertainty we were all dealing with starting around the spring of 2020 and beyond. It starts off as what I describe as a “grateful dead style blues song” before the verses send it towards a more unique original place. To me, the real magic of this song is how specifically the situation is described while also retaining this loose timelessness of it all. Looking deeper, it is more than a song. It is a promise really. A promise saying that I have got your back, you have mine, and together we will get through this thing. A notion that has united us for generations against those that would seek to mislead, a promise that must not become antiquity as we dive headfirst into this ever divisive world.

The next track is the Nershi penned tune “Eventually”, which is another very real, very honest song about growth. About seeing the finish line and wondering if we ever really finish becoming the person that we see in our heads. At the end of the day, all we really have is faith and a positive mental attitude that we can eventually become the person that we want to be, the person we are supposed to be. Really a beautiful track.

The next tune is a real tear jerker again dealing with loss. “One More Time” is about the sudden death of longtime cheese crew and  business partner Jesse Aratow. Like the title track, this is a great example of a specific situation sung through an open ended lenses that can be applied to feelings that any close loss can invoke. The production of the album really shines on the slower numbers like this one. Produced by former Megaufaun member (dope NC pyche country band) Brad Cooke, with a distinct vision to strip down the arrangements to allow the songwriting to shine; a move that is undeniably genius after hearing the subtle interplay and soft textures on the release, especially “One More Time”. In the few live versions that exist, tell me one better than 9/9/23 Charlotte NC from Willie Nelson’s Outlaw Tour. The instrumental segment SOARS with Michael Kang hitting a riff that they carry through the final refrain. 

No offence to the rest of the band, but in my opinion, the star of this album is Keith. Not to take away any of the stellar tracks from the rest, but oh boy, Keith’s efforts are so fantastic on this this release. “Aint I Been Good To You” is the next one that really shows off their ever evolving songwriting . With a subdued, reggae-ish drop, the boys have another bopper on their hands while again tackling prevailing themes of loss, this time a relationship that is clearly falling away. Don’t you love me anymore? Asks Keith. Decorated with plump, sonic tears, the chorus of “Aint I been Good to You” comes across as a beautifully desperate refrain to remind their lover of the good times, just how much they tried to make things right. On the other side of the coin, I think my favorite song is the moody, dare i say even SEXY Keith track “Take Me Love”. Grab your partner, throw this one on and tell me your hips do not quickly take over the conversation. Featuring a tight, mid tempo pace, the song takes to a magical flight, lovers hand in hand, headlong towards Avalon. This is another example of the evolution with their songwriting in the most positive of direction.

My second favorite song on this album is Michael Travis’ own “Thank You”. Now, I could be wrong on this, but I am certain if this album, and especially this song, was by a band known for soft “indie folk” ballads, we would be looking at a crossover hit here. Not that the band needs that necessarily, but this feels like 1000 miles away from Cheese staples such as Climb or Black Clouds, yet still feels right at home in their catalogue. Another prime example of the stripped back productions leaving room for the instruments and atmospheric vocals to carry us somewhere else. “Thank You” deserves to wind up in a few set-lists down the road, maybe a soft landing spot after one of those huge jams that really get us going. 

Next up is Kyle’s, “Hold On”. The rhythm sections’ shuffle beat behind this song keeps the head bopping while Kyle’s falsetto verses swoon the heart. From our perspective, “Hold On” and the title track are the most typical SCI song styles. Surely to bring a smile to any fan of the band while also creating an introduction to the new fans that I am positive they have made. Especially after the double whammy of this release coinciding with the Outlaw tour. Kyle’s last song on the Album is really another classic. Dealing with the fret and uncertainty that can accompany this life, “Enjoy the Ride” is an anthem that rocks us softly while reminding us all we can do is enjoy the ride. After all, roller coaster gotta roll to the bottom if you wanna climb to the top again. While I still think Keith is the MVP, if YOU think Kyle has the stronger output, I certainly will not say you are wrong. Really, there are no wrong answers with an album so strong, everybody is right!

Billy’s last song “Love and Friends” is really more of a spoken word affair akin to some of Johnny Cash’s classic hits like “Boy named Sue”. Dealing again with loss and betrayal, Billy mournfully croons that he “thought he could hold paradise in his hands” only to find out that “Love and Friends” are all that remain in the end. Billy rolls through the chorus proclaiming that “You and I are gonna fly high”, well Billy, we at JBO believe you and cannot wait to do it all again, maybe even get that aerial tour of North Florida at the end of October.

The instrumental track “Way Back When” is really the only song to showcase Michael Kang with his wonderful fiddle playing. Though that is not to say Billy’s flat picking isn’t also the star of the show. Given how the band started, this one is so appropriately titled as it could just as easy be a track from way back in mid 1995. Now, a little hearsay, but we hear that Kang has new tunes that just weren’t quite ready for this release. If you are really dying for a Kang led epic, throw on the “Into The Blue” EP from last Spring and let those sweet sweet electric mandolin lines carry you away.

The last song may be the heaviest, “Nobody Thought You Would” deals with an abusive relationship where the unnamed character ends up dead in the river from her partner that has “gone back to using, and back to abusing”. I feel like I have said it 100 times now but y’all, what a song. It is rough when you get down to it, closing with a lingering fiddle line that fades the album out to black, similar to the drowning moments of the main character. I really hope this is not based on a true story, but I know that even if it isn’t, tragedies like this happen daily all around the world. Hold your people close and if you need a hand, reach out and there will be somebody to help. Honestly, my only critique is that I would have switched this tune with another one to close out the album with a little bit more of a positive spin, though I cannot deny how poetic it is in delivery.

I’ll be the first to admit I generally do not listen to studio releases by any jam band. I am the type to pull up live cuts and rock em out. But that is not what this album is about. This album is about an already diverse band expanding their chops and straight up flexing their songwriting for all to see. I rocked to this album, I cried to this album, I got goose bump shivers through my whole body listening to this album, and we at at JBO think if you go into this with an open heart, you will too.

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