George Graham reviews Kyle Hollingsworth's "50"
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The Graham Album Review #1931

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Kyle Hollingsworth: 50
by George Graham

(SCI Fidelity Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 2/14/2018)

One of the things that makes good jam band is the interaction among the musicians within the group. They are able to launch into extended improvisations with the members closely following each other, which comes from a tight musical relationship. So it’s interesting to hear solo albums by members of jam bands, to see how they perform with others, or outside their usual setting. This week we have a good example of that, it’s the new recording by Kyle Hollinsgworth, the keyboard man from one of the best jam bands on the scene for nearly twenty years now, the String Cheese Incident. It’s actually his fourth album on his own, and it’s called 50, in observation of his 50th birthday, which is also the album’s official release date, March 2, 2018.

Kyle Hollingsworth grew up in Maryland and attended Towson State University where he majored in music with the emphasis on jazz piano. In college he was involved with a band called Black Friday. He later moved to Colorado, where he joined the String Cheese Incident in Boulder in the latter 1990s. Over the years, the String Cheese Incident became one of the top jam bands, and also did some innovative things like having a travel agency so their fans could followed them around, Grateful Dead style. While the band toured extensively, they have gone on hiatus from time to time, and that gives the individual members opportunities to pursue their own projects. Last year the group released the rather disappointing album Believe, which was a much more structured studio recording that fell short in opportunities for the band’s improvisational strength. The new Hollingsworth album is more like the better String Cheese studio recordings. The music is frequently upbeat and though there are no really long tracks, it definitely sounds more like a jam band record.

Hollingsworth’s last solo album Speed of Life featured more of a studio band assembled for the project, including two of his String Cheese colleagues. Since then, Hollingsworth has been touring with his own band, and they appear as the core line-up on 50. They include guitarist Dave Schwindt, who appeared on Hollinsgworth’s last album, bassist Paul McDaniel, and drummer Brian McRae. There are a number of guests who appear ranging from rapper DJ Logic to a bluegrass Dobro played by Andy Hall from the Infamous Stringdusters. Once again, members of the horn section of the Colorado-based funk band Motet appear.

This album takes a pretty uniformly upbeat approach, both musically and lyrically. It’s an optimistic and frequently danceable recording, with Hollingsworth getting into Motown-style soul, funk, and a little of the Latin-influenced jam band style that the String Cheese Incident is known for. There are four instrumentals, including a short introduction and coda at either end of the record.

Leading off is one of those little interludes, appropriately called Onset which launches with kind of retro-spacey sound. <<>>

That leads into one of the longer instrumentals, Wyatt Earp’s Tale, an appealing funky piece that shows definite jam band tendencies with an extended solo by Hollingsworth on a retro electric piano. <<>>

The first of the vocals is Let Me In, a danceable song whose lyrics are a kind of an attempt to start a relationship. <<>>

All Falls Apart is an appealing song with more of the album’s optimistic lyrics, showing a kind of mix of the Motown and Memphis sound. The horn section of the Motet band makes an appearance. <<>>

Finding Our Way takes a different direction musically, with an almost anthemic rock sound tempered by the countryish Dobro of the Infamous Stringdusters’ Andy Hall. <<>>

There is almost hippie outlook on a some of the tracks. Stuff is another soul-influenced song about renouncing materialism in a way, but in the context of the on-line social media world. <<>>

The Afro-Latin-influenced rhythm that is a String Cheese Incident trademark forms the basis Tumbling, one of the definite highlights of the album. <<>>

Hollingsworth goes out for an old-fashioned disco sound on the track Take the Ride. Though the tune has a danceable groove, I think it’s a bit too clichéd. <<>>

The beat continues with the Offset, a coda and counterpart to the album’s opening piece, Onset. <<>>

String Cheese Incident keyboard man Kyle Hollingsworth’s new fourth solo album is an appealing, upbeat record that has strengths in the area that the last String Cheese album faltered. There’s all-around great playing by the band with whom Hollinsgworth regularly tours, and a kind of cohesion that enhances what jamming opportunities there are on the record. There are no sad, or contemplative songs on the 50. It’s often great to dance to, or at least liven things up on a rainy day.

Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A.” The sound is generally clean with the use of studio effects being tastefully handled. With a couple of small exceptions, instruments and vocals generally sound real. The dynamic range is not great, but it does have a nice punchy sound on the drums.

Take a band member out of a long-running jam band and what do you get? In the case of Kyle Hollingsworth’s new release 50, you get something that surpasses the band’s last album.

(c) Copyright 2018 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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