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Hollingsworth: Speed of Life
(SCI Fidelty Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 8/27/2014)
Jam bands are still enjoying a good deal of popularity after the scene emerged in the 1990s, with an active festival scene going on. After a somewhat dry period for new releases by some of the best-known active bands, earlier this year, there were new albums by three of the best jam bands currently on the scene, Moe. Umphrey's McGee and the String Cheese Incident. The latter came after an extended hiatus as a band. But in the interim, the members of the Colorado-based String Cheese Incident were keeping active with solo projects and collaborations. One of those solo projects is now out. It’s the third solo album by String Cheese keyboard man Kyle Hollinsgworth, called Speed of Life.
A Maryland native, Hollingsworth studied and majored in jazz piano at Towson State University and while in college was involved with a band called Black Friday. He eventually moved to Boulder, Colorado where he joined the String Cheese Incident and has been with them since the latter 1990s. He has also maintained his own career, with the Kyle Hollingsworth Band, and also toured with the Mickey Hart Band and a group called the Fiery Furnaces. Hollingsworth's new release is a kind of musical sequel to his 2009 album Then There's Now with many of the same musicians and a good mix of funky original tunes including both instrumentals and some vocals, with very good musicianship, and a kind of retro funk sound for much of the album. At times it can conjure a 1970s disco sound.
Hollingsworth's colleagues on the album mainly come from another Colorado band, The Motet, and include bassist Gary Sayers, drummer Dave Watts, trumpeter Gerald Mervine, saxophonist Matt Pitts, and vocalist Kim Dawson. Other players include two of Hollingsworth's colleagues in the String Cheese Incident, guitarist Michael Kang and percussionist Jason Hann, Rounding out the cast are guitarist Dave Schwindt, vocalist Bonnie Payne.
The publicity information for the CD speaks of doing the recording during the severe flooding that affected Boulder in 2013, and that Hollingsworth was concerned that he would be affected to the point of losing his work if his studio flooded. But they apparently pulled through OK.
As mentioned, the music on the CD favors funk-oriented material, and rhythmic grooves are an important part of the album. The retro sound is heard not only in the occasional disco beats, but also from the vintage keyboard sounds Hollingsworth uses on the album. A good example is the opening track Racer X, one of the stronger instrumental pieces on the album. Hollingsworth is on an old-fashioned organ while the band is on a great rhythmic groove. <<>>
One of the musical trademarks of the String Cheese Incident among jam bands is their tendency to get into Latin influenced rhythms. Hollingsworth's new CD has more than one track with a Latin beat. Here We Go is a vocal that is one of album's best in terms of a combination of an infectious grooves with a well-thought out musical ccomposition with an interesting arrangement. <<>>
Falling Through the Cracks is more of a rock-songwriter type of a track with a funky beat. It's a good musical combination that works out well. <<>>
The 70s retro funk side of the album is highlighted on You've Got the World which conjures a kind of Parliament/Funkadelic sound, to which are added some rather optimistic lyrics. <<>>
A further facet of the album is featured on the song called All Around, which is almost folky at times with an acoustic guitar. <<>>
Hollingsworth does not make his whole album retro-sounding. A song called Happening Now sounds more like contemporary techno including the use of the irritating Autotune effect on the vocal. But it does have a bit more imagination than commercial pop. <<>>
Beautiful People is another of the more lyric-oriented songs, and while it’s not the strongest on the album, it does show versatility and worthwhile writing. <<>>
For String Cheese fans, Hollingsworth provides an excellent instrumental jam infused track. Peregrino starts with the funky beats that are a kind of theme for this album, and then gives the band an opportunity to stretch out for some solos. <<>>
String Cheese Incident keyboard man Kyle Hollinsgworth's new third release, Speed of Life comes just a couple of months after his band's full album, which followed a dry period from both the band and Hollingsworth, whose last solo album was in 2009. As on his past records, Hollingsworth uses the solo recording as opportunity to get into somewhat different material than the String Cheese Incident, but he does not wander very far. He appears with members of the the funk-oriented Motet, also from Colorado, and that influence is felt as well. The result is a generous, nearly hour long, satisfying record that will appeal to both String Cheese's fans and wider audiences. The musicianship is first-rate and Hollingsorth's compositions are generally well thought out and more than just an opportunity for improvisation.
Our grade for sound quality is an A-minus, with a mix that generally keeps things nicely in perspective, and the clarity is reasonably good. The dynamic range, how well the recording reproduces the difference between loud and soft is mediocre, with the volume compression squeezing the sound in an attempt to make it sound louder.
The jam band scene shows no sign of diminishing, with several good album releases in the past couple of months. Kyle Hollingsworth's The Speed of Life is another most worthwhile one to add to the list.
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