The String Cheese Incident

REVIEW: The String Cheese Incident “Lend Me A Hand”


The String Cheese Incident – Lend Me A Hand

It’s a long, strange trip from loose, up-and-coming jam band to elder statesmen of the genre, and that ascent comes with requisite heartache. One of Colorado’s original jammers, The String Cheese Incident has spent 30 years stretching out their sound and crisscrossing the country – including an astounding 50 Red Rocks shows – in a sort of never-ending summer that began in the ski town of Crested Butte all those years ago. Those good feelings took a devastating hit in October of 2021 with the death of Jesse Aratow, a close friend and longtime member of SCI’s management team. That sudden loss caused the band to take a look at three decades of life together. The result of that reflection is Lend Me A Hand, String Cheese’s eighth studio album (and first since 2017’s Believe), a record that shows the band’s increased focus on songcraft in a move to honor their friend and the decades spent together, as well as asking for a little help to take that next step in life.

That pleading for community begins with the pleasantly ambling title track. “Lend Me A Hand” is characterized by Kyle Hollingsworth’s rolling piano line, but the opening line – “She didn’t want to see it coming/When Mother Nature came to call” – hints at a band wrestling with mortality for the first time. The quiet devastation that comes with aging and impermanence is found in one heartbreaking line – “Somewhere between true north and a broken heart” – that summarizes the temporary helplessness found in that loss.

While much of Lend Me A Hand focuses on loss and what comes after, “One More Time” is the band’s most direct tribute to Aratow. Hollingsworth wrote the lyrics with Sam Beam (Iron & Wine), a collection of memories of their friend – “Whiskey folded on your chest/Winter’s got your back” – sung in a ragged, heartworn voice. Dreamlike conversations – “I knew you were gone, but you turned and said/I miss you too, my friend” – paint a picture of a relationship that will continue to color the band’s emotions and songs.

Other moments on Lend Me A Hand tend toward the lighter touch that SCI is known for. “Ain’t I Been Good to You” is a reggae-tinged tune that bassist Keith Mosely describes as his tribute to Bob Marley. “I Will Follow You” (also written with Beam) has a pleasant, bluegrass-y shuffle and a gorgeous acoustic riff, while spotlighting Hollingsworth’s eternal love for his family – “Happy comes and after goes/Doesn’t mean I do.” And, while not exactly light and breezy, “Nobody Thought You Would” is a would-be murder ballad with a thoroughly modern twist – “She found the courage for leaving/And left them believing/She drowned in the river that night” – that actually circles back to the resilience that the members of SCI are finding within themselves. While the character in the song finds the strength to escape an abusive lover, SCI’s resolve comes from their willingness to be vulnerable, contributing to the sort of empathy found back at the top of the album – “You can lean on me neighbor/When you need a favor.” After finding that they needed help themselves, they’re willing to lift up others rather than let them drown.

Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Way Back When” – The fiddle-led instrumental is the autumn mountain drive on this summer’s-over album.

Lend Me A Hand was produced by Brad Cook, engineered by Paul Voran, mixed by Jarvis Taveniere and mastered by Dave McNair. The String Cheese Incident is Bill Nershi (guitar, vocals), Michael Kang (guitar, mandolin, violin, vocals), Keith Moseley (bass, vocals), Michael Travis (drums, vocals), Kyle Hollingsworth (keys, vocals) and Jason Hann (percussion, programming). Songs written by the band, with co-writing credits going to Sam Beam.

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