The String Cheese Incident

Untying the Not (Sci Fidelity Records)

Concept albums can be a dicey proposition for a young group. But once an act has established itself as a top-of-the-heap, bluegrass-influenced jam band and has already released a few true-to-its-roots platters -- not to mention live shows that draw a gaggle of free-spirited granola-munching souls -- well, what the hey.

And so the Cheese has concocted a work that seeks to break from the band's established buoyant sound -- which could be described as Telluride-meets-the-magic-mushroom-man -- and create something less predictable and a little darker. Indeed, the obsession with ringing mandolins and acoustic homages to newgrass have given way, somewhat refreshingly, to more produced, electric/technology-enhanced music.

With the help of vocal-effects wizardry, the disc kicks off on an ethereal and haunting note. "Wake Up," a song written in the late '80s by guitarist Bill Nershi, concerns being awakened at 5 a.m. by a former roommate having an intense, life-questioning phone conversation with his dear old mum. The tune, which touches on the unsettling uncertainties of youth, sets the stage for the rest of the album and might make you wonder if you're really listening to the String Cheese Incident. OK, the instruments are still acoustic, such as the lap steel guitar on "Orion's Belt," but the end effect -- after looping and layering -- recalls Pink Floyd more than Bill Monroe. For fans of the rootsy fare that put these boys on the jam map, there's "Lonesome Road Blues" (yes, this is still the String Cheese Incident), but even this sip from the traditional well sounds like it's being delivered through an air compressor.

 
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