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Check out new releases from String Cheese Incident, Seun Kuti, Levon Helm

Three distinct genres...three incredible bands...three great new CDs...from the jam-band glory of The String Cheese Incident and the Afro-Pop all-out action Of Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 to The Levon Helm Band, recorded at his Midnight Rambles over the course of many years with very special guests.

By Mike Greenblatt

Colorado jam-band The String Cheese Incident has been lighting up stages with their Allmanesque free-form rock-outs for 20 years. It's about time the band went back into the studio!

The String Cheese Incident Song In My Head

The String Cheese Incident has released "Song In My Head," the band's first studio album in nine years. Publicity photo.

Although "Song In My Head" (Sci Fidelity/Loud&Proud) can't come close to what they do on a stage (it couldn't possibly), it's a damn good CD that starts all bluegrassy and gets harder and deeper into the complexities of interaction soon enough.

Produced by Talking Head Jerry Harrison, the group's first CD in nine years is a satisfying romp, one that will keep fans entertained until the next time they swagger into town. Hopefully, it won't be another nine years before Michael Kang's mandolin, violin and guitar gets to dance in the studio with the sprightly keyboards of Kyle Hollingsworth, that great bass/drum-as-one, the warm friendly vocals of Bill Nershi and the poppin' percolatin' percussion of Jason Hann.

If there was ever a band to take over the Grateful Dead ambiance of pure joy in their playing, it's The String Cheese Incident.


Seun Kuti. Photo by Johann Sauty.

"A Long Way To The Beginning" (Knitting Factory Records) by Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 aggressively updates Afrobeat. This exciting music was always thrilling, so to hear the son of Afrobeat inventor Fela [1938-1997] take his father's vision--and his father's band--to get even angrier and more action-packed ... well, it's a heady, dizzying, mesmerizing and funky trip.

As produced by Robert Glaspar (the American pianist whose own six CDs on Blue Note have been something special), this pops with drama, danceability and undisguised seething venom for corrupt politicians from his home country of Nigeria and international "corporate greedheads."

Kuti, 31, raps, sings, blows his alto sax and writes the kind of political screeds that would have made his father proud. And this band truly sizzles like James Brown's Famous Flames.


Levon Helm. Publicity photo/Danny Clinch

Since Levon Helm's death at age 71 in 2012, the universal love for the drummer of The Band has escalated wildly. There's the "Love For Levon" DVD concert event (where my bald head can plainly be seen front-row center throughout), to the scores of tributes and artists (including Bruce) that now regularly perform and record Levon's rustic and poetic music. The man's a damn saint.

"It's Showtime: The Midnight Ramble Sessions Volume 3" (Vanguard) by The Levon Helm Band is the latest burst of joyousness. These rambles, as they were called, were house shows at his very own house, the Woodstock, N.Y., barn where guests like Black Crow Chris Robinson, New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint, daughter Amy Helm, Dylan's Larry Campbell and The Fab Faux's Jimmy Vivino strut their stuff to a rampaging horn section amidst a dynamite band including Levon on drums, mandolin and/or vocals depending upon the track.

Taken from rambles dating back to 2005, the 13 meticulously recorded tracks finish with Levon barking out "Take Me To The River" fit to swoon over. If I have one lifetime musical regret, it's that I never made the trip north to attend one of these soirees. I flirted with going once but to my discredit, never went. Now I can relive some of the pure adrenaline and rock 'n' roll fervor that this holy spirit (who should be canonized) laid down in his tumultuous life. GM