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Kyle Hollingsworth, best known as the keyboardist for Colorado’s String Cheese Incident, knows how to celebrate a birthday. Hollingsworth is ringing in his 50th with a slew of live performances across the Front Range (Fort Collins on Thursday, Denver on Friday, and Boulder on Saturday), as well as with the release of his fourth solo album, 50, which is available now.
On 50, which arrives more than 20 years after Hollingsworth first joined String Cheese Incident, Hollingsworth works to stretch that canvas out farther than any of his previous albums. Here, we see Hollingsworth equipped with a new band and a slew of featured performances, and it’s those people who allow him to fuse influences from jazz, bluegrass, and even hip-hop around the versatile, funky keyboard riffs for which Hollingsworth is known.
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“You still have my kind of funk in there, but on 50 I’m able to bring a bigger sound,” Hollingsworth says. “This album’s a bit more heavy…you know, I’ve done the funk thing. This album has some more throw-down, some more rock to it.”
Hollingsworth says he wanted to make the album “a testament to where I am, rather than some culmination of my life story.” That simplicity pays off. My fear was that his efforts to bring in vast musical influences would flounder, and that as a result, each song would feel like it belongs to the artists Hollingsworth brought on to help, rather than the other way around. But credit is due to Hollingsworth, who now calls himself “one of the upperclassmen,” because he still clearly owns each track on 50. Whether it’s the rocking, driving “Wyatt Earp’s Tale,” or the Motown-inspired “All Falls Apart,” none of the added pieces—a guitar solo here, a few horn blasts there—seem out of place.
The only piece of 50, a mostly instrumental album, that occasionally fell into an old cliché was in the songwriting. On the autobiographical “Finding Our Way,” for example, a “restless boy” leaves his home with “everything he owned” to follow the “Western sun.” The song is somewhat redeemed by a nicely composed duet that kept me from skipping the track.
But that’s what happens when you reach. It’s safe to say that most music lovers would much rather have an artist still pushing the edges of his or her canvas, than one who’s content to rehash the same thing over and again.
Clearly, Hollingsworth agrees.
If you go: Kyle Hollingsworth performs at the Cervantes Ballroom on Friday, March 2 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $25. Hollingsworth will perform at the Boulder Theatre on Saturday, March 3 at 9 p.m. Tickets range from $18–$20.