String Driven Thing
The Machine That Cried
added: 21 Oct 2012
// release date: 21 Oct 2012 // label: Esoteric
reviewer: Andy Snipper
When a bunch of musically orientated chaps get together one of the most common pastimes is a sort of top-trumps: who is the best guitarist or singer or, occasionally who was the best rock violinist. For that last one the names of Jerry Goodman or Darryl Way are often banded about and even Siegfried Carver by lovers of Pavlov’s Dog but less often is Grahame Smith who played violin and viola for String Driven Thing and that is rather a shame because he is an excellent player and gives a real sense of identity to his band. Which is not to say that they haven’t got a lot more to say for them but he is a crucial part of the sound.
‘The Machine That Cried’ was originally released in 1973 although the band had been around since the mid-sixties as a folk outfit. For this album they added a drummer for the first time but they still retained the folky feel to a lot of their music with the vocals of Pauline Adams making a great counterpoint for Smith’s violin. Produced by the legendary Shel Talmy their credentials were confirmed by regular vists to the festivals of the time.
The real standout number is the opener, ‘Heartfeeder’, which was written by Chris Adams while he was recuperating from a collapsed lung – the result of exhaustion due to too much touring. It starts with a violin playing in air and the addition of bass and guitar lead into a truly emotional ride. The vocals are strained and torn and the whole number has the power and passion that few bands manage to reach.
You might expect it to run downhill from there but the rest of the album is terrific.
‘To See You’ sounds as though it will be a simple countrified song but develops into a simply beautiful piece and then ‘Sold Down The River’ ratchets the intensity back up with an eerie vocal performance set against some super playing from Smith.
‘Two Timin’ Mama’ show that they still have rock creds and ‘People On The Street’ brings it back to deeply emotive.
The title track is a dense and atmospheric number that brings Krautrock giants Amon Duul to mind with strained harmonies and Smith’s violin roaming around seemingly at will. The original closer was the monumental (emphasis on the mental) 'River Of Sleep' with a btavura performance by the entire band - stunning vocal performance and incendiary violin. Bonus tracks are the single 'It's A Game' and 'Are You A Rock n' Roller'.
String Driven Thing are still touring and playing but this represented them at their peak – one of those albums that really defy the norm.
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