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Hands up those of us who can remember those heady days of the early 1970s and the psychedelic folk/rock mix of the band String Driven Thing. Well I certainly can and now they are back with a shortened name with a superb release of well crafted Americana. Chris and Pauline Adams first put the band together in 1972 to much acclaim from the music press and Chris is still there at the helm and still composing wonderful and more importantly meaningful songs. All ten tracks featured on this release are from the pen of Chris Adams and every one is a killer cut, no last minute fillers here. Opening track Place To Lie rocks along at a steady pace, a song guaranteed to get those feet a tappin’. Good guitar work from both Chris and lead guitarist George Tucker and the track is held together by the rock steady rhythm section of bassist Andy Allan and Dick Drake on drums and percussion. Following track Die Without It paints a verbal picture of when a young Chris Adams first heard the Devils music, yes, rock n’ roll being transmitted over the airwaves, music that was to shape his future. The song has a deep down and dirty feel, with great guitar breaks and an almost swamp rock feel. Grisham Hotel is yet another story song, this time a tale of life on the road, love, loss and regret. At over seven minutes long it really is a lyrical masterpiece, a superb play on words. Stand out tracks for me, and it’s very difficult to choose, would be the emotional and heartfelt delivery of Kelvin Way with its theme of Beltane and the way that your memory can play tricks on you and the stunning Affairs Of The Heart, a tale of love and lust, the original sin. Lyrical content on songs like these show that even after thirty years of song writing Chris Adams has lost none of his imagination, wisdom and wit when it comes to composing an outstanding lyric and when heard with his signature barbed wire and red wine delivery, you really do hear something very special. Another Country, the superb Idol and final cut Love Dies are all equally good in delivery and content. A definite contender for my top ten albums of 2009 from both sides of the pond, recommended.
R2 [ROCK ‘N’ REEL] [August Issue.]
No longer Things, they’re now merely String Driven. Remember ‘It’s A Game’, from their early violin-driven line-up, which became a belated hit for, erm … Bay City Rollers? Glasgow-based Chris Adams is the only constant element from that first phase. His autobiographical ‘Grisham Hotel’ narrates the story, how the ‘frankincense of failure … drowned the scent of fame’. Until, reconvened, their prog-folk roots are fine-tuned with new elements of Americana.
The sinuously stalking ‘Place To Lie’ is a voodoo game of disguised band names delivered in hoarse, weathered vocals, ‘beetles, stones and zombies, eagles and birds’. See how many you can spot. ‘Die Without It’ is a paean to rock‘n’roll and a spirited attack on samplers, gliding in on low-slide guitars embedded in tight, finely-honed, small-group instrumentation.
The … Another Country is the past, and Chris evokes lyrical troubadour-muso poem-songs about silver strings, and meeting your idol at a backstage party. These are melodies shaped by lyric structure, measured in metaphors as teasingly elusive as Roger McGuinn’s ‘Chestnut Mare’ – literate songs tormented by restless phantoms of loss, regret, ghosts and past-tense dreams, ‘gone for good, gone for bad’, but either way they ain’t coming back. If R2 had an album of the bi-month, this would be it. But is there anything a new Bay City Rollers could cover? Probably not.
By Duke Dali on July 19th, 2009
The past is another country, as L. P. Hartley almost said and here Glasgow singer and songwriter Chris Adams does his best to prove him right. Adams, a Glasgow beat, hippie, rock star and producer once shared management and label with the likes of Genesis in the seventies. His band String Driven Thing graced the pages of Rolling Stone and the NME and almost made it big time. Since then he has occasionally resurfaced, has been big in Europe and has most recently grabbed his history by the collar and revamped his website amid acclaimed re-releases of his back catalogue. Here, on an album suffused with nostalgia, he digs into that past to produce a set that talks to the baby boomer years in much the same way as many of his American contemporaries have been doing as they revisit their own histories.
Without the “trademark” violin sound that characterised the String driven thing’s heyday this is an album of mature, reflective songs superbly played by a very simpatico band. The sound is warm, bluesy and rootsy with a southern flavour. One is reminded of recent releases by Gurf Morlix or Colin Linden (of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings). Adams’ vocals have an attractive weathered quality and at times he approaches the gruffness of the late John Martyn or the idioxyncracies of latter Dylan especially on the final song “Love Dies.”
As mentioned, much of the album consists of reportage or impressions of Adams’ formative years. Amid verbal nods to his heroes (including the Beatles, Stones and the Byrds) he recalls events in places as diverse as Glasgow, Dublin and New York. “Kelvin Way” is a gorgeous essay on the frailties of memory and with its emphasis on the descriptions of the landscape of the park and the journey there could be an outtake from an early Van Morrison album if Van had come from Glasgow. Adams repeats this on “Grisham Hotel” where he actually visits Morrison’s territory. Again the lyrics are evocative, impressionistic and poetic.” Die Without It” is a rite of passage song describing the writers’ early introduction to rock in a similar vein to Gurf Morlix’s recent Drums of New Orleans with the late night airwaves turning a generation of kids onto the devil’s music. On “Idol” Adams recounts a meeting with one of these ghostly early airwave heroes and imparts a sense of loss and loneliness reflecting the failure of his generation to change the world.
Adams lyrics are excellent throughout but special mention must be given to “Affairs of the Heart.” Dense, romantic and delivered perfectly, this would sit comfortably on a Dylan album as Adams sings
“Affairs of the heart are not covered by protocol/they come from a realm governed by fate/affairs of the heart are measured in metaphor. /where passion is heat and ice it is hate/and the cycle began with original sin/temptation too great not to give in/and so we were cast out from our paradise/to live in a world where innocence dies.”
Lyrics of this quality are scattered throughout and one gets the sense that Adams has garnered years of experience, personal and as a fan and poured it into this record. The band, George Tucker, Andy Allen and Dick Drake rise to the occasion.
Overall this is an excellent album. Like a fine wine it oozes quality and slips down easy and is all the better for being of a certain vintage.
Just two years ago, a revitalised version of the former prog-rock band String Driven Thing appeared bearing a brand new album (Moments Of Truth) which showcased the recent songs (and distinctive singing voice) of SDT’s founder member Chris Adams. It was clear from that set that Chris was steering the band in a more rootsy direction, and this change is taken a stage further with Songs From Another Country, for which the band sound is thinned down even further in tandem with a reduction in total personnel and a consequent (though I trust not directly related!) shortening of the band name (now ignominiously dropping the Thing).
The latest (and more basic) lineup supporting Chris is George Tucker (guitar), Andy Allan (bass) and Dick Drake (percussion), with additional contributions from Robin Adams (Chris’s son) and Danny Mitchell. This lineup produces an altogether leaner, slimmer sound-picture that now strays more consciously into rootsy Americana (tho’ more in the mellower, laid-back strand of the Dire Straits-meets-Tom Petty mode than pure country thoroughbred). The album is an outright vehicle for a batch of ten new songs from Chris’s pen; these are indeed songs from another country: the country of the past. There’s a recurring theme of reflection and regret in dealing honestly and meaningfully with the past, its personal experiences and feelings, carrying out the cathartic and entirely necessary process of soul-searching against the background of specific places and recollections. Musically, these tend to be couched in a quite laid-back, rock-steady mid-tempo or slower setting, with gentle electric guitar figures and brushed beats cradled in and rising out of a soft acoustic base. The most memorable tracks incorporate yearningly simple poetry (eg. Place To Lie) or recount intense memories (Kelvin Way), and the more extended narrative of Gresham Hotel (which neatly avoids referencing the Raglan Road air to which the lyric alludes) benefits from its relaxed, slinkily swinging setting.
Chris’s voice is as expressive as ever, soft-toned yet strong in communicating the emotions and memories that are so vividly etched. Lyric-wise, Chris adopts a more dispassionate stance when addressing Affairs Of The Heart, but his delivery betrays his deeper involvement; on the other hand, the chugging riff of the rock-reminiscences for Die Without It proves more interesting than the heard-it-before lyric which borders on cliché. Together, however, the ten songs portray a measured consistency of approach, the downside of which is that there’s no escaping the impression that several of the tracks (particularly in the album’s later stages) sound rather similar: certainly that’s been the experience I’ve had from my playthroughs of the album so far.
David Kidman – June 2009