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String Cheese - String Cheese CD (album) cover


String Cheese


Prog Folk

3.10 | 13 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
3 stars 'String Cheese' - String Cheese (60/100)

Folk music, I think, has always been uniquely disposed towards feelings of dissent. There's a down-to-earth heartiness about plain guitars and organic instrumentation that's quick to comfort in times of trouble. So it was, at least, in that golden age of popular music, where war and Communism flourished on one side of the world, while rock masterpieces were being recorded on the other. Chicago's String Cheese were never responsible for any of these masterpieces. Much less than that, in fact; they only ever released this self-titled LP before a series of pressures (most notably troubles on the part of the label, and nagging lack of sales) impelled them to split shortly after. Consequently, they've long since lost any claim to the pubic consciousness. At most, you may find their work relegated to some distant corner of the collection of hardcore vinyl collectors.

String Cheese came into being at the height of anti-Vietnam dissent, and though their lyrics aren't explicit about it, their music is audibly motivated by an empathy-driven anxiety. Although a better expert than I should be able to name a bunch of their San Franciscan peers by way of comparison, by my own listening history, String Cheese almost remind me of legendary British freaks Comus, provided you distilled every bit of weirdness from the mix. Though String Cheese pack a healthy dose of chamber folk into their protest formula, and backed by a strong feminine voice in Sally Smaller, the music rarely dares to grasp me as much as I would hope from arrangements of this calibre. String Cheese had a fine sound to them, with stellar musicianship at that, but their writing fell short of creating any powerful songs that might still be worthy of recognition.

If String Cheese are meant to be interpreted as a progressive-leaning protest band, I'm not hearing any songs a generation could have marched behind in solidarity. What I am hearing, instead, is a decently consistent set of music with great arrangements that sound limited by their predictable framing. String Cheese made themselves out to be folk-rockers on the arse end of flower power, but it sounds to me like that formula wasn't exploiting their abilities to the fullest. Sally Smaller's vocals are comfortably ethereal, and could have used an even greater showcase on the album. Though their unambitious songwriting never serves to provoke in a transgressive way, String Cheese establish ways of broadening the sound regardless. Gregory Bloch's ubiquitous electric violin occasionally sounds like a full-fledged string section unto itself, and the soft arrangements closing off the record with "Coming" prove how great their music could be if only they loosened the songwriting's grip on the music a bit.

Smaller, along with frontman Lawrence Wendelken lead the band confidently, and though they flirt with what is tantamount to protest cliches ("Woke up this morning..." etc.) I appreciate the way they channelled their anxieties towards aggression in a poetic way that clouds the direct meaning of typical protest anthemry. Nonetheless, their wordplay is as challenging as String Cheese ever get. They're straightforward enough to label their songwriting simple, but not so effective with their simplicity to have had hit potential. The music is well-intentioned, but I feel String Cheese were caught somewhere in between being a higherbrow chamber folk group, and a psych-tinged rabble rousers. Either route could have paid off, but the two don't mix here, and the album's left feeling a little flat as a result.

Conor Fynes | 3/5 |


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