The Grip Weeds

Strange Change Machine

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New Jersey's the Grip Weeds have never shied away from wearing their retro influences on their sleeves (no great surprise from a band whose name comes from John Lennon's character in How I Won the War), and they continue marching forward into the past on their fifth studio album, 2010's Strange Change Machine. The songs, primarily written by guitarist Rick Reil and his brother drummer/multi-instrumentalist Kurt Reil, are well-crafted '60s-influenced pop laced with psychedelia and just a dash of what would evolve into progressive rock; these numbers are tuneful but ambitious, and the musicians (the Reil brothers are joined by Kristin Pinell on guitar and flute and Michael Kelly on bass) play with an easy dexterity and just the right amount of enthusiasm, giving the performances a good store of energy without overplaying. What sets Strange Change Machine apart from the Grip Weeds' earlier albums is scale -- this time out, they've upped the ante by releasing a two-disc set, with disc one devoted to shorter and punchier tunes and disc two dominated by longer and more contemplative material (including a faithful cover of Todd Rundgren's "Hello It's Me"), though disc two does boast the strong uptempo numbers "Truth Is (Hard to Take)" and "Long Way (To Come Around)," and disc one gets trippy with "You're Not Walking Away" and "Sun Shower." As contemporary two-CD sets go, Strange Change Machine is admirably concise -- with a bit of judicious editing, this could have fit on one disc, and the running time and sequence follow the logic of a vinyl double LP from the Good Old Days. But in the '60s, most acts didn't release double albums for a reason, and that same dilemma dogs the Grip Weeds here -- there aren't enough top-shelf songs here to fully sustain the album for over 80 minutes, and as a consequence, Strange Change Machine drifts into the ether by the three-quarters point despite the fine musicianship and excellent studio craft. Edited to 60 minutes, Strange Change Machine could have been one of the Grip Weeds best yet; as it is, it's a bit more than you need from an inarguably talented band that's just a bit short on original vision.

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