Charles Blackwell

Those Plucking Strings

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Arranged by Charles Blackwell and produced by the legendary Joe Meek, the instrumental LP Those Plucking Strings was originally planned for release on Meek's own short-lived Triumph label in May 1960. Triumph went out of business in 1960, however, and Those Plucking Strings didn't come out until this 2006 CD. Almost certainly this was mastered from the test pressing that turned up in April 1997 at a London record shop, not the original tapes, as there's some audible sonic imperfection (although this doesn't seriously impair its listenability). As you'd expect from a Meek-brainstormed instrumental album, the driving concept is pretty quirky, setting skiffle songs (which were already out of fashion in the U.K.) to orchestral arrangements with mild pop/rock touches. So you get to hear classics like "Lonesome Traveller," "Rock Island Line," "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," "Freight Train," and "Pick a Bale o' Cotton" played with an almost raw energy by pizzicato violins, cellos, and violas, the rock quotient added by drummer Andy White (famous for playing on the Beatles' "Love Me Do" single) and guitarist Eric Ford (later to play on Donovan's "Sunshine Superman"). It's unavoidably cheesy, yet at the same time it has a ridiculous energy that's appealing in spite of itself. The strings dance through the songs with real verve, the guitar and drums add some propulsive grit, and the tempos often accelerate like a freight train with failing brakes. Meek's hand can definitely be heard via the dense concentration of instrumentation and considerable echo on the violins, and there are definite similarities between these tracks and the orchestral backings he'd oversee on many of his 1960s singles (like Heinz's "Dreams Do Come True," for one). Plus the songs really are catchy. As contrived as the whole project was, it's a likable guilty pleasure, for (or, perhaps at least in part, because of) all its silliness and rushed-sounding execution.

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