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Rhythm Machine

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Album Review

After a four-year run as the Highlighters proved a little too recording-heavy and light on touring experience, founding members of the Indianapolis, Indiana soul-funk ensemble put together Rhythm Machine in 1970 with the aim of sculpting a road-ready, show-centric touring band. After many years of touring and a few regional hit singles, Rhythm Machine entered the studio for what would be their only full-length, a self-titled 1976 album. The album's eight songs (filled out with three partially unfinished bonus tracks from a shelved session) crackle with the razor-sharp playing that only a well-traveled, impeccably tight band can deliver. The horn section is dazzling, with sharply syncopated runs as energetic as any of Tower of Power's barnburners and a crackling rhythm section featuring Robert Dycus' incredible drumming, as precise as it is powerful. The bandmembers are locked in throughout the album with an almost nonchalant ease, and it's clear they perfected the songs years before entering the studio. The energy of the live setting doesn't translate exactly onto record, and while the playing is still strong, Rhythm Machine comes up short in the songwriting department, with only a few standout moments with regard to catchy or engaging songcraft. Spending their days on the road playing smaller venues or opening for the likes of the Commodores, Rhythm Machine's closest thing to a hit-worthy song came in the form of "Put a Smile on Time," a shuffling and carefree number with bright synth melodies supporting optimistic falsetto harmonies and a vaguely spiritual message. Tracks like the hustling bounce of "Everybody's Chippin" and the together/forever-style balladry of "Brenda and Me" are respectable but not quite catchy fun. The tunes all have an extended approach that can sometimes drag or repeat a few times too many. While the production is fine, and the vocal performances seem at least occasionally inspired, the songs become so precise that they border at times on sterile or anonymous. As a world-class party band, it seems like Rhythm Machine hit the mark, but with a few exceptions, they were unable to fully transfer the fire or personality of their live show onto album. The result is a set of above-average soul-funk, not without its moments but missing the secret combination of charm and talent that could have pushed them into a greater spotlight.

Rhythm Machine, Rhythm Machine
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