La Bottega dell'Arte
The Alan Bown!
Bobbi Boyle/Dick Kent
Doyle Bramhall II
Chris Braun Band
Brightblack Morning Light
Broken Social Scene
Brooks & Dunn
Pete Brown & Piblokto!
Dentro (1977, 40.54) **½/TT
Il Suo Sguardo, la Malinconia, la Mia Poesia
Che Dolce Lei
Canzone del Sole d'Inverno
Quando una Donna
|Questa Sera e per Noi
L'Avventura (1979, 36.03) *½/TL'Avventura
Un'Emozione in Piú
Via del Grano
La Casa del Tempo
Pescatore della Luna
I haven't yet been able to find any biographical information on the 'Net about La Bottega dell'Arte in English, possibly because lightweight Italian pop has little international presence (although I did meet one Swedish young lady who had a soft spot for it...). There's a reason for this; it's terrible. I've seen a copy of their third album, L'Avventura, on sale in London for over £20, admittedly at a second-hand shop run by an Italian guy with zero idea of what this kind of stuff is actually worth; thankfully I paid an awful lot less on eBay, but I'm still feeling slightly ripped-off. OK, my fault. Having already seen the sleeve, I should've known what I was getting into; terrifyingly naff stagewear, with the band members wearing matching thigh-length boots (!) and seriously crapola tops. So, what sold it to me? Guess. Yup, it was Piero Calabrese's band-logo'd Mellotron clearly visible on the cover pic, lovingly topped with a Polymoog and some less-identifiable keyboards. You sad bastard, Thompson. Although I'm sure the 'live' pics were staged, it seems likely that they used their 'Tron live, but that's hardly any guarantee of quality, is it? Wait until I track down some (I) Pooh albums... [n.b. Have done so and they're not good...]
To backtrack for a moment... Having now heard the band's first two albums, '75's self-titled debut and '77's Dentro, I can tell you that although La Bottega dell'Arte (***) has a couple of moments that could be Mellotron, I don't think they are, although the album itself isn't that awful, being at the 'pop' end of typical Italian prog. Dentro is, unsurprisingly, a halfway stage between its just-about-acceptable predecessor and its horrendous successor, with progressive moments including parts of Canzone Del Sole D'Inverno, Incontro, Musicante and specifically closer L'Ultima Storia, effectively a lightweight prog number. That isn't to say this is particularly good, mind... It has its (brief) moments, but will only disappoint Italian prog fans looking for a new fix. Piero Calabrese's Mellotron choirs pop up here and there, though never that loud, and never that interesting. Che Dolce Lei probably features the nearest this album gets to an overt 'Tron part, and it isn't that overt.
Back to L'Avventura... The album's keyboard input is rather less than exceptional, which is no particular surprise. Even the piano's obviously a Yamaha CP70, and the synth work sounds mostly like the Polymoog on its blandest settings, although that Mellotron does rear its ugly head on the odd occasion. Very odd, actually; Finisce Qui ends with a quite discordant synth part over distant 'Tron choirs, providing the album's one real (brief) moment of musical interest, although the choirs on Via Del Grano are the standard background stuff. I suspect Calabrese used it live to cover for the studio string parts, so it probably got a little more use than here, but somehow, I can't see the band suddenly breaking out into full-on prog territory once they hit the stage... So; can I recommend this album? Don't be silly; it's complete rubbish. BUT... unlike much bad music, there's actually some reasonable playing involved, and its ridiculous cheesiness did make me smile in places.
So; worth getting? Not really, no. Their debut's sort-of OK, and Dentro has its moments, but I really would give L'Avventura a wide berth if I were you. They made another album, Forza 4, released a surprising five years later, so I really hate to think what they sounded like by 1984. Mellotron-free, that's for sure (hah - famous last words).
Old Home Movies (2008, 28.26) ***/T
|Old Home Movies
Stay With My Brother
When I Call
Up Against the Glass
Tongue is Blue
|Who Are You Now
Table By the Window
The Botticellis are a new Californian outfit who want to be a certain other Californian outfit very, very much, to the point of naming themselves after a surfing term, only they're
not good enough not quite up to their standards. Their debut, Old Home Movies, is actually a perfectly acceptable (albeit extremely short) album, and it's possible that its material may grow on me given time, but while it's all perfectly pleasant, little of it particularly stands out, at least for this listener.
Matt Henry Cunitz (co-producer) and Zack Ehrlich both play Mellotron, with the rarely-heard Mellotron bassoon on When I Call and undistinguished cellos and flute on New Room; the cellos on Tongue Is Blue and the strings on Who Are You Now are real. Overall, then, not bad, not great, all rather second-hand, really, but better than a lot of the stuff I've heard recently. Next to no Mellotron, though, unless it's hidden away somewhere in the mix.
24 Hours a Day (1997, 40.57) ***/T
|Kit Kat Clock
When I Was Dumb
24 Hours a Day
Smokin' 100's Alone
Things You Didn't Know
One of You
|Perfect Far Away
Waitin' on a Train
Turn for the Worse
The Bottle Rockets have been described as 'the torchbearers for smart Southern-style rock', which seems a pretty good summation. Their third album, 1997's 24 Hours a Day, combines the aforementioned southern rock with Americana (listen for the banjo on closer Turn For The Worse), all with an indie tinge, though not enough to spoil the overall feel.
Eric Ambel plays Mellotron, with cranky string and cello parts on Slo Toms, although the album's other strings sound like (real) solo violin. Overall, then, a reasonably good vaguely Americana record, albeit with more of a rock element than usual. One decent 'Tron track, but not enough to make purchase worthwhile.
David Bowie (UK) see:
Outward Bown (1967, 38.30/49.05) ***/T½
All Along the Watchtower
Penny for Your Thoughts
Love is a Beautiful Thing
You're Not in My Class
My Girl the Month of May
We Can Help You
Technicolour Dream (mono)
The Alan Bown! (originally The Alan Bown Set) were a pretty typical British mid-'60s soul/blues outfit who shifted into psych (see: Zoot Money, Simon Dupree & the Big Sound) as it caught on. Aside from bandleader/trumpeter Bown (later, improbably, a member of second-division proggers Jonesy), this lineup of the band is best known for unleashing undersung vocalist Jess Roden's talents on the world, plus future Supertramp saxophonist John Helliwell, although both Mel Collins (King Crimson, a million others) and Robert Palmer subsequently passed through their ranks.
After a run of singles, they debuted on long-player with 1967's Outward Bown, a strange mixture of newly-fashionable whimsical psych (Toyland, Magic Handkerchief, Story Book), soul flashbacks (Sally Green, Love Is A Beautiful Thing, complete with a painfully out of tune slide guitar/sax duet) and a smattering of 'uncategorisables', including their jazzy version of Dylan's All Along The Watchtower (which presages Hendrix' by a full year), the proto-hard rock of Penny For Your Thoughts and the jaunty pirate romp Mutiny.
Keys man Jeff Bannister adds Mellotron to a few tracks, with what sound like MkII accordion on Mutiny, strings on Sally Green, Violin Shop and (in the background) My Girl The Month Of May. All in all, then, a reasonably decent semi-psych effort, although I get the impression that Bown's best work is probably best compiled from his various releases. Just to confuse matters, the album was released in the States as The Alan Bown!, with a slightly different tracklisting; the version to get is the See for Miles CD, which collects together all fourteen tracks, plus two mono versions.
|7" (1970) ***½/TT½
Lulli Rides Again
Andrew/Andy Bown's first recording came out as early as 1964 and after spells in The Herd and Judas Jump, released Tarot under his own name in 1970. The theme tune to UK children's TV show Ace of Wands (inspiration for Steve Hackett, I believe), it's a short, snappy, upbeat sort of song with a good Mellotron presence (brass and strings). I don't believe it's currently available anywhere, although I'd be more than happy to be proved wrong.
Bown went on to release a clutch of solo albums while playing sessions, ending up becoming Status Quo's permanent keyboard player. Now largely regarded as a joke, Quo were actually a ferocious live act as late as their 'split' in 1984, but I wouldn't bother with the current outfit if I were you. Anyway, if you get a chance to obtain Tarot on whatever format, it's worth the effort.
See: Judas Jump
Hope on the Horizon (2007, 43.29) **½/½
|A Quest for Fire
The Blues and the Bee Sting
Looking for You in Me
Keep That Flame
Tonight I'm Swimming
|Change of Plans
Good Enough for You
The Good Times
Gothenburg's Martin Henrik "Boy Omega" Gustafsson has had optimistic Elliott Smith comparisons thrown at him, though going by 2007's Hope on the Horizon, I'm afraid I have to question certain reviewers' ears; try 'singer-songwriter crossed with rather average US indie' and you might be a little closer. While some of the album's tracks attempt to echo Smith's forlorn approach (notably lengthy closer True Heaven), the bulk of the record tries (and fails) to sound jaunty, leaving it in a musical no-man's-land, unsure of what it's really trying to be.
Gustafsson is credited with Mellotron on three tracks, although there's nothing audible on either The Blues And The Bee Sting or Keep That Flame, while Change Of Plans has naught but some (very) background flutes, making this fairly dispensable on both musical and Mellotronic fronts.
|7" (196?) *½/T½
Bobbi Boyle and Dick Kent are likely to be pseudonyms, oft-used in the murky waters of the '60s and '70s song-poem industry (see: Rodd Keith): lyrics sent in to companies by hopeless hopefuls, set to music by jaded 'composers' and session hacks, all for a fee, of course. This particular obscure 7" (thanks once again to Mark Medley) pairs two 'artists', 'Boyle' (or maybe it's her real name?) singing Barbara Newton's Big Mama, while 'Kent' tackles Stuart Colley's Sleepy Head, two lyrics of stunning mundanity set to music of unutterable mediocrity, as you might expect. Big Mama is mercifully short, coming in at under two minutes, while Sleepy Head's just over two minutes seems to last forever and not in a good way.
The usual anonymous session guy plays Chamberlin strings on both sides of the disc, more overtly on the flip than the 'A', which isn't to say that any of it's any good. Let's face it; even if, for some perverted reason, you actually wanted to hear this, you're not exactly going to pick it up at your local second-hand record emporium, assuming such things exist any more. Actually, if anyone really wants to hear these, let me know and I'll e-mail you the MP3s. You sickos.
Distance Between Us (1972, 86.25) ***½/TTTT½Distance Between Us
Distance Between Us 2
Dance of the Goblins
Don Bradsham-Leather is widely regarded to be a pseudonym of none other than Robert John Godfrey, Barclay James Harvest's ex-orchestral arranger and future Enid leader, although other reports deny this, including Robert himself. It certainly sounds like his piano playing; concert standard, and very eccentric. Distance Between Us is an ambitious double album, relying heavily on avant-garde modern classical compositional techniques, with much musical experimentation, including considerable dissonance in places. Robert is notoriously unkeen on reminiscence, but I'll do my best to find out whether or not this actually was him.
The title track moves from an avant-classical piano part into a lengthy tribal rhythm section, with shedloads of 'Tron strings, doing a fair job of emulating real ones, something Robert's never been able to afford since BJH days, while Autumn Mist relies more on harmonic dissonance on various keyboards, particularly the Mellotron. Sides three and four are just as completely barking mad, making this one of the strangest Mellotron albums it's been my, er, pleasure to hear. The only reason it doesn't get the full five-T treatment is that much of the album is impenetrably weird, and many listeners simply won't be able to cope with it. Not to worry, though, as it's been out of print for thirty years, although there's supposed to be a Japanese CD version floating about, probably dubbed from crackly vinyl (again). But seriously, folks, if you stumble across a copy cheap (highly unlikely, I have to say), it's worth it for the weird 'Tron stuff, but be warned: this is not for the faint-hearted.
Mermaid Avenue Vol.II (2000, 49.55) ***/½
|Airline to Heaven
My Flying Saucer
Feed of Man
Hot Rod Hotel
I Was Born
Secrets of the Sea
Remember the Mountain Bed
|Blood of the Lamb
Aginst th' Law
All You Fascists
Joe DiMaggio Done it Again
Black Wind Blowing
Someday Some Morning Sometime
In the mid-'90s, Woody Guthrie's daughter Nora approached the Bard of Barking himself, Billy Bragg, to ask him to put music to some of her father's unpublished lyrics. Bragg in turn asked Wilco for help, correctly ascertaining that their impeccable credentials would give the project an American edge that could've been lacking had the whole project been left to that very British of artists. '98's Mermaid Avenue is apparently excellent, leaving nearly enough material for another album, which, with a handful of newly-recorded tracks, became Mermaid Avenue Vol.II. To my ears, it's a good, if not outstanding album of semi-Americana, with several high-quality tracks, not least the guitar-heavy raunch of All You Fascists, although it's been unfavourably compared to its predecessor by some critics.
Wilco mainman Jeff Tweedy plays 'Mellotrons' on opener Airline To Heaven, although the only audible evidence is some very background, er, something; brass? Suffice to say, if it wasn't credited, you wouldn't know. So; decent enough album, in an alt.country sort of vein, but forget it on the 'Tron front.
Official Billy Bragg site
Official Wilco site
We Get What We Want (2012, 43.03) ****/T½
|You Could Believe
What She's Done to Him
Trying Hard to Please You
Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long
Steel Derrick 1979
Let the Cruel World Go
She Used to Love Me
I'm in No Mood
|Welcome to Nowhereville
Tyme and Tyde Agree
Everything I Want to Be
Nelson Bragg has been playing percussion and singing professionally since the end of the '70s, notably in Brian Wilson's Smile band in the early 2000s and with California's The Quarter After. 2012's excellent We Get What We Want is his second solo album, an inspired distillation of his years playing with so many 'intelligent pop' outfits, I suspect, highlights including opener You Could Believe (especially its jaw-dropping harmony vocal intro), Steel Derrick 1979, Let The Cruel World Go and mock-Baroque (see what I did there?) closer Everything I Want To Be. Truth be told, there ain't a bad track here; how often can you say that, then?
Bragg plays what I shall affectionately moniker 'underwater strings' and landbound flutes and cellos on Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long, while his Quarter After compatriot, Rob Campanella, adds (presumably his own) upfront Mellotron strings and flutes to Steel Derrick 1979, to unsurprisingly good effect. Powerpop fans need this yesterday, while anyone with an ear for a great tune and even the tiniest sneaking regard for The Beach Boys should at least give it a listen. Well worth the effort.
See: The Quarter After
Too Freud to Rock'n'Roll, Too Jung to Die (2003, 80.20) ***/T
My Pagan Ass
Like a Motherfucker
The Two Towers
Love, Peace & Fuck
Get Back on it
|She Saw Me Coming
Get Off Your Pretty Face
Whole Lotta Loki
Odin's Gift to His Mother
Wasted Fuzz Excessive (2009, 65.39) ***½/T½Gates of Skagerrak
Death Becomes You
Dyslexia Rules K.O.
Emerging/Shadow of My Corpse
Fokkinger Slag/The Hanging
Brain Donor are yet another Julian Cope side-project, this time with Doggen and Kevin "Kevlar" Bales from Spiritualized, specialising in (you guessed it) brain-dead jammed-out metal madness. So far, they've released a slew of singles and three full albums, the first of which, 2001's Love, Peace & Fuck, maybe surprisingly, has no Mellotronic input. Its successor, 2003's double-disc Too Freud to Rock'n'Roll, Too Jung to Die (very good, Saint Jules, very good...), consists of one disc of studio material and one of their set at Cope's two-day event, 2000's Cornucopea. It's pretty much as you'd expect: bonkers 'is it/isn't it' ironic metal and freaked-out jamming, with a little Mellotron on the studio disc, with high strings on Schizadelic K.O., while The Two Towers features some flute and wildly pitchbent strings interjections à propos of nothing at all, and there's a mental strings part on Messages. Best track? Possibly disc 1's Get Down On It, for its sheer verve, or disc 2's stupendous cover of Van Halen's ripping Atomic Punk, almost certainly unfamiliar to most of his indie-schmindie audience, to my (and doubtless his) delight. Downsides? The set goes on a little too long for listening comfort, assuming one is in an unenhanced state of mind, that is.
I've no idea if there's any Mellotron on their various in-between releases, including the fantastically-named Drain'd Boner (ho ho, and ho ho again), but 2009's Wasted Fuzz Excessive gets back to the 'Tron. The album seems better produced than its predecessors, although musically, it's more of the same, and why not? It's Cope's outlet for expressing this particular part of his musical personality; if they suddenly went acoustic, I'd start to worry. Again, not an awful lot of the old M400, with a brief string part entering nearly ten minutes into Gates Of Skagerrak, a full-on part in Frankenstein and some flute on the first part of ultra-lengthy closer Fokkinger Slag/The Hanging.
All in all, then, another bonkers Cope project with surprisingly little Mellotron (see: all the others). If you're a fan of the Drude, you'll almost certainly go a bundle on these, the rest of us should approach with caution.
See: Julian Cope | Black Sheep | L.A.M.F. | Queen Elizabeth
Thought Horizon (1995, 24.45) ****/TTT½Dark Horse
Wood of Thought (2002, recorded 1995, 57.56) ***/TTT½
La Danse des Cons
March of the Elves
A Walk in the Sunlight
The Thought Horizon Sessions (2004, recorded 1995, 65.36) ***½/TT½
|La Danse des Cons
A Girl Like You
Big Whomper Diesel Truck
Brain Forest were formed in 1993 by guitarist Phillip LeFrois and ex-St Elmo's Fire bassist Paul Kollar. After the usual lineup hassles, they held a four-piece together for long enough to record some material, releasing a four-song (as against 4-track) cassette, Thought Horizon, in spring 1995. It features solid, American-style prog, not a million miles away from St Elmo's Fire, but things conspired against the band, and the limited form of success accorded to the likes of Echolyn or Spock's Beard was denied them.
Back to Thought Horizon. Although the original tape is still available from Brain Forest/St Elmo's Fire's label, Sprawling Productions, it remains unfairly obscure, partly, it has to be said, due to Sprawling's failure to promote the thing in any meaningful way. It might not equal The Light for sheer invention, but there's absolutely nothing here to which fans of American symphonic prog would or could object, particularly closer VLQ, a high-energy blast of guitar and Mellotron duelling, underpinned by Kollar's bass and Taurus. Speaking of the Mellotron (as always), it's on every track, used with taste, if not restraint. Kollar and LeFrois both play it, as the band lost their keyboard player before they began recording; strings across the board, and a gorgeous flute part at the end of Dark Horse. For those of you without cassette decks, all four tracks are available on 2004's The Thought Horizon Sessions, which brings its own problems...
Said problems involve Sprawling's website containing conflicting information about Brain Forest's other two releases. The band's main page states that, despite putting in a good bit of work on the tapes in 2001, nothing was ever made commercially available, although the 'order information' page quite clearly lists, as well as the Thought Horizon tape, two CD-R releases, Wood of Thought and The Thought Horizon Sessions. What's a poor prog fan to believe? Since possession is commonly (though almost certainly wrongly) assumed to be 9/10ths of the law, the fact that I own these CDs makes me think that they are available, and the band page is out of date.
Wood of Thought, which apparently leaked out in 2002, is actually a bit of a rag-bag of material, to be honest. It opens with a pair of instrumentals that seem to go nowhere fast, and a couple of tracks (notably Gene's Dilemma) bear all the hallmarks of studio jams, dragging on far longer than their content really allows. There is some decent material here, although two of the best tracks are different versions of Darkhorse/Dark Horse and VLQ from Thought Horizon. Mellotron almost across the board again, mainly strings, plus flutes on possibly the album's best track, the folkish, harmonium-driven A Walk In The Sunlight. The 'oh what a giveaway'-titled Mello features, apart from a few cymbal swishes, nowt but flutes and strings in a pleasing configuration, with a few bursts of choir, finally, in another version of VLQ, making this rather more worth it for the Mellotron than the material.
Two years on, the Thought Horizon Sessions CD-R appeared, in a rather non-appearing kind of way. Unsurprisingly, it's an extended version of Thought Horizon, adding another eight tracks and 40 minutes to the original EP. It must be noted that there's a fair bit of overlap between these various releases, with four tracks appearing in two different versions, ignoring the repetition of the entire EP on this CD-R, which is actually quite welcome, probably adding up to the fact that the band only had a handful of really good pieces. To place this in context, that's a handful more than many 'progressive' bands who have released a whole slew of horrible, derivative, pseudo-commercial albums for two decades or more. Pendragon. Moving swiftly on... This album opens with a Mellotron-free (shame!) version of Wood of Thought's second track, La Danse Des Cons, working really well as an opener. The out-of-tune harmonies on Alias betray the album's origins as a set of demos, and the bulk of the rest of the 'new' material shows why the band chose not to release it first time round, to be honest. For a 'progressive' band, far too much of it falls back on a clichéd hard rock feel, to the point where LeFrois uses an Eddie Van Halen trick on Maybe (from Panama, for what it's worth). Also... Would'ja believe there are NO more 'Tron tracks than on the original tape? A couple of the unheard tracks aren't bad (La Danse Des Cons, Rhino Country), but the only real reason to get this album is to have the original EP tracks on CD, and they're the only reason it gets as high a rating as it does.
So; for $20 (26 outside the States) you can purchase Brain Forest's complete works, carefully sidestepping the 1995 cassette release, made redundant by the second CD-R, not that Sprawling's website actually tells you this. Do you want to? Well, you can compile a pretty good album from the two, taking four or five tracks from each, but neither of them really stands up on its own. In other words, you'll get one good album for $20 and the minimal cost of a blank.
Brain Forest page on the Sprawling site
See: St Elmo's Fire
Stay Free (1996, 46.42) ***/TT
A Proper Education
Here's a Boy
The King of Georgia
In a Box
Lund's Brainpool (linked with Per Gessle and Roxette) are a pretty mainstream bunch, as you'd expect from a band signed to a major (sad but true). 1996's Stay Free was their third album (the last to feature their original vocalist, Jan "Janne" Kask) and is actually better than you might expect, combining powerpop with a kind of post-grunge rockism, best displayed on the likes of Sister C'mon, The King Of Georgia and Smallville, while lengthy closer Low actually borders prog. No, really.
Bassist Christoffer Lundquist plays Mellotron, with strings and flutes on High, high string lines on The King Of Georgia and Free Ride and choirs all over Low, the latter accounting for the bulk of the album's 'T' rating. Given that I'd expected crapulent Scando-pop, Stay Free is a pleasant surprise, mostly at the very least listenable, with one killer track in the form of Low. Not too bad on the 'Tron front either.
Second Smile (1973, 38.10) ***½/THirnwind
There Was a Time...
Brainstorm were led by future Guru Guru saxophonist Roland Schaeffer, only making two studio albums. The second, er, Second Smile, covers quite a bit of ground sonically, from the complex prog of opener Hirnwind through the acoustic whimsy of Herbst to the jazz-prog of My Way or the near-free jazz of There Was A Time... You could never accuse this lot of being boring, although the diversity can sound a little uncohesive at times. Any bad points? Yup: the vocals. As so often with this type of band, they're only used occasionally, and aren't much good when they are, either stylistically or lyrically. I'm not sure what's with the spoken-word stuff, complete with Trapeze quote on closer Marilyn Monroe, either...
Mellotron on Hirnwind, probably from keys man Eddy Von Overheidt, with a great strings part, complete with multiple pitchbends, which can only trigger one question: why just the one track? Well, at least it's a good one... Overall, then, a more interesting than usual Krautrock effort, tipping into both prog and fusion, with one great 'Tron track. Worth it? Only you can decide.
Doyle Bramhall II (1996, 53.50) ***/T
|Song From the Grave
Ain't Goin' Down Slow
What You Gonna Do
Close to Me
Bleeding From a Scratch
|He Stole Our Love Away
The Reason I Live
They Get Together
Stay a While
Doyle Bramhall II has a lot in common with his ex-bandmate Charlie Sexton, being another young guitarist influenced by the blues and soul greats, rather than his previous generation of players. He's a relatively unusual case of a leftie who learnt on a right-handed instrument flipped over, so his strings are upside down, which hasn't stopped him from playing in Eric Clapton's band for several years. His eponymous solo debut mix'n'matches his influences, from the funky Ain't Goin' Down Slow through the more contemporary True Emotion and the Appalachian folk of Time to the jazz/soul of closer Stay A While, making for a diverse showcase for Bramhall's talents.
Lisa Coleman (of Wendy & Lisa fame) plays Mellotron on several tracks, with smooth strings on opener Song From The Grave and choppy ones on Ain't Goin' Down Slow and Part II, although the background strings on The Reason I Live sound like an analogue synth. Overall, Doyle Bramhall II is one of those 'good at what they do' albums that falls down on unmemorable material, although it's a perfectly listenable record, slotting smoothly into Clapton & Co.'s audience dynamic. Not much Mellotron, but a worthy effort.
Foreign Lady (1973, 34.55) ***/TNobody But You (Viktring)
Times Growing Worse
While You Are Thinking
He's Got No Joker
Hard and fast information on the Chris Braun Band is hard to find, although I can report that the Chris in question was female. Her band's second (and last?) album, 1973's Foreign Lady, is a very German mixture of quite mainstream pop/rock and skronky prog, typified by its title track, which veers between mad Moog and guitar work and mid-paced soft rock, which holds true for most of the album's seven tracks. As a result, it's a bit of a mixed bag, highlights including opener Nobody But You (Viktring) and While You Are Thinking, which sounds like a female-fronted Van der Graaf crossed with Yes, would'ja believe.
Klaus Melchers plays Mellotron (as the album was recorded at Dieter Dierks' studio, almost certainly the house M400), credited on three tracks, although, sadly, there's nothing obvious on either the title track or Be Proud, leaving nowt but the nicely upfront strings on While You Are Thinking. An irritatingly inconsistent album, then, with less Mellotron than advertised, but worth a listen for fans of the era.
Rouge on Pockmarked Cheeks (2002, 61.16) ***/T½
Xanax and Three Hours of TV
Late Night Lullaby
Hastings Street (2004, 49.03) **½/½
|Intro (Rollin' Easy)
Love is the Answer
Hong Kong Cafe (it Only Hurts)
Night Train to Moscow
L.A. River Lady
Formed by sometime Beck sideman David Brown in the late '90s, the LA-based Brazzaville have a world-weary air about them, (very) roughly analogous to the UK's St. Etienne, maybe, or Stereolab if you took away the cheap synths. Apparently, Brown is a seasoned traveller, picking up influences from South America, Africa and continental Europe, making for an eclectic stylistic mix, which is probably where the Stereolab comparisons come in.
The excellently-titled Rouge on Pockmarked Cheeks is their third album, sounding like a lounge lizard's dream across most of its length, with the jarring exception of the full-on rock'n'roll of Queenie, a song out of place if ever there was one. One notable criticism I would make of the album is its length; this kind of music really doesn't lend itself to overlong albums, and several tracks are longer (far longer in the case of closer Late Night Lullaby) than their content demands. Mellotron from Brown and pianist Mike Boito, with a lovely flute part on 1980 and more muted (mixed?) strings on Genoa. There are other possible 'Tron parts here, not least the high strings on Motel Room, but they could just as easily be a generic string patch, so the track remains unhighlighted until/if I should find out otherwise.
2004's Hastings Street isn't dissimilar to its predecessor, although it fails to hold this listener's attention, despite being over ten minutes shorter, with few obviously memorable tracks, the exceptions, Interlude and Lagos Slums, being grouped together in the middle of the record. It apparently takes two musicians, Brown and Greg Kurstin (Ben Harper), to add the 'are they/aren't they?' Mellotron strings to Left Out, which could easily be not so much samples as something else entirely.
These are albums for those who enjoy laid-back, faux-lounge music, who aren't frightened by the phrase 'bossa nova'. They're not albums for those who are looking for energy, complexity, or both, which loosely translates as 'progheads stay away'. Some of you may lock into Brown's sleepy vocal style, or the accordion and solo violin used on many tracks, but a lot of you, like me, won't. Three stars for Rouge... seems reasonable for something I don't particularly like which is, however, done perfectly well and isn't actually offensive, I think. One good 'Tron track and one mediocre doesn't really make purchase on that front advisable, though, while I'm not sure Hastings Street should even be here.
The Booze Brothers (1989, recorded 1973, 36.47) **/T
|Where Are You Tonight
You Make Me Feel So Good
My Old Lady
Rock Steady Woman
What's the Time
Brewers Droop were a good-time early '70s Cajun pub-rock band (!) from High Wycombe, near London, with no notable members, although several of them have a good name on the blues scene, apparently. So why the large picture of Mark Knopfler on the sleeve in his mid-'80s pomp (and terrible blouse)? Seems he played guitar on three tracks, before he developed his signature style. The legendary Dave Edmunds produced a few tracks, too (thus his smaller pic), while future Dire Straits (and ex-Spring) drummer Pick Withers also contributed. It seems the band released one album, 1972's Opening Time, then recorded what eventually became The Booze Brothers, with Knopfler, Edmunds and Withers; fast forward 16 years, an unscrupulous record company sticks that big pic of Knopfler on the front, and hey presto, er, a dullsville pub-rock album with no distinguishing features.
Harmonica whizz Steve Darrington doubled on keyboards, mostly piano(s) and blues Hammond, but on Roller Coaster he sat down at the doubtless studio 'Tron, and put down some flutes and strings, although I can't really say they add that much to the album. Unless you're a real nut on this kind of stuff, I have to say: avoid. They only reason I got through it was by judicious use of the 'skip' button, but then, I prefer my blues a bit leaner and meaner than this, to be honest. Dull, although at least the other sleeve has a modicum of wit about it. Incidentally, I'm sure there's no connection, given his limited involvement, but I wonder if Knopfler was giving this lot a nod when he wrote the line, "You've got smoker's cough from smoking, brewer's droop from drinking beer" on Love Over Gold's Industrial Disease? Probably not.
Volcano (2003, 45.04) ***/T
Oo La La
I'd Be Surprised
Songs We Used to Sing
Once in a Blue Moon
More Than Friends
|The One Who Went Away
Take a Walk
Not Saying Goodbye
Came a Long Way
What Would You Do
Edie Brickell (2010, 42.47) ***/T
|Give it Another Day
Been So Good
2 o'Clock in the Morning
On the Avenue
Waiting for Me
You Come Back
|It Takes Love
Edie Brickell shot to fame in the late '80s with the New Bohemians, leaving after two albums and marrying Paul Simon two years later. After her solo debut, 1994's Picture Perfect Morning, 2003's Volcano is only her second album on her own, and is pretty much what you'd expect; laid-back, acoustic-based singer-songwriter stuff with the occasional jazzy edge, not a million miles from an updated version of her husband's work in the '70s. To be honest, most of it slid by me without really impingeing itself on my consciousness until the very last track, What Would You Do, which features probably the best lyric and tune on the record; it was certainly the only one that made me sit up and take any notice. Mellotron on the title track from Charlie Sexton, with a nice, real-sounding string part, though that's that, I'm afraid.
After another New Bohemians record and Edie's collaboration with hubby's son, Harper, as The Heavy Circles, her eponymous 2010 release is business as usual, better tracks including 2 O'Clock In The Morning and It Takes Love. Again, I find her slower numbers work better than the upbeat stuff, but perhaps that's just me. Sexton returns on Mellotron, while David Boyle adds Chamberlin, with cello, flute and string parts on It Takes Love, although it's near-impossible to untangle the sounds enough to work out what plays what.
So; reasonable enough albums, with one decent tape-replay track on each, if a little unexciting, but then, that's probably not the point. I'm sure they're an awful lot better than hubby's disastrous (if well-meaning) Capeman project, anyway.
See: Heavy Circles
Fevers & Mirrors (2000, 55.11) ***/T
|A Spindle, a Darkness, a Fever, and a
A Scale, a Mirror, and These Indifferent
The Calendar Hung Itself...
The Movement of a Hand
|When the Curious Girl Realises She is Under Glass
Haligh, Haligh, a Lie, Haligh
Center of the World
An Attempt to Tip the Scales
A Song to Pass the Time
Oh Holy Fools [split with Son, Ambulance] (2001, 40.31) ***/T½Brown Park (Son, Ambulance)
Going for the Gold (Bright Eyes)
Invention of Beauty (Son, Ambulance)
Oh, You Are the Roots That Sleep Beneath My Feet and Hold the Earth in Place (Bright Eyes)
On the Concourse (Son, Ambulance)
No Lies, Just Love (Bright Eyes)
Katie Come True (Son, Ambulance)
Kathy With a K's Song (Bright Eyes)
One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels [Bright Eyes & Neva Dinova] (2004, 21.51) ***/TTripped
I'll Be Your Friend
I'll be quite honest here; I really can't make Bright Eyes out at all. Are they named for that hideous Art Garfunkel song? Why are their song titles so much more interesting than their music? Are they really that miserable all the time? 'Net reviewers seem to be equally split between unstinting praise and utter opprobrium; brilliant or shite? Don't ask me, I don't get it. Mainman Conor Oberst seems to inspire fanatical devotion as much as he inspires utter loathing; maybe we've finally found the real 'love 'em or hate 'em' band?
Fevers & Mirrors seems to be pretty typical fare for the band; understated, ultra-melancholy low-finess, with Oberst's super-personal lyrics taking precedence, or so it seems, over the music much of the time. Personal; yeah, that's it - that's the appeal. The band's fans feel that Oberst is speaking to them directly, for better or worse; he's voicing their own hopes and fears, often almost choking up with emotion as he does so. I find it completely impossible to pick better or worse tracks; although it's really only singer-songwriter fare, this music is so far from my own understanding of what it's about that I really can't judge it at all. Anyway, plenty of 'Tron flutes from Andy LeMaster on The Movement Of A Hand, with an unexpected background choir part on Arienette.
The following year, Bright Eyes released an EP split with Saddle Creek labelmates Son, Ambulance, Oh Holy Fools, the bands taking the rather unusual step of playing alternate tracks. Son, Ambulance have a far less irritating singer in Joe Knapp, who doesn't whine and therefore can't be Emo, although his bright(-ish) folk rock still isn't particularly to my taste, and by the third or fourth track begins to set my teeth on edge. Flutes (again) on Going For The Gold, and a shrieky sort of string part on Kathy With A K's Song are the only 'Tron definites, possibly from LeMaster again, although two or three other tracks by both bands have a vague Mellotronic feel to them.
2004's One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels EP was a collaboration with Neva Dinova (a band, not a person); it seems 2004 was the year of Bright Eyes collaborations. Despite their input, the music's pretty much the same old same old, with Oberst's irritating voice holding sway. Nice 'Tron flutes yet again on Tripped, running most of the way through the song, played by [unknown].
In 2005, Bright Eyes released two contrasting albums, the rather dreary country/folk-rock of I'm Wide Awake, it's Morning (**½:) having little to do musically with the semi-electronica of Digital Ash in a Digital Urn (also **½:). I've seen various reports that the latter has some 'Tron on it, but the choirs on various tracks sound more like either generic samples or actually backing vocal 'aahs' to my ears, so I'd say no, no 'Tron here.
So; er, I can't really recommend anything by Bright Eyes, because I absolutely don't get what they're doing, although it seems they're pretty cool politically, refusing to deal with Clear Channel and touring with Springsteen. They may quite possibly be brilliant; I don't know. What I can tell you is that they've used a Mellotron on a handful of tracks over three releases, but none of them are worth buying on that account. Oh, and what I can also tell you (thanks for this, Emily) is that the band name is almost certainly a quote from Poe's 'Annabel Lee', referenced in Bright Eyes' Jetsabel Removes The Undesirables, available on some editions of Fevers & Mirrors, though clearly not the one I reviewed.
Official Conor Oberst site
Motion to Rejoin (2008, 49.16) **½/T
A Rainbow Aims
|Past a Weatherbeaten Fencepost
When Beads Spell Power Leaf
Are Brightblack Morning Light 'slowcore'? 2008's Motion to Rejoin (apparently recorded using just solar power) is one of the slowest, most laid-back (in a very non-MOR kind of way) albums I've heard in a while. Some people will say, "Muted beauty", while others are more likely to go for, "Dreary old tosh"; I'm not quite sure where my loyalties lie, although I had considerable trouble engaging with the record in any meaningful way. Maybe it should be ten minutes shorter? It does seem to go on forever, doubtless due to its sluggish pace.
On the Mellotron front, producer Matt Henry Cunitz apparently plays his studio M400, but I can't say it's that apparent, not helped by his use of an Orchestron. Gathered Years has faint background flutes, while A Rainbow Aims has a more upfront part plus MkII brass, although it really doesn't sound like a Mellotron. So; very slow music that has trouble sustaining the (or at least this) listener's interest, with very little 'Tron. Next...
Brighteye Brison (2003, 57.47) ***/TIntroduction
One Year Alone
I) Aspects From Newborn Eyes
II) Correct Information
III) Music of the City
IV) My Spirit Will Speak
Take Good Care of My Heart
Stories (2006, 52.05) ***½/TTT½
The Battle of Brighteye Brison
|We Wanna Return
Believers & Deceivers (2008, 68.01) ****/TTT½Pointless Living
After the Storm
The Grand Event
Dante's Paradiso: The Divine Comedy, Part III (2010) ***½/T[Brighteye Brison contribute]
Under Ornens Vingur
Brighteye Brison are a newish Swedish prog outfit, taking their influences from several areas, including the 'modern prog' of Spock's Beard et al., '80s neo-prog and the 'intelligent pop' of the Beatles/Beach Boys, with hints of Saga and various widdly guitar merchants in places, too. Less Änglagård than A.C.T, anyway. While it has its strong points, Brighteye Brison has several failings, too, not least the vocals, which are not only not very good, but frequently out of tune, particularly in the harmony sections. The quality of the material varies wildly, with many impressive moments subverted by mediocrity; defeat all too often snatched from the jaws of victory.
Änglagård's Mattias Olsson was involved on the recording side, although I believe Brighteye's keyboard player Linus Kåse actually played the brief Mellotron parts on the album. All I can hear are a brief string part in Music Of The City, part three of the lengthy One Year Alone, ending in a pitchbend so drastic that it sounds like someone's leaning on the flywheel (is that you, Mattias?), and another brief burst of strings in A Car. The faint, background choirs on part four, My Spirit Will Speak, are more likely to be Orchestron, which I understand Mattias also provided for the band's use; to my knowledge, they took the largely-completed album to his Roth-Händle studio for 'treatments'.
2006's Stories is a lot better than their debut, which isn't to say it's that good, just better, with tracks of the quality of Patterns or All Love being slightly scuppered by a top-notch IQ impersonation on We Wanna Return and an irritating tendency to border AOR and/or generic neo-prog territory too closely in places. The album isn't overlong as such, but slicing a few minutes of unnecessarily-copycat material might have both tightened the album up and improved it. Kåse's 'Tron use is considerably greater than on their debut, with all but the album's two shortest tracks featuring it somewhere. You can hear the strings clearly at the end of Patterns, and there's a nicely upfront flute part opening Isolation, while Life Inside doubles 'Tron church organ with choirs, to pleasing effect. I presume that's 'Tron cellos on All Love, with all other highlighted tracks tending to feature strings and choir.
Believers & Deceivers is another slight improvement, but I wonder if the band have peaked, or whether they're happy with their uncommercial 'commercial' symphonic direction. In fairness, this may have been what they've been aiming for these last few years, and it isn't actually bad at all, just a little... safe, despite two very lengthy tracks. Two short(-ish) ones open the album, sounding like the better end of Stories (and is the Pink Floyd lyrical reference in After The Storm deliberate?), before they get stuck into the long-form stuff. The 20-minute The Harvest isn't bad, but is rather outclassed by the near-35 (!)-minute The Grand Event, which is probably the album's four star catalyst. The vocal gymnastics near the beginning pinpoint the Spock's Beard influence perfectly; even the title's reminiscent of some of their epic efforts, and musical nods towards Gentle Giant are just as likely to be via The Beard's own appropriations. Reasonable amounts of 'Tron, although After The Storm is completely clear of it, and The Grand Event goes for anything up to ten minutes at a time with no 'Tron input, although there's a lovely Theremin part at one point. By and large, we're talking strings and choir again, although brief bursts of flutes and church organ appear on occasion, this time from Per Hallman.
As far as Brighteye Brison itself goes, it certainly has its moments, but it's just too 'bitty' overall to really engage the listener, or at least me. Practically no obvious Mellotron, either, though knowing Mattias, there could well be some 'Tron wineglasses or Hammond hidden away somewhere. Their two subsequent efforts map a steady improvement, although whether or not the band will ever reach 'classic' status still remains to be seen.
Mundo, Demonio, Carne [a.k.a. World, Devil, Body] (1970, 47.12) ***½/TTMundo, Demonio, Carne
Vive la Realidad
Jenny, la Genio
Like so many of their contemporaries, Los Brincos started out as a mid-'60s beat group, shifting into prog/psych realms for 1970's Mundo, Demonio, Carne, also released in an English-language version as World, Devil, Body. It's a rather mixed album, veering between its lengthy, masterful title track and the excellent, eastern-ish Kama-Sutra to the Spanish psych/pop of Vive La Realidad, the rock'n'roll of Jenny, La Genio or the balladry of Esa Mujer, although it mostly falls on the side of 'worthwhile'.
Oscar Lasprilla plays keys, including Mellotron, with a string part on the lengthy title track, background strings on Carmen and more upfront ones on Kama-Sutra, although the strings on Esa Mujer are real. This is an unexpected yet welcome find, far more sophisticated than it has any right to be, really, with three definite 'Tron tracks to boot. So where the hell did they find a Mellotron in Spain in 1970, anyway?
Meaningless (2000, 44.37) ****/TT½
|Gotta Start Somewhere
I Believe She's Lying
Ruin My Day
Walking Through Walls
Hook, Line and Sinker
Dead to the World
Sing Hollies in Reverse (1995, 7.52) ****/TTT[Jon Brion contributes]
Hard Eight [a.k.a. Sydney] (1996, 24.58) ***/TT½
|Cash to Tokens
Tokens to Cash
Sydney's Work Walk
Leaving the Motel
Leaving the City
|The Phone Call, Waiting for Jimmy
Sydney Doesn't Speak
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, 22.13) ***½/T
Howard Makes it All Go Away
|A Dream Upon Waking
The Strings That Tie to You
Down the Drain
I ♥ Huckabees (2004, 43.29) ***½/TTT
Knock Yourself Out
Didn't Think it Would Turn Out Bad
Over Our Heads
Wouldn't Have it Any Other Way
Huckabees Jingle (50's Version)
|True to Yourself
Didn't Think it Would Turn Out Bad (String Quartet Version)
Get What it's About
Monday (End Credits)
Known primarily as a sideman to the stars, Brion apparently has a long-running residency at the Largo, in L.A., where no two performances are ever the same, usually including his instrumental setup. Meaningless appears to be his first, long-overdue solo album, revealing him to be a deft writer of intelligent pop songs - rather like many of his clients, then. All the usual influences apply - you know, Beatles, Beach Boys, Big Star, all the B's; it's hard to pick out highlights, but Her Ghost and the lengthy Voices are particularly impressive. Brion has a decent enough voice, although it's his playing that really stands out, with the bulk of the instrumental work emanating from his fingers, with the remainder coming from various Famous Friends.
Brion is, of course, a Chamberlin master, going as far as to include diagrams of its internal workings in the CD booklet, making it surprising that it's not immediately apparent on more tracks, unless, of course, I'm missing it in the mix. Again. Ruin My Day has some orchestral strings, which almost sound like the real thing in places, while Dead To The World features a muddy flute part before the cellos and violins return, with a superbly cheesy end section, not to mention (apparently) the Mellotron tremolo guitars... Her Ghost has polyphonic flutes, oboes (?) and sax, oh, and strings - everything, really. Maybe he thought that smothering the album in it would be retro overkill. Well, it wouldn't - the tape-replay adds warmth and depth to the sound, which isn't to denigrate the rest of the tracks, but it might've been nice to have heard it a few more times...
Brion has also contributed to several film soundtracks and various artists efforts, including 1995's Sing Hollies in Reverse and the soundtracks to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and I ♥ Huckabees, both from 2004. Links to full reviews are below; suffice to say, he does a good job on all, writing the entire score for the latter. So; Meaningless is an excellent little album, assuming you like the style, and lovely Chamby work on a handful of tracks. Buy, I think.
See: Fiona Apple | Murray Attaway | Badly Drawn Boy | T Bone Burnett | Nels Cline Singers | Jude Cole | Christina Courtin | Crystal Method | Eels | Marianne Faithfull | Peter Gabriel | Nina Gordon | Grant Lee Buffalo | Macy Gray | Grays | John Hiatt | Robyn Hitchcock | Lauren Hoffman | Indians | Mary Lou Lord | Love Spit Love | Taj Mahal | Eleni Mandell | Aimee Mann | Marjorie Fair | Brad Mehldau | Rhett Miller | The Mommyheads | of Montreal | Sam Phillips | Plain White T's | Miranda Lee Richards | Elliott Smith | Spoon | Taxiride | Rufus Wainwright | Kanye West | Wild Colonials | Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind | I ♥ Huckabees | Jerry Maguire | Pleasantville | Sing Hollies in Reverse | Mellodrama
Catherine Britt (2010, 42.08) ***/T
|I Want You Back
Anywhere You Are
Can't Change a Thing
More Than You Are
Under My Thumb
Call You Back Town
Since You Slipped Away
Where Do You Go?
Catherine Britt is an Australian country singer who apparently spent several years in Nashville, presumably honing her authenticity and boosting her credentials. Her eponymous 2010 release is actually her fourth album, a varied set incorporating electric blues/rock (opener I Want You Back, Under My Thumb), upbeat country/pop/rock (Can't Change A Thing), acoustic slide blues (Holy River) and several examples of perfectly acceptable balladry, not least Sweet Emmylou.
Shane Nicholson plays Mellotron, with a polyphonic flute part on Anywhere You Are, sounding reasonably real. Overall, the kind of album that could (and all too often is) awful, but is actually nothing of the sort. Whether Britt's background from a working-class Aussie city has anything to do with this is unknown, but Catherine Britt is far better than expected, with one decent Mellotron track.
Chain of Command (2007, 49.13) **½/T
|An Unwanted Child
The Black Lotus
Story of a Wicked Mind
He Will Die
|The End of Hope
I think you can probably guess into which overall genre Broken Dagger fall. Clue: it's not sunshine pop. It's a pity they have to use a moniker which has fascistic overtones, although I'm sure that wasn't their intention, as they don't give the impression they're church-burners. Chain of Command (more macho pseudo-militarism, sadly) is, frankly, a truly ridiculous album, albeit a surprisingly melodic one, full of massed male vocals, wild screams, Yngwie-alike guitar work and more blastbeats than you can shake a drumstick at. I've no idea if there's some kind of concept held within (sorry, slipped into Broken Dagger's histrionic vocabulary there for a moment), but they're getting terribly excited about something, and I just heard the phrase, "Penetrates his chest", so I think it's safe to assume the lyrical content has little in common with affairs of the heart, unless it involves cutting it out with said blade.
Urban Måsby plays keys, including (real?) Mellotron, with strings on opener An Unwanted Child and closer E.B.E.N., with the album's various choir contributions sounding either generic or real. Overall, then, a very silly power metal album (aren't they all?), with little Mellotron, even assuming it's real. One for the clenched-fist brigade, I think. And I bet they're insanely proud of that 'explicit content' sticker, too.
Presents: Kevin Drew - Spirit if... (2007, 65.20) **/½
|Farewell to the Pressure Kids
F-ked Up Kid
Broke Me Up
Gang Bang Suicide
Underneath the Skin
Backed Out on the...
Aging Faces/Losing Places
Bodhi Sappy Weekend
When it Begins
Forgiveness Rock Record (2010, 63.08) **/½
Forced to Love
All to All
Art House Director
Highway Slipper Jam
|Ungrateful Little Father
Meet Me in the Basement
Romance to the Grave
Water in Hell
Me and My Hand
Broken Social Scene are a Toronto-based collective, grouped around the duo of Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, leading to the confusing situation whereby the band have released four albums to date, while Drew and Canning have released one each under the banner of Broken Social Scene Presents... Drew's Spirit if... is the first of these, a thoroughly ordinary modern indie album, if truth be told, overlong as a result of a) too many tracks and b) an unwillingness to edit. To add to the misery, Drew's voice is a whining, tuneless thing, while the vocal melodies are too poppy for comfort, in the manner of most indie nonsense. Charles Spearin adds Mellotron to Bodhi Sappy Weekend, with a nice flute part opening the track, carrying on under the synth brass, although that's your lot.
In direct contrast, 2010's Forgiveness Rock Record is, to my knowledge, the fifth BSS release 'proper', although, sadly, it's no better than Drew's offshoot album, another overlong effort filled with energetic-yet-redundant indie drivel. The nearest it comes to highpoints are the sitar on Ungrateful Little Father, (although the rest of the track is ruined by its plinky-plonky rhythm and irritating vocal) and the bit on Water In Hell where it suddenly picks up the pace. Slim pickings, eh? Drew plays Mellotron this time round, with distant flutes on Sweetest Kill that may or may not have anything to do with a real machine.
In other words, absolutely not worth it for their minimal Mellotron, so only even consider buying these if you're some kind of indie obsessive.
I Can't Go on, I'll Go on (2007, 44.11) ***½/0
|On the Bubble
So it Goes
Down in the Valley
You Can Build an Island
Baby on My Arm
Like a Light
The Broken West are essentially powerpop, although several tracks on their debut, 2007's cryptically-titled I Can't Go on, I'll Go on (a Samuel Beckett quote, apparently), contain hints of current US indie and even folk, unfortunately diluting their overall sound a little. The upside of this is that the album's a little more diverse than most of the Big Star-alikes, however good they may be, who clutter up the field. Best tracks? Probably the joyous So It Goes, Brass Ring and the 12-string-fest of You Can Build An Island, but nothing here actually disappoints.
Guitarist Ross Flournoy allegedly plays Mellotron, but given that the vibes on So It Goes are real, I have absolutely no idea where. Don't let that put you off a decent album, though (like, it was going to?); powerpop fans should go for this, even if some of its contents sit on the borders of the genre.
The Bronx (2006, 33.43) **½/0
|Senor Hombre de Tamale
Oceans of Class
Transsexual Blackout (the Movement)
Around the Horn
Three Dead Sisters
Confusingly, The Bronx have opted to name their first three albums eponymously, in true Peter Gabriel style. 2006's version is the second of the three and is probably best described as modern US punk with a weird country edge, notably on closer White Guilt. But is it any good? I expect they and their fans think so, but it left me stone cold, to be honest, but what do I know?
Joby J. Ford is credited with Mellotron, but I've absolutely no idea where it might be used. what's the point, eh? What's the point in using something, then keeping it so low in the mix that it's inaudible? Totally pointless. So; a punk album with no obvious Mellotron. That's it.
Red Dirt Road (2003, 56.49) **/0
|You Can't Take the Honky Tonk
Out of the Girl
When We Were Kings
That's What She Gets for Loving Me
Red Dirt Road
Feels Good Don't it
I Used to Know This Song By Heart
She Was Born to Run
Till My Dyin' Day
My Baby's Everything I Love
Good Day to Be Me
Brooks & Dunn are apparently huge in the world of country, which shows just how out of touch I am with that oeuvre. Thankfully. I mean, Americana/alt.country is (usually) fine, but the full-blown Nashville variety either bores me to tears or turns my stomach. Maybe surprisingly, the duo's 2003 offering, Red Dirt Road, isn't too bad for a few tracks, but its (fairly minimal) appeal wanes as it ploughs through its near-hour length. Its most tedious features are semi-God-bothering lyrics like the title track or the openly offensive Holy War, not to mention their 'I'm just a country boy' schtick (although, in fairness, they are). It's not all awful, but it goes on rather too long and refuses to step outside its genre in any way, shape or form, for better or worse.
Steve Nathan plays Mellotron, although I have absolutely no idea where, as it's entirely inaudible. Which means... (you guessed it) don't bother.
Bröselmaschine (1971, 35.46) ***½/½Gedanken
The Old Man's Song
The sole Bröselmaschine album is a bit of an oddity; for the first few tracks, I was convinced that a mispressing had delivered an English folk record to me by mistake. The style was correct, the English-language vocals were unaccented; Schmetterling even borrows from the same source as Jimmy Page's White Summer. In fact, the only obviously Germanic influence anywhere on Bröselmaschine is the muttered German narration on the track, in amongst the sitars and open-tuned acoustics.
There's hardly any Mellotron on the album at all; a few string chords from Mike Hellbach in Schmetterling, and that's it, as the flute parts are real. This is obviously a stoner's delight, like quite a few German albums of the era (Wind's Morning and Witthüser & Westrupp's Der Jesuspilz/Musik Vom Evangelium spring to mind), and is actually a very good record, but don't bother for the 'Tron.
Who You Are (2007, 43.56/44.56) *½/T
Who You Are
The Glass Parade
The Last One
Loneliest Girl in the World
If You Were Here
All the Rage
Cary Brothers (an individual, not siblings) is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter who doesn't play country, which you may take to be an advantage until you hear him. His debut, 2007's Who You Are, is one of those horrible, insipid modern indie/singer-songwriter efforts, like the wettest end of Daniel Powter, say; even when it picks up the pace (the title track, The Last One), it just sounds sub-U2, which is never a good thing.
Greg Collins plays Mellotron strings on the title track and flutes on The Glass Parade, while Chad Fischer adds flutes to Loneliest Girl In The World, none of it to any great effect, though it's nice to hear these sounds in the mainstream sometimes. Anyway, I don't think you really need any kind of postscript to sum this album up, do you?
Masquerade (2010, 38.05) **/T½
Shoot for the Moon
Armor on My Heart
You're Not Fooling Anyone
Lelia Broussard's third album, 2010's Masquerade, is a pretty typical pop-end-of-singer/songwriter effort, making for a fairly unpalatable listen to those accustomed to music with a little more... substance. Admittedly, the mournful brass on Armor On My Heart and You're Not Fooling Anyone stands out, but most of the album's contents are run-of-the-mill, slightly countryish pop/rock that's really only going to appeal to a 'background listening' audience dynamic. Given that the lyrics in this kind of stuff assume a high level of importance, are any of them actually worth hearing? Maybe closer Hipster Bitch, which is at least vaguely amusing, not to mention one of the album's more listenable tracks, but otherwise, it's the usual run of love lost/love won, I'm afraid.
Dan Romer plays Mellotron and Chamberlin, with what sounds like a Chamby string line on opener Masquerade and Mellotron flutes on Rosey, although all brass parts appear to be real. Do you want or need to hear this? I don't think so, no.
Keep Coming Back (2008, 46.57) **/½
|Keep Coming Back
Real Good Thing
Why Should She Wait
Power's in the People
When it's Good
Man for Life
|Another Night Alone
Saying I Love You
Marc Broussard (2011, 43.16) **/½
Let it All Out
Our Big Mistake
|Eye on the Prize
Let Me Do it Over
Although Marc Broussard's style is supposed to reference funk, soul, blues and other genres, his fourth album, 2008's Keep Coming Back, is a spot-on copy (or pastiche?) of '70s pop/soul, sounding like all those cheeso artists you hoped you'd never hear, or even hear of again. You know, England Dan & John Ford Coley and their horrid ilk. To be brutally honest, I really can't think of anything nicer to say about this than that, other than its rating is as high as it is due to its sheer professionalism and nothing else. I really hope I never have to hear this again, though. Calvin Turner plays Mellotron, with a chordal flute part on Why Should She Wait, although all the album's strings appear to be real.
2011's Marc Broussard is, essentially, a re-run of Keep Coming Back, its best track being 'hidden' acoustic closer Gibby's Song, although it's not even given its own track on the disc. Jamie Kenney plays vague Mellotron flutes on Let Me Do It Over, but that seems to be your lot.
So; super-professional lightweight pop/soul. Why? Why? Because people like it, I suppose, including Broussard himself. Each to their own an' all that, but t'ain't for me. Not much Mellotron, either.
Arthur Brown (UK) see:
Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come (UK) see:
Love Will Find You (2009, 34.51) ***/T½
|Love Will Find You
All That I Have
Everybody Needs Love
Teardrops Lost in the Rain
Holding Back the Night
If I Could Do it Again
|I Still Want You
I Had a Dream
Findlay Brown is a contemporary British singer following in the footsteps of, say, Richard Hawley, in his veneration of the pre-psych '60s and Scott Walker in particular. His debut album, 2009's Love Will Find You (strangely listed as 2010 on his website) is a lush, epic, romantic album, stuffed with ballads such as Teardrops Lost In The Rain and closer I Had A Dream sitting alongside the more uptempo All That I Have and That's Right. But is it any good? Depends whether you like Scott-esque material, I suppose; Brown sounds nothing like Mr. Engels vocally, but the material's spot-on.
Richard Norris adds Mellotron choirs to All That I Have and strings to Teardrops Lost In The Rain and Holding Back The Night, all to passable, if not classic effect. If you just can't get enough of pompadours, orchestras and overblown ballads, there's a good chance you'll love Findlay Brown, although there really isn't enough Mellotron on offer here for the hardened enthusiast.
Golden Greats (1999, 44.58/55.33) ***/T½
Love Like a Fountain
Free My Way
Set My Baby Free
So Many Soldiers
Dolphins Were Monkeys
[US version adds:
Love Like a Fountain (US Version)
Dolphins Were Monkeys (U.N.K.L.E. Vs South Remix)]
Music of the Spheres (2001, 41.09) **½/TT
The Gravy Train
Hear No See No
El Mundo Pequeño
|Forever and a Day
Shadow of a Saint
Ian Brown's amusingly-titled second solo album, Golden Greats, seems to be attempting to carry on the sound pioneered by The Stone Roses, most of the album's material having a psychedelic dance/rock feel to it, not a million miles away from the band that made him famous. Opener Gettin' High sets Brown's stall out well, with its programmed drums, psych riffing and sitar, while Love Like A Fountain is more straightforward rave/rock, with most of the other tracks veering somewhere between these two styles, taken at a faster or slower pace. The bonus tracks on the US version aren't worth the effort: a 'yeah, whatever' version of Love Like A Fountain and a dance remix of Dolphins Were Monkeys, involving two Brown collaborators, U.N.K.L.E. and South. Tim Wills plays Mellotron, with nicely up-in-the-mix string and flute parts on Set My Baby Free and strings on So Many Soldiers. Given Brown's considerable Oasis connection, might it be one of their machines? Who knows.
Brown followed up, two years later, with Music of the Spheres (cue 'load of old balls' joke...). To be honest, it's less engaging than its predecessor, as if Brown had used up his best ideas (let's face it, it happens...). More Mellotron than before, though, player unknown, as it could be any of Dave McCracken, Mark Sayfritz or Robin Taylor-Firth. Anyway, phased strings on Stardust, regular ones on Northern Lights and wavery, echoed flutes on Forever And A Day, all nice to hear if slightly inessential.
Well, Ian Brown's taken a very different solo route to his old mucker John Squire's '60s thing, but given that they're barely speaking, that's hardly surprising. As far as these two go, they both have some passable 'Tron use, while Golden Greats is probably a little more listenable than Music of the Spheres.
See: John Squire
Things May Come & Things May Go, But the Art School Dance Goes on Forever (1970, 43.30/69.34) ***/T
|Things May Come & Things May Go, But
the Art School Dance Goes on Forever
High Flying Electric Bird
Someone Like You
Walk for Charity, Run for Money
Then I Must Go and Can I Keep
My Love's Gone Far Away
Golden Country Kingdom
Country Morning (alternate)
Living Life Backwards
Raining Pins and Needles]
Thousands on a Raft (1970, 52.10/88.20) ***½/T
|Aeroplane Head Woman
Station Song Platform Two
If They Could Only See Me Now parts I & II
Got a Letter From a Computer
Thousands on a Raft
|Can't Get Off the Planet
Flying Hero Sandwich
My Last Band
Dawn of a Night Wasp
Aeroplane Head Woman]
Pete Brown is known chiefly as sometime lyricist for Cream, putting words into Jack Bruce's mouth on I Feel Free, White Room etc. After their split, he got his own outfit together, Pete Brown's Battered Ornaments, recording one album with them, A Meal You Can Shake Hands With in the Dark, before the rest of the band sacked him just before they played Hyde Park with the Stones (and, of course, King Crimson). Wasting no time, he formed Piblokto! releasing (deep breath) Things May Come & Things May Go, But the Art School Dance Goes on Forever within the year. Despite being optimistically described as 'one of the finest of the progressive era', it's a fairly typical slice of organ-driven proto-prog, with Pete's mad vocals as a bonus. While not bad, it'd be stretching it a little (OK, a lot) to call it a 'classic'; it certainly doesn't stand out from the pack, going by the contemporaries of the band that I've heard. One Mellotron track (from organist Dave Thompson?), with some orchestrally-inclined strings on High Flying Electric Bird (also the b-side of their first single, Living Life Backwards).
Later the same year, their second and final album, Thousands on a Raft, appeared, breaking Brown's run of ridiculously lengthily-titled albums. In case you're wondering, aside from the Titanic and Concorde, the sleeve depicts several slices of beans on toast floating in a pond (not sure how they managed that), the album title apparently being cockney (non-rhyming) slang for the aforementioned culinary delicacy. Several band members had changed in the months between the two records, the fresh blood making their presence felt immediately, as opener Aeroplane Head Woman's Cream-like tones assault your speakers. After a piano ballad, Station Song Platform Two, the album goes completely bonkers, with the 17-minute semi-improvised Highland Song, followed on side two by If They Could Only See Me Now Parts I & II, which is almost as long. Mellotron (definitely Dave Thompson this time round) on Station Song Platform Two, with some pleasant background MkII strings.
Do you buy these albums? Well, the over 2½ hour set is worth the dosh if you're into lesser-known UK bands of the era, and some of the music's well worth hearing. The two 'Tron tracks are less than essential, though both quite nice. Up to you. Incidentally, BGO's 2-CD set of these albums confuses the issue greatly by adding a total of 11 bonus tracks, spread over both discs, but as Pete requested, puts them in chronological order. Disc 1 starts with three bonus tracks, including their first single, with more between the two albums (Thousands... is irritatingly split between the discs), finishing with several more at the end, although this makes the expanded album timings somewhat irrelevant. As a result, I've added them after each regular tracklisting above, and none contain any 'Tron anyway. Pete is occasionally to be seen wandering around Crouch End in north London, sometimes muttering to himself, though surely his royalty cheque for the inevitable live album from the recent Cream reformation should boost his bank balance slightly?
See: Cream | Jack Bruce