Cavalli-Cocchi, Lanzetti, Roversi
Central Europe Performance
Chairmen of the Board
Steven Curtis Chapman
Cathedral (UK) see:
|7" (1971) **½/T
Don't Waste Your Time
It's Over Now
The Cats were a pretty typical 'first wave' Dutch pop group, changing with the tide of musical progress, albeit always a step or two behind. 1971's non-album Don't Waste Your Time (as against a track on the previous year's Take Me With You, Don't Waste My Time), despite some fairly contemporary guitar work, sounds more like 1967, while its flip, the superior It's Over Now, while still dated, at least gives us some nice acoustic playing.
Someone plays Mellotron strings on the A-side, to no great effect, to be honest. Do you need to hear this? Not really, no.
Ars Moriendi (1996, 49.16) **½/TT½
|Age of Quicksand
Just Like Anyone
a) Astray b) Audience
Walk on Waves
|Counting Out the Time
Suntanned in the Shadows
Catweazle (apparently the early '70s UK kids' show starring Geoffrey Bayldon in the title role was popular in Scandinavia) were a one-off Swedish neo-prog outfit from the mid-'90s, displaying most of that sub-genre's tropes on '96's Ars Moriendi. An over-reliance on vocals at the expense of the music, cheesy lyrical themes, lots of modern keyboards, too much Steve Rothery guitar... I think you get the picture. Chaps, you've been listening to a little too much '80s and '90s prog, and not enough '70s, I suspect, not least with regard to subject matter, which appears to be a concept about someone's life or something. So what happened to albums about snow geese, passion plays and walls, eh? I blame Fish. The album has its good points; Peter Rendius' acoustic guitar work is lovely, Michael Thörne plays some ripping Hammond and the band are solid enough when they decide to rock out, but there are too many minuses to raise its rating, I'm afraid, not least low-level plagiarism; er, Counting Out The Time? Pur-lease...
Mellotron from Thörne, with (predictably) IQ choirs on Gulag, choirs and strings on Astray, strings on Green Room, choirs on Walk On Waves... None of it's at all innovative, but then who am I to say it should be? Standard block chords, inserted at appropriate points, are a great deal better than a lack of the same. Flutes on Counting Out The Time, although I think the cellos are real, background choirs on Suntanned In The Shadows, and that's your lot. Quite a bit in the end, although the machine they used sounds a bit tired.
So; hard to find and not really worth the hunt. Sorry, guys, but copying bands from (at best) the third wave of a movement is not going to make you sound original. Maybe you didn't want to, though? In which case, job done. Passable 'Tron use, although it's all a bit too murky to really stand out.
Whirligig (1995, 43.22) ***/T
Awake on Wednesday
The Day That Came and Went
All of My Young Life
Where Are They Now?
|Hannah, I Locked You Out
Breathe Under Water
The Underwater World of Asia X
The Caulfields were a Delaware-based band who, although rarely described as such, were essentially a powerpop outfit, albeit one with a few '90s indie influences thrown into the mix. 1995's Whirligig was their first album (of two), covering a fair bit of ground in the genre, including the jangly powerpop of Alex Again, the more hardcore-influenced Rickshaw and the balladic Fragile, although, sadly, the album never really ignites in the way of the field's top names.
Bruce Kaphan guests on Mellotron, with rather watery strings on opener Devil's Diary, although that appears to be it. So; a decent enough album that tries really hard, but rarely actually hits the spot. Unfortunately, the general public clearly thought so, too, as the band split after their second album, 1997's L.
Cavalli-Cocchi, Lanzetti, Roversi (2011, 45.41) ***/TTTTNew Life on Mars
Words Got the Power
Why Should I?
By This River
Great Love Does Burn Fast
The Late Hour
Blue Boy Under an Ethnic Sky
I'm sure at least one of the above names is familiar to you, dear reader: Bernardo Lanzetti, ex-Acqua Fragile, Mangala Vallis and, of course, the late '70s incarnation of PFM, although if you know anything about the current Italian scene, Cristiano Roversi (Mangala Vallis, Moongarden, Submarine Silence) should ring a bell, too. The pair have teamed up with drummer Gigi Cavalli-Cocchi, releasing their eponymous debut in 2011. Is it any good? Matter of opinion, I suppose; if you took its progressive tropes away, it would sound like an overblown Italian singer-songwriter effort, Lanzetti's operatic voice (let's be honest: it never really worked in PFM) and the lush arrangements giving the whole thing a rather mainstream edge. Best track? Possibly Great Love Does Burn Fast, featuring none other than Steve Hackett on distorted acoustic guitar (apparently), giving the impression of an electric. So why, er, not use an electric?
Although Roversi's known for using Mellotron samples (the one time I met him, he confirmed this), Lanzetti's website says he plays, "A restored vintage piece from the 70s" and I have to say, it sounds pretty authentic. He adds strings to every track, including an upfront melody on By This River, sounding as real as you like, choir on Morning Comes, Why Should I?, choir and a brief flute melody on Great Love Does Burn Fast and choir and something not entirely identifiable - oboe? - on The Late Hour, making for an unusually Mellotron-heavy release. I'm not entirely sure I can really recommend this, as too much of it sounds like a progressive version of the kind of thing listened to by middle-aged Italians, but it has its moments, not least the heavy Mellotron use. Worth hearing, at least.
Official Bernardo Lanzetti site
Cristiano Roversi MySpace
See: PFM | Acqua Fragile | Mangala Vallis | Cristiano Roversi
Soul Martini (1992, 47.10) ***½/T½
Here Comes Rosie
As You Were
Boy in a Plastic Bubble
You're Put Away (Folderol)
Sorrow (Boots of Pain)
On for the Ride
Tarzan and His Arrowheads
Soul Martini was the Cavedogs' second and last album; a shame, as their rocky take on the whole powerpop thing is a joy to hear, like a less full-on Superdrag, maybe. Best tracks? Hard to say, but You're Put Away (Folderol) and Murder particularly caught my ear. Interestingly, after their dissolution, bassist Brian Stevens worked with the wondrous Aimee Mann, playing on '93's excellent Whatever and in her live band.
There's no mention of Mellotrons or anything other than 'keyboards' in the CD booklet, which are credited to two of the band (Stevens and drummer Mark Rivers), along with producer Michael Beinhorn. Beinhorn? Yup, the late-'80s/early-'90s champion of the Chamberlin, although his last known tape-replay work was back in '94, and he seems to have been supplanted by the likes of Jon Brion and Patrick Warren. Anyway, it's quite clearly Chamby on a few tracks: As You Were has a harmonium part morphing into Chamby flutes, while On For The Ride opens with what amounts to a Chamberlin demonstration tape, with squeaky brass and sound FX, not to mention a rhythm track that could well be from the left-hand manual of an older model. More brass later in the song, with more of the same on Tarzan And His Arrowheads; two or three other songs have things going on in the background that could be tape-replay, but, as so often with the Chamberlin, it's almost impossible to tell.
So; a good album of its type, assuming you're into Beatlesesque melodies in a noo wave-ish setting. Couple of decent Chamberlin bits, but not a classic on that front.
Principe di un Giorno (1976, recorded 1974, 37.08) *****/TTTT½Principe di un Giorno
Giochi Nella Notte
La Grande Isola
La Danza del Fato
Celeste II [a.k.a. Second Plus] (1991, recorded 1977, 46.15/71.43) **½/T
|Il Giardino Armonico
Un Mazzo di Ortiche
All'Ombra di un Fungo
La Danza del Mare - parte I/II
Ala del Pensiero
Il Giardino Armonico - Ripresa
Celeste's first album, '76's Principe di un Giorno (a.k.a. Celeste), although recorded in 1974, appeared quite late in the day for Italian prog, but succeeds in being an absolute masterpiece of gentle, pastoral progressive rock, with both classical and folk influences, to the point where the word 'rock' seems slightly redundant. With practically no drums to be heard, and almost every instrument acoustic (with one obvious exception), this is superbly laid-back without being anywhere near laid-out. The very first sound to be heard on the album is a mournful 'Tron strings melody slowly fading in before the title track kicks off properly (as much as anything here could be described as kicking off...). Acoustic guitars, flute, piano, sax, percussion... Mellotron, the odd ARP synth line and the occasional note from an electric bass seem to be just about the only electric instruments here, making a change from the busy style of so many Italian bands.
The material's excellent, too, although surely they realised that the 'Tron string line on Favole Antiche was ripped straight off The Court Of The Crimson King? It's difficult to pinpoint areas of Mellotronic excellence (played, incidentally, by Leonardo Lagorio and Ciro Perrino); basically, any of the first five tracks feature rather gorgeous use of strings. It's really quite difficult to go wrong with Principe di un Giorno; it shouldn't even offend your prog-hating spouse, being entirely devoid of the 'fiddly bits' so many non-prog fans hate. So; a classic. Buy now. Many other bands (PFM spring to mind) do that 'pastoral' thing extremely well, but few of them made it their entire raison d'être. Truly marvellous.
In 1991, over a decade after the band's demise, an LP appeared called Celeste II, made up of unreleased tracks recorded after Principe di un Giorno; Augusto Croce from the excellent Italian Prog site assures me that the unhighlighted tracks above are the original LP tracklisting. I'll admit I don't know very much about the provenance of the tracks, only that they are a decidedly mixed bunch, most of which bear little relation to their illustrious predecessors. Three of them (Un Mazzo Di Ortiche, Settottavi and La Danza Del Mare) are over ten minutes long, and are all uninspired sax-led jams, to be honest, as are several of the other tracks, with rather uninteresting string synth providing the keyboard backing.
In all honesty, this is a pretty poor release, with few tracks actually worth listening to more than once. Just for the record, Il Giardino Armonico (and its reprise), Bassa Marea and the lovely Lontano Profondo are the only tracks the average progressive fan is likely to actually enjoy. As for Ciro Perrino's Mellotron use, although both parts of Il Giardino Armonico are soaked in strings, I heavily suspect that they date from '91 rather than '77, sounding more like time-stretched string samples than 'Tron, especially on the deeper notes. This technique has been used on at least one other reissue to my knowledge, Easter Island's excellent NowAndThen, which, like this album, is bookended by two contemporary tracks recorded on modern equipment. This leaves the one genuine Mellotron track here as Bassa Marea, with a heavy strings and choir presence over a doomy, medieval-sounding instrumental backing. Excellent, but hardly worth buying the album for, and even here, the long sustained chord at the end sounds slightly bogus; maybe they used an overdubbing trick (been there...).
It's highly unusual to give two albums by the same band such wildly contrasting ratings, but their first posthumous release really is pretty uninteresting. There's another album released long after the event, '92's I Suoni in Una Sfera (****), also dating from '74; I believe it's some sort of soundtrack, but I really know very little about it, and it turns out to be Mellotron-free anyway. In the meantime, their debut is an absolute classic, and its follow-up... isn't. If you don't already own a copy, buy Principe di un Giorno immediately.
Between Bedtime and Sunrise (2005, 51.37) ****/TTTT
Between Bedtime and Sunrise
City of Lights
A Part of a Change
The Lost Sun
Different Types of Liquid
|Premonition of Death
Under Our Blanket
Celestine are a new Mattias Olsson (Änglagård, AK-Momo etc.etc.) production, although he isn't a band member this time round. As usual with anything in which Mattias is involved (with the honourable exception of Pineforest Crunch), they're a pretty melancholy sounding bunch, although they heavy it up occasionally, presumably for the sake of contrast. Comparisons? Other Mattias involvements such as Reminder or Nanook of the North, with very good material that is sure to worm its way into my brain after not so many listens. A find, Mattias...
Mattias' Mellotron work covers the usual ground, with strings, cellos and flutes abounding, although some unusually restrained church organ can be heard on The Lost Sun, a particularly powerful string part on the excellent Nothing and very upfront 8-choir on Peaceful. Mattias also informs me that I'd missed the viola and cellos (and, apparently, regular though inaudible strings) on opener Someone, the vibes on A Part Of A Change and the oboe and clarinets on Masterpiece. Oops. Anyway, this is one of those albums where it could've been used on every track (damn' near was, to be fair), but their restraint is admirable; yes, it is possible to overuse a Mellotron... All in all, excellent album, plenty of 'Tron. Recommended.
This Isn't Here (2007, 37.29) ***/T
Best Thing Ever
This Isn't Here
Speak to Me
I Found You
She's a Waterfall
Plain to See
David Celia is a Canadian singer-songwriter with an Americana bent (why isn't there such a thing as Canadiana?), although several tracks on what I believe to be his second album, This Isn't Here, bypass the genre altogether, not least closer Brothers. Best tracks? Possibly the title track and definitely instrumental acoustic guitar solo I Found You, although nothing here actively offended this listener, who has become quite used to music that sounds like country but has nothing to do with Nashville, entirely as a result of running this site. Strange.
Michael Holt plays Mellotron on one track, with a polyphonic flute part dipping in and out of Plain To See. As so often; if you've got a Mellotron in the studio, why not use it a little more? The strings on several tracks are real, incidentally. Overall, then, a decent enough album both inside and outside its genre, with one good 'Tron track. Your choice.
Mercury (1982, 34.39) ***½/TTTPart I
Formation of Space, Land and Sea
The Melting of Stars
The Arrival of Man
The Civilization of Planets
Neptune (1983, 30.33) ***½/TTTTT
Pavilions of Forestlife
A Crown in a Glass Case
Cascade Through a Room
Monsters From the Depths of the Sea
Attack and Fall of the Titans
The Marshes of Primitive Realm
The Ascent of Poseidon
Difficult to know how to describe Celluloid, really; sort of progressive electronic (electronic progressive?). Whatever. I originally wrote:
|"No-one knows who the brains behind the project actually was, but it was definitely a one-man-band, armed only with a 'computer' (make, type, processing power etc. unknown) and a Mellotron. I can't imagine what sort of computer in 1982 could produce the variety, not to mention quality, of sounds on Mercury, although I suspect a mainframe was involved; if I didn't know better, I'd have assumed he was using a bank of polysynths and some tape effects".|
Well, thanks to US reader Tom O'Neill, I can give you considerably more information. It seems that 'Celluloid' was the nom-de-plume of one Charles (Chuck) Minuto, who was still in his teens when he recorded these strange albums. Chuck recorded an electronic piece called Murmadon's Log at Tom's place, prior to the albums, which is easier on the ear than his later projects. The 'computer' he lists on the Mercury sleeve was, in fact, a rented Synclavier, which must've eaten up a fair chunk of his limited budget, but explains why the non-'Tron sounds are so good for the time. He had a more limited budget for Neptune, which presumably explains a) the lack of any Synclavier and b) the poor pressing quality. It's unknown whether Minuto still holds the mastertapes of these albums.
Anyway, the composition on Mercury is of the dark'n'doomy variety, befitting its rather grand subject matter, and has a really quite relentless air about it; despite being effectively rhythmless, this isn't 'lie back and enjoy it' music by any stretch of the imagination. The three pieces on side one are instrumental, but side two's Part II: The Civilization Of Planets surprises by Mr. Celluloid's rather portentous singing, though I'm not sure it adds much to the proceedings. There's a good bit of Mellotron use, although he only had one tape frame at this stage, with strings, brass and male choir. The Melting Of Stars features a fanfareish brass part, but the other two sounds (unsurprisingly) comprise most of the 'Tron work on the album. The music certainly isn't 'standard' electronic stuff, but for those who prefer the darker end of the spectrum, laced with a fair amount of Mellotron, this is probably worth a listen.
Neptune went the whole hog, and was recorded entirely on the Mellotron. It's a good deal odder than his debut, with much use made of Mellotron FX tapes; laughter, applause, church bells, smashing glass - you name it, it's here. Much of it sounds as if it was recorded 'live' in the studio, possibly on two (very) defective M400s, with considerable tape-wobble, and switching between sounds on the fly. The overall effect is less 'musical' than 'ambient', though that gives the wrong impression; suffice to say, it's very different to Mercury, with much repetition of the FX, and no real 'structure' to the pieces at all. Apart from the sounds used on Mercury, I think I can hear church organ, timps, flutes, some unidentified woodwind (?) and maybe cellos, so I suspect he used a couple of machines and overdubbed some of the parts later. Anyway, you're unlikely to find this on vinyl, so if you buy the CD, you've got it anyway.
These albums are rare as rocking-horse shit, and were mostly circulating on tape copies until 2002, when an 'official' 2-on-1 release was announced. Beware; it's an overpriced CD-R with minimal packaging, looking like something someone could've knocked up on their home PC (see sleeve, right). It's also been mastered from vinyl; the sound quality's reasonable, but I can hear crackles here and there (particularly on Neptune), with no obvious attempt made to de-click it, and it sounds like the original tapes were fucked anyway. I've just paid new shop price for this, and feel somewhat ripped-off, although the music is worth it. A third title, Jupiter is rumoured, though no-one I've spoken to has ever seen or heard a copy, so I rather doubt that it exists. [Note: Minuto mentioned it to O'Neill, but probably never found the money to record it].
Huge thanks are due, by the way, to Daniel Miso for the sleeve images above. He owns both of these...
p.s. Johnny tells me that Minuto is alive and (relatively) well, but is in no condition to make any music again. Since the mastertapes are almost certainly long gone, I think that 2-on-1 CD-R is the nearest we're going to get to an 'official' re-release.
Breakfast in the Ruins (1989, 60.21) ***/½
The Kirlian Witness
M. Without Water
Arrival of the Rainman
Central Europe Performance were the natural follow-on from German electronic duo You, Udo Hanten and Albin Meskes bringing in the semi-legendary Harald Grosskopf (Ash Ra Tempel, Ashra, Cosmic Jokers, many others), who co-produced their own first album, 1980's Electric Day. The CEP's sole release, 1989's Breakfast in the Ruins, might be described as 'digital ethnic', with a preponderance of digital and sampled sounds in a vaguely Eastern setting; not much like You at all, really. Is it any good? It's OK, but rather of its time, which might be why it isn't available now.
Mellotron on just the one track, M. Without Water, from Hanten, with some suitably watery strings drifting in and out of the piece. Overall, then, probably not that easy to find, and not that great anyway, if truth be told. Next to no Mellotron and rather too much digital synth. Stick with You, I'd say.
Hang Out Your Poetry (1993, 53.58) **/T½
Steal Your Heart
Day By Day
Ready for Love
Ready for Love (Refrain)
Hang Out Your Poetry
Could've Been Love
Turn it Over
2 of 1
First Day of My Life
Living in a Paradise
Livin' it Up
Ceremony were essentially a vehicle for Chastity "Chaz" Bono, daughter of (no you fool, not him) Sonny Bono, the only pop star (to my knowledge) to accidentally kill himself skiing into a tree, and, of course, Cher. Their (and her) sole album, 1993's Hang Out Your Poetry, is a lacklustre effort, doing its level best to sound like a string-drenched '60s pop record while actually sounding like a pale, early '90s imitation of that style, with few memorable songs. Strangely, it takes a detour around halfway through to a rootsy, almost Americana sound for a few tracks, before slipping back into its well-worn groove. All in all, this is a ridiculously overproduced record; the bagpipes that close the album are fairly indicative...
Mark Hudson and Mark Hart both play Mellotron, with faint flutes on Could've Been Love, 2 Of 1 and closer Livin' It Up, with a mad, high-speed part on Trust, although none of it adds up to very much. If this was the level of her talent, we should probably be thankful that Bono hasn't followed in her parents' footsteps, although I'm possibly being a little unfair to the record, which might've sounded better with a sparser production. So; overblown nonsense with a smattering of 'Tron flutes. Maybe not. Incidentally, Bono came out in the late '90s and, at the time of writing, is undergoing gender reassignment surgery, with which Planet Mellotron (genuinely) wishes her/him the best of luck.
Tanyet (1967, 21.10/42.19) ***½/TTT
Manyatt Dyl Com
Probably the only reason anyone remembers The Ceyleib People these days is the participation of Ry Cooder, credited as 'Cooter', although other band members, not least Larry Knechtel, went on to make names for themselves in the '70s. Tanyet is their one, ridiculously short album, best described as a reasonable example of then-fashionable raga rock, to the extent that one of their guitarists, Lybuk Hyd, doubled on sitar to the point where he could be said to be a sitarist doubling on guitar. Despite Knechtel's presence (known as a singer), the album is almost entirely instrumental, although it seems he may have contributed in other areas.
Either Knechtel or Mike Melvoin (or both?) play Chamberlin on the album, with a clunky flute part on Leyshem and some full-on strings on Ceyladd Beyta. A quick word at this point on the album's tracklisting: although each side lists half a dozen separate tracks, they all essentially run into each other, so whether I've actually highlighted the correct tracks can only really be a matter for conjecture. More strings on Becal and Todda BB, played fast enough to almost fool the ear into thinking they're real (can't do that on a Mellotron), making side one pretty Chamby-heavy. More on side two, with what sounds like muted brass on Ralin and maybe trumpets (more high-speed playing) on closer Manyatt Dyl Com, making (presumably) Ceyladd Beyta the album's top Chamby track.
Well, making an album a mere 21 minutes long lessens the chance of boring your potential audience, I suppose; there's something to be said for not outstaying your welcome... I've no idea why they recorded so little material; maybe it was all they'd written, if you can call this 'written' at all? It's actually pretty good at what it does, in an acid-fried kind of way, and if it kick-started Cooder's career, it was certainly worth doing. Definitely worth hearing if you're into the era; decent Chamberlin use, too, which is rare enough to be worth commenting on in itself. Incidentally, the '91 CD issue doubles the album's length by including mono and stereo versions, which aren't wildly different, but you're going to get them anyway, as I'm sure the original vinyl's as rare as rocking-horse shit.
Nadie en Especial (1980, 43.35/72.50) ***/T
|Un Mundo Feliz
Nadie en Especial
El Dia en que Murio el Rey Camaleon
Bienvenidos al Fin del Mundo
Nadi en Especial (live)
Que Buera Razon (live)
En Rey del Rock (live)
Cuadros para una Exhibicion (live)
Brillo de Luna (live)
Bienvenidos al Fin del Mondo (live)]
Chac Mool are, to date, the only Mexican band on this site; to be honest, I was quite certain that their debut, 1980's Nadie en Especial, would be entirely Mellotron-free, which just goes to show how much I know. Musically, it's not great, just scraping that third full star; think: third-rate wannabes, pre-'80s neo-prog, but with the same overall vibe. Simplistic and unoriginal, this isn't an album to which I can see myself returning on anything like a regular basis, or probably at all, to be brutally honest. It has its moments, not least the flute-playing throughout and the riff in the title track, but what on earth made them spoil it by ripping off Floyd's Welcome To The Machine? Mystifying.
Carlos Alvarado (and possibly guitarist Jorge Reyes) played the 'Strawberry Fields'-style 'Tron flutes on El Dia En Que Murio El Rey Camaleon, to no particular effect. I didn't know there were any Mellotrons in Mexico, thus my previously-mentioned disbelief, so given that they had one, or at least access to one, one might wonder why they didn't use it a little more, as against the ubiquitous string synth? As usual, we'll never know, but their minimal use doesn't help to lift this album above the average.
Skin I'm in (1974, 37.15) ***½/TTEverybody Party All Night
Skin I'm in
Morning Glory/Life and Death, Part 1/White Rose (Freedom Flower)/Life And Death, Part 2
Let's Have Some Fun
Love at First Sight
Only Love Can Break a Heart
Live With Me, Love With Me
I believe the Chairmen of the Board's earlier albums (this was their fourth, and last) are more straightforward early-'70s soul/funk, but Skin I'm in took a serious left-turn into P-Funk territory, with Funkadelic's Eddie Hazel guesting, among others. Is this the ultimate progressive funk album? This is better even than Edwin Birdsong's startling Dance of Survival from a couple of years later. The Chairmen's mainman, Norman "General" Johnson apparently dismissed Skin I'm in as "Just some old tapes that the company had stored away", but I suspect the world of '70s black music would be poorer without it. This album had even a dyed-in-the-wool whiter-than-white proghead like myself tapping my foot. Impressive, despite some slightly lesser material on side two.
Also impressive is the fact that an unknown keyboard player sticks some Mellotron on side one's Morning Glory/Life And Death medley, with a 'Tron flute opening, before some extremely full-on strings scattered across the first half of the lengthy segue. More slightly wobbly strings on Love At First Sight, although the strings on the schmaltzy Only Love Can Break A Heart and the rather better Live With Me, Love With Me are real. So; probably not for proggers, but a (generally) fine album, with some great playing and arrangements, not to mention a nice bit of 'Tron.
Overflow (1975) **½/T½
|Writings on the Wall
In My World
Mums and Dads
Beginning to Feel the Pain
Sail on Sailor
Got to Be Serious (About it)
We Can Make Love
Standing on a Mountain Top
On the Road
You Turn Me Around
From its cover, you'd think that Chalice's sole album, Overflow, was a prime slice of Aussie glam-rock, but it's actually middling pop-rock with the occasional country influence, notably the banjo and pedal steel-driven Mums And Dads. Apparently, the band were British ex-pats, so Christ knows what persuaded them that moving to Australia was a good idea; maybe the overcrowded scene back home? Competent but unexciting, the album consists of a mix of homegrown efforts and covers, including the Beach Boys' sublime Sail On Sailor from the previous year.
Although guitarist/keyboard player George Bunea is credited with Mellotron, the track-by-track credits only mention Sebastian Hardie's Toiv(o) Pilt; Sebastian Hardie were on the same label (Polydor Australia), and released their own debut album the same year. He only plays it on three tracks, with strings on In My World and Beginning To Feel The Pain, and strings and cello on the closing ballad You Turn Me Around. All in all, this is pretty average fare with fairly weak songwriting; I'm not especially surprised Polydor didn't release a follow-up, assuming that was the course of events. OK 'Tron parts, but nothing you haven't heard before, and better. Incidentally, not sure what's with the deliberately badly-played 'A Bicycle Made For Two' on the organ at the end of the album... In-jokes should, by and large, be kept out of the public gaze.
See: Sebastian Hardie
Harris Chalkitis (1975, 31.59) ½/½
Funny She Loves Me
Right on Moving
Always on My Mind
Glory of a Love Song
|New York City
With a Smile
Let Me Go My Way
Be afraid... be very afraid... Sad to say, this is without doubt the worst album I've had to sit through while researching this site, and believe me, I've sat through a few howlers... The lengthy sleeve notes tell us that Chalkitis played with and wrote for Demis Roussos, which should have warned me not to buy the album; they also say that he played with Roussos in Aphrodites Child - indeed, he guests on their rather fab 666 album. Well, I can't say any of it rubbed off. This is the worst kind of bland, MOR-inspired mid-'70s tosh you can imagine; one minute bright'n'breezy, the next rather maudlin love songs. Truly horrible. Sorry, 'cos I'm sure loads of work went into it, and the playing's fine, but even a track called Introduction Moog can't rescue the album from utter mediocrity. Its only saving grace is its brevity.
So what about the Mellotron? Oh yeah - I'd forgotten... There's a little bit of 'Tron flute on Always On My Mind (not the Elvis one), played by Chalkitis, and that appears to be it. Well, I paid £2.00 for it, and it was almost worth it for the laugh. Almost.
See: Demis Roussos | Aphrodites Child
The Moon My Saddle (1998, 51.16) **/½
|Try for Thunder
World Don't Want Us
Stars in the Streetlight
Mountain of a Heart
Manhattan's Iron Horses (the Last
Until the Day Burns Down
Last to Know
How ironic that I should finally review a band called Chamberl(a)in, yet they use a Mellotron... Going by their second, and last 'proper' album, The Moon My Saddle, Chamberlain were an ex-hardcore band who moved into the realms of mainstream, 'rootsy' pop/rock in a Counting Crows vein. The only keyboards used are Hammond, piano and Mellotron, and a slightly alt.country air to the proceedings makes comparisons with the Crows, The Hooters et al. unavoidable. Outstanding tracks, or even slightly above average ones? Good Enough and Until The Day Burns Down up the energy levels for a few moments, although the latter's about three minutes too long, but that's hardly a recommendation. Mellotron? Not a lot, no. A background cello (?) part on Stars In The Streetlight, and a slightly more audible one on closer Last To Know, from Jonathan Cohen, neither of which sounds much like a Mellotron.
Essentially, this is a stupendously dull album; I couldn't find a single thing about it that grabbed my attention in any way. Chamberlain sounded just like a thousand other American bands, with their 'heartfelt' vocals and faux-'authentic' instrumentation, so it's not particularly surprising they came up against a brick wall eventually; as is well known, there's only room for so many artists of any one type in the industry. I really wouldn't recommend you buy this on any grounds, 'Tron use included.
All Things New (2004, 51.13) */TT
|All Things New
Much of You
Only Getting Started
Last Day on Earth
Please Only You
|Believe Me Now
I Believe in You
Treasure of Jesus
Steven Curtis Chapman is a contemporary Christian artist, which, I'm afraid to say, automatically puts him fairly low down on my priority list. I've been pleasantly surprised occasionally, but as soon as his thirteenth album, 2004's All Things New starts, my heart sinks as it's clear we have another 'contemporary pop/rock with god lyrics' effort, although by all reports, that's better than his usual Christian country schlock, which makes me wonder just how bad that is. This is truly horrible, only a handful of its twelve tracks being anything other uniformly nasty; Last Day On Earth is particularly creepy on the lyric front.
Patrick Warren's on Chamberlin, for the hundredth-and-something time, with (presumably Chamby) strings on all highlighted tracks, plus flutes on Believe Me Now, not that they improve this dreadful record. I don't think I need to reiterate that you neither want nor need to hear this, do I? Good.
Telling Stories (2000, 42.08) ***/½
Less Than Strangers
Speak the Word
Paper and Ink
Telling Stories seems to be regarded as Tracy Chapman's best work in years, featuring some particularly personal songwriting, even by her standards (notably Unsung Psalm). I don't really feel competent to pass judgement on the songs, as they're not really to my taste (although First Try struck a bit of a chord with me), but, unlike so many current artists, I can see why people rate her, and this seems to be a perfectly good album of its type.
Like so many recent albums, much of the instrumental backing is of the 'retro' type, although drum loops are also in evidence, along with the Hammond. Patrick Warren (that man again!) plays Chamberlin, amongst other keyboards, with faint strings on Wedding Song; other tracks feature sounds that could be produced by it, but probably aren't - not at all uncommon with the Chamberlin.
I'm sure this album is far better than I'm giving it credit for, but it's difficult when the music simply doesn't appeal. Very little Chamby, too, so one for Tracy Chapman fans only, I think.
Worlds Without End (1996, recorded 1986-96, 65.07) ****/TTTRebirth
Worlds Without End
The Ascending Light
On the Rim
Heaven and Earth (2000, 138.55) ****/TTT
|Into the Infinite
The Secret Grotto
Beyond the Farthest Star
Earth (All One Tribe)
Vision in the Skies
Seasons Will Change
On the Wings of the Eagle
Age of Light
Requiem for Planet 3
Resurrection (2009, 79.48) ***½/TTT
|Cry of the Spirit
There's a Better Place (for
You and Me)
Reunion Part 1
Where Dreams Come True
Dawn Over Atlantis
|For Distant Friends
The Inner Light
Myths of Ancient Realms
Pathways of Light
|The Truth Will Set You Free
Reunion Part 2
True Love's Light
Char-El, a.k.a. Charles Thaxton, is an Ohio-based musician who describes himself as a prog/new age mix, which is probably a pretty fair description. 1996's Worlds Without End is actually comprised of recordings made over the preceding decade, and reminds me more than anything of a sort of occidental Kitaro. The material is pleasantly melodic, and drifts along in an agreeable kind of way without ever really impinging itself on your consciousness, but then I think that's probably the point. There's some sampled Mellotron here and there, but of the four tracks containing the real thing, The Miracle's imposing choirs and Heart Light's flutes are the most impressive.
There are an awful lot more samples on Heaven and Earth, but the tracks noted above, according to Charles, are the ones containing genuine 'Tron. Despite the lack of real 'Tron (Charles sold his a few years ago), the Heaven half of the two-disc set has more very relaxing synth stuff (more Kitaro comparisons here and there), with some excellent 'Tron choir samples on the title track. The Earth half is more prog than new age, with Thaxton backed by a full band, although the material that works best (to my ears, anyway) is the slower, more reflective stuff that's nearer the sound of the first disc. The emphasis is on melody throughout, with much piano, and impressive guitar work from Larry Clark.
There's a fair bit of real 'Tron to be heard here, often mixed in with samples. Ethereal choir on Visitors, powerful strings and choir on Destiny, overlaid with a searing MiniMoog lead. Age Of Light and Requiem For Planet 3 probably have the best Mellotron use on the album, though, with the choirs on Age Of Light bursting through the mix like the proverbial hot knife through butter. Even the samples sound good, particularly on Santa Fe; it's a shame that there isn't more of the 'real thing', but Thaxton makes good use of the tools available to him.
It's 2009 and Charles has dug into his archive again, releasing the results as Resurrection. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the album's more new age than anything, although a handful of tracks have full band arrangements, this time more in an 'instrumental AOR' vein. Charles uses either his own Mellotron samples or Chamby samples from the Mike Pinder CD-ROM on several tracks, but I'm assured that there are six tracks of genuine 'Tron, with choir on opener Cry Of The Spirit (alongside string samples), choir on There's A Better Place and Myths Of Ancient Realms, strings on Ancient Temple and Remembering, and the album's standout 'Tron use, string section, flutes and a trumpet/trombone split on Awakening, with a particularly nice solo part on the latter sound.
So; more for the new age crowd than the proggers, although there are definitely more than a few prog moments on Earth. Worlds Without End is currently only available as a CD-R, but both albums are available from the Char-El website.
See: Galileo II | Magik Dayze
I am Ben Hur (1998, 45.50) ***½/T½
Black is Black
See You Around
I'd Rather You Leave Me
Him or Me
What if I Run Out of My Pills
|Keep on Trying
Dogs Wear Eyeliner
I Want You
Peace of Mind
You're So Fine
Run Out of Numbers
[Some versions add:
Listening to the opening track on Chariot's sole album, 1998's I am Ben Hur, you could be forgiven for thinking you were actually hearing the late-period London-based NWoBHM outfit of the same name, although the powerpop supergroup soon kick into their expected groove. Consisting of The Posies' Ken Stringfellow and Brian Young, along with White Flags' Pat Fear and The Zeroes' Javier Escovedo, the album mixes originals with covers, including Los Bravos' Black Is Black, The Choir's I'd Rather You Leave Me, Paul Revere & the Raiders' Him Or Me and an unreleased Alex Chilton (Big Star) song (Stringfellow went on to play in the last version of the band), You're So Fine.
Fear plays Mellotron (probably The Posies' twin-manual MkV), with brass on Gypsy Son and Black Is Black, muted horns on I Want You and distant strings on Dogs Wear Eyeliner and Peace Of Mind, plus the album's most obvious strings on a bonus track that may or may not be Temptation, only found on the vinyl version. Generally speaking, I think the album can be considered a successful experiment, many of the band originals deserving a wider audience than this rather low-key release. Worth hearing.
See: The Posies