Chilli Willi & the Red Hot Peppers
Choo Choo Train
Cinema Recorded Music Library
Todd Tamanend Clark
Cleaners From Venus
Us & Us Only (1999, 52.22) ***/TTT½
Good Witch, Bad Witch 3
The Blond Waltz
A House is Not a Home
My Beautiful Friend
I Don't Care Where You Live
|The Blind Stagger
Wonderland (2001, 57.31) **/T½
|You're So Pretty - We're So Pretty
Love is the Key
A Man Needs to Be Told
I Just Can't Get Over Losing You
The Bell and the Butterfly
And if I Fall
|Is it in You?
Ballad of the Band
Love to You
Up at the Lake (2004, 45.00) **½/T
|Up at the Lake
Feel the Pressure
As I Watch You in Disbelief
Cry Yourself to Sleep
Bona Fide Treasure
High Up Your Tree
Blue for You
I'll Sing a Hymn (You Came to Me)
|Loving You is Easy
Try Again Today
Apples and Oranges
Manchester's Charlatans regrouped in 1998 after the death of their long-standing organist, Rob Collins, having decided to carry on. Replacing him with Tony Rogers, they branched out a little on the keyboard front, buying a Wurlitzer and an M400, slapping it all over their next release Us and Us Only. By the way, the band are known as Charlatans UK in the States, probably due to their ripping-off of the original '60s Charlatans' name. The album starts fantastically, with a grinding Hammond fading in and a driving backbeat, which even Tim Burgess' dodgy vocals can't dispel. Unfortunately, it's the album's best track, although they use 'Tron (mostly strings) on six tracks in total; Senses is particularly good for it, with an unaccompanied part closing the song, while Watching You branches out with a nice flute part, pitchbend included. All in all, I found this better for the 'Tron than the music, but if you're into that UK retro-indie thing, you may like this anyway.
I'm afraid to say their follow-up, Wonderland, is a distinct backwards step, being largely dated baggy-by-numbers, complete with by-now passé drum loops and largely tedious songwriting. Sorry, but I find it difficult to say anything particularly positive about such a lacklustre album; even after several listens, I can't find anything very encouraging to say about it, except: nice vintage keys. Quite a bit of Wurly, and after a slow start, some reasonable Mellotron, with a few string notes on You're So Pretty - We're So Pretty (yeah, yeah, it's a Pistols quote; would've been far better titled 'So Pretty', but there you go), which start things off with a whimper, but a nice (if brief) flute melody on And If I Fall and a more overt part on Is It In You?, along with strings, brighten things up slightly. The strings on Right On seem to be mixed with generic samples, but the choirs, strings and cellos on closer Love To You finish things off well, at least on the 'Tron front.
2004's Up at the Lake is an improvement on its predecessor, which isn't actually a recommendation; 'not appalling' isn't a synonym for 'good'. It has its moments, but they're rather few and far between, I'm afraid, the title track probably being the best of a ropey bunch. Rogers plays 'Tron on just one obvious track, with strings and flutes on High Up Your Tree, although the strings on closer Dead Love are real.
So; Us and Us Only is noticeably better than Wonderland and Up at the Lake, but I wouldn't really go too far out of your way for any of them, to be honest. Average at best, although some nice 'Tron in places.
Schizophrenic (2004, 72.07) **/½
|Some Girls (Dance With Women)
She Got Me
Build My World
If You Were My Girl
|All Day Long I Dream About Sex
One Night Stand
Come to Me
Everything You Want
Right Here (By Your Side)
Blowin' Me Up (With Her Love)
It seems Joshua Scott "JC" Chasez is the second most famous ex-member of 'N Sync after Justin Timberlake, although given that I had no idea the latter had anything to do with said boy-band, it's hardly surprising I haven't previously encountered the former. Chasez' sole solo album to date, 2004's Schizophrenic, is well-titled, as it skips between a bewildering variety of pop styles, from the mainstream dance-pop prevalent on its first few tracks through the retro electro of Come To Me (spot that Eurythmics bassline) and the lengthy(ish) All Day Long I Dream About Sex to the Donna Summer non-sample around which One Night Stand is built, not to mention the reggae feel of Everything You Want. I'm not going to pretend for a nanosecond that this album is anything other than an ultra-commercial pop record, but at least it's one that isn't afraid to take the occasional chance, although the likes of Lose Myself and Blowin' Me Up (With Her Love) are enough to make the committed listener gag.
Roger (Joseph) Manning (Jr.) plays keys, including Mellotron, although it isn't exactly evident throughout the bulk of the album. While the strings on Dear Goodbye are clearly keyboard-generated, they sound nothing like a Mellotron, although the brief polyphonic flute part does, so I think we'll have to assume that that's it on the 'Tron front. No, of course you don't need to hear this album, or any part of it, but despite its many failings, it's far less offensive than much of the crap to which I've subjected myself over the last few years.
Sever Roots, Tree Dies (1988, 45.16) ***½/T½Fight for Innocence
Death & Taxes
Avoid the Invisible
Black & White
Cutting Off My Arm So I Don't Have to Shake Hands
What Sequel? (2006, 43.17) ****/½
|Keep in Touch
GQ Gone Green
Nefarious Designs, Inc.
You Know You Know
Surviving a Methopology
Done with the Eternal
|Arise and Shine
The wonderfully-named Cheer-Accident (apparently monickered for a category of greeting cards) are a long-standing institution on the Chicago scene, although I was unaware of their existence before hearing this album. Sever Roots, Tree Dies was their first release, and while the overused term 'avant-garde' is relevant, what I hear is a combination of '70s RIO (Henry Cow et al.), '80s King Crimson and some weirder shit, although I believe the band have grown away from their influences on subsequent albums. Although I've only given this album ***½, I suspect it may get an upgrading in the future, as its hidden depths release their murky secrets; there's an awful lot going on here - far more than the average brain (especially mine) can assimilate in a single sitting.
Of the band's three members at the time, two (multi-instrumentalists Thymme Jones and Chris Block) play Mellotron, apparently borrowed from one Ted Dominick, whose sleeve credit reads "who else would have a Mellotron?" It isn't actually used until track four, the lengthy Avoid The Invisible, with what sounds like a cello line under one of the more 'normal' parts of the song, before a fantastic discordant strings part takes over. There are more cellos on Severed (the lyrics of which give the album its name), but that appears to be it.
Move forwards some way and 2006's What Sequel? (inspired by 1994's The Why Album, the band's first foray into sort-of vaguely mainstream territory) is the band's second album of, for want of a better phrase, progressive pop, most tracks in the three-something minute territory, as if to deliberately piss off the avant crowd (surely not?!). Top influence? Hard to say, but listening to this triggered a recurrent, nagging feeling that I'd heard the vocal style before. Of course: XTC. Not just the vocals, either; their angular-yet-surprisingly-catchy tunes bear a definite comparison with Andy Partridge's mob. Highlights include the particularly XTC-esque Simple Life and Crazy, with its faint echoes of The Beach Boys, but with not one single redundant track, this comes highly recommended. Jones plays Chamberlin, with cellos on Nefarious Designs, Inc., although, as so often, it's exceedingly difficult to tell whether or not it's doing anything else here.
So; two radically different, yet really rather good albums, the first finally available on CD, through Würzburg's Freakshow Records, run by Charly Heidenreich, who also curates the town's magnificent annual prog festival. There isn't an awful lot of tape-replay on either, but what there is, is good, so buy these principally for the music.
Absurda Cenicienta (2007, 41.41) **½/T
|Todo Irá Bien
El Bolsillo del Revés
Absurda Cenicienta (Shortcut to Heaven)
Sonriéme Si Eres Tú
Algo de los Dos
Vive tu Vida
Cita a Ciegas
Hola Como te Va
María "Chenoa" Falomir, despite being Argentinian-born, grew up and resides in Spain, singing professionally since her teens. Her fifth album, 2007's Absurda Cenicienta, is a Spanish-language pop/rock effort, less irritating tracks including the rock'n'roll of Mucho Rodaje and the funky Cita A Ciegas, but the majority of the record is pretty dullsville, if relatively inoffensive and professional to a T.
Jacob Sureda plays Mellotron, with strings on Vive Tu Vida although the part on Dieciseis sounds more like generic string samples. Good at what it does (he says, grudgingly), but not something I can imagine you're going to want to make the effort to hear.
Living in the Present Future (2000, 49.55) ***/T
|Been Here Once Before
Are You Still Having Fun
One Good Reason
Long Way Around
Lonely Days (Miles Away)
|First to Fall
She Didn't Believe
Shades of Grey
Wishing it Was
Eagle-Eye Cherry was actually born in Sweden, but is effectively American, despite spending time in Sweden as an adult. Son of jazz trumpeter Don and brother of Neneh, Eagle-Eye's career kicked off in the late '90s, after the death of his father, releasing Desireless in '97 ('98 in the States). His second release, Living in the Present Future, appeared in 2000, being reissued a year later in the US as Present/Future, with a slightly different tracklisting, and is an appealing mix of singer-songwriter styled material with a bit of a 'retro' sound with some more current influences, although none of them are that overt. One Good Reason is a beautiful acoustic ballad, while Lonely Days (Miles Away) is probably the album's best upbeat song, though while nothing here actually offends, the album does begin to outstay its welcome around track ten, to be honest.
The inimitable Patrick Warren plays Chamberlin on Promises Made, illustrating why the instrument is sometimes so hard to spot; it's actually almost indistinguishable from real strings, though with a tape-replay edge to it, a trick the Mellotron rarely performs, which is presumably why the Chamby is so popular amongst a small cabal of American producers. Several other tracks feature Hammond, Rhodes and some particularly nice, mellow Moog (presumably a Mini), especially the solo on Lonely Days (Miles Away).
So; not one for those of you who detest the mainstream, which this effectively is. However, it's far better than I'd expected, all things considered, and it's a shame Cherry hasn't made a bigger commercial impact, given the talentless dross that clogs up the airwaves. Anyway, one decent Chamby track, for those who are interested.
Cherry Five (1975, 43.12) ****/TTTCountry Grave-Yard
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Swan is a Murderer Part 1
The Swan is a Murderer Part 2
My Little Cloud Land
Cherry Five were, basically, an early version of the esteemed Goblin, of Dario Argento horror movie theme fame (try saying that quickly); in fact, the sound effects on the album were later re-used on Goblin's Profondo Rosso. Their take on prog was actually slightly dated for 1975, with a psych edge to it in places lost by most of their contemporaries by that time, but don't let that put you off.
Goblin quickly developed their own sound, partly, no doubt, due to most of their albums being soundtracks, but Cherry Five had a distinctly Yes/Gentle Giant flavour to their material, particularly in the vocal harmony (Yes) and organ (Giant) department. The songs actually get better, and more contemporary, as the album progresses; maybe they recorded their stuff in the order they wrote it? Unlikely, but Cherry Five does have that sort of feel to it. Mellotron on three tracks, all strings, all very nice use, though not quite enough to be labelled a 'Tron Classic. Anyway, an excellent album that I get the feeling will be a 'grower' the more I play it. Much recommended, especially if you're into '70s Italian prog. Oh, and don't forget to check out Goblin.
Official Goblin site
Silver Lake (2003, 58.54) ***½/TT
Sultan, So Mighty
In My Way, Yes
Vic Chesnutt (NOT 'Chestnut') is an Athens, Georgia-based singer-songwriter, paraplegic since the age of nineteen, whose work loosely fits the 'alt.country' tag, while refusing to be constrained by its usual limitations. 2003's Silver Lake is his ninth album, full of 'story' songs that demand the listener's attention, although the music's good enough to stand up on its own if you're not in the mood for Chesnutt's wry observations. Top tracks include lengthy opener I'm Through, Stay Inside and Zippy Morocco, but it's all good, basically.
Patrick Warren does his Chamberlin thing on several tracks; fortunately, the credits list not only 'Chamberlin', but what the instrument actually does, track-by-track, as several of the sounds aren't that apparent. He plays Chamby pedal steel, doubtless aided by 'that Chamberlin trick' of manipulating the flywheel, difficult on a Mellotron, on Band Camp, although it's almost impossible to pick it out from the other guitar work on the track. Zippy Morocco features a far more obvious string part, while Sultan, So Mighty is big on woodwind, with oboe, clarinet and bassoon parts that could quite easily be 'real', co-existing with Warren's Wurlitzer, with regular (and nicely full-on) strings on Wren's Nest and string and inaudible 'tibia' parts on Fa-La-La finishing the album's tape-replay parts off in style.
All in all, a very good album with some unusual Chamberlin work, although much of it's either inaudible or used overly sparsely. Worth hearing anyway.
Let's Go Get Stoned (1994, 40.34) ***/T
Street Fighting Man
It's Getting Harder All the Time
I'd Rather Be Dead
Can't Believe it
Sing Me Back Home
|Long Ago, Far Away
I'm Not Talking
One Foot in the Graveyard
I'm So Confused, Baby
Cannonballs for Christmas
The Mindbending Sounds of... (2003, 49.13) ***/0
|I Don't Understand
Running Through My Nightmares
Trip Through Tomorrow
Death is the Only Real Thing
Stems and Flowers
Memos From Purgatory
Fading of my Mind
Psychedelic Sunrise (2007, 39.48) ***/T
|Sunrise (Turn on)
Rise and Fall
Streaks and Flashes
Up and Down
Inside Looking Out
|Stayed Too Long
The Chesterfield Kings (named for the once-popular brand of American gasper) formed way back in '79, when bassist Andy Babiuk was only sixteen. Although their specific style has shifted over the years, they unsurprisingly fall loosely into what Americans would probably refer to as post-British Invasion; late beat/early psych to the rest of us. I've read somewhere that 1994's Let's Go Get Stoned was originally meant to be a Stones tribute album, becoming watered down to, well, an album of originals containing one Stones cover. Mind you, the rest of the material might as well be by Mick, Keef'n'the boys, with Long Ago, Far Away copping its intro from Sympathy For The Devil, while you'd sweat Brian Jones was playing on several tracks. Babiuk plays Mellotron on I'm So Confused, Baby, with strings all over the track, although it's possible we're hearing early samples (eMu's Vintage Synth box appeared the previous year).
2003's The Mindbending Sounds of... is something like their ninth non-compilation album in twenty years, and while it's a decent listen for those into the era, its chief problem is that it's more pastiche than homage, channelling The Stones one minute (Flashback, Memos From Purgatory), Love the next (Transparent Life)... You get the picture. It's not a bad record, by any means, but its dearth of originality scuppers it in the 'undying classics' stakes. All four members are credited with multiple instruments, including, in Greg Provost's case, Mellotron. Er, if you say so, Greg... There's absolutely nothing audible at all, so Christ knows where it's supposed to be, but it doesn't seem to be this album.
Their follow-up, 2007's Psychedelic Sunrise, is, unsurprisingly, more psych-influenced than its predecessor, although there's still plenty of '66 Stones copies for the old school brigade, including the Lady Jane-style acoustic effort Inside Looking Out and the Paint It, Black near-rip-off Spanish Sun (that sitar riff!). Provost's Mellotron is actually audible on one track this time, with a background string part on Rise And Fall, although whether or not it's real is another matter. It does an odd 'tape slowing down' thing at the end of the song which could either be extreme pitchbending of a sample, or digital manipulation of the sound, real or otherwise.
All in all, then, three somewhat unoriginal albums with some reasonable songs and very little Mellotron. Three stars all round, then.
Blanco Fácil (2006, 44.05) **½/½
|Poco a Poco
Se Fue el Dolor
El Sonido de Tu Voz
Camino a Casa
Llego la Luz
|Que Me Maten
Que Vas a Hacer?
Luis Gerardo Garza "Chetes" Cisneros is a Mexican musician who made his name with Zurdok and Vaquero, neither of whom, it has to be said, have made much impression outside the Latin world. 2006's Blanco Fácil is his first solo effort, consisting largely of Spanish-language Beatles-esque pop, none of it particularly standing out, to be honest. It's the kind of material that doesn't sound too bad for a few tracks, but by halfway through the album, you're willing it to finish.
Jerry Dale McFadden plays Mellotron, with choir stabs on Se Fue El Dolor and some messing about at the end of the track that makes me think the 'Tron's real, with similar on Camino A Casa, although that would appear to be it. Incidentally, at this juncture I feel I have to reprint a comment on Chetes' WikiPedia entry before it disappears, probably one of the most incompetent pieces of writing about music I think I've ever seen: "...so he learned about guitar distortion. This is a method of playing guitar where the sound is distorted, but the actual guitar remains intact". No shit, Sherlock; what, you mean you don't have to smash the thing up to get that sound? Wish someone had told me...
Anyway... Unless '60s Anglo-American-influenced Latin pop sounds like it might be your bag, you're probably best off avoiding this; very little Mellotron, although at least what we get sounds real.
VII (1974, 72.32) ***/T
|Prelude to Aire
Italian From New York
(I've Been) Searchin' So Long
Song of the Evergreens
Wishing You Were Here
Call on Me
Woman Don't Want to Love Me
X (1976, 41.55) **/½
|Once or Twice
You Are on My Mind
If You Leave Me Now
Another Rainy Day in New York City
|Gently I'll Wake You
You Get It Up
Hope for Love
By VII, Chicago were already moving well away from their rock/jazz/blues beginnings, and a distinct Latin influence had begun to make itself known. Saying that, the jazz-inflected material here is still vastly superior to the rampant balladry that was to become their stock in trade within two or three albums, although Happy Man and particularly (I've Been) Searchin' So Long stray dangerously close.
Opener Prelude To Aire features a cool 'Tron strings part from Robert Lamm, underpinning a lengthy flute part, over Latin percussion, with 'Tron cellos added to the mix towards the end of the piece. Byblos is another jazzy Latin thing, with background flutes and strings from David J. Wolinski, and that's it for the album (both tracks credited, so no guesswork here). So; not Chicago's best, and the precipice of taste over which they were about to plummet is clearly visible, but VII has its moments, though I feel it may've made a better single album.
Two years on, X isn't entirely awful, surprisingly, though bloody close, with interesting chord sequences in a couple of tracks, which are then spoilt by completely naff arrangements. It also contains the utterly hideous If You Leave Me Now, surely one of the worst songs known to mankind, which docked it at least half a star on its own. Suffice to say, unless you have a yen for the sort of anodyne crap they've been churning out ever since they decided to stop doing anything interesting, you want to avoid this album. Wolinski plays Mellotron strings on weepy closer Hope For Love, but to little effect, to be honest.
So; stick with Chicago's early material, although bits of VII are passable.
Chief Nowhere (2010, 36.36) ****/TThe Dropa Stone
From 3 to 4
The Nile Song/She Beckons
Across the Purple Plain
Chief Nowhere, a mostly instrumental heavy psych/prog outfit from California, are helmed by Andy Campanella, brother of Mellotron owner Rob (Lovetones, The Quarter After). Their eponymous 2010 debut's default position is a hazy kind of organ-led psych, best encountered on lengthy closer Twilight Effect, although other highlights include Across The Purple Plain's acid folk, Technical Difficulties' Clavinet grooves and a great cover of one of the heaviest things the Floyd ever recorded, The Nile Song (from More).
Campanella (R.) plays his M400 on Twilight Effect, with a heavily-reverbed flute line and full-on strings, pitchbent to a grinding halt at the track's end. Chief Nowhere is the kind of album that too few bands are making these days: psychedelic without even the merest hint of any tedious, tuneless, Velvet Underground-enslavement indie-ness. The band are working on their second release, but in the meantime, get thee to an online store and buy this one.
Kings of the Robot Rhythm (1972, 40.19) ***/T
|Living Out My Suitcase
The Ballad of Chilli Willi
I'll Be Home
That's All Right Mamma
Drunken Sunken Red Neck Blues
|Get Your Gauge Up Let Your Love Come Down
Happy You/Fiddle Dee
Astrella From the Astral Planet
A Page in History
Chilli Willi & the Red Hot Peppers (are a certain later band aware of them?) were a fixture on the early '70s London pub rock scene, although rather than the expected r'n'b, their debut album, 1972's Kings of the Robot Rhythm, is a largely acoustic country/folk/blues/ragtime collection. It seems that members of country/pub-rocking cohorts Brinsley Schwarz played on it, while one of two consistent members, Philip "Snake Finger" Lithman (who, as Snakefinger, went on to become the nearest legendary Californian weirdoes The Residents came to a public face), plays fiddle on several tracks, accentuating the album's country feel. Better tracks include opener Living Out My Suitcase, the fab, almost psychedelic instrumental interplay on Paper Mill and slightly epic closer A Page In History, although nothing here should offend the discerning listener who appreciates craftsmanship over stylistic boundaries.
Lithman played Mellotron, albeit only on the album's closing minutes, with a vaguely orchestral string part towards the end of A Page In History, although it's hardly one of the album's defining features. Given the band's relative obscurity these days (like the Brinsleys, they're known more as an alumni than in their own right), those of you who enjoy a little country/bluegrass pickin' of an evening may well not be aware that this might be right up your street, although I wouldn't bother for the Mellotron.
Riding High (1974, 34.43) ***/TCome on Over
There's Something I Like About That
Time Don't Mean a Thing to Ya
Far Side of the Sun (Suite)
Led by Bill Henderson, Chilliwack are one of those rather ordinary hard-ish rock bands thrown up worldwide by the thousand during the early '70s, in this case from Canada, named for a city near Vancouver. For what it's worth, they belong to that pointless yet exclusive club of artists who've released more than one album of the same title (Peter Gabriel being an obvious example), their first two releases both being titled eponymously, for no known reason.
1974's Riding High was their fourth album, partially co-produced by fellow Canuck Terry Jacks, of Seasons In The Sun infamy, although he managed not to wreck the couple of tracks with which he was involved too badly. Most of the album consists of the expected middling rock, better moments including eight-minute closer Far Side Of The Sun (Suite), although it veers into country rock territory in the middle and the title track, probably the most memorable thing here, although it suffers from the album's overall malaise, being at least a minute too long for its content.
Guitarist/keyboard player Howard Froese plays Mellotron, with a melodic string part on Makin' Time that just about scrapes one T. I don't know if the rest of Chilliwack's output is this average, but this really isn't the kind of stuff that still cuts the mustard nearly four decades on, I'm afraid, when you consider that Rush's debut and Bachman Turner Overdrive's mighty Not Fragile hailed from the same country the same year. Inoffensive, but largely inessential, with one so-so 'Tron track.
Official Bill Henderson site
Chillum (1971, 39.49) ***/T½Brain Strain
Land of a Thousand Dreams
Too Many Bananas
Yes! We Have No Pajamas
Promenade des Anglais
Chillum was the third album by undeservedly lesser-known psychonauts Second Hand, or at least their twin enfants terribles, vocalist/keyboardist Ken Elliott and drummer Kieran O'Connor; it seems no-one can now remember why they also elected to use it as the band name. It's possible that the overt drug connotations were a deliberate attempt to piss someone off (record company? Society? Each other?), but that can only be a matter for conjecture.
The album opens with a side-long jam, Brain Strain, apparently recorded at guitarist Tony McGill's audition, which is remarkably good, all things considered. A brief proto-symphonic piece, Land Of A Thousand Dreams, is followed by a drum solo (Too Many Bananas) and another lengthy jam (Yes! We Have No Pajamas), before a final short well-arranged piece in Promenade Des Anglais, making this more of a jamming album than anything else. Elliott's Mellotron work is confined (big surprise here) to the two short arranged pieces, with a major string part on the all-too brief Land Of A Thousand Dreams, and a minor one on closer Promenade Des Anglais, making this a bit of a minor effort in the Mellotron Canon, though at least it's audible where used.
Elliott and O'Connor fell out dramatically in 1972, signalling the end of the band, although the collapse of their record company can't have helped. Eventually, they had another stab at fame and fortune as Seventh Wave, releasing a further two albums before the inevitable permanent rift, meaning that they probably reached their artistic peak on their first album, although I'm sure many of you will disagree. Chillum doubtless has its advocates, although its druggy jamming won't be to everyone's tastes, and its Mellotron use is pretty low-key, though I've heard an awful lot worse. Oh, and See For Miles released an expanded edition in the late '90s, which I shall review when I manage to get hold of a copy.
See: Second Hand | Seventh Wave
Cho Dependent (2010, 51.18) ***/½
Calling in Stoned
Baby I'm With the Band
Hey Big Dog
Gimme Your Seed
Eat Shit and Die
Margaret Cho is a Korean/American comedienne whose confrontational style has made her a good few enemies over the years; usually, though not always, a mark of quality (Andrew "Dice" Clay, anyone?). By American standards, she's startlingly right-on, which she seems to have no problem reconciling with her frequently borderline offensive humour, displayed on her debut album, 2010's Cho Dependent (ho ho). Cho gets loads of famous friends in to guest, including Tommy Chong (of Cheech & Chong fame, of course), Fiona Apple, Grant-Lee Phillips, Ani DiFranco and our old friend Jon Brion, although it's a moot point just how much they contribute.
Musically, the album veers between a kind of mainstream folk/pop/rock (most of it), electro (Asian Adjacent, Gimme Your Seed) and, er, hip-hop (amusingly puerile closer My Puss). Lyrically, the bulk of the album tackles the kind of topics that make conservatives squirm (unsurprisingly, Cho is no fan of their ethos), although, all too often, the end result is slightly tiresome 'I've got a vagina' stuff like Your Dick or Captain Cameltoe. Despite myself, though, the juvenilia of My Puss raised a smile, largely for its outrageous rhymes ("My puss is soft like velvet, your puss, dead like Elvis").
Jebin Bruni plays Chamberlin, with strings on Your Dick and (more obviously) Eat Shit And Die, which is nowhere near enough to interest those of you who judge albums purely on their tape-replay content (whadd'ya mean, 'Me'?). Those who just can't get enough edgy humour may well go for this, though, while one of the album's bonuses is Cho's excellent voice, putting her several steps above most of her comedic contemporaries, most of whom couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. So; one for your lesbian friend with a sense of humour.
Black Music (1998, 46.23) ***½/TT
Half a Man
Don't Look Down
Safe and Sound
A Cheap Excuse
It's All Good
Half a Man
Chocolate Genius (now Chocolate Genius Inc.) is basically the nom de plume of Marc Anthony Thompson, a New York-based musician who clearly has no intention of conforming to any stereotypes, racial or otherwise. Black Music apparently refers to the darkness within most of its songs, although every now and again (doubtless to confound the listener), Thompson toys with one or another of the styles the ill-informed observer may expect of him. The album starts brilliantly with the stark Life, featuring several other tracks of searing honesty, not least My Mom, which is painful to even listen to, so I can't imagine what it cost Thompson to write and record something so nakedly open. There are weaker tracks; the rather anodyne Clinic veers rather too close to the kind of clichés you might expect from the album's title, but the low points are few and far between.
Mellotronically speaking, John Medeski (of Medeski, Martin & Wood) makes his presence felt immediately, playing a brilliantly seasick 'Tron strings part on opener Life, with lesser input on Don't Look Down and Safe And Sound. This is an unexpectedly good album by an artist of whose existence I was previously unaware; Thompson covers several musical bases, and actually writes lyrics worth listening to, which is more than I can say for, ooh... 99.9% of lyricists? Probably more. Only one full-on 'Tron track, but an essential for Medeski fans, and worth hearing for the rest of you. Incidentally, as this is an album from the '90s, it includes a hidden, unlisted track, a different version of the excellent Half A Man; the CD's running time has been adjusted accordingly.
Just a Dream (1980, 40.17) ***/TT½Ixtlan
All the Things
Old Piece of Rock
Nothing to Hide
Choice grew out of one of the best German one-shots (excluding their apparently awful reformation album), Epidaurus, and included both of that estimable outfit's keyboard players, Günther Henne and Gerd Linke. Compared to their superb effort of only three years earlier, Choice peddled a relatively mainstream form of prog on Just a Dream, which I've seen compared to Kayak, or maybe Camel, although just because it was quite late in the day for prog, that didn't have to mean giving in to The Man (see: Tau). Actually, I'm being a little unfair here; there are several reasonable tracks on the album, including Ixtlan and Old Piece Of Rock, it's just that after the Epidaurus album of all of three years earlier, it's a slight let-down.
Anyway, 'Tron on four tracks, with effective strings on Ixtlan and less of the same on Hollow Men, choirs on Remembrances, and strings and choir on closer Nothing To Hide, although the best use has to be on the first track. So, not bad, not great, more for those into neo-prog, although Just a Dream predates that style by a couple of years.
Free Flying Soul (1996, 44.37) **/T
Away With the Swine
If You're Listening
Flap Your Wings (2000, 39.58) **/T
|Flap Your Wings
Mercy Lives Here
Flowing Over Me
I Don't Mean Any Harm
|A Moment in Time
Beautiful Scandalous Night
The Choir are a CCM outfit with links to the surprisingly inoffensive Daniel Amos and the vile City on a Hill series. They've been around since the mid-'80s, making them a textbook case of how Christian acts can completely bypass the mainstream, playing and selling records to an almost exclusively 'faith' audience, as I believe it's horribly known. 1996's Free Flying Soul is pretty dullsville, though nowhere near as nasty as multiple similar efforts, although nothing about it made me want to hear any of it again. Tape-replay player to the Christian community, Phil Madeira, adds Chamberlin flutes and a high cello part to The Ocean, with more cellos on Butterfly, though it really isn't enough to redeem (let's keep to Biblical terms, OK?) this in any meaningful way.
Calling 2000's Flap Your Wings less offensive than many similar artists could be construed as a recommendation, which it isn't; its first couple of tracks are in a turn-of-the-millennium indie style, complete with random guitar noise and other tricks used at the time, but it quickly descends into the expected lightweight mush, although still nowhere near as bad as some of the horrors I've encountered. Madeira turns up again, playing Mellotron this time, but only just, with nothing obvious apart from the flutes on A Moment In Time, although the strings may just possibly be hiding away on a track or two.
While nowhere near as dreadful as some, unless you're a Christian with very insipid taste, you really don't need to hear these, while their tape-replay contributions are minimal. Next...
The Briar Rose E.P. (1988, 17.53) ****/0Briar Rose
Big Blue Buzz
Every Little Knight
Catch Another Breath
Choo Choo Train were effectively the duo of Paul Chastain and Ric Menck, who went on to form the semi-legendary Velvet Crush, although they only released an EP and a handful of singles in their original incarnation. The Briar Rose E.P. is a brief, perfect slice of powerpop, with no obvious '80s influence whatsoever (hurrah!), every track a winner, its possible peak being the gorgeous vocal harmonies on Flower Field.
Chastain allegedly plays Mellotron, although I've absolutely no idea where; the production's transparent enough that it should be pretty obvious, but the only keyboards present sound distinctly un-Mellotronic. Still, it'd be a shame to deny such a great record a review on such a nitpicking point, wouldn't it? I don't know if the compilation of most of their recorded works, 1992's Briar High (Singles 1988), is still available, but should you spot a copy, grab it to hear a minor powerpop classic. Superb.
See: Velvet Crush
Tim Christensen (Denmark) see:
The Bad Wife (2010, 41.51) ***/½July 31st
If You Go Away
Secrets All Men Keep (Salt Bridge, Part II)
Six Pairs of Feet and One Pair of Legs
The Wigmaker's Widow
I Just Destroyed the World
When Everything is Green
Made Out of Babies/Battle of Mice's frontwoman Julie Christmas has been memorably described as 'batshit crazy', which seems a tad harsh, although I'll admit that her solo debut, 2010's The Bad Wife, is a little odd. Musically, it falls between several stools, not least punk, jazz and avant-garde, the end result being more listenable in some places than others. Christmas memorably elects to tackle Jacques Brel (If You Go Away) and Willie Nelson (I Just Destroyed The World), although the album's climax, both figuratively and literally, is overblown closer When Everything Is Green.
Andrew Schneider plays Mellotron on closer When Everything Is Green, with high strings hiding under a slide guitar part that obscures the sound's origin: sample or real? Either way, this isn't an album for the faint-hearted, although anyone who's previously encountered Ms Christmas' work should give it a go.
Fable of the Wings (1970, 37.40) ***/TWaiting for the Wind to Rise
Fable of the Wings
Keith Christmas had his moment in the sun in 1969, when he played guitar on David Bowie's David Bowie album, better known as Space Oddity, playing the first Glastonbury festival the following year. He released five solo albums from the late '60s to the mid-'70s, the second being 1970's Fable of the Wings, much of which sounds a lot like the less-remembered tracks from Space Oddity, being lengthy acoustic numbers which tell a story over rather too long a timespan, generally speaking, the eight-minute Lorri being a typical example. The more electric tracks tend to be the more interesting ones, although some of the jamming (notably on closer Bednotch) does go on a bit.
Ian Whiteman (Gary Farr, Andy Roberts) plays Mellotron, with flute and vibes parts on Hamlin, although that would appear to be it. So; not a bad effort of its type, but a little unexciting, not really matching up to the better singer-songwriters of the era. Once decent 'Tron track, but not enough to make an expensive second-hand purchase worthwhile.
Les Mots Bleus (1974, 34.35) ***/T½Le Dernier des Bevilacqua
C'est la Question
Les Mots Bleus
Le Petit Gars
Drôle de Vie
Samouraï (1976, 29.15) ***/TSamouraï
Merci John d'Etre Venu
Tant Pis Si J'en Oubli...
Pour que Demain ta Vie Soit Moins Moche
2ème partie/Les Dragons de Mes Chimères
Le Cimetière des Baleines
La Route de Salina (1970) ***/T[Christophe contributes]
The Girl From Salina (vocal)
The Girl From Salina (instrumental)
Sunny Road to Salina
The Girl From Salina (orchestral)
Daniel "Christophe" Bevilacqua is a French singer-songwriter who's been through all the usual career highs and lows, breakdowns and alcoholism de rigeur. After an early album in 1966, he as good as disappeared until the early '70s, returning with '73's Les Paradis Perdus (Mellotronic status currently uncertain), lyrics, bizarrely, mostly written by a young Jean Michel Jarre, later, of course, known for his instrumental music. Strange. Christophe followed up a year later with the diverse Les Mots Bleus (The Blues Notes, presumably a pun), veering between the epic, self-referential opener Le Dernier Des Bevilacqua, the sleaze-rock-lite of C'est La Question, the strange, sparse Le Petit Gars and the pocket symphony of closer Souvenirs, all interspersed with variations on the expected French chanson. Dominique Perrier (Roche) plays Mellotron, with a lush string part on Drôle De Vie, while Souvenirs finishes with nearly a minute of nowt but multitracked choirs.
Two year on, Samouraï is probably less diverse, at its best (unsurprisingly) on the three-part Pour Que Demain Ta Vie Soit Moins Moche, although the bulk of the album concentrates on his trademarked overblown balladry. Perrier on Mellotron again, although the only likely candidate is the flute run on part two of Pour Que Demain Ta Vie Soit Moins Moche, Les Dragons De Mes Chimères. Although a long way from 'prog' as we know and love it, these albums have a certain level of mid-'70s experimentation about them that makes them more palatable than your standard French-language balladry. Not prog, but a little Mellotron and surprisingly listenable.
See: La Route de Salina
Crush Depth (2010, 59.09) ***/T
|Witches Instruments and Furnaces
Third Sun Descendent
Despite knowing several people in Chrome Hoof or in their orbit, I can say in all honesty that I'm not at all sure where they're coming from. Imagine a ten-piece band playing a mixture of awkward metal, funk, disco, prog and probably another dozen or so genres, all thrown into a large pot and given a good kicking. While wearing silver hooded robes. The robes are a canny move, getting them the press coverage they may otherwise not have got, although their unique musical vision was bound to attract attention sooner or later. 2010's Crush Depth is their third full-lengther, distinctly different to the EP I've heard from a few years earlier, although I still don't think I really get where they're coming from. Best tracks? Hard to say, due to the diversity on display here; I actually don't feel qualified to comment, so have a listen to the tracks on their MySpace and decide for yourself.
I know bassist/leader Leo Smee both through his Cathedral membership and via mutual friends, not least Cardiacs/Knifeworld's Kavus Torabi, which is how I came to bring my M400 and Taurus pedals up to Leo's flat in the summer of 2009. Leo, his brother Milo and regular keys player Emmet Elvin all played the 'Tron over the course of a few hours, putting down the flutes and wobbly, pitchbent choirs on Mental Peptides and the strings on Third Sun Descendent. I'm not saying there aren't any more parts - I'm sure they recorded loads more - but to my ears, there's nothing definite. I also provided the band with samples of Mellotron tubular bells, but I don't hear them anywhere, either.
So; a pretty eclectic effort all round. I'm not quite sure to whom Chrome Hoof are trying to appeal; I'd imagine they're just doing what they want to do and if anyone likes it, great, which is a pretty good attitude. Crush Depth may be just a little too out there for me, but going by online reviews, a lot of people love it. Not much audible Mellotron (and where are those bass pedals?), but at least you know it's real.
See: Cathedral | Knifeworld
Untitled #23 (2009, 50.28) ****/TT
On Angel Street
The Church must be one of Australia's, if not music's generally best-kept secrets. Active for nearly thirty years at the time of writing, they've released something like 25 albums in that time, still flying the flag for psychedelic pop in one form or another. 2009's Untitled #23 keeps their standards high, featuring material of the quality of Cobalt Blue, with its prog chord changes, Deadman's Hand and dreamy closer Opperetta, although there's nothing here that should've been left on the shelf. Despite an average song-length of around five minutes, nothing outstays its welcome either; good trick if you can do it, chaps.
Steve Kilbey plays Mellotron female choir and vibes on Sunken Sun, although the band's website lists him as playing them on Deadman's Hand. Tim Powles adds a nice string part to Pangaea, gentle flutes on On Angel Street and upfront strings on closer Opperetta, with several other instrumental parts on the album sounding Mellotronic, although I think we can assume they're not. Overall, then, a fine album of current psych, looking both backwards to the '60s and forwards to whatever lies ahead for The Church.
See: Steve Kilbey | Hammock/Steve Kilbey/timEbandit Powles
You & Me (1973, 40.16) **½/½
|Come and Join Me
You and Me
Reality in Arrears
Dream of Your Maker Man
Ode to an Angel
You're Not Listening
|The Youth I Dreamt in Slipped Away
Falling Down an Endless Day
Michael George "Chick" Churchill is a classically-trained pianist best-known as on/off keyboard man with Ten Years After, possibly the archetypal British blues/rock band, featuring Alvin Lee's lightning-fast guitar work. You & Me is Churchill's only solo album, to my knowledge, and is pretty typical of its era, consisting of lightweight singer-songwriter fare with added keyboards, or middle-of-the-road rock with no outstanding features, as dated as 'I'm with stupid' T-shirts and maroon and black stack heel shoes. A bevy of famous friends (Jethro Tull's Martin Barre, Cozy Powell and various members of pre-fame Supertramp included) do little to liven up the proceedings, sad to say.
Next to no obvious Mellotron on the album, with Churchill only noticeably adding any to opener Come And Join Me, with some background strings that add little to the track. The strings on a couple of other tracks appear to be real, making this a pretty low priority on your 'Mellotron must-haves' list, particularly given that it doesn't appear to have ever been reissued on CD.
Cibelle (2003, 57.27) **½/T½
Só Sei Viver No Samba
Um Só Segundo
The Shine of Dried Electric Leaves (2006, 70.14) **½/T
Instante de Dois
Mad Man Song
Por Toda a Minha Vida
Arrete la, Menina
Cibelle (Cavalli) is a modern Brazilian electronica artist who takes her inspiration from many genres, including traditional Brazilian music, Tropicalia, various dance sub-genres and even metal. Whether the end result is to your personal liking is another matter, of course... She'd settled in London by the time she finished recording her eponymous debut, making me wonder how much of it might've been recorded over here; it sounds nothing like the city, but then, she's Brazilian - why should it? I'm afraid I can't personally connect with this music at all, though, and the album gets a relatively low rating for its boredom factor; why produce an hour of music when you don't have to? Enthusiasm, I suppose. Anyway, Brazilian electronica dude A9 (a.k.a. Apollo 9, a.k.a. Apollo Nove) adds all manner of synths and keys, newer and older, including what sounds like real Mellotron, with a really cranky-sounding string part on Luisas, plus possible flutes, with more strings on Inútil Paisagem.
Cibelle followed up with 2006's oddly-titled The Shine of Dried Electric Leaves, a far more acoustic album than its predecessor, although, sadly, no more interesting to those not into her Brazilian thing, which isn't to denigrate it musically, only to say it isn't my bag. At seventy minutes, though, it's far too long for its relatively repetitive content and is marked down accordingly. Nove on 'Tron again, with string chords on City People and flutes and strings on Minha Neguinha, although it's impossible to tell if various other stringlike noises on the album are Mellotronically-produced or not.
So; not one for your average prog lover, but if you hang out in 'funky' coffee bars, you'll not only probably like these, but almost certainly already own copies. As for the rest of us...
See: Apollo Nove | Freezone
José Cid (Portugal) see:
Before the Dark (2002, 49.30) ***½/TT½
|Before the Dark
Coming Up for Air
Crash and Burn
Cinema Recorded Music Library's schtick is to recreate that '70s library music vibe, which they do with aplomb on 2002's Before the Dark. Every track has a different feel to it, as you'd expect from the real thing; this actually reminds me of Sundae Club, or (more 'authentically'), Harmonic 33, in its dedication to recreation of a lost art. Best tracks? More like best moments, actually: Pendulum nicks the descending Rhodes line from The Doors' Riders On The Storm, while the 'police car siren' synth on Head Spin almost convinces. The band (actually a duo) actually rock out a little on the latter half of Crash And Burn ('Burn', I suppose), although they splatter what sounds like a Solina all over the track, along with half of the rest of the album.
Mellotron flutes are proudly displayed on the opening title track, Pendulum, Lost, Coming Up For Air and closer The Dawn, although the one on After Dark sounds real. No idea who plays it (presumably either Crawford Tait or Gregor Reid), or whether it's real, although it sounds a lot more authentic than many other similar examples I can think of. Overall, this does exactly what it says on the tin, and does it well. If you're after that vaguely 'Gallic film music' thing, this will almost certainly hit the spot. Recommended.
Over Under Everything (2001, 49.50) ***/½
Where You Go
We Are Hungry
Ever My Love
More Like You
|Let Us Gather
Sounds of a Revolution
Circadian Rhythm (named for the natural 24-hour sleep cycle of lifeforms on our planet) manage to be better than the average CCM band by the simple expedient of, er, sounding like U2. You don't like U2? Believe me, you prefer them to the usual near-MOR pap churned out by most Christian bands. Actually, Circadian Rhythm like U2 so much, they do a pointlessly straight cover of their Gloria on what appears to be their sole album, Over Under Everything, although it ends up being the album's best track, so let's not whinge too much... No, their music isn't the most inspired ever, but (gloopy lyrics aside), it's good by CCM standards, should you be into this strange, lyrically-defined genre.
Two supposed tape-replay tracks here, with Mellotron strings on Into You from Otto Price that sound nothing like a Mellotron, and allegedly some Chamberlin on Sounds Of A Revolution, though I'll be buggered if I can hear anything (am I allowed to say 'buggered' in a CCM review?). Circadian Rhythm split up in 2002, which is sort of a shame, as their indie rock thing should have given the Christian music community a kick up the arse and maybe diverted it from the usual shite with which it associates itself. Anyway, Over Under Everything is a rather average effort out in the real world, and its tape-replay is utterly minimal, so I wouldn't try too hard to track this one down.
Tulikoira (2005, 43.12) ***½/T
Tulikoira is Circle's fifteenth studio album in around a decade, ignoring the raft of live albums, EPs etc. So who are they, anyway? They describe themselves, with no little humour, as 'NWOFHM', or, in case you hadn't guessed, the New Wave Of Finnish Heavy Metal, although both they and others have also used the terms Krautrock, Speedkraut, Psych... Basically, Circle do whatever the hell they like, for which both their fans and I love 'em, whether or not I actually like their music.
So do I actually like Tulikoira or not? It's probably fairer to say I respect it rather than actually like it per se, although repeated exposure could well sway me. It's certainly intriguing, mixing genres like there's no tomorrow; opener Rautakäärme starts in a semi-ambient manner, before the speed metal kicks in, overlaid with sampled strings, shifting back to a ghostly monks' chant with occasional powerchords... Get the picture? Probably not, no, not that I can blame you. Tulilintu is marginally more 'normal', with vocals this time, in a declamatory Finnish kind of way, while Beserk is slower, with English-language spoken vocals. The 'side-long' Puutiikeri is the album's centrepiece, though, all 24 minutes of it, starting like an Iron Maiden epic, all galloping guitars and more Finnish half-sung lyrics, before heading off into more interesting pastures. OK, not much like an Iron Maiden epic at all, really. This track is where the band earn their 'Krautrock' spurs, at least as far as this album's concerned, with motorik drumming and interlocking guitar parts that Maiden wouldn't dare try, or even contemplate.
Very little Mellotron on the album, presumably from vocalist Mike Rättö, although what there is sounds 'wobbly' enough to be real, which probably means it isn't. I have to admit, its even octaves and suspiciously high pitch at one point trigger my sample alert, but I could well be wrong. Anyway, an octave string part on Puutiikeri, slipping in and out of the mix, and that's your lot, as the strings on Rautakäärme and the choirs on Beserk are generic samples. So; do you bother? 'Yes' if you want to hear something new and different, 'no' if you want something fairly generic with loads of Mellotron. Circle are different enough that I wouldn't mind hearing more (and there's plenty of it), although I shall probably approach with caution. There's supposed to be one other 'Tron album, 2001's Taantumus; more news when I get to hear it.
Circus (2011, recorded 1968, 27.51) ***½/TFairy Tales of Truth
Change of Scene
Circus (not to be confused with any other band of the same name, including alternate spellings) were formed by vocalist/guitarist Frank Nuyens and drummer/lyricist Jay Baar after noted Dutch psychsters Q65 split in 1968; although Herman Brood (ex-Cuby & the Blizzards, later of solo fame) and Henk Smitskamp (ex-Motions) were approached, the duo ended up recruiting Frank Verhoef on bass/vocals and keyboard player Mark Klein. Using a different singer on each of the few tracks the nascent band recorded (finally released in 2011 as the barely-over-EP-length Circus), their emphasis was more on instrumental work, in true freakout fashion, highlights including trippy opener Fairy Tales Of Truth, rhythmic psychfest Mother Sundance (originally Mother Motha's Sundance, I believe) and the more traditionally songlike Change Of Scene. Sadly, the comedown came all too soon: unable to secure a deal, the quartet splintered, most of their demos being reused/re-recorded for Q65's 'comeback' contractural-obligation effort, 1969's Revival, Fairy Tales Of Truth and Voluntary Peacemaker surviving intact, while Mother Sundance was truncated to Sundance and Change Of Scene became Ridin' On A Slow Train.
Paul Natte plays Mellotron on the original recordings, with strings on Fairy Tales Of Truth, possibly from Phonogram Studios' M300, although the vibes part on Q65's Voluntary Peacemaker is inaudible/missing. Possibly the most amazing thing about these recordings is that they were ever considered even remotely 'commercial', particularly the two lengthy(ish) tracks that make up side one of the currently vinyl-only issue, which says more about the era than I ever could. Worth hearing for side one, then, not to mention one good Mellotron track.
One (1971, 41.45) ***/T½
Song for Tavish
Those Were the Days
Not to be confused with any other Cirkus/Circus, I believe this was Cirkus' only album, at least under that name, although they reappeared considerably later in the decade as Future Shock. Despite usually being labelled a progressive rarity, One is more a (very) late-period psych album, with ten average-length tracks of relatively simple construction. It's not a bad album, by any means, but there's something of a shortage of great material, although Brotherly Love stands out. There's a string section on most tracks, so it's frequently very difficult to work out where Derek G. Miller's Mellotron is actually being used, although the aforementioned Brotherly Love has some quite obvious strings and flutes, and Song For Tavish has an unaccompanied Mellotron strings coda.
Psych fans may well lap this up, but I reckon it falls rather short of greatness, and the Mellotron use is at best average. Even my vinyl reissue's quite rare now, but I believe this is available on CD. Buy at your discretion.
See: Future Shock
"El Tor" (1975, 44.14) ****/T½Alba di Una Città
La Casa del Mercante "Sun"
Milioni di Persone
There seems to have been quite a bit of movement between bands in the Italian '70s progressive scene; two of Città Frontale had, only a year earlier, been members of Osanna, including vocalist and sometime Mellotron player Lino Vairetti. "El Tor" definitely has echoes of the Osanna sound on it, but the band pretty much had their own voice, partially characterised by Enzo Avitabile's sax playing, giving the music a fusiony edge in places, particularly on Solo Uniti... and the excellent Mutazione.
The Mellotron parts, also played by regular keyboard man Paolo Raffone, are extremely tasteful and restrained, with often only a few chords or a short orchestrated flute part (aside from Avitabile's real flutes) before disappearing again. A classic example of their restraint is in the album's longest track, Duro Lavoro, where they refrain from using the oh-so obvious strings during the first time through a grandiose chord sequence, only bringing them in second time round. 'Tension and release', as I believe it's known. Strangely enough, they only use it on tracks 1-4, so there's probably less than a minute of Mellotron on the whole album; it's a very tasteful minute, though.
So; a good album, while not really approaching 'classic' status. In other words, I wouldn't put it on your 'A' list of Italian 'must-haves', but it should certainly be on your 'B' list, along with Osanna's Landscape of Life, amongst many others. Nor is it a Mellotron classic, but what there is to be heard is tasteful in the extreme. Worth the effort.
7752 (2010, 41.19) **/0
My Somewhere to Go
I Don't Want
Un Uomo Che Non Sa Dire Addio
One More Thing
|I'm Your Love
Non Avevo Capito Niente
New York-dwelling Sicilian ex-pat Chiara Civello seems to receive plaudits from jazz-lovers, although going by her third album, 2010's 7752 (kilometres from NYC to Rio, the two cities that inspired it), I have absolutely no idea why. It's a mainstream, Italian/English-language 'adult pop' release, better tracks including Latin-esque efforts such as opener 8 Storie and Dimmi Perche, let down by tedious string-laden balladry like closer Non Avevo Capito Niente. No jazz, however.
Civello is credited with Mellotron, but where? Where? There are string parts all over the album, but they all sound real, so fuck alone knows. Anyway, despite its overall professionalism (so what?), this is a pretty dull release, without even the icing of some Mellotron to liven things up.
Joker (2005, 45.04) ***/T
Ne Me Demande Pas
De Quoi c'est Fait
Toi pour Moi
Je T'Aimais Mieux
Non ca S'Peut Pas
L'Ocean des Possibles
Claire "Clarika" Keszei's fourth album, 2005's Joker, is a very acceptable French-language singer-songwriter effort, if a little musically unadventurous, trading avant-garde credibility for good tunes and inoffensive pop/rock arrangements. In keeping with her chosen genre (such as it is), the lyrics assume more importance than the music, making my (and possibly your) limited French something of a handicap, although I doubt whether she's exactly imparting the secrets of the universe to us.
Philippe Desbois plays Mellotron on L'Avant-Dernier, with a polyphonic flute part that enhances the song nicely. This album's nothing outstanding, on either musical or Mellotronic grounds, but it's perfectly pleasant, which is more than I can say for a lot of the drivel that passes through here.
Live it Out (2007, 48.57) **½/TT
|Blow Me Away
This Ain't Gonna Work
Father & Friend
Fell in Love
Head Over Heels
Mind of a Woman
Live it Out
|She's the One
I Need You
Your Angel Now
Rain Will Fall
All You Gotta Change
Alain Clark is a Dutch singer-songwriter who's managed to get that American soul sound down pat, to the point where you'd have absolutely no idea he didn't hail from Chicago's South Side or similar. 2007's Live it Out is his second album, full of impassioned soul sides like Go There and closer All You Gotta Change, which, frankly, aren't really going to appeal to the average Planet Mellotron reader. Good at what it does, assuming you like what it does.
Two credited 'Tron tracks, with Reyn Ouwehand's major flute part on Head Over Heels and Clark's flutes and strings on I Need You, while one or the other puts uncredited flutes (and strings?) onto the title track. So; an impeccable retro soul album (no Autotune here, thank you very much), with some reasonable Mellotron work, which should do far better internationally than it does. Marketing, guys, marketing...
White Light (1971, 34.55) ***½/½The Virgin
Because of You
One in a Hundred
For a Spanish Guitar
Where My Love Lies Asleep
Tears of Rage
Mellotron (Chamberlin?) used:
Gene Clark really shouldn't need any introduction: a founding member of The Byrds, he was actually their main songwriter during their first two years, later supplanted by Jim/Roger McGuinn and David Crosby. He left the band in early '66 (he rejoined briefly in '67 and '73), working his way through Phoenix and Dillard & Clark, before releasing the acclaimed, yet poorly-selling White Light in 1971. Essentially a country album, several of its tracks (Because Of You, For A Spanish Guitar, 1975) might've worked well in a pre-country Byrds setting, but are perfectly acceptable here, as long as you don't object too strongly to the style.
An uncredited musician (organist Mike Utley?) plays background Mellotron, or, more likely, Chamberlin strings on Where My Love Lies Asleep (well spotted, Reid), although you'd be forgiven for missing it entirely. Anyone hoping for a lost slice of Turn! Turn! Turn!-era Byrds should probably look elsewhere, but if you've ever found yourself captivated by Clark's writing, you could do worse than to hear a copy. Sadly, Clark was the first Byrd to die, still in his forties, after years of sustained alcohol abuse, living just long enough to participate in his old band's induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
We're Not Safe! [as Todd Clark Group] (1979, 32.55) ***½/TWe're Not Safe!
Rumor Has it
Mathematics Don't Mean a Thing
I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night
The Grim Rider
Nova Psychedelia (2005, recorded 1975-85, 132.12) ***/½
|March of the Legion
Flame Over Africa
Two Thousand Light Years
Dream Intro/The Loner
Visions of My World
|Phosphorescence is the
Within the Zodiac Zone
Last Day as a Whole Person
A Dozen Eggs
Brain and Spinal Column
We're Not Safe!
Rumor Has it
|Mathematics Don't Mean
I Had Too Much to Dream
The Grim Rider
Nightlife of the New Gods
National Anthem/Nova Theme
Stars in Heat
Brain and Spinal Column (#2)
Into the Vision
Flame Over Philadelphia
Oceans of She
Todd Tamanend Clark (his middle name has been added fairly recently to acknowledge his Native American heritage) released several albums and singles in the 1975-85 period, pressed in small runs and near-impossible to find in their original incarnations these days. As a result, those wonderful Anopheles people have reissued his entire oeuvre from the period on a two-CD set, Nova Psychedelia, showcasing Clark's mad, psychedelic electronic vision in its entirety, originally released under several different names, some only on 8-track (!). It takes us on a journey through his psyche (be warned: this is not for the faint-hearted), from 1975's seriously out-there March Of The Legion (written for a costume competition at a comics convention, would'ja believe), through to the abrasive new wave of 1985's Flame Over Philadelphia, taking in three full albums en route.
The second of these is 1979's 300 copies-only We're Not Safe!, a punk/psych monster to rival The Damned's Machine Gun Etiquette (well, nearly), featuring Todd's takes on Paul Revere & the Raiders' Hungry and The Electric Prunes' seminal I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night, not to mention the brilliant, fourteen-minute prog epic The Grim Rider. Even if this had been pressed in sensible quantities, somehow I can't imagine it would've done particularly well in 1979, or any other year, due to its deeply eccentric approach. Charlie Godart plays Mellotron strings and choir on I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night, not only the only Mellotron on the We're Not Safe!, but on the whole of Nova Psychedelia.
Unless you're a fanatical collector, there's little point in trying to source an original We're Not Safe!, so I'm sure you'll be content with Nova Psychedelia, four times the length and a fraction of the price. Todd's almost non-voice takes a little getting used to, but he utilises it carefully (having an American accent always helps when intoning, I find) and for every nutsoid, nigh-on unlistenable experimental track, there are several worth-hearing selections from a man almost lost to obscurity. Clark's still releasing albums to this day, in a rather more available manner than previously. God bless the Internet.
Allan Clarke (1974, 34.13) ***/TTDon't Let Me Down Again
Can't Get on
I'll Be Home
I Wanna Sail Into Your Life
If I Were the Priest
Love, Love, Love
Send Me Some Lovin'
By 1974, Allan Clarke had left and rejoined the band with whom his name is synonymous, The Hollies, and was in the process of recording their last huge hit, the irritatingly memorable The Air That I Breathe. Allan Clarke was his third solo album, and, in all honesty, there's little about it to distinguish it from a thousand other mainstream pop/rock albums of the era, and its recent reissue can only be due to his Hollies connection. It's perfectly competently written and played, but it totally fails to excite, not even containing anything of the quality of The Air That I Breathe. Mind you, if it had, I'm sure it would've been siphoned off for The Hollies' use... Interestingly, Clarke covers an early Springsteen song (this was still a year before Born to Run, note), If I Were the Priest, and went on to encourage The Hollies to do the same.
The credits contain several familiar names, including Herbie Flowers and Johnny Gustafson on bass, Mike Moran on keys and the ubiquitous B.J. Cole on steel guitar, with Tony Hymas (here spelt Hymass) on Mellotron. Surprisingly, maybe, it's on several tracks, with varying levels of strings, presumably standing in for an overly-expensive string section, but let's not look the proverbial gift horse, eh?
Clarke finally retired from the Hollies in 2000, only to have his successor, Carl Wayne (once of The Move), die of cancer in 2004. To my knowledge, Clarke hasn't gone back on his pledge; in fairness, he's in his sixties, and the touring lifestyle has finished off many a younger man. While Allan Clarke is a perfectly good album of its type, it's desperately unexciting, and despite several 'Tron tracks, it's all pretty much background use, to be honest. File under 'that was then'.
Pawnshop Guitars (1994, 43.32) ***/T
|Cure Me...Or Kill Me...
Skin and Bones
Let's Get Lost
Pawn Shop Guitars
|Jail Guitar Doors
The Hangover (1997, 35.54) ***/T
|Wasn't Yesterday Great
It's Good Enough for Rock'n'Roll
Blue Grass Mosquito
Happiness is a Warm Gun
Hang on to Yourself
Punk Rock Pollution
Rubber (1998, 36.05) ***/T
|Kilroy Was Here
Something's Wrong With You
Sorry I Can't Write a Song About You
The Hell's Angels
Bourbon Street Blues
Swag (2001, 38.09) ***½/0
Under the Gun
Broken Down Car
Beware of the Dog
|Heart of Chrome
Warm Country Sun
After belonging to some no-hoper L.A. bands in the '80s, Gilby Clarke joined Guns N'Roses (LOVE their half-arsed approach to punctuation! Not.) in 1991, replacing original rhythm player Izzy Stradlin (whad'ya mean, "Isn't that his real name?"). After being ousted a couple of years later, in one of Axl's perpetual power games, Clarke has gone on to lead a Hollywood b-list rock star life, releasing competent solo albums and forming short-lived outfits with other nearly men, not to mention bagging major parts in low-rent US TV 'reality' shows. Hey, it's a living, right?
Actually, I'm being rather unfair, as his records seem to have some substance to them, with none of Guns' horrible sub-Aerosmithisms, I'm please to be able to report. '94's Pawnshop Guitars is his solo debut, featuring a slightly intriguing mixture of styles, with the (very) slightly Zep-esque Johanna's Chopper contrasting sharply with the swamp-blues of Skin and Bones, although the bulk of the album fits fairly and squarely into the 'bluesy hard rock' category. Let's face it, it could be a lot worse... Clarke's vocals are decent enough, if slightly characterless, which probably sums up this album's chief failing; everything on it is 'OK', 'alright', 'not bad'. I feel as if I'm damning it with faint praise, but there really isn't anything here that leaps out at you and yells, "Listen to me!" A couple of covers create a pattern for his next several albums, with passable stabs at The Stones' Dead Flowers and The Clash's Jail Guitar Doors, neither of which adds an awful lot to the originals. I get the impression Clarke was still in G N'R when this album was recorded, as various members guest, including the mighty Waxl (cough) and long-term keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who plays 'Strawberry Fields'-esque Mellotron flutes on Black to reasonable effect.
His follow-up, '97's The Hangover, is essentially more of the same, with several slower and/or bluesier tracks to break up the pseudo-'70s hard rock template. None of his material's that inspiring, but the driving rhythm of Zip Gun and the acoustic Blue Grass Mosquito are about the best of the home-grown bunch. Two back-to-back covers again, with a fairly good Happiness Is A Warm Gun (Beatles, of course) followed by a pointless carbon-copy of Bowie's Hang On To Yourself, which only shows up Clarke's material as being as ordinary as it is. Clarke himself plays more of those 'Strawberry Fields', fittingly I suppose, on Happiness Is A Warm Gun, although it would've worked nicely on at least two or three other tracks. Spoilsport.
'98's Rubber repeats the formula once more, although it has its moments. Janis Joplin's Mercedes Benz starts as an attempt at swamp blues, with self-deprecating lyrics, while Saturday Disaster features one of the album's best riffs, but even his original material's all a bit second-hand, I'm afraid to say. Teddy Andreadis plays Mellotron on the album's two opening tracks, with yer typical 'Strawberry Fields'-style flutes (again!) on Kilroy Was Here, with less of the same, buried in the mix, on The Haunting. In fairness, Clarke has the taste to use 'classic' keyboards throughout, with plenty of Hammond, though it's a shame he couldn't have used the 'Tron a little more.
2001's Swag (2002 in the States) isn't a world away from its predecessors, but somehow manages to be better; I suspect that after doing it for so long, Clarke's songwriting skills have improved to the point where he could actually have a major hit on his hands with the right promotion. Whether he'll ever get that is another matter entirely, of course, but he deserves it a damn' sight more than many of the other journeymen guitarists doing the rounds. Why the iffy covers, though, Gil? More Bowie this time round, with an ever-so-slightly too-slow take on Diamond Dogs, which still manages to be the album's best track, even with the superior writing. Clarke's supposed to play Mellotron on Judgement Day, but I'll be stuffed if I can hear it, so a fat zero on the 'Tron front this time round.
Gilby Clarke's albums are probably best described as undemanding hard rock that thankfully never really approaches Metal territory. Not nearly enough Mellotron on any of 'em to be worth buying for that alone, though.
See: Guns N'Roses | Triggerdaddy
Yellow Sun of Ecuador & Other Topsongs (1974, 36.58) *½/TT
|Yellow Sun of Ecuador
Bury My Heart
If You Come to San Francisco
I'm Gonna Loose You
Take This Hammer
I Like to Be Free
My Lady of Spain
|Gimme That Horse
The One-Armed Bandit
Dance in the Sunlight
Classics were a scarily mainstream Dutch pop group whose career stretched over fifteen years, from the late '60s to the early '80s. Despite having released a slew of singles by that point, 1974's Yellow Sun of Ecuador & Other Topsongs appears to be their first album, most of its contents being the blandest kind of Euro-country-pop, that, for some reason, the Dutch seemed to do so 'well', about the only deviations from the formula being the amusingly glam-rock guitar riff on Bury My Heart and the rock'n'roll-lite of I Like To Be Free.
I presume it's vocalist/keys man Jan Dirkx on Mellotron, with pseudo-orchestral strings on all highlighted tracks above, plus flutes on I'm Gonna Loose You (sic) and cellos on Together, although the strings on My Lady of Spain and The One-Armed Bandit are real. Frankly, this is terrible. I mean, properly painful. Sorry, but you can't even pass it off as 'kitsch'. It may contain several Mellotron tracks, but none of them are worth hearing.
Richard Clayderman [a k.a. Ballade pour Adeline] (1977, 36.55) **½/T
|Ballade pour Adeline (Piano & Orchestre)
Secret of My Life (One)
L'Enfant et la Mer
Secret of My Life (Two)
Ballade pour Adeline (Piano Seul)
Philippe "Richard Clayderman" Pages is regularly quoted as 'the most successful pianist in the world', having sold over seventy million records worldwide. OK, not quite in, say, Billy Joel or Elton John territory, but not bad for a conservatoire student who threw up a promising career as a concert pianist to help support his family. The story goes, Pages attended an audition in 1976 for a pianist to record a piece written by noted French producer Olivier Toussaint for his daughter, Ballade Pour Adeline, beating around twenty other attendees, due to a combination of his approach, technique and good looks.
The single sold a phenomenal twenty-two million copies, precipitating an album, variously titled Richard Clayderman or Ballade pour Adeline, containing an uneasy mixture of the expected piano schmaltz and a handful of more interesting tracks, including L'Enfant Et La Mer, Black Deal, with its funky Clav work (two of the album's less schmaltzy pieces) and the vaguely bluesy Secret Of My Life (Two). Old Fashion, on the other hand, while not especially interesting, is a case study in what happens when you get a classical musician to play rock'n'roll piano.
Doubtless due to a limited budget, as well as his ubiquitous piano, Clayderman plays Hammond, Clavinet, ARP, Moog and Korg synths and... Mellotron. I know; I didn't expect it, either, but that's why this is here. He adds choirs to L'Enfant Et La Mer, Black Deal and La Milliere, although the choir on Lyphard Melodie sounds real. Well, what can I say? I'm not exactly going to recommend that you go out to trawl your local charity shop/thrift store to find a copy of this, but it's far less offensive than I'd expected, with a couple of passable tracks. Little Mellotron, but, frankly, I'm amazed it's there at all. I'm slightly surprised that this isn't on CD, but Clayderman's millions of devoted, elderly female fans aren't going to be interested in hearing their idol experiment; they just want schmaltz (third time I've used that term in this review) and lots of it.
More or Less the Truth (2002, 44.39) **½/T
Cléan (not 'Clean') are a Swiss band who've relocated to Bristol, of all places; mind you, it's the centre of all things trip-hoppy, I suppose, so they could've done worse. To be honest, though, what they're doing on More or Less the Truth is pretty dated, with the sort of sample 'manipulation' (for want of a better word) that slid out of favour in the late '80s. The album starts OK, but the band seem to run out of ideas about halfway through, resorting to pointless random triggering of samples by the seventh or eighth track; a sure sign of lack of anything new (or at all) to say, I suspect.
Matt Sampson guests on Mellotron on two tracks: Hilliard has nothing audible, although there's a multiply-repeating lengthy choir sample running through the track, but White Paradise has a repeating grungy string part, although its lack of variety makes me wonder just how real it is. Well, they do actually credit the 'Tron, so you'd like to think it's genuine... Anyway, I can't really recommend this, unless you're absolutely desperate to hear a band writing lyrics in their second (or possibly third) language, trying to recreate a several year-old style.
My Back Wages (2000, recorded 198?-199?, 62.46) ***½/T
Gulf War Song
Incident in a Greatcoat
Bag of Dust
Haunt Your House
Red Guitars & Silver Tambourines
Everytime I Go Up
You Should Have Called
|Gate Crashing Oyster Park
Smash Your Watch
Princess of Suburbia
Finding My Own Way Home
Martin Newell is a minor legend in his lifetime, a composer of large numbers of superb, witty pop songs that no-one's ever heard, most released under the name The Cleaners From Venus. I first became aware of them after sometime member Giles Smith eulogised them in his memoir, Lost in Music, so it's good to see that Newell's still ploughing the same furrow, thirty years on. 2000's My Back Wages (ho ho) is a collection of previously-unreleased odds'n'sods, although I've got no idea when any one track dates from. Highlights include opener Crane Driver, Incident In A Greatcoat, Red Guitars & Silver Tambourines and Gate Crashing Oyster Park; this is what 'indie' music should be: truly independent and every bit as good as anything the majors can throw at us. Who said 'better'?
XTC's Dave Gregory plays Mellotron on Drowning Butterflies, with a strident multi-string (string section?) part running through most of the track. I'm not going to pretend that this album is in any way coherent, but then, its contents were originally recorded for various projects, so that shouldn't really be an issue. It's taken me this long (and a Mellotron connection) to discover Martin Newell, but having done so, I shall delve further into his work.
Official Martin Newell site