Chilli Willi & the Red Hot Peppers
Choo Choo Train
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.