Gösta Berlings Saga
Miguel Graça Moura
Graham Central Station
Grand Funk Railroad
Grand Tone Music
You (1974, 44.19) ****/TTThought for Naught
A P.H.P.'s Advice
Magick Mother Invocation
A Sprinkling of Clouds
The Isle of Everywhere
You Never Blow Yr Trip Forever
Gong began as an Anglo-French-Australian collective in the late '60s, infamous for their heroic hallucinogen intake and their exceedingly strange music. Some fans believe that this is the ultimate trip, but I've known others who claim that 'tripping to this stuff just doesn't work'; I suppose it's a case of one man's meat, really. Anyway, by the early '70s, they'd concocted a strange tale of Pothead Pixies, Octave Doctors and the estimable Zero the Hero, known as the Flying Teapot Trilogy, consisting of Flying Teapot, Angel's Egg and You.
If you're at all familiar with Gong's working methods, you'll be on familiar territory with You, although it's probably the least manic of the trilogy, presaging the band's later move into jazzier realms, with more groove-based material, like A Sprinkling Of Clouds or the lengthy and excellent The Isle Of Everywhere. The only jarring note is the rather silly Perfect Mistery, but where Gong are concerned, you have to take the rough with the smooth... Anyway, for (to my knowledge) the only time in their career, the band opted to use a Mellotron on the album, amusingly credited as 'Mellowdrone', played by Hi T Moonweed (a.k.a. Tim Blake). It's used chiefly as a background wash, with a subtle string line on Master Builder and choir and string chords on A Sprinkling Of Clouds. It's hard to say, but the best use is probably on You Never Blow Yr Trip Forever, but none of it's especially overt.
So; if you like Gong, you probably already own this, but if you're new to the band, while I can't really recommend it for its Mellotron use, You is a fine album, worthy of your attention.
See: Daevid Allen & Kramer
Album of the Year (2004, 53.31) ***/½
|Album of the Year
Night and Day
Under a Honeymoon
You're No Fool
Notes in His Pocket
You're Not You
Lovers Need Lawyers
A New Friend
Two Years This Month
The Good Life grew out of Cursive's frontman Tim Kasher's solo project, their third album, 2004's Album of the Year, being an awful lot better than the parent band's Happy Hollow, at least. That isn't to say it's a great album; the opening title track has a great narrative lyric, but the bulk of the record drifts along in a folk/indie kind of way, with only the occasional burst of energy (Notes In His Pocket, Needy), to liven things up at all and did Inmates really need to be nearly ten minutes long?
Mike Mogis plays Mellotron on Lovers Need Lawyers, with a brief background flute part at the end of the song, so not what you'd call essential on that front, then. Album of the Year isn't, but it could've been so much worse. Definitely not worth it for the Mellotron, though.
See: Cursive | Tim Kasher
Ratcity in Blue (1976, 39.11) ***½/T
|Does it Make You Feel Good
Ratcity in Blue
Almost Anything Goes
Writing the Pages
Reason to Kill
Advertisement in the Voice
Birth Comes to Us All (1978, 30.41) ***/½
Man on a Fish
You're Still Doing it
|Bed and a Bottle
Birth Comes to Us All
Long Island's Good Rats formed in the mid-'60s, releasing their first, eponymous album in 1969, carrying on a sporadic series of releases until the early '80s; the epitome of the phrase 'local heroes', they supported just about everyone and got their name about without ever actually breaking through nationwide in any meaningful way.
Their third album, 1976's Ratcity in Blue (ouch), is an excellent collection of vaguely Blue Öyster Cult/Dictators-style hard rock, tinged with an early '60s Spector-esque feel in places, highlights including the ripping title track, stuffed with harmony guitar work, The Room and Advertisement In The Voice (pronounced in the American fashion, of course, with the accent on the third syllable). I believe John Gatto plays the Mellotron on a handful of tracks, with choir (mixed with real vocals) on the quiet bits in Writing The Pages, cellos and strings on Advertisement In The Voice and a brief string part on Tough Guys, although not enough to make it worth hearing for that alone.
1978's Birth Comes to Us All contains a combination of hard rock, ballads and their own brand of slightly off-kilter rock, typified by the brassy Ordinary Man and the vaguely Queen-like Juvenile Song. It occasionally strays into rather ordinary, mainstream pop/rock territory, but contains enough of their own identity to make it stand out from the crowd. Recorded at The Who's Rampart Studios in London, although I'm unaware that the facility had any connection with Mellotrons, Stephan Galfas plays one for a few seconds on Bed And A Bottle, with a string part clearly distinguishable from the real strings on a couple of tracks.
Ratcity in Blue is decidedly worth hearing, although Birth Comes to Us All probably isn't the most exciting thing you're going to hear all year. The Good Rats had the guts to refuse to fit into any mould, however, for which they have to be applauded. More Mellotron on the former than the latter, but not really that much on either.
Oceans Away (1976, 35.05) **½/T
On the Waterfront
Old Fashioned Love
Love's Like a Song
I Will Glide
You've Got the Gun
Can You Demonstrate
Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks (1977, 33.31) **½/T½
The Lady Lives in England
Are You Alone?
Just a Dream
Don't Treat Your Lover Like a Thief
|I Want to Winter With You
If We Ever Meet Again
Phillip Goodhand-Tait had been around since the beginning of the '70s; I get the impression that he was a bit of a songwriting 'gun for hire', rather in the way that Harry Nilsson et al. started off. Now, I don't know about his earlier albums, but Oceans Away (ho ho) is appallingly bland, real MOR stuff for most of its length. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but this brings to mind the slushiest orchestral end of '70s pop; very 'songwriterly' songs, but no excitement whatsoever. Like Gilbert O'Sullivan, or Elton John on Mogadons. OK, more Mogadons. There's only one track with credited Mellotron (from Goodhand-Tait), Gabrielle, with a reasonable flute part, but orchestral arranger Robert Kirby (of concurrent Strawbs fame) is credited with 'choir' on You've Got The Gun, and it is, indeed, Mellotron, with some fairly ordinary block chords.
'77's Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks is a more upbeat effort, no doubt not in keeping with the times, having more of a Philly soul vibe about it in places than anything remotely connected to that nasty punk rock stuff. I found it just as hard to trawl through as its predecessor, though, but that's as likely to be my fault as Goodhand-Tait's; one man's meat an' all that... Kirby plays 'Tron again, flutes this time, on Just A Dream and Angeltown, but nothing particularly outstanding, unsurprisingly.
So; not my cup of tea, though going by 'Net reviews, other people seem to like what he did. Highly average 'Tron work, too, so no recommendation here, I'm afraid.
Natural Causes (1978, 35.43) ***/T½
|The Mad Consumer
In the New York Central Yard
Your Gettin' Bothered Doesn't Marry Me
Slip of the Hand
My Ohio Home
Grease on the Seat of My Jeans
I Only Keep Up Appearances Now
|The Way it Sounds
Ballad of Natural Causes
Surely I'll Be Coming Home
I can tell you next to nothing about Dave Gordon; a current jazz artist of the same name confuses the issue, although I've seen a reference to at least one other album that's probably by this one. 1978's Natural Causes is a decent enough record, fusing bluegrass, folk and country into a pleasing mélange of American styles, better tracks (possibly more for their lyrics than music) including opener The Mad Consumer, In The New York Central Yard and the humorous Your Gettin' Bothered Doesn't Marry Me, while I Only Keep Up Appearances Now's '40s feel allows it to stand out from the pack.
Gordon plays Mellotron himself, with a melodic flute part on Slip Of The Hand and pseudo-orchestral strings on My Ohio Home and The Way It Sounds, although the strings on a couple of other tracks are real. Even if you want to hear this, you're probably not going to find it that easily; suffice to say, while a little of its time, it's a good album of its type with some guaranteed Mellotron usage.
Tonight and the Rest of My Life (2000, 50.39/55.01) **½/TT½
|Now I Can Die
Tonight and the Rest of My Life
Horses in the City
Hold on to Me
New Year's Eve
Fade to Black
|Number One Camera
Got Me Down
Too Slow to Ride
Hate Your Way
The End of the World
Black and Blonde]
Nina Gordon left Veruca Salt in 1998 (the story behind her dispute with co-founder Louise Post remains 'undisclosed', apparently), kicking off her solo career with 2000's Tonight and the Rest of My Life. Was it worth it? Depends how much you like very slightly 'alternative' pop/rock, I suppose. The only 'alternative' thing about this is that it isn't quite as mawkishly mainstream as the stuff that regularly soils the charts and its (very) occasional propensity for cranking the guitars up a little.
Going by the credits, there should be shitloads of tape-replay here, with Mellotron and Chamberlin from both John Webster and Patrick Warren, more Chamby from Jon Brion and more 'Tron from Gordon's brother, Jim Shapiro, although I really don't know what's where. Anyway, we get strings on Now I Can Die and the title track, strings and cellos on Hold On To Me, a string melody and chords on Fade To Black and cellos on Too Slow To Ride, all rather underwhelming, leaving the album's chief tape-replay use being the (Chamberlin?) strings and cellos on regular issue closer The End Of The World.
Overall, then, a rather dull album, although opener Now I Can Die is about the best of a boring bunch. Despite the vast number of Mellotron/Chamberlin players, there isn't that much of either to be obviously heard, with only one major tape-replay piece, and then only relatively.
See: Veruca Salt
Gimme Some... Gorilla (2004, 51.47) ***/TJust Wanna Rock
Rok Orl Night
Gimme Some Gorilla
Gorilla are that rarest of things, a current British band (actually a trio with a female bassist) who are not only heavily influenced by Blue Cheer and their ilk, but who manage to be reasonably good at the same time. My chief criticism of their second album, 2004's Gimme Some... Gorilla, is its length; this kind of material works best in an under-forty-minute format, in my opinion, its fifty minute-plus length being rather too much of a good thing. Stylistically, it could be described as being at the most raucous end of the psych spectrum, roaring garage rock suddenly shifting into spacey psych interludes, a musical device that actually works rather better than you'd expect. Best tracks? Probably opener Just Wanna Rock and Vesuvius, though within their parameters, it's all good.
The uncredited keyboardist plays Mellotron strings and flute, sounding surprisingly real, on Vesuvius, although that's a real (and not very well played) flute on Oaken Mind. So if you like your guitars filthy and your vocals filthier, you really can't go wrong with Gorilla, one decent 'Tron track merely adding to their appeal. On the downside, Gimme Some... Gorilla is pretty samey, but whad'ya expect from a garage band?
Research en Development (2011, 46.18) **½/T
Ik Reis Door de Nacht
Ik Ben Erbij
Iedereen Plukt de Dag
Grote Stoute Orka
Ze Moesten Eens Weten
Mellotron & Chamberlin used:
Gorki (originally Gorky) are a successful Belgian indie outfit, active for over twenty years; although two of their earlier albums apparently contain Mellotron, the only relevant release I've heard to date is 2011's Research en Development, a thoroughly average Flemish-language pop/rock effort. Better tracks include Ik Reis Door De Nacht and the punchy Ze Moesten Eens Weten, but we're really not talking 'Planet Mellotron fodder' here, frankly.
Keys man Luc Heyvaerts apparently plays Mellotron and Chamberlin (where did he source the latter in Belgium?), but with a small string section on most tracks, the only definite parts are the flutes on Grote Stoute Orka and Concorde, assuming it's actually real. Are those tape-generated strings (backing real ones?) on Sirenen? Who knows? Either way, I can't honestly recommend this to anyone other than the band's existing fanbase, who almost certainly already own it.
Gospel (1974, 38.12) **/T½
|Icing on the Cake
Write a Little Letter
I'm Looking for Seagulls
|Let This Cup
Kentucky vocal quartet Gospel released their eponymous album in 1974; while a handful of tracks almost pass muster, given that we're talking Jesus rock here, far too many push the needle most of the way over on the cringeometer. Sample lyric (from opener Icing On The Cake): "Oh, he's the icing on the cake/He's better than Shake'n'Bake". Ouch. The better efforts (Traveling, Let This Cup) could pass for America on a bad, Christian day, but even that isn't an especially good recommendation.
Jay Petach plays 'mellatron'; One Day opens with an unaccompanied flute part, with strings throughout the rest of the track, plus flutes on Love Chapter, although all other flute parts are real. Let's face it: Gospel isn't kind of album you really need to hear, unless you're a) a '70s Jesus rock nut, or b) as much of a Mellotron obsessive as, er, me.
Bayleaf (2001, 39.43) **½/½
Fend it Off
Stone Gossard (actually his real name) is, of course, long-term guitarist with Pearl Jam, as well as working his way through Seattle proto-grunge legends Green River, Mother Love Bone and Temple of the Dog, placing him at the epicentre of the whole movement. Of course, whether you like Pearl Jam et al. is another matter; I find them a largely tuneless dirge, but I'm sure many people feel the same way about one of their chief influences and occasional collaborator, Neil Young, so what do I know? Bayleaf is Gossard's first and to date, only, solo album, although I believe his follow-up is in preparation at the time of writing. It sounds like a more laid-back version of Pearl Jam to my ears, with even more overt Neil comparisons, although none of the songwriting really stands up. Maybe you have to be really into the style.
Pete Droge plays a variety of instruments on the album, not least Mellotron, although you wouldn't know were it not credited. I have to assume it's on opener Bore Me, making the discordant sound that swells up out of the mix here and there, although it could be just about anything. So; a Pearl Jam side-project, sounding exactly as you'd expect, with next to no Mellotron to liven things up. Your choice.
See: Pearl Jam
Tid är Ljud (2006, 55.39) ****/T½Helgamarktz
Goldondern Aniara Lämnar Doris Dalar
Miman Söker, Och Finner...
Ljud Från Stan
Tog du Med Dig Naturen?
Svarta Hål Och Elljusspår
Detta Har Hänt (2009, 53.10) ****/T½Kontrast
Glue Works (2011, 46.05) ****½/TT½354
Gösta Berlings Saga are named after the famous late-19th century Swedish novel, or possibly its 1920s film adaptation, featuring a very young Greta Garbo (thank you, Wikipedia...). Although they describe themselves as 'prog', their debut release, Tid är Ljud, is, in many ways, more of a psych album. Opener Helgamarktz is a fantastic slice of instrumental prog with a 'hook' (so to speak) to die for, but tracks such as Ljud Från Stan and Knölsvanen shift into 'jam' territory, albeit in a proggy kind of way and the overall feel is as much psych as prog, at least to my ears. Most of the album's keyboard work consists of David Lundberg's obviously genuine Rhodes work (listen to it distort at the beginning of Knölsvanen for proof), with the odd bit of Moog (?) and Solina thrown in for good measure. On the Mellotron front, both Lundberg and drummer Alexander Skepp play 'Tron flutes and cellos on the gentle three-part Aniarasviten, with more cellos and strings on Svarta Hål Och Elljusspår, all recorded using Anekdoten's machine at their rehearsal space, fact fans.
It's taken the band three years to follow up, but 2009's Detta Har Hänt has been worth the wait, being every bit as exploratory as their debut, full of dark, psych-infested instrumental prog. It's difficult to pick out 'best tracks', but opener Kontrast sounds slightly like a vocal-free Dungen, while lengthy, jammed-out closer Västarbron 05:30 pushes all the right buttons. Lundberg uses Mattias 'Änglagård' Olsson's Mellotron on just three tracks, with strings on Sorterargatan 3, Berslagen and mad pitchbent ones on Västarbron 05:30, once again refusing to overdo it.
Two years on and they're at it again, with Glue Works, on Cuneiform this time. You know the setup by now, I'd imagine: excellent instrumental psych/prog crossover, beautifully composed, arranged and played. Top tracks? Probably the wonderfully dynamic thirteen-minute Island, complete with well-played (i.e. tuneful) Theremin and almost-as-long closer Soterargartan 1, although there's not a minute of dead wood here. Lundberg (and possibly Olsson) play Mellotron, with choirs on Icosahedron, strings on Island, Waves (a particularly upfront part) and strings and (briefly) choir on Soterargartan 1, making this not only their most satisfying Mellotron album to date, but their most satisfying all round.
So; you're onto a bit of a winner with this lot, I think. Admittedly, the Mellotron work is fairly low-key (although increasing with time) but you need to buy these for their musical content and make these guys famous, or failing that, at least make them their money back. Buy.
Inspiración-Espiración: A Gotan Project DJ Set (2004, 61.09) **½/T
Round About Midnight
The Man (El Hombre Remix)
Percusion (Part 1)
La del Ruso (Calexico Version)
El Capitalismo Foráneo (Antipop Consortium Remix)
|Tres y Dos (Tango)
Triptico (Peter Kruder Trip De Luxe)
Santa Maria (De Buen Ayre) (Pepe Bradock Wider Remix)
The Gotan Project are an international Paris-based collective, whose music is essentially Brazilian crossed with electronica, making them the type of band unlikely to appeal to the average prog fan. 2004's Inspiración-Espiración (or, correctly, Inspiración-Espiración: A Gotan Project DJ Set: New Tracks, Remixes & Funky Tangos Selected & Mixed By Philippe Cohen Solal) is effectively a remix album, although what kind of 'DJ set' this would make I'm not sure; it has far too many slow bits to make it particularly danceable. Anyway, while I'm sure it's perfectly good at what it does, it's overlong and I can't say it exactly grabbed this particular reviewer.
Joey Burns adds Mellotron to one track, with watery flutes on La Del Ruso (Calexico Version), only just scraping a one 'T' rating. Like electronic samba? Buy this album. Don't? Then don't.
The Graham Gouldman Thing (1968, 29.07) ****/T
|The Impossible Years
Behind the Door
Who Are They
No Milk Today
|For Your Love
Mancunian Graham Gouldman is probably best known for his membership of 10cc (he's the only original member of the current touring outfit), but those in the know are aware of his writing career, stretching back to 1965, when he was all of 19. I hope he's proud of the fact that his fabulous For Your Love drove that purist twat Clapton out of the Yardbirds; he should be. It apparently forced Claptout's hand, as he left for John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, replaced by first Jeff Beck, then Jimmy Page. Gouldman carried on his run of hits with Bus Stop for The Hollies and No Milk Today for Herman's Hermits, amongst many others, before joining the rest of studio project Hotlegs to go on to fame and fortune under their new, allegedly Jonathan King-inspired name.
Anyway, The Graham Gouldman Thing is a solo album recorded by Graham in the late '60s, partially consisting of his own versions of his multiple hits, probably at the suggestion of label execs, doubtless unaware that Gouldman's neat little vignettes of suburban life might not be best suited to 1968's zeitgeist. In fairness, the arrangements are more 1968 than 1965, and great songs are great songs, irrespective of time. Amongst the excellent arrangement ideas on the album are Behind The Door's tape-trickery, the cod-medieval woodwind (in a good way) on Upstairs, Downstairs and the organ part on For Your Love, although the latter works less well than The Yardbirds' original.
Mellotron on just one track, possibly played by multi-instrumentalist Gouldman himself ('60s albums rarely give individual credits), or maybe then-sessioneer John Paul Jones, with a hesitant and slightly murky MkII flute part on Chestnut (also b-side to Upstairs, Downstairs), with some nicely distorted Hammond chops and slightly campy narration thrown in. So; not a knock-you-dead album, but a very pleasant collection of beautifully-crafted '60s pop with one decent 'Tron track, now available on CD.
See: Hotlegs | 10cc
|7" (1972) ***/TTT½
Melodia para Afrodite
Dez Propostas para Teclados (1974, 37.51) ***/TTTT½
|Melodia para Afrodite
Killing Me Softly With His Song
Ne Me Quitte Pas
Adagio do Concerto de Aranjuez
I Don't Know How to Love Him
|Forever and Ever
Miguel Graça Moura? No, I hadn't heard of him, either, until my friend Arnaldo put me onto him. A Portuguese songwriter and keyboard whizz, his earliest work that's of any interest to us is a 1972 single, Melodia Para Afrodite, an instrumental ballad overlaid with a wordless female vocal (well, if there were words, it wouldn't be instrumental, would it?), backed with the rather more gutsy Teorema 1. Both sides of the disc feature Graça Moura's Mellotron heavily, with solo flute and chordal strings on the 'A' and strings all over the flip.
His 1974 album, Dez Propostas para Teclados ('Ten Experiences for Keyboards') opens with a reprise of Melodia Para Afrodite, going on to give us another nine instrumental piano ballads (can you see a pattern forming here?), underpinned by loungetastic muted bass and tippy-tappy drums, not to mention more of that wordless female vocal. While a couple of titles are his own compositions, most appear to be covers, some (Killing Me Softly With His Song, Ne Me Quitte Pas, Demis Roussos' Forever And Ever) more familiar than others.
The rear sleeve credits tell us that Graça Moura used no fewer than seven Mellotron sounds on the album; the close-up from the sleeve (right) shows off a very fetching 'Mellotron' label on the side of the machine, in case you weren't sure. His favourite was clearly the strings, utilised on every track here, plus the flutes on Melodia..., a handful of very real-sounding trumpet notes at the end of Petit Matin, an oboe solo on Adagio Do Concerto De Aranjuez and what I take to be cor anglais on I Don't Know How To Love Him. Closer Poema Salgado features more cor anglais and a major trumpet part, although the flute on the track, plus Killing Me Softly... and Forever And Ever is real, while the trumpet solo on Valsinha sounds more like one of his two Moogs.
Both these titles are available as downloads if you know where to look (ahem). Can I recommend them? Well, sort of, although they're pretty bland, if truth be told. Loads of Mellotron, though, so if that's what you're after and context be damned... Did Graça Moura ever use his M400 again? Unknown, although I know he released three albums in a series entitled Pianorama in the mid-'70s, which, frankly, don't sound very promising, either musically or Mellotronically. These days, he works as an orchestral conductor, probably writing film scores on the side, so whether or not his M400 was chucked or salvaged may never be known.
Gracious! (UK) see:
Release Yourself (1974, 37.30) ***½/TTG.C.S.
Got to Go Through it to Get to it
I Believe in You
Tis Your Kind of Music
Hey Mr. Writer
Feel the Need
Larry Graham's Graham Central Station (from NYC's Grand Central Station, of course) played funk, sounding more like Graham's old band, Sly Stone's Sly & the Family Stone than the Ohio Players, say, adding a fat chunk of psychedelia to the mix, even as late as their second record, 1974's Release Yourself. Its best tracks are probably the ones where the funk heats up to melting point, not least self-referential opener G.C.S. and Hey Mr. Writer, not to mention the almost-Motown arrangement on Feel The Need, but the writing and playing are strong throughout, making this the kind of funk album a rock fan may, just may be able to appreciate. Well, I did...
Graham plays Mellotron on the album, amongst other keys, with slightly oblique string and flute parts on Tis Your Kind Of Music and far more straightforward strings on lengthy closer Today, with the final chord stretched out way beyond the machine's limitations via studio trickery. The album's oddest bit of 'Tron work, however, is the few seconds of pitchbent strings on Feel The Need, in true 'blink and you'll miss it' style, although it doesn't add to the overall rating.
So; good psych-funk, though less 'rock' than, say, Funkadelic, with two decent 'Tron tracks. Worth it for funk fans haven't yet delved into Larry Graham's extensive back catalogue.
The Bad Years (2003, 51.26) ***/T½
I Ruined Love
Soul Session #5
Everything You're Not
Jump Into the Fire
All Your Parts
Grain are a female-fronted full-on retro outfit from Pittsburgh, who seem to've been going since some time in the '90s, although I don't know anything about their earlier work. Their sound on The Bad Years (their second album? Very hard to tell) focuses on yer good ol' fashioned vocals/guitar/bass/drums four-piece, with vocalist Carla Simmons and guitarist Wayne Smith both doubling on various cranky old keyboards. Hoorah! Mind you, they haven't entirely ignored the last couple of decades, as Can't Lose features the band playing along with a drum loop, although the opening guitar sound on Everything You're Not rocks in a way no-one seems to do any more, not to mention the cowbell...
I can't say their Mellotron use is exactly over the top, to be honest: nothing audible on I Ruined Love or Can't Lose, with faint strings on Soul Session #5 (those titles!) and Broken, although the underwater flutes on Understood are rather more obvious. There's also a smattering of uncredited strings on Intro, although nothing else is credited on the track either, for what it's worth. So; a rather average record with the odd highlight, not least the extended outro on Broken, with only one at all obvious 'Tron track. Passable.
Flying (1997, 46.14) ***/T
Less of Me
Sell Your Soul
Found in You
Grammatrain are another CCM act who transcend the 'genre' by playing 'alternative rock', or whatever you may choose to call it, rather than the insipid, near-MOR dross that passes for 'Christian music' most of the time (well, we wouldn't want to offend anyone, would we?). Flying was their second and last studio album proper, and to prove my point, Rocket Ship is actually, er, heavy, so Christians can rock, too. Allegedly.
Mellotron on two tracks, from vocalist/guitarist Pete Stewart, with a brief cello part on opener Jonah and upfront flutes and strings on closer For Me, although with only one overt 'Tron track, this isn't really worth picking up, unless you find it dirt cheap. Overall, a fairly non-Christian Christian album, making it far more palatable to the heathen masses than the usual stuff. Not bad.
See: Pete Stewart
Hablo de Una Tierra (1975, 36.30) ***½/TTTGranada es
Rompiendo la Oscuridad
Hablo de Una Tierra
Nada es Real
Es el Momento de Oir un Buen Rock
España, Año 75 (1976, 40.12) ***½/½El Calor Que Pasamos Este Verano
Por Donde Andamos
Todo Hubiera Sido Tan Bonito
La Auténtica Canción
No Me Digas Bueno, Vale
Hora Vamos a Ver Que Pasa (Vamonos Para el Mediterráneo)
Valle del Pas (1978, 39.01) ****/TNo Se Si Debo
Brave Silueta de Color Carmin
Noches Oscuras, Ocas Contentas
Himno del Sapo
Valle del Pas
Calle Betis (Altardeciendo)
Granada were a relatively early entry in Spain's late-flowering progressive scene (doubtless due to the restrictive atmosphere of Franco's regime), which was just taking off as it was dying away across the rest of Europe. They're not the best of the bunch by some way, being seriously outclassed by, say, the excellent Canarios, although their debut, Hablo de Una Tierra, is by no means a bad record. There is something of a Spanish influence on the band's sound, although nowhere near as much as with some of their contemporaries. The instrumental tracks/sections work better than the vocal ones, with a slight jamming feel in places and some nice guitar work from Michael Vortreflich, although I'm not at all sure how it might stand up to repeated plays.
Carlos Cárcamo plays Mellotron, along with flute, violin, several other keyboards and just about everything else, by the look of it. Reasonable string use on Granada Es and Rompiendo La Oscuridad, neither of which prepare the listener for the exceedingly full-on string chords that open the title track and carry on in similar vein throughout the song. More of the same on Nada Es Real and Es El Momento De Oir Un Buen Rock, leaving only the upbeat Algo Bueno 'Tron-free, making this one of the better Spanish Mellotron albums.
Their follow-up, España, Año 75, isn't a bad album, just a little generic. Despite crediting Mellotron again, I can't help being reminded of Iman, Califato Independiente's first album, that credits it on three out of four tracks, then buries it under washes of string synth (a.k.a. 'The Spanish Disease'). All I can hear here is a few seconds of Cárcamo's (possible) strings during Noviembre Florido, although that could be merely wishful thinking; a particular disappointment after such heavy 'Tron use on its predecessor. Yet again, I'm at a loss to understand why you'd make the effort to use a 'Tron, then... not use it. Is it buried beneath the cheap string synth? Was it loaded with the hitherto-unknown 'Spanish Tape Set', consisting of three varieties of string synth, all recorded at ¼ volume? If anyone knows anything about the strange approach the Spanish took to the Mellotron, PLEASE tell me!
Well, who'd have thought it? Granada's last album, 1978's Valle del Pas, is far better than you might expect of a late-'70s prog album. Then again, this is Spain... Carlos Cárcamo replaced the entire lineup, adding Joaquín Blanco on 'Northern Spanish woodwinds', including the Celtic bagpipes indigenous to the region, with the end result being an album of fairly typical instrumental Spanish progressive with added Celtic influences. Standout tracks are difficult to pinpoint, although opener No Se Si Debo recovers after a ropey start, and Himno Del Sapo is notable, with the most Celtic piece here being closer Ya Llueve, bagpipes and all. Despite the real strings on a few tracks, Cárcamo gets a bit of 'Tron in, too, with a handful of string chords on Brave Silueta De Color Carmin, Noches Oscuras, Ocas Contentas and Calle Betis (Altardeciendo), but not enough to bother with on those grounds.
So; three reasonable albums, particularly the more folk-influenced tracks towards the end of España, Año 75 and the similar material on its follow-up, though only their debut is worth it on the 'Tron front. Reasonable.
Shinin' On (1974, 36.20) **½/TShinin' On
To Get Back in
Carry Me Through
Mr. Pretty Boy
Gettin' Over You
Little Johnny Hooker
Caught in the Act (1975, 74.29) ***/T
Rock and Roll Soul
I'm Your Captain/Closer to Home
Some Kind of Wonderful
We're an American Band
Inside Looking Out
The only thing that stops Grand Funk (the 'Railroad' seemed to come and go, possibly dependent on legal action) being the least talented hard rock band ever is the continuing existence of Kiss. I once owned a copy, on some idiot's recommendation, of their first live album, er, Live; it's crap, particularly the side-long instrumental jam T.N.U.C. (go on, reverse it). Risibly sexist and stupid (so what's wrong with being sexy, anyway?), Grand Funk define American party metal, years before its supposed genesis with the emergence of the aforementioned cartoon characters in the mid-'70s. This is music to drop quaaludes to, to throw frisbees and/or firecrackers to, to paaarty to. How this lot were ever mentioned in the same breath as Sabbath or (God help us) Zeppelin is utterly beyond me. OK, they sold a lot of records to disaffected Midwestern teenagers, but they're musical lightweights compared to any of their equally successful contemporaries you might care to name.
Shinin' On was Grand Funk's eighth studio album (count 'em) in five years, and it's immediately evident that they'd mellowed a little since their early bludgeon-athons. Chiefly notable for the inclusion of their hamfisted cover of Little Eva's The Loco-Motion, which was a US No.1 hit, the rest of the album is a mixture of hard rock-lite stuff like the title track, and slower material along the lines of Carry Me Through and Mr. Pretty Boy. The latter is the album's sole Mellotron track, with a fairly ordinary string part running through most of it; hardly world-beating, but nice to hear.
Caught in the Act came out the following year and, in fairness, they'd learnt a little subtlety since that early live tragedy, doubtless partly due to the addition of Craig Frost on keyboards. Frost is a perfectly good player, concentrating largely on organ and clavinet, although he uses his onstage 'Tron on one track, with really nice upfront strings and flutes on the Closer To Home part of the medley on side one, although it rather irritatingly fades out. Actually, for all my ranting above, this isn't that bad an album, with (good singing) good playing throughout, and a few memorable tracks, not least their major US hit, We're An American Band.
So; if you're American and of a certain age, these will almost certainly bring back memories, good or otherwise. For the rest of us, if you were contemplating dipping a toe into the murky waters of The Funk, there are worse places to start than Caught in the Act. Like Live. One decent(-ish) track on each album doesn't make them worth buying, but hear them if you get the chance, particularly Caught in the Act.
Bad Timing (2003, 40.50) ***/T
|1st Round K.O.
Lay Right Down
Steal it Back
All the reviews I've seen of Bad Timing equate it with early-'70s rock, so is it only me that hears '77 punk in there? The first several tracks, in particular, have that 'devil may care'-ness about them, although maybe I'm just hearing their Lou Reed influences (Get Lost) filtered through other bands influenced by Reed. Influences and counter-influences... Anyway, this is Grand Mal's third album, which bravely travels a path from a raucous beginning to a rather more gentle, laid-back end, although if you're not into that New York thing, you probably won't be too into this.
Guest Steven Drozd plays 'piano, organ, slide guitar and Mellotron' on four tracks, but it must mean collectively, not individually, as Disaster Film (how very British!) is the only one to obviously have any 'Tron, with a rather screechy string part that doesn't particularly enhance the track. So, unless you're a Lou/Velvets fan and can't get enough of that sound, I'd go somewhere else, to be honest.
New Direction (2000, 49.23) **½/T
|Stop Keep Telling Me Goodbye
I Give it All
Sound in Me
|Where Did My Day Go
Become My Friend
Grand Tone Music are a rather dour Swedish outfit, whose second album, 2000's New Direction (a Spïnal Tap quote?), is fine for two or three tracks, but nearly fifty minutes of their rather characterless, downbeat, female-fronted material is at least ten minutes too much. The largely acoustic Where Did My Day Go is probably the best thing here, although closer Become My Friend might just bring all their influences together with the most success.
I can't remember for sure, but I've got a feeling this was recorded at Mattias Olsson (Änglagård, a million others)'s Roth-Händle studio (was it even open then?), although I could be mistaken; if so, it's his Mellotron we're hearing here. Dan Lepp plays it, with strings on Stop Keep Telling Me Goodbye, Height and Sound In Me and a Spartan cello part on Become My Friend, although it's all well in the background. Assuming this is a Mattias-related release, I'm afraid to say it's the least appealing I've yet heard, but then, it was a while back. OK in places, but rather dull and little Mellotron work.
Under the Western Freeway (1997, 46.48) ****/TT½
Collective Dreamwish of Upperclass Elegance
Summer Here Kids
Under the Western Freeway
Everything Beautiful is Far Away
Poisoned at Hartsy Thai Food
|Go Progress Chrome
Why Took Your Advice
Lawn & so on
The Sophtware Slump (2000, 46.52) ***½/TT
|He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot
Jed the Humanoid
Underneath the Weeping Willow
Broken Household Appliance National Forest
Jed's Other Poem (Beautiful Ground)
|E. Kenievel Interlude (the Perils of Keeping it Real)
Miner at the Dial-a-View
So You'll Aim Toward the Sky
Californians Grandaddy are refreshingly difficult to categorise, although their sound contains inescapable elements of the dreaded 'alt.country' ghetto. For sheer invention they outstrip any of their rivals by the proverbial mile, incorporating elements of singer-songwriter gloom, lo-fi oddness and even prog, though I expect they wouldn't be too keen on that last comparison. Despite having existed since 1992, it was '97 before their first album proper, Under the Western Freeway appeared. To my ears, the best material is the quietest, with the occasional noisier tracks sounding slightly forced. In fact, the more a track is suffused with melancholy, the better I like it, with the instrumental title track being especially strong. Most of the tracks run into each other, with a noticeable 'side' gap before Everything Beautiful Is Far Away, giving the album a bit of a 'concept' feel, although I've no idea what that may be, assuming it exists at all.
Tim Dryden plays various cranky old keyboards, and while none of them (or indeed, anything else) is actually listed, I can hear what sounds like two or three distinctly different late-period analogue synths squeaking, whistling and groaning away on various tracks. There's also the matter of the Mellotron; the fractured choir notes on Nonphenomenal Lineage sound very 'real', making me think that there's an actual M400 involved, although I shouldn't be that surprised. It's mainly current progressive outfits that tend to cheat... Anyway, the strings on A.M.180 are brief and background, although they're more upfront on Laughing Stock, and the title track's flute melody is the album's other 'Tron highlight after Nonphenomenal Lineage.
Their second effort, 2000's The Sophtware Slump, is irritatingly inconsistent; after starting really well, it completely loses the fragility of the first few tracks for several less good rockier numbers, although it tries to make amends further along, though with only partial success. The lengthy He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's The Pilot (no, I don't know either) is a gorgeous album opener, with lush Mellotron strings under the chorus, along with the squiggly analogue synths and fat pads of the verses, although they never quite capture the same feel again on subsequent songs. More 'Tron strings on Hewlett's Daughter and Miner At The Dial-A-View, although I think the strings on So You'll Aim Toward The Sky may be real - certainly not Mellotron, anyway.
So; The Sophtware Slump isn't bad, although it never quite recovers from gaining momentum part of the way through (?!). It's probably not quite up to the standard set by Under the Western Freeway, but both albums are certainly worth hearing, although little of the Mellotron work is quite good enough to buy it for that alone. Sadly, it would seem that Grandaddy have abandoned the Mellotron, as neither 2003's Sumday (****) or 2005's mini-album Excerpts From the Diary of Todd Zilla (****) have any.
Granicus (1973, 43.38) ***½/TYou're in America
When You're Movin'
Can't say I know an awful lot about Granicus, to be honest. They were from Cleveland, Ohio, they named themselves after Alexander the Great's first major battle, they featured a silver-lunged screamer called Woody Leffel, and they played pure, undiluted hard rock in an early-'70s stylee. Pretty good at it they were, too, although you sometimes find yourself wishing they'd up the energy quotient a little, or at least I do. Since I suspect Granicus will be something of a grower, it's difficult to pick out highlights on a single listen, but the 11-minute plus Prayer builds like a building thing to a ridiculous crescendo. Quite magnificent.
I don't actually know who plays the Mellotron on the instrumental Twilight, but since it was arranged by producer Martin Last, I expect he played it, too. It's an orchestrally-arranged strings part over a gentle (electric) guitar backing; it's only a shame they didn't put any more of it on the album.
So; now that this is easily available, unlike so many similarly obscure but excellent efforts (so are the Limelight and Chasar albums EVER going to come out 'properly'?), I'll give it a cautious thumbs-up for the '70s hard rock aficionado, although only one 'Tron track probably makes it inessential on that front.