Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton
Daryl Hall/John Oates
Hamell on Trial
John Wesley Harding
Steve Hackett (UK) see:
Haiabusa (2006, 52.48) ***/½
Candie for Free
Thus Spoketh Candieking
Conquer & Enslave
Grains of Sand
It is Not Healthy
The Incredible Sound of Hajabusa
Haiabusa are a Swedish doom/trad hard rock outfit, whose 2006 eponymous (presumed) debut is a fuzz-fest of slow (but not grindingly so) tempos, distortion and, well, early '70s blues-rock tropes, actually. Of course, it isn't exactly what you'd call original, but, in fairness, I doubt whether anything particularly new has been done in this sub-genre for decades. Speaking of unoriginality, Sweet reminds me of Norman Greenbaum's deathless Spirit In The Sky, but the material is, overall, pretty decent within its confines, the band even showing a sense of humour on closer The Incredible Sound Of Hajabusa, an amusing send-up of a hapless bogus American DJ type.
Jerry Silfver plays (real?) Mellotron flutes on Grains Of Sand, although that, sadly, is your lot. Looking for downtempo modern hard rock? Haven't yet run into Haiabusa? You have now. Worth hearing for genre fans, though not really for the Mellotron.
Knives Don't Have Your Back (2006, 45.39) ***/T
Crowd Surf Off a Cliff
The Maid Needs a Maid
Reading in Bed
|Nothing & Nowhere
The Last Page
Emily Haines is a Canadian singer-songwriter from the 'piano school', as against the 'guitar school', who plays with Metric and Broken Social Scene, alongside her occasional solo career. 2006's Knives Don't Have Your Back is only her second album in a decade, doubtless due to her other commitments, one of those 'mostly only piano and vocal but somewhat intense' records, better tracks including The Maid Needs A Maid (a tribute to/dig at fellow Canuck Neil Young?) and the slightly atonal Mostly Waving, although I can't imagine anything here will disappoint fans of a certain type of feisty female solo artist.
Scott Minor plays Mellotron on opener Our Hell, with a nice flute solo, although that appears to be all we get, sadly. At the time of writing, it's been five years since the release of this album; another one in 2016, then? Good at what it does, not honestly worth it for the Mellotron.
See: Broken Social Scene
Ballad on Third Avenue (2009, 52.22) **/T
|Scene in San Francisco
I Walk Alone
Hello My Dove
Ballad on Third Avenue
Feels Too Good
Everywhere She is There
New Orleans Dreams
Thoughts of Califonia
Never Let Me Go Again
Ed Hale (apparently previously known as Ed Darling) fronts Transcendence alongside his solo career, that has seen him release four albums since 1990. I don't know what the others are like, but Ballad on Third Avenue is, frankly, horrible. It's full of the kind of 'confessional' singer-songwriter guff that only puts him a small step above the likes of James Blunt and his vile ilk. In fairness, the album doesn't start too badly, but quickly deteriorates into a mish-mash of badly sung slop, including one song (this had to happen here eventually) 'featuring' that appalling Autotune effect on Hale's vocals, which is entirely and fully unforgivable.
Fernando Perdomo plays Mellotron, with flute parts on the title track and Thoughts Of California, although I suspect all the strings are real, although some of them are borderline Mellotronic. Overall, then, a pretty shite album all round, dragged up to two stars by some less offensive material near the beginning. Very little Mellotron, too, so it can't even claim that saving grace.
On the Road to Beautiful (2003, 54.45) *½/TT
|I Will Overcome
My Drink (I Remember You)
On the Road to Beautiful
Beautiful of Heaven
Swimming From the Shipwreck
All the Earth
Charlie Hall's On the Road to Beautiful is the worst kind of tedious, insipid dreck served up to the Christian community as worthwhile music, full of pious lyrics about how much the writer prostrates him/herself to an imaginary deity. Er, you may have gathered that I'm not the biggest fan of 'CCM', and this album illustrates why. I've no idea whether anyone outside said community listens to anything this awful, although I suspect they do; I don't know this kind of person. Highlights? None.
Mellotron from the excellently-named Nathan Nockels: I'm not sure about the murky strings that pop up occasionally in My Drink (I Remember You), but the strings on the title track are a definite, while Waking Up has a gorgeous 'Tron strings intro, with more later in the song. Shame about the lyrics, mind. Sounds like cellos on Beautiful Of Heaven, though I'm not convinced they're Mellotronically-driven, although the (heavenly?) choirs on Priceless Treasure and Rising Shout are, although they seem to sustain far too long for authenticity. Studio trick? Flutes on closer Sending finish off a fairly Mellotron-heavy album, although samples may have been employed, methinks. If anyone has information to the contrary, please let me know...
So; a horrible record with reasonable 'Tron use, putting the potential listener in a bit of a quandary. Actually, not that much of a one - there are many, many great Mellotron albums, and you really don't need this one. Really.
Abandoned Luncheonette (1973, 37.14) ***/TWhen the Morning Comes
Had I Known You Better Then
Vegas Turnaround (The Stewardess Song)
I'm Just a Kid (Don't Make Me Feel Like a Man)
Everytime I Look at You
War Babies (1974, 43.25) ***½/½
|Can't Stop the Music (He Played it Much
Is it a Star
Beanie G. and the Rose Tattoo
You're Much Too Soon
War Baby Son of Zorro
I'm Watching You (a Mutant Romance)
|Better Watch Your Back
Screaming Through December
Johnny Gore and the "C" Eaters
Daryl Hall & John Oates (1975, 34.57) **½/½
Alone Too Long
Out of Me, Out of You
Nothing at All
Gino (the Manager)
(You Know) it Doesn't Matter Anymore
Ennui on the Mountain
|Grounds for Separation
By Hall & Oates' second album, 1973's Abandoned Luncheonette, they'd already got their white-boy soul thing down pat, although they were (thankfully) nowhere near as slick as the Philly Soul sound emanating from their hometown. In fact, with different arrangements, most of the songs here would be standard singer/songwriter fare; they're soul more because the duo wanted them to be than because they inherently were. Actually, there's more variety here than I'm giving them credit for; as side two progresses, the duo move further and further from their remit, until by the (relatively) lengthy Everytime I Look At You, there's a full-on country fiddle hoedown in action. Christopher Bond plays Mellotron on a couple of tracks, but the album's string arrangements make it difficult to identify most of the time; are the flutes on When The Morning Comes 'Tron or real? The strings on the album's hit, She's Gone are largely real, until a huge pitchbend that has to be tape-replay generated, while the polyphonic flute part on I'm Just A Kid (Don't Make Me Feel Like A Man) is definitely 'Tron. I'm not 100% on this one, but it doesn't half sound like 'Tron strings on Everytime I Look At You, too.
The duo have apparently effectively disowned the following year's Todd Rundgren-produced War Babies, which, like so many Todd productions (Meat Loaf, Grand Funk), ends up sounding like a Todd album with someone else singing. Of course, that doesn't make it a bad album (at least to everyone else), just a not bad Todd album. Better tracks include Is It A Star, War Baby Son Of Zorro and the bizarre, space-soul Screaming Through December, although the overall effect for this non-fan is of a better album than its predecessor, probably because this non-fan actually prefers Todd Rundgren. War Baby Son Of Zorro is the album's only Mellotron track (from Hall or Don York), with a repeating flute part somewhat buried in the mix, the descending string line on Is It A Star sounding more like a string synth.
The duo were back on white-boy soul track for '75's Daryl Hall & John Oates, exceptionally camp sleeve art and all. To be honest, while it's obviously more in line with their vision, it's rather more dated than War Babies, not to mention rather less interesting, with no obvious standout tracks. Mellotron from Hall or Clarence McDonald, with a string part on Alone Too Long that sounds like it should've been a real string part, so I've no idea why they elected to play it on the keyboard. It's possible it rears its head on another track or two, but it's pretty hard to tell when real strings are also utilised.
Abandoned Luncheonette and Daryl Hall & John Oates are perfectly good albums within their genre, which unfortunately happens to be one with which I have trouble identifying very strongly. OK, at all. I found War Babies far more interesting, even if the duo have little time for it these days (or then?). Low-level 'Tron all round, though, so don't go buying any of these for that.
Hello it's Me (1975, 32.22) **½/½
|Hello it's Me
Peace in the Valley
Time Will Tell
Wheelers and Dealers
Exclusively for Me
Save the Sunlight
|Sweet Jams and Jellies
Corrida de Jangada
Lani Hall wife of A&M's inimitable Herb Alpert, broke through after being spotted by Sérgio Mendes and asked to join his bossa/pop project Brasil '66. 1975's Hello it's Me was her second solo album, a fairly middle-of-the-road run through songs by Todd Rundgren (the title track, of course), Joni Mitchell (the caustic, oddly out-of-place Banquet), Chicago's Peter Cetera (Happy Woman Happy Man) and ex-Zombie Colin Blunstone (Exclusively For Me). Hall's excellent voice carries all the material, although I'd be lying if I said the album contained an awful lot of excitement.
Clarence McDonald plays keys on several tracks, including Mellotron on Hall's lone composition here, the balladic Sweet Jams And Jellies, with a gentle polyphonic flute arrangement that neither adds to nor subtracts from the song. Overall, a perfectly respectable album of its type, if a little dated and, frankly, rather dull to ears attuned to the era's rock output.
The Chord is Mightier Than the Sword (1997, 44.25) ****/T½
|Mark Don't Go
In a Bar
When is a punk not a punk? When he's Hamell on Trial's Ed Hamell, who, for all his insistence on being a 'punk', plays acoustic guitar and sings confessional songs in a good, non-Carole King kind of way. The 'punk' bit clearly refers to his attitude, which is an awful lot more 'punk' that, say, those fakers The Clash, who were about as 'punk' as my arse. Less, actually. Funnily enough, Hamell namechecks them on his fourth album, 1997's The Chord is Mightier Than the Sword's final track, The Meeting, one of an excellent album's best tracks, along with John Lennon (heartfelt) and The Vines (just plain odd).
Phil Nowlan and Randy Cantor play obviously real Mellotron, with flutes and strings on The Vines and strings on In A Bar, including a solo section at the end of the song. Despite a couple of reasonable 'Tron tracks, this isn't something you'd think about buying for that alone, but as a punk/folk (for want of a better term) album with a smattering of Mellotron use, it's a winner.
The First Seven Days (1975, 39.36) ****/TTTTDarkness/Earth in Search of a Sun
Oceans and Continents
Fourth Day - Plants and Trees
Sixth Day - the People
The Seventh Day
Melodies (1977, 41.29) ***/T½
|Too Much to Lose
Window of Love
What it is
Don't You Know
Just for Fun
Who Are They?
Yeah, yeah, I know Jan Hammer made it big in the States, but he's from Prague, OK? (In)famous in the '80s for his cheesy TV themes ('Miami Vice' springs to mind), Hammer was/is a consummate jazz musician, having played in the original Mahavishnu Orchestra and with Jeff Beck, on top of his solo output. The First Seven Days was his first solo release, and states on the rear sleeve, "For those concerned: There is no guitar on this album". Indeed there isn't. There are, however, swathes of excellently-played keyboards of a pleasingly mid-'70s variety, with Hammer making noises with his MiniMoog that just shouldn't be possible; no, that isn't slapped fretless bass on The Animals. The material is surprisingly unjazzy most of the time, although the occasional Mahavishnuesque lead line gives the game away. About the best description I can come up with for most of the album is instrumental keyboard-led, largely drumless progressive, so don't let Hammer's reputation put you off.
Much Mellotron abounds, particularly cello, with top-end-of-the-keyboard polyphonic parts on more than one track, not to mention the inimitable strings, particularly on Darkness/Earth In Search Of A Sun and Sixth Day - The People. The latter track features what sounds like both male and female choirs, and I'm sure there's some 'Tron flute in there, too, so I presume he had more than one tape frame. I was led to believe that there were only a couple of 'Tron tracks here, but that's not the case at all, although some of his use is so subtle that it could almost be mistaken for actual orchestral instruments.
Melodies, from two years later and billed as The Jan Hammer Group, is another matter entirely. Not only does it contain guitar (from Steve Kindler), but Hammer's style had largely shifted into the proto-fuzak for which he's known and loved (?) to this day. Saying that, I Sing is an acoustic guitar/vocal number (there are vocals all over the album, mostly from drummer Tony Smith), with nowt but a trademark MiniMoog solo to indicate Hammer's input, sounding remarkably like Happy the Man, strangely enough. Kindler also plays some killer electric violin on Hyperspace, almost certainly the album's best track, as it's almost the only one that doesn't sound like it's striving to be played in a lift somewhere, albeit a fairly weird lift. Hammer keeps the Mellotron to a minimum this time round, with strings and (mixed?) choir on opener Too Much To Lose, though well in the background, with an even more background strings part on Don't You Know. Closer Your Love has definite flutes and maybe strings, alongside Kindler's violin and (presumably) real cello, but that's your lot.
So; The First Seven Days is a damn' good album with good 'Tron, with some nice innovative use. Recommended. Melodies is rather less exciting, though it has its moments, and is somewhat lesser on the 'Tron front. I think I'll avoid any later Hammer albums, though...
Chameleon in the Shadow of the Night (1973, 48.52) ****/TGerman Overalls
Rock and Rôle
In the End
What's it Worth
Easy to Slip Away
Dropping the Torch
(In the) Black Room
The Silent Corner & the Empty Stage (1974, 49.50) ****/TTModern
The Lie (Bermini's St. Theresa)
A Louse is Not a Home
In Camera (1974, 48.01) ****/TFerret & Featherbird
(No More) the Sub-Mariner
Faint-Heart & the Sermon
The Comet, the Course, the Tail
Magog (in Bromine Chambers)
Peter Hammill was, of course, mainman of one of the greatest (relatively) unsung heroes of the prog world, the mighty Van der Graaf Generator, who finally split in 1978, after a turbulent ten years, including a several-year period of inactivity in the mid-'70s. Hammill had already kick-started his solo career alongside VdGG, although he was also their chief writer; Fool's Mate (***½) was a reasonable start, but many of the songs strike me as uncharacteristically cheerful, presumably because he utilised his material that didn't work for Van der Graaf.
Recorded in the middle of Van der Graaf's down-period, Chameleon in the Shadow of the Night is more what we've come to expect from the man; doom, gloom and a scorpion on the sleeve. Despite the intensity of the instrumental work, Hammill's music is essentially singer-songwriter material, making little sense without a lyric sheet and enough commitment from the listener to actually listen to the words. German Overalls namechecks other band members, giving vital clues to the band's initial breakup, while pretty much every other lyric on the album delves deeply into his psyche, dredging up sorrow, regret, pain... Yup, this is full-on miserablist stuff, but by God, it works! Hammill credits himself with 'one flight of Mellotrons', which come blasting in halfway through Easy To Slip Away (namechecking Mike and Susie from VdGG's Refugees), with a highly effective string part, close to distortion. Not a Mellotron album as such, but essential listening for progressive rock fans who wish to dive below the surface.
The Silent Corner & the Empty Stage is more of the same, unsurprisingly, although track lengths are increasing, with album closer A Louse Is Not A Home topping the twelve-minute mark. There's very little drumming on the album, which sounds slightly odd until you get used to it, but it actually tends to give the rest of the instruments space to breathe, without having to compete with the relentless rhythm the whole time. Two 'Tron tracks this time round; opener Modern has string chords here and there, while Wilhelmina has more of the same, but much more so, and what could be something from the 'Tron brass family. Saxes? I'd be surprised, because VdGG's David Jackson tends to deal with that end of things on Hammill's albums. Whatever. Another classic Hammill album, anyway. In Camera ups the intensity stakes yet again, with an excellent multi-monosynth arrangement on (No More) The Sub-Mariner and Hammill's most out-there piece ever, the second half of the lengthy Gog/Magog sequence that closes the album. Side one closes with Faint-Heart & The Sermon, layered in Mellotron strings, with cellos on the intro; a real tour-de-force on every front.
My brother (of ex-Guapo fame, boys'n'girls) and I have argued long and loud over whether or not you can hold Peter Hammill responsible for the atrocities subsequently committed in his name, namely, Marillion, and Fish's appalling lyrics generally (strange, for such an intelligent man). Of course you bloody can't; you might as well blame Green Day on the Sex Pistols; OK, so Hammill's lyrical style is way over the top, and melodrama's his middle name, but is it his fault if lesser mortals only scrape the surface of his talent, collect the handful of dust thus obtained and call it 'art'? Or am I just being totally pretentious? Many critics would level that accusation at Hammill, but it's no crime to bare your soul in public, however uncomfortable it may make your audience feel. No-one made them turn up...
So; to Mellotron or not to Mellotron? Well, all of Hammill's (limited) use is excellent, but there's only four tracks spread over three albums, so you'll have to decide for yourselves whether they're worth purchasing just to hear some very good, but not 'completely classic' use. The albums are all superb, if a little hard going, but if you're feeling adventurous... Be warned though: not for Marillion fans. Hammill never used a Mellotron on a solo album again, by the way, although two of the later Van der Graaf albums feature a smattering.
See: Van der Graaf Generator
Higher Ground (1974, 37.05) ***½/TCatch My Soul
Big Sur Suite
I don't know if Higher Ground is a typical Johnny "Hammond" Smith album, but if so, and you're allergic to jazz, you should probably vamoosh right now. Actually, it's more a blues/jazz jamming record, rather than straight bebop or whatever, with Hammond on, er, Hammond and plenty of brass scattered about (would jazz ever have happened without the development of the saxophone? Discuss), and a complete lack of vocals, which going by most jazz vocal work, has to be a bonus. Three of the four lengthy tracks are covers, with the overly-familiar Summertime getting an airing, here interwoven with The Ghetto, while the title track is a Stevie Wonder composition, with only closer Big Sur Suite being Hammond's own work.
Bob James plays Mellotron on one track, with an occasional cello line and some volume-pedalled string chords on Summertime/The Ghetto, although the rumoured use on Big Sur Suite turns out to be no more than rumour. So; an album for jazzers and/or Hammond (organ or man) enthusiasts, less so for Mellotron nuts, although there's passable use on one track.
Crossings (1972, 46.10) ****/TSleeping Giant
Sextant (1973, 39.12) ****/T½Rain Dance
Head Hunters (1973, 41.49) ****/½Chameleon
By 1972, keyboard whizz Herbie Hancock had already proved himself in the jazz field many times over, refusing to stick to any one style for long, infuriating purists in the process. Five years in Miles Davis' mid-'60s outfit set him on the road to solo success, forming one of the first fusion outfits at the tail end of that decade. By 1972's Crossings, Hancock was playing a largely improvised form of guitarless jazz/funk/rock, covering acoustic and electric pianos himself, while leaving the album's synth work to Patrick Gleeson. The playing is, as you'd expect, absolutely phenomenal, and while jazz is most definitely not my area, you'd be a fool not to be knocked back by the expertise shown here. The highest praise I can give the album is that over 46 minutes, it didn't bore me once, although I doubt if I'll ever feel any real affinity with the melodic and harmonic core of the music. After the full-on 24 minutes of side one's Sleeping Giant, the gentler Quasar and Water Torture come as a slight respite, which isn't to say they're exactly smooth jazz... Hancock's credited 'Melotron' only crops up on the latter, with a few volume-pedalled string chords here and there, and a striking pitchbent part, although it's not the heaviest use you're ever going to hear, barely earning one 'T'.
The following year's Sextant is, quite frankly, bonkers. Brilliant, but bonkers. Much of its length couldn't really be called 'jazz' at all, as the music heads off into the avant-garde, with discordant ARPs, squalling saxes (OK, so maybe there is some jazz in there) and, on side two's Hornets, some seriously blaxploitation hi-hat work and a superb trumpet impression of the insect in question. This is not an album for the faint-hearted, although I imagine it's fairly tame compared to Coltrane and the other bebop giants of the '60s. Hancock adds a clavinet to his keyboard arsenal this time round, making a fine old racket on Hornets, but again, only uses the 'Tron on one track. Hidden Shadows features more of those volume-pedalled and/or pitchbent strings, but adds flute chords to the mix, adding another half 'T' to the album's rating.
Hancock split his band after Sextant, forming a new one with the same name as their first album, Head Hunters. It caught him on the cusp between jazz credibility and commercial success, having a decidedly funky feel about it, while still being entirely instrumental and with two tracks in the ten-minute plus area. Hancock admits to a Sly and the Family Stone influence in the sleevenotes, so I suppose this album marks the inception of jazz-funk, without the cheesy commercialism of that genre. Every track has a different feel, from the freneticism of Sly (named in honour of), the all-out funk of Chameleon to the laid-back grooves of the superbly-titled Vein Melter; suffice to say, this is regarded as a fusion classic, although as with all these albums, I'd advise caution if you don't really 'do' jazz.
Hancock is listed as playing a Rhodes, a clavinet, an ARP Odyssey and Pro-Soloist, but you can also quite clearly hear a string synth of some description on Chameleon, then a not-easily identified string sound in Vein Melter. I used to think it was uncredited Mellotron, then changed my mind; an interview confirms that it's 'Tron mixed with string synth, although there can't be more than 30 or 40 seconds of it on the whole track, and I've no idea why he didn't credit the instruments. Hardly a Mellotron classic then, though an outstanding album in its field.
So; three adventurous albums, particularly Sextant, though I wouldn't really recommend any of these to the jazz-phobic. None of them feature any genuinely classic Mellotron work, but then, that wasn't really what they were about, was it?
Hands (1996, recorded 1977, 70.38) ****/T
Triangle of New Flight
I Want One of Those
The Tiburon Treasure
Hands in the Fire
Palm Mystery (1999, recorded 1977, 62.44) ***½/T
Loop of Humor
Zone of Balance
A Narrow Bridge
Mount of Luna
I Foreign I
Sooner Than You Think
Hands were yet another US prog outfit who recorded loads of material, but were unable to release it in any form at the time. Nearly 20 years later... Shroom Records do the decent thing, and make the contents of Hands available to the general public, and very good it is, too. The tracks appear to've been recorded over a three-year period, and cover a variety of styles, with the first several on the album being instrumental, some with and some without violin. Variety is good, but at times they sound like more than one band. More than one very good band, though; there isn't a bad track here, although I think it'll take several listens for the best compositions to seep through. As a general rule, though, think Gentle Giant crossed with Kansas, although there's a lot more to them than that.
I was convinced there wasn't going to be any 'Tron on the album, until Shannon Day's strings on Mutineer's Panorama cut in, with a smidgeon more on Antarctica. Shannon contacted me to tell me that at one time or another he has owned nine different 'Trons, with this particular one being an ex-Elton John machine, so it's a shame it wasn't used a little more.
Shroom's follow-up archive release, Palm Mystery, originally had me thinking it was entirely bereft of 'Tron, but Shannon tells me there's actually more 'Tron tracks than on its predecessor. The album itself is very good, but sounds like it consists of the leftover tracks that didn't make the grade for Hands, including several short musical sketches. There are apparently backing flutes and strings on both New Skies and A Narrow Bridge, and a short background string part on I Foreign I, too, but going with my original assessment of its 'Tron content, while it's a good album, it's rather inessential for the 'Tron fan.
So; two good archive releases, but less than essential 'Tron work throughout, with the possible exception of Mutineer's Panorama from Hands. The band have actually recently reformed (although Shannon Day isn't involved), releasing the excellent, if unsurprisingly 'Tron-free Twenty Five Winters.
Last Days of Wonder (2006, 43.23) ***/T½
|Your Great Journey
Tesla's Hotel Room
These Golden Jewels
After We Shot the Grizzly
Flapping Your Broken Wings
All the Time in Airports
|Bowling Alley Bar
Our Blue Sky
Somewhere Else to Be
The Handsome Family are effectively the husband-and-wife duo of Brett and Rennie Sparks, aided and abetted by other musicians as and when. 2006's Last Days of Wonder is their eighth album, consisting mostly of traditional acoustic folk/country, although All The Time In Airports cranks it up a bit, presumably harking back to their earlier records. Like so much country music, the stories behind the lyrics are probably more important than the actual music, making it difficult to pinpoint standout tracks; suffice to say, they're all of sufficiently high quality to keep fans of the genre happy.
Someone (presumably Brett) plays Mellotron on Beautiful William, with a ragged but heartfelt flute part that enhances the song nicely, plus what I take to be 'Tron strings right through closer Somewhere Else To Be. Overall, then, not a classic Mellotron album, but nice use on a couple of tracks on a reasonably good country album that straddles the line been 'trad' and 'alt'.
Let Us Go to Bethlehem: Ten Simple Love Songs (1975, 41.53) **/T
I Don't Know What to Do
Journey to Bethlehem
A Place to Stay
Let Us Go to Bethlehem
|On the Run
Yet another low-budget mid-'70s Christian artist (see: Morning Star, Pete Giardina), Marc Haney's Christmas epic, Let Us Go to Bethlehem: Ten Simple Love Songs, lays out 'the Christmas story' in song, unquestioningly, from a late 20th-century American viewpoint, making the whole thing even more ridiculous than it already is (Joseph's 'thoughts' in I Don't Know What To Do are particularly amusing). Musically, it's the usual slightly folky acoustic approach with an extra-special layer of cheese in the narrated passages, although the occasional countryish flourish (notably on Traveler's Song) ups the schlock factor without help.
Matt Spransy (apparently from a band biliously named Servant) plays Mellotron, with a strangely low-in-the-mix string solo in Journey To Bethlehem, including a bum chord as the guitar/bass accompaniment shifts, with more 'deep background' strings on closer Maranatha. Er, is this actually a Mellotron at all? It has a Mellotronic feel to it, but could be a sympathetically EQ'd string machine. Oh well, it stays here until I found out otherwise. Do you really want a copy of this? Why? Download it, then.
Second Story (1999, 44.06) **½/T½
Underneath a Tree
Out of Touch
The Hang Ups (2003, 37.52) **½/T
|It's All True
One of These Days
For the Worry
Like it Used to Be
You've Come Home
Light Green Sails
The Hang Ups, from Minneapolis, apparently started as effectively a soft-rock band, hardening up slightly (but only slightly) into a limp indie act by their 1999 effort, Second Story. It's not all bad (opener Caroline's a decent powerpop number and Epic features a passable riff), but the record's full of lethargic ballads (the title track, Maroon) at the expense of anything more interesting. Band mainman Brian Tighe plays Chamberlin on a few tracks, with faint cellos on opener Caroline, more upfront and obvious ones on Underneath A Tree and strings on Maroon, though nothing outstanding.
Despite a four-year gap between albums, 2003's The Hang Ups is essentially more of the same, possibly a fraction less insipid, but not by much. Jeff Kearns plays Mellotron, with several 'is it/isn't it?' tracks (notably whatever makes that sound at the end of Deep Pool), but Avalon's the only absolute definite, with a flute part running through most of the song. So; two not-very-interesting-at-all albums, with a small handful of tape-replay tracks over the pair. Just don't.
Higher Trails (1975, 44.01) **½/TWindsongs
I'll Be Back
John Hanlon is a Malayan-born Kiwi, whose career kicked off in the early '70s after a studio owner heard some of his songs. Higher Trails was his third album, and, while generally playing it safe, is far more palatable than, say, his countryman Larry Morris' Reputation Don't Matter Any More, released the following year. Opening track Windsongs is probably the album's highlight, and it has to be said that some of the material crosses the line into cheese territory,
Mellotron on one track only, Crazy Woman, played by Hanlon's musical collaborator, Mike Harvey, with a choir part slowly rising up in the mix, although it's hardly what you'd call essential listening, to be honest. I'm afraid to say that the same goes for the album as a whole; although better than a lot of similar singer-songwriter stuff, it hasn't dated well, especially in the lyric department, not that you're like to find a copy outside New Zealand anyway.
Underneath (2004, 62.05) **/T½
|Strong Enough to Break
Dancin' in the Wind
Penny & Me
Lost Without Each Other
When You're Gone
Get Up and Go
Hanson, eh? MMMBop. Yeah. Maybe my cynicism's down to being considerably nearer the Hanson brothers' parents' age than theirs. The brothers (the eldest three of seven kids) started playing together as The Hanson Brothers, which just makes me think of 'guilty pleasure' Slap Shot, a Paul Newman ice hockey film from the late '70s, featuring three semi-legendary moronic goons of the same name. Canadian hardcore outfit Nomeansno have a humorous side-project of the same name, with them apparently dressing like said brothers and playing Ramones-style punk with super-dumb lyrics. Excellent! Anyway (ahem)... These Hanson brothers recorded their first album when the youngest, drummer Zac, was nine, which is pretty shocking, although it seems that they didn't actually play on the record (I have to assume they sang on it). After a second independent effort, featuring the aforementioned MMMBop, they got themselves signed to a major and re-recorded it for their 'debut'. They made two more major-label efforts, including a Christmas album (gack), before going independent again.
Underneath was their first post-major release, and while less vile than their earlier efforts, is still a pretty cheesy pop/rock effort, although at least there's some reasonable elderly keys work on the album. I can't find anything sensible to say about the material, I'm afraid; it's commercial, it's pop/rock, it's forgettable. Chamberlin on three tracks: Taylor Hanson (middle brother) plays a vocal line-matching string part on opener Strong Enough To Break, the heavily ubiquitous Patrick Warren plays orchestral strings on Broken Angel, while Isaac Hanson (eldest) plays some perfectly competent strings on Deeper, including a few seconds where you hear it almost solo.
So; a well-produced but inconsequential release from a teeny pop group, although only one of them was actually still in his teens when it came out. Some actually quite nice Chamby work, but you're really not going to buy this for it. Are you? Bring back the original Hanson brothers, I say.
Jennifer Hanson (2003, 43.35) **½/½
Just One of Those Days
Half a Heart Tattoo
This Far Gone
Get Yourself Back
All Those Yesterdays
One Little Word
|It Isn't Just Raining
Baby I Was Wrong
Jennifer Hanson's eponymous 2003 debut album is at the 'rock' end of the country spectrum, with far fewer cheesy ballads than you might expect from the genre, which isn't to say there aren't any. Her secret weapon is the area at which country often wins out: the lyrics. Yup, the bulk of it is cheesy nonsense, but when Hanson can write stuff as amusing as Just One Of Those Days, you can forgive her a lot.
Mike Rojas plays Mellotron, with high-end cello chords on Travis, although if there's any more, it's well-hidden. So; Jennifer Hanson is far better than a lot of contemporary country, which doesn't mean that the bulk of you are going to like it; it's a shame she felt the need to include the ballads, 'cos the uptempo material's really not bad. Anyway, one undistinguished 'Tron track, one country album.
Ur Trollkarlens Hatt [a.k.a. Magician's Hat] (1972/73, 38.20/56.14) ***/T
Before the Rain
Playing Downhill Into the Downs
The Sun (Parallel or 90°)
Excursion With Complications
[remastered CD adds:
Big City (original version)
Waltz at Dawn]
Mellanväsen [a.k.a. Attic Thoughts] (1975, 37.12/43.33) ***/T
Time and Space
Waltz for Interbeings
Time for Great Achievements
Day and Night
A Happy Prank
[remastered CD adds:
The Crystal Suite
Memories of Darkness
Bo Hansson (not to be confused with disco wailer Hamilton Bohannon. Just in case...), is largely remembered these days for his first album, the pretty successful Sagan om Ringen/Lord of the Rings (***½), a droning instrumental organ-fest, more post-psychedelia than prog. By Ur Trollkarlen's Hatt/Magician's Hat (originally 1972), he'd taken on a full band and headed further into proggier territory, although he'd already carved out his own little niche, sounding like no-one else in particular. In all honesty, I don't personally find his music that exciting, although I know perfectly well that's not the point. It's all very laid-back, low-key, slightly jazzy stuff, with little in the way of dynamics or drama, but plenty of people bought his albums at the time, so what do I know? There's not that much of Hansson's 'Melotrone', with some brief, quiet strings on Divided Reality, along with a fairly major flute part, played with considerable dexterity, although all the rest of the album's flute appears to be real.
Incidentally, a mystery has arisen re. this album's Mellotronic content: before re-reviewing the remastered versions, I was sure I could hear a Mellotron flute part on Playing Downhill Into The Downs, but upon not hearing it this time round, I assumed I was originally mistaken. However, Christopher Orczy assures me that it IS on the original version, so for whatever reason, it appears to have been removed. This is all most bizarre and unnecessary (and says a lot about using different mixes for different releases), so if you'd like to hear it, you'll have to get the old version. Ludicrous. n.b. Tommy Schønenberg has cleared up the mystery: the remasters are taken from the original Swedish versions, while the Mellotron part on the track was obviously added for the UK release. Grr.
Mellanväsen/Attic Thoughts sounds very similar to its predecessor, to my ears; given that it appeared as late as '75, it's actually a little dated for the period. Hansson's style was obviously still working for some people, but his declining sales gave the true picture. Again, not a lot of Mellotronic input, with a few choir chords on Time For Great Achievements and what I presume are Mellotron string swells on Day And Night. Incidentally, the two-part Rabbit Music was a pointer towards his last album before a very lengthy, health-enforced career break, '77's El-Ahrairah/Music Inspired By Watership Down (***½). I personally prefer this last album to its predecessors, with its new-found sense of dynamics and (dare I say it?) energy. Also incidentally, the three-part bonus track on the remastered CD of Attic Thoughts, The Crystal Suite, is probably one of the best tracks Hansson has ever recorded. Very atmospheric.
So; although I find Hansson's work to be a little directionless, plenty of people would disagree with me, so you'll have to make your own mind up. Very little Mellotron, though, so low marks all round on that front. After picking up his career on a part-time basis in the late '90s, after what I've been informed was a lengthy struggle with alcohol, Hansson died in 2010.
Youth Oriented (2003, 61.36) ***/TYouth Oriented
Green Grass Stains on Wrangler Jeans
The Landfall Planetarium
Salmon Jump Suite
The Drama Section
The Treetops of a Bad Neighbourhood
It Will Be
Crème de Menthe Quasar
Happy Apple are a Minneapolis-based jazz trio who've been described as 'jazz-punk' in the past, though going by their fifth album, Youth Oriented (we'd say 'youth orientated; Australians would probably abbreviate it to a single syllable), I've no idea why. It gets slightly raucous occasionally, but overall it's a fairly typical sax/bass/drums album, all instrumental, with the odd bit of guitar for variety. Do I like it? Not especially, but I've never really understood jazz and I believe it's rated by those in the know.
Drummer Dave King plays Mellotron, with some wavery and very real-sounding flutes on The Landfall Planetarium that slowly take over from the other instrumentation until the last minute or so of the track is nothing but. Nothing else, but this is rather more than you'll get on most modern albums, and it does sound genuine, which makes a nice change. Anyway, instrumental jazz; you probably already know whether or not you'll like it. One good 'Tron track, but that's your lot.
Turn it on (2009, 35.25) **½/½
|Lay Down Your Head
It Barely Makes a Sound
Through Your Eyes
Just Your Style
Love You Anyway
|Don't Be Scared
Happy Ending are a New York-based outfit operating at the slower end of indie, with a slight Americana influence, the end result being 2009's Turn it on, which tries really hard, but still ends up being a little dull. It's not even that I can point the finger at anything specific, just that in its attempts to be honest, heartfelt and 'for real', it merely manages to be rather insipid and generally lacklustre, with a sad lack of memorable material.
Producer Jimi Zhivago plays Mellotron, with background strings on opener Lay Down Your Head and despite other 'just might be's, I think that's probably it. One for your lovelorn side, I suspect, but set your boredom threshold fairly high.
Scotty Hard's Radical Reconstructive Surgery (2006, 47.06) ***/½
|Chance Operation||Anatomy of Melancholy
Scotty "Hard" Harding is a hip-hop DJ who's moved into the jazz field by dint of working with some of the best names on the New York scene. Scotty Hard's Radical Reconstructive Surgery consists of Hard overdubbing and remixing performances by said best names, including keyboard players Matthew Shipp and John Medeski. The end result is probably jazz, depending on what you mean by the appellation; it's also pretty avant-garde, although it's a long way from the hip-hop that originally influenced its manipulator.
Medeski is credited with Mellotron, but the only place it even might be is the weird, pitch-shifted stringlike sounds in Noonday Demon, which could well be Medeski manipulating the flywheel (not recommended, boys'n'girls). So; not somewhere you're going to go for its Mellotron content, but something you may well go should you be into the further reaches of fucked-up jazz.
As a sad postscript, Hard was paralysed in a car crash in 2008. He is apparently recovering, but the pernicious system of American so-called 'healthcare' means that he needs constant funds, or he will, presumably, be flung out onto the street. And they vote for this. Truly disgusting. Let's hope he makes a full recovery while he and his friends can still afford it.
Scotty Hard Trust
See: John Medeski | DJ Logic
Hardcore Superstar (2005, 49.04) ***½/T
|Kick on the Upperclass
Bag on Your Head
We Don't Celebrate Sundays
My Good Reputation
|Cry Your Eyes Out
Blood on Me
Standin' on the Verge
Hardcore Superstar are a trashy hard rock outfit from Sweden who, going by their fifth, eponymous album, from 2005, have an ear for a tune and the sense not to go the full Jovi/Leppard route. By all rights, I really shouldn't like this stuff, but after listening to a raft of terrible indie or sensitive singer-songwriter efforts, a blast of joyous, memorable rock kind of hits the spot; there's an awful lot worse around than this, let me tell you. Highlights? Ridiculous opener Kick On The Upperclass (the closest the band gets to a political statement), the propulsive rock'n'roll of Last Forever, We Don't Celebrate Sundays... The more I think about it, the more I realise that there's little to dislike about this, ludicrous though it is.
Anders Ehlin plays (real?) Mellotron; a choir swell before the riff kicks in on Kick On The Upperclass and a polyphonic flute part on the album's sole (sort of) ballad, closer Standin' On The Verge. Frankly, you've probably got to appreciate the collected works of AC/DC, Y&T and The Scorpions to get much out of Hardcore Superstar, but should your collection contain releases by those very bands, this gets a cautious PM thumbs-up, though not, to be honest, for the Mellotron.
Wizard's Convention (1976, 41.32) **/T
|The Craig Song
When the Sun Stops Shining
Money To Burn
Whose Counting on Me
Make It Soon
Until Tomorrow Part 1-4
Light of My Life
|She's a Woman
Swanks and Swells Part 1
Swanks and Swells Part 2
Cruelly retitled Money to Burn for an '80s reissue, Eddie Hardin's Wizard's Convention is the sort of vanity project that punk (love it or loathe it) put to the sword the following year (see: The Intergalactic Touring Band). So; what is it? Soft rock, that's what. No obvious concept, just an album of soft rock drivel with loads of guests, including several then-current and past members of Deep Purple, all of whom should've known better. The pace picks up just once, in one part of Until Tomorrow, but it's nothing you haven't heard done far better by about a million other bands, not least Purple themselves. Other than that, we're looking at then-oh-so-trendy soul and blues influences on most tracks, with Jon Lord getting a chance to show off his piano chops on She's A Woman to little effect, to be honest, and various singers (David Coverdale, Glenn Hughes, Mike d'Abo) all trying to outdo each other in the soulfulness stakes, as if anyone cared. The only point at which the album branches out is on the two parts of Swanks And Swells, with Chris Barber's trad jazz band backing, making for a welcome diversion from the slush preceding it, although it's hardly cutting-edge.
The album's only obvious Mellotron is on the last part of the four-part Until Tomorrow, with quite major string and choir parts, played by Rick van der Linden (Ekseption/Trace), apparently, making for a brief moment of relief from the tedium surrounding it. Sad to say, this is a limp, insipid piece of mid-'70s soft rock, without even the benefit of some decent tunes, and with only a brief burst of anything Mellotronic. I would steer well clear if I were you, even (especially?) if you collect Purple-related stuff.
See: Deep Purple | Glenn Hughes | Ekseption | Trace
Awake (1998, 54.55/71.50) ***/½
|Good Morning (I Just Woke Up)
Your Ghost (Don't Scare Me No More)
It's All My Fault
Sweat Tears Blood and Come
|Song I Wrote Myself in the Future
Something to Write Home About
You're Looking at Me
I'm Staying Here (and I'm Not Buying a Gun)
Good Bye (Late o'Clock)
I Just Woke Up
Wreck on the Highway]
The Confessions of St. Ace (2000, 45.39) ***½/T
She's a Piece of Work
People Love to Watch You Die
I'm Wrong About Everything
Same Piece of Air
Bad Dream Baby
|You in Spite of Yourself
Our Lady of the Highways
After the Fact
Too Much Into Nothing
The Sound of His Own Voice (2011, 46.33) ***½/T
|Sing Your Own Song
I Should Have Stopped
Captain Courageous (on Disko Island)
I Might Be Dead
The Way We Weren't
There's a Starbucks (Where the
Starbucks Used to Be)
|The Colloquy of Mole & Mr. Eye
Calling Off the Experiment
Good News (& Bad News)
The World in Song
One Step Up/Two Steps Back: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen (1997)[Harding contributes]
I was quite surprised to discover that Wesley "John Wesley Harding" Stace is British, albeit an ex-pat since 1991; I suppose Bob Dylan fandom's fairly universal... 1998's Awake is perfectly good at what it does, if a touch unexciting; I suspect the best was yet to come in his discography. Better tracks include 'proper' opener Your Ghost (Don't Scare Me No More) and I'm Staying Here (And I'm Not Buying A Gun), but the slightly overlong album could probably have lost a couple of tracks along the way. The recent expanded version adds another five, including Wreck On The Highway, a live duet with none other than Bruce Springsteen. Harding plays Mellotron himself, but all I can hear is a faint string part on Poor Heart, for what it's worth.
2000's The Confessions of St. Ace is another decent singer-songwriter effort with more than a touch of country in places. Harding actually sings in his own accent most of the time, often singing about quite British concerns (Goth Girl is an amusing yet poignant example), although he goes all American on us as the country quotient rises (notably on Our Lady Of The Highways). No fewer than three musicians are credited with Mellotron: Tim Lauer, Jeff Roach and Scott McCaughey, although I'm not sure why it takes so many people to play so relatively little 'Tron: flutes and strings on People Love To Watch You Die and almost-not-there flutes on After The Fact, although the strings on closer Too Much Into Nothing are real.
2011's The Sound of His Own Voice proves that it's possible for some artists to keep on improving. Harding's style has moved closer to powerpop territory and the songwriting's stronger all round, highlights including Uncle Dad, the droll There's A Starbucks (Where The Starbucks Used To Be) and Calling Off The Experiment, but there's little, if anything here that lets the side down. Just McCaughey on Mellotron this time round, with strings on I Might Be Dead and flutes on The Way We Weren't, although they sound a little on the suspect side, if truth be told.
Overall, Confessions... is not bad, not bad at all, then, to the point where I'd be happy to listen to more of the man's work, although I find Awake a little less essential, while The Sound of His Own Voice seems to be his best yet. Not that much Mellotron on any, but that's usually the case, so you could hardly say it's a surprise.
See: One Step Up/Two Steps Back
Beginning to End (2000, recorded 1987-88, 79.57) ***/TTT
No Lasting Love
Look to the Sea
Early Night's End
Move a Little Closer
|Do it All
Ready to Run
Ready to Love
We'll Show Them
Dawn Till Dusk
On the Floor
Hardtimes were one of a vast number of bands worldwide who found themselves adrift in the shallow, image-obsessed '80s (I had one, too). They clearly wanted to play progressive rock, but found themselves sidelined into more of an AOR direction, although their surviving recordings (from the late '80s) contain many proggy touches. Drummer Jim Wojcik wrote to me recently to let me know that he's compiled a full-length CD of said recordings, with ten mostly overlapping tracks available for download on Amazon. As a result, it straddles the 'available'/'unavailable' divide, but I'll review it anyway.
The tapes are beginning to show their age; several tracks feature unintended pitch-shift, not to mention the serious tuning issues on Another Day and vocalist Pete Stipan's sometimes rather tuneless voice, but then, the band are at their best in the instrumental sections, anyway. Highlights include Early Night's End, a kind of superior AOR instrumental (!), With You is pleasantly reflective, while Dawn Till Dusk is nicely jammed out towards the end. Going by online snippets, the missing track from my version, Patriots, is a lightweight pop-rock number, although it's downloadable should you wish to hear it.
The band obtained their Mellotron from the legendary Cleveland Agora ballroom, where it had been left (!) after malfunctioning during a show. Those were the days... They refurbished it and used it on about half of these recordings, with a descending string line, doubled with flutes on No Lasting Love, a harmony flute part on With You and a high flute melody, doubled with strings on Look To The Sea. Move A Little Closer features a string wash and the rare Mellotron harpsichord (the track's main keyboard sound), Ready To Love's string line was fed through the tremolo circuit on a guitar amp and On The Floor has a background cello line, leaving the album's best track, 1970, as its Mellotronic highlight, opening with a major string part, complete with un-fakeable wobbles, not to mention the distant choirs at the end of the track.
Overall, this is a distinctly mixed bag, demos as against fully-realised recordings, but I can attest that those were hard times (sorry). Since 1970 is on the download version, I suggest that you get hold of a copy to hear a long-lost late-period BJH-esque soft prog gem, then listen to the online snippets to see if you'd like to delve any deeper.
Vogts Villa (1996, 41.44) **½/TT
|Tilbake Til Livet
Jeg Kjenner Ingen Fremtid
Herre i Drømmen
Gammal og Vis
|Lyser Når du Drar
You'll probably know Morten Harket as the voice of A-Ha; you know, the one with the four-octave range, or whatever he has (or had). His voice was still definitely on form for his third solo album, 1996's Norwegian-language Vogts Villa, although the material's a bit on the average side, with nothing really standing out very much, although Himmelske Danser at least vaguely rocks it up a little.
There seems to be some disagreement over whom, exactly, plays Mellotron on the album, with both producer Kåre Chr. Vestrheim (Gluecifer) and Thomas Tofte listed in various sources. Anyway, we get flutes all over Jeg Kjenner Ingen Fremtid, clearly real strings on Taksameteret Går and more of the same on Lyser Når Du Drar, although I suspect the cello's real. Not the most exciting album ever, then, although a little obviously genuine Mellotron spices things up a little. Stick to A-Ha's greatest hits, I think.
See: A-Ha | Magne Furuholmen | Savoy
|7" (1974) **½/T
Big Big Deal
Bed in the Corner
Timeless Flight (1977, 40.49) **/½Red is a Mean, Mean Colour
White, White Dove
All Men Are Hungry
Black or White
Nothing is Sacred
Don't Go, Don't Cry
Steve Harley, with the original, guitarless Cockney Rebel, somehow managed to miss out on the huge hit they deserved in 1973 with the glorious, overblown Sebastian, but managed a couple of top ten entries the following year with the creepy, weird pop of '74's Judy Teen and Mr. Soft. By the following year, they'd peaked artistically (in my humble opinion, of course), although the irritating Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) sold shedloads everywhere, and is the song for which Harley is remembered above all. Nestling in between the great and the successful was a complete flop, the non-album Big Big Deal, credited to Harley alone, presumably just after the acrimonious split with his band (see: the lyrics to Make Me Smile...). It's... thoroughly average, to be honest, quite deserving of its chart non-placement, sounding more like an anonymous album track than a hit. It opens with a handful of Mellotron choir chords which reiterate towards the end of the song, but that's the only reason it's here. It you want to hear it, it's on various greatest hits/anthology albums, or the expanded CD of The Psychomodo.
By Timeless Flight (a second-hand shop perennial, along with Love is a Prima Donna), Harley had already shot his bolt commercially and artistically, of course, although his biggest hit was all of a year behind him and his last (proper) one, his take on George Harrison's Here Comes The Sun was from earlier in '76. I'm afraid to say that Timeless Flight is a dullard of an album, all bland singer-songwriter fare, with only Harley's unique voice to differentiate it from the pack. Duncan Mackay's keyboard work is a little on the sparse side, consisting mainly of monosynth parts on several tracks. However, the very first sound on the album is three high Mellotron string notes, although the only other audible 'Tron is a single, 'violined' chord in the left speaker only in White, White Dove. As a result, I find it difficult to recommend this album on any front. Buy a 'Best of' for those early hits instead.