Judy Henske & Jerry Yester
Heredeiros da Crus
Eurooppa (1981, 33.17) ***/TEurooppa
Koira Ja Hänen Miehensä
Yhtenä Iltana... (1990, 49.12) ***/TT½
Älä Tee Sitä
|Minä Olin Hotelli
Sataako Huomenna, Padam
Salaisuuksien Talo (1994, 49.39) ***/TT½
Kaksi Palaa Aameneen
Joskus Itkee Jokainen
Ei Selityksiä (2004, 51.46) ***/TT
|Olishan se Hienoo
Kuunnellaan Vaan Taivasta
Lähes Onnellinen Mies
Tää on se Aamu
Kun Rakkaus Saapuu Kaupunkiin
Hector, known to his mum as Heikki Veikko Harma, has been active in the Finnish music biz since his first single in 1965, and has released over 20 albums since his long-playing debut in 1972. I've seen comments like "...influenced by David Bowie", probably referring to his early-'70s work, but his tenth album, 1981's Eurooppa, is a fairly mainstream pop/rock album of its time. All but one of the songs are by the man himself, although Sydänten Kaatopaikka is a Finnish-language cover of Short And Sweet from David Gilmour's magnificent eponymous solo album, carrying on what appears to be a long tradition of Finnish artists covering foreign material with translated lyrics, even if (as this case) the title bears no relation to the original. Mellotron from Finland's No.1 'Tronster, Esa Kotilainen (also on MiniMoog, ARP Omni and Oberheim OB-Xa), with choirs on the opening title track and strings on Woyzeck. It's possible there are a couple of other bits hidden away, but nothing obvious.
Hector's next relevant album is 1990's Yhtenä Iltana..., a folkier effort, at least going by the amount of the dreaded accordion to be heard on the record. Again, mostly self-written material, and while Seisovaa Ilmaa is better known as Walk On The Wild Side, I'm sure I don't remember any reference to Helsinki in the original. Kotilainen on Mellotron again, with choirs on the opening title track (again), a brief but lovely flute part on Näkemiin-Kuulemiin and background strings mirroring the Hammond on Älä Tee Sitä. More of those flutes on Illat Pitenee and Markan Valheet, and some really quite full-on flutes and strings on Sataako Huomenna, Padam, making this, against the odds, almost worth hearing for its 'Tron input.
Four years on, and Salaisuuksien Talo carries on in a similar vein, with rather too much accordion for my personal liking, mixed in with rockier numbers. By this point in his career, Hector seems to have settled into a kind of middle-aged singer-songwriter thing, with a rabid following in his home country, partly due to singing in his own language. Kotilainen plays Mellotron again, with flutes and strings on opener Viimeinen Unelma, choir swells on the rockier Velisurmaaja and more flutes on Joki Tulvii. Flutes again on the balladic Oisinpa Tuuli, alongside real strings, and flutes, low-end choirs and cellos on Joskus Itkee Jokainen, making for passable 'Tron input once again.
The last of Hector's Mellotron albums (at least to date), Ei Selityksiä, is more of the same, mixing more folk-influenced material with a few uptempo numbers, not least Hysteeri, which sounds a lot like that Ricky Martin hit, but isn't. Kotilainen's 'Tron work this time round consists of a few high string notes on opener Olishan Se Hienoo and a more straightforward part on the title track, although that's real strings on Kuunnellaan Vaan Taivasta. Background flutes and strings on Saarnaaja, with the same, but more upfront, on Eki-Setä, featuring the amusing lyric, "Eki-Setä has left the building".
It's actually hard to know how to rate these albums; they consist largely of mainstream pop/rock for whenever they were recorded, sung in a language spoken by few outside the country. Kudos for sticking to Finnish, although it may not be an entirely altruistic move, as I'm sure it's given Hector extra brownie points at home. Better to be a big fish in a small pond? Anyway, I've given them all three stars as none of them either offended or inspired me, and none of them seems particularly better than any of the others. Their Mellotron input varies, although I doubt if any of these are really worth tracking down just to hear some nicely-played Mellotron parts.
II: Allez Teia (1975, 41.10) ***½/TTTIn the Wake of King Fripp
Omar Diop Blondin
St-Mikael Samstag am Abends
III: "It's Always Rock'n'Roll" (1975, 83.08) ***/TICS Machinique
Cotes de Cachalot à la Psylocybine
Virgin Swedish Blues
IV: Agneta Nilsson (1976, 50.22) ***½/½Perspective I (Où Comment Procéde le Nihilisme Actif)
Perspective III (Baader-Meinhof Blues)
Virgin Swedish Blues
Now, far be it from me to say that Heldon mainman Richard Pinhas was a Crimson fanatic, but the title of his second album's opening track rather gives the game away. Assuming it wasn't some sort of Gallic joke, that is; I'm afraid it's rather hard to tell. Saying that, Heldon were by no means a straight Crimso copy; Pinhas had his own guitar technique that incorporated some of Fripp's stylings, rather than completely ripping him off. Given that both Pinhas and his collaborator Georges Grunblatt play Mellotron on Heldon II: Allez Teia, there is surprisingly little of it on the album; three tracks out of seven, to be precise. Think 'the quieter end of Crimso's improv scale', and you might be getting close to how Heldon used their 'Tron; strings, fairly dark, but drifting rather than intense. ...King Fripp is the best example on the album, but all three are worth a listen, as indeed is the whole album. I wouldn't call Allez Teia exactly startling, but it's a good listen with some unexpected twists.
Heldon III: "It's Always Rock'n'Roll" is an assault course of an album in many ways; a double LP of almost rhythmless electronics and general weirdness that makes its predecessor sound fairly normal. It opens with a purely electronic piece, ICS Machinique, following on with more synths and Pinhas' still quite extraordinarily Fripp-like guitar on Cotes De Cachalot À La Psylocybine, then proceeds in similar fashion for the next hour plus. Pinhas' Mellotron finally makes an appearance with some understated cellos on Virgin Swedish Blues (guess what: it isn't), while Grunblatt contributes the album's only serious 'Tron with a ghostly string part that ebbs and flows throughout Ocean Boogi (guess what: it isn't either). It could easily have fitted into several other tracks without disturbing the album's equilibrium, but the musicians concerned presumably felt otherwise. Pity.
Heldon IV: Agneta Nilsson contains four tracks of the by-now familiar electronic grunting, to greater or lesser effect, until the side-long Perspective IV, when Heldon suddenly turn into a full band. Bassist Alain Bellaiche and drummer Coco Roussel (later of the mighty Happy the Man, fact fans) jam away on the 20-odd minute track, alongside Patrick Gauthier on MiniMoog and Pinhas throwing some hitherto-unseen blues-rock shapes on Part 2, also titled Virgin Swedish Blues (guess what: it actually is this time). The track ends with a sudden tape cut; who knows how much longer they actually played? As far as the album's Mellotronic input goes, it seems it needed both Pinhas and a guesting Philibert Rossi to play the background string part on Perspective I, unless Pinhas contributed more of his almost-inaudible cellos; there certainly isn't any more obvious 'Tron to be heard on the record. Apparently, the original US version messed with the tracklisting, shortening Perspective IV and adding two tracks from Heldon III. Why?
So; three albums of sometimes startling electronic experimentation (and I haven't even mentioned their bonkers debut, the 'Tronless Électronique Guérilla). Allez Teia is probably the only one actually worth buying for its 'Tron use, though, despite one decent track on "It's Always Rock'n'Roll".
See: Richard Pinhas
Postcard (2003, 59.56) **½/TTT
Where Do You Go to When You Disappear
Murder Can Be Necessary
Drive Me Slow
Something to Live for
Helene Dineen and Graham Gargiulo met in London in the '90s, forming Barefoot Contessa, who released four albums before becoming Helene, apparently to highlight Dineen's voice. The first fruit of their new labours (New Labour! Geddit? Oh, never mind), 2003's Postcard, is a sort of indie/singer-songwriter/post-rock cross, guaranteed to appeal to a certain audience dynamic, albeit not one containing my good self. As with so many similar efforts, the lyrics are almost certainly considered as of at least equal importance as the music, ditto Dineen's fragile, wispy voice which you'll either like or... you won't. The overlong record's material shifts between the duo's various influences, while never fully escaping the '80s/'90s indie aesthetic: good news for some, I'm sure.
Owen Turner plays Mellotron, with strings on all highlighted tracks above, except closer Downtime, which features the flutes. Can I recommend this? Not really, no; I suppose it does what it does perfectly well, but you really have to like what it does and I don't.
No Guitars EP (1997, 19.29) ***/TTTSilver Strings
King of Electric Guitars
Riddle of the Chamberlin
The Magic City (1997, 51.32) ***/TTT
Leon's Space Song
Ocean of Wine
Lady of the Fire
Lullaby of the Moths
The Revolution of Hearts Pts I and II
Blue Rain Soda
Helium were a fairly typical '90s indie outfit, in many ways, although their 1997 EP, No Guitars (a lie) is more interesting in places than that would lead you to believe. Although the first three tracks break little new ground, Sunday is a vibraphone/Chamberlin delight, while the near-seven minute Riddle Of The Chamberlin (a song about how cool the Chamberlin is...) moves through several different feels over its length. Plenty of frontwoman Mary Timony's Chamberlin, with often quite high-end cellos on Dragon #2, 13 Bees and (fittingly) Riddle Of The Chamberlin, plus strings on Sunday, usually playing melodic lines rather than chords.
Their subsequent (and last) album, The Magic City, suffers from the same semi-malaise as the EP: a few more interesting tracks (The Revolution Of Hearts, Lady Of The Fire, Blue Rain Soda) versus a surfeit of average indieness. Again, plenty of Timony's Chamberlin work: while it seems a bit high, I think the solo violin line on Leon's Space Song is Chamby, although Andrew Emmett is credited with violin, heard on Lullaby Of The Moths. More of those high-end cellos on Ocean Of Wine, 'regular' strings on Lady Of The Fire and Cosmic Rays, plus what I presume is Chamby brass (and strings) on Clementine.
So; two releases of slightly better than average indie, but loads of good Chamberlin work, although I've no idea whether Timony's used it in her subsequent solo career. Both of these are borderline worth it for the Chamberlin alone, especially as it's so nicely audible.
End of Illusion (1982, 42.41) ***½/0
End of Illusion
Dancing Progressions for Computers
Anders Helmerson was a music student in the late '70s, effectively thrown out for expressing an interest in anything written later than 1900. According to the biography on his website, End of Illusion took three years to record, and disappeared without trace after a limited release on an unsuitable label in Sweden. It's good without being great, although the keyboard playing is absolutely faultless, with Helmerson attacking piano, organ and various mono- and polysynths and allegedly, Mellotron (stupendous piano work on Automatic Hammer, for example). His influences aren't too hard to spot, with plenty of Emersonian organ work, and a UK (the band) feel in places, although there's enough of him in it to rescue it from ignominious Triumvirat territory.
However... Unless my ears are really seriously deceiving me, there isn't a jot of Mellotron on the album. It's credited, and it may well be hidden away somewhere in the mix, but there aren't even any points at which you think, "Well, maybe there...". Zilch. Nada. Bugger all. So; not a bad album, with some good ensemble playing (plenty of guest musicians) and some fiery keyboard work, but zero 'Tron.
Beware the Shadow (1972, 35.25) **½/TAlabama Lady
She's My Girl
Molly Bake Bean
Help Yourself were associated with Welsh psychedelicists Man and British pub-rockers Brinsley Schwarz (home to the legendary Nick Lowe, amongst others), so it's hardly surprising that their music had a strong country-rock vein running through it. They made four albums in three years (as bands did back then), the third of which, 1972's Beware the Shadow, is vastly less progressive than its title and sleeve might indicate, being largely pub/country-rock. The exception to this rule is the twelve-minute Reaffirmation, crossing their usual style with a psych/prog aesthetic, which ends up resembling Man, perhaps unsurprisingly.
The album's only Mellotron track (from Malcolm Morley) is, unsurprisingly, Reaffirmation, Morley playing flute, string and brass parts on what sounds (from its reverb, mainly) a lot like a MkII, still often used this early in the '70s. Overall, then, a rather dull effort, although Reaffirmation is possibly worth hearing, as much for the Mellotron as the music.
Inside Job (2000, 69.58) **½/T
|Nobody Else in the World But You
Taking You Home
For My Wedding
Everything Is Different Now
Goodbye to a River
They're Not Here, They're Not Coming
|Damn it Rose
I would've said Don Henley is best-known for his work with The Eagles, but I'm forgetting his highly successful '80s solo career, although he only actually released three albums that decade. The Eagles reformed in 1994, wittily naming their reformation tour "Hell Freezes Over", after Henley's comment that the band would only reform in the event of that occurrence. Presumably due to his on-off Eagles commitments, Henley's only released one solo album since 1990, 2000's Inside Job, featuring many examples of his usual acerbic songwriting, although musically, it's about as dull as you'd expect, sadly. Maybe justice could be done to these songs via decent interpretations, but I'm afraid to say there's nothing here that lifts any of them out of their deservedly-maligned 'adult contemporary' status. I've given the album the rating I have due to the strength of Henley's actual writing; listening to this album was not what I'd consider an especial pleasure.
Someone, possibly Henley himself, plays Mellotron strings right through the title track, although I'm far from convinced they're real. Given that no-one's even credited for them, why use the sound if you don't even go to the bother of hauling a real one into the studio, though? Ordinary sampled strings, or indeed, real ones, would've done the job just as well on an album as mainstream as this. Anyway, I can't honestly recommend this overlong, bland album on the strength of one possible Mellotron track. I'd quite like to hear its less schmaltzy songs sung by someone who doesn't feel the need to swamp them in syrupy arrangements, though.
Civilians (2007, 57.42) ***½/TT
Time is a Lion
You Can't Fail Me Now
Scare Me to Death
|Love is Enough
I Will Write My Book
Shut Me Up
God Only Knows
Joe Henry's been making records since the '80s, although it wasn't until 1990 that he made one that apparently doesn't sound like an '80s producer's wet dream. 2007's Civilians is his tenth full-length release, containing twelve tracks of old-school country, more American folk, really, with an unexpected jazz-era sensibility here and there. To be honest, there really aren't any bad tracks here, but highlights include Time Is A Lion (almost sounds like a country ZZ in the guitar department), Scare Me To Death and the lengthyish Our Song.
Patrick Warren on Chamberlin again, with flutes and strings on the opening title track, flutes on Parker's Mood, strings on Civil War and Wave, plus a major part on Scare Me To Death, making for rather more tape-replay than I'd expected. Americana fans looking for something a little left-field should leap at this album, while its tape-replay work only enhances what is already a very listenable record. Worth the effort.
Henry Fool (2001, 51.43) ****½/TTT
|The Laughter That Turned to Ice
Judy on the Brink
The David Warner Wish List
The Mellow Moods of Malcolm McDowell
Men Singing (2013, 40.29) ****/TTTEveryone in Sweden
My Favourite Zombie Dream
Cyclops Sampler 5 (2002) ***½/T½[Henry Fool contribute]
Pills in the Afternoon
Henry Fool are that rarest of things, a contemporary UK progressive act who don't want to be Marillion or It Bites. At long bloody last. Put together by No-Man mainman Tim Bowness, they mix various influences together, coming on like a sort of Floyd/Radiohead thing with extra added ambient textures. Thankfully, Henry Fool is a million miles away from the whole British neo-prog thing, and is all the better for it, being probably the most 'out there' release on Malcolm Parker's Cyclops label. It's also an album that's ping-ponged between this page and the 'Samples' section, eventually finding its way back here again, for reasons detailed below.
The compositions ebb and flow, picking up speed here and there, particularly during the epic Lateshow, or the freeform jamming of The David Warner Wish List, though tending towards the mellow end of the spectrum. There's an almost late-night jazz feel to it in places, though that's not to say it's actually jazzy. Er, it's slightly difficult to describe, really... Stephen Bennett's Mellotron playing abounds (with a little help from Bowness), with much strings, and bits of flute and choir here and there; I'm reliably informed that it's a mixture of real and Roland JV1080 samples, presumably due to the contents of the real one's tape frame. Poppy Q would be especially recommended on the 'Tron front, except for the minor problem that the strings hold for far too long to be genuine, but Grounded (from Lateshow) and the major string part on Bass Pig are definite recommendations. Some of the Mellotronic textures here are just a little too smooth, giving their origin away, but it's nice to be able to confirm that at least some of it's the Real Deal.
Well, it's taken Henry Fool twelve years to follow up their debut, 2013's ironically-titled Men Singing being a very different release. Multiple short tracks? Gone. Vocals? Gone. Radiohead influence? Long gone. Instead, we get four long instrumental tracks in a proggy jazz fusion vein, every bit as good as anything else I've heard in the (admittedly limited) field recently and probably better than most. Highlights? For this listener, the fat Moog Taurus all over opener Everyone In Sweden and closer Chic Hippo, the nearest the album gets to 'prog'. Jarrod Gosling (I Monster, Skywatchers) plays his own M400, although some Vintage Key samples were apparently recorded before his arrival. Anyway, we get an upfront string part and (sampled?) flutes on Everyone In Sweden and strings and choirs on the title track, the shorter My Favourite Zombie Dream and Chic Hippo, featuring particularly overt choirs.
So; two damn' good, if very different albums, modern but with traditional touches. Their debut is unlikely to upset either your dinner party guests or your prog mates (in the unlikely event of your having both); probably enhanced by 'relaxing' substances, though I wouldn't actually know. No, really. Both titles wholeheartedly recommended for both music and real and fake Mellotron. Excellent.
See: Cyclops Samplers | Tim Bowness
Farewell Aldebaran (1969, 34.47) ***½/T½
Horses on a Stick
St. Nicholas Hall
Vocalist Judy Henske married folkie Jerry Yester of the Modern Folk Quartet, and later of the Lovin' Spoonful, in the early '60s, making the one-off Farewell Aldebaran in California at the end of the decade. Almost inevitably released on Frank Zappa's Straight imprint, it's almost impossible to categorise, although 'folk/psych' will probably have to do for now. Every track is essentially a different style, from the pseudo-sea shanty Raider through St. Nicholas Hall's satirical take on the Anglican hymnbook to the more straightforward folk-rock of Charity. Nobody much bought it at the time, probably due to its eclecticism, and even now, its availability seems to be due solely to a super-dodgy UK-based pirate outfit, Radioactive, who specialise in unauthorised reissues of overseas material (see: the Marshall Brothers Band), making potential lawsuits prohibitively expensive.
The reason this album's here is a couple of tracks featuring the Chamberlin. St. Nicholas Hall opens with a female voice that fools the listener into thinking it's real for a moment, until a pitch change alerts you to its keyboard origin. The male voices appear later (is this a keyboard split, or two sounds overdubbed?), making for one of the clearest recordings of the sound I've ever heard. More of the same, but less so, on the closing title track, along with some fantastic early Moog modular (belonging to Bernie Krause of Beaver & Krause, apparently), including an emulation of a vocoder, before such things actually existed.
This is a pretty strange record, it has to be said, but those of you with slightly more eclectic tastes may just go for it. Until/if an authorised issue appears, however, PLEASE don't buy this new, putting money into a pirate's pocket. Bootlegs of unreleased material are one thing, but ripping off official albums and the artists concerned is another. Bootleg the boots, and get someone to copy this for you. As far as its Chamberlin input's concerned, while interesting, it probably doesn't make it actually worth paying decent money for, but as I've just said, you don't want to do that anyway, do you?
Chicarrón (2004, 41.34) **½/T
J. Bar-Dem (Stones Show)
O Miniño Vira Tinto
Mama (Nesesito Unha Reseta)
|Os Sinco Latinos No Aire
Despite being generally regarded as 'rock'n'roll' or 'classic rock', Galician outfit Heredeiros da Crus sound more like the epitome of 'indie rock' to my ears, at least on their last album before their split, 2004's Chicarrón. It has its moments, not least the Police-ish Chapapote Fresh, the lengthy Mama (Nesesito Unha Reseta) and closer Geografía, but it's not the most exciting thing you'll hear this (or any other) year.
Juan de Dios plays Mellotron flutes all over Mama (Nesesito Unha Reseta), sounding surprisingly real, key-click and all, which is about the most encouraging thing I can think of to say about this rather ordinary record.
Talisman (2011, 51.04) **½/T½
|A New You
Toy of Glass
Shame on Us
On a Search
Faith in Truth
Heidi Herløw was a runner-up in the 2008 Danish X-Factor; not exactly world-beating, you might think? You'd be right, but the sales of that year's AudioBallerina were good enough for Playground to sign her up for 2011's Talisman. It's... an X-Factor runner-up's album, all mainstream pop/rock (although at least The Curse Of Autotune doesn't seem to be present). She has the kind of voice that people seem to love, although I'll admit to an involuntary wince at some of the high notes. Not really my style... Top tracks? Maybe Angerholic, sensibly chosen as the lead-off single.
No fewer than three Mellotron players: Tim Christensen (that'll be his machine(s) we're hearing), Daniel Fridell and Mogens Palsbøll, with background strings on Toy Of Glass, more upfront ones on Divebomb and flutes and strings on Angerholic, although all other string parts sound real. Is there more hidden in the mix? Who knows? Hardly the most exciting thing you'll hear all year, anyway.
See: Tim Christensen
Blue Sky Blond (2009, 44.40) ***½/T
Chasing The Dragon
Unlike New Cool Collective leader Benjamin Herman's previous release, Hypochristmastreefuzz, there's nothing jazzily reverential about Blue Sky Blond's acid jazz, full of roaring guitar work and hyper-funky rhythms. Hey, jazz for people who don't like jazz! Best tracks? Super-funky opener Durban Poison, Sunday Blossom and Khat, amongst other goodies.
Willem Friede is credited with Mellotron, as on Herman's sample albums, but this time, so is Paul Weller, so my guess is that Friede plays sampled flutes, while Weller adds genuine strings to Indian Hay (over those flutes) and Black Mote. This is a world away from yer 'typical' jazz release and all the better for it, a couple of Mellotron tracks coming as a bonus.
See: Samples etc. | Paul Weller
Apple Tree (2008, 44.54) **/T½
I Want to Belong to You
How the West Was Won
Wish You Well
I Will Follow
I Hurt Too
Take it to the Country
Waiting for My Night
Despite hailing from Nashville, Katie Herzig has little in common with the C&W hegemony, being more of a poppy singer-songwriter than anything, of the kind whose music is used on US TV shows such as Grey's Anatomy. 2008's Apple Tree is her third album, a dull-but-not-actually-offensive effort, better tracks tending to be the quieter ones, like Gypsy Girl and closer Waiting For My Night, but that shouldn't be taken as a recommendation.
Ben Shive plays Mellotron, with flutes and strings on I Want To Belong To You and strings on How The West Was Won, complete with authentic wobble near the end, although all other string parts sound real to my ears. All rather unexciting, then; harmless enough, which I'm well aware is damning with faint praise, while two reasonable 'Tron tracks is far too few to make this worth hearing on those grounds alone.
Little Head (1997, 42.59) ***/T
My Sweet Girl
Woman Sawed in Half
|Far as We Go
After All This Time
John Hiatt sold his first song while still in his teens (to Three Dog Night), but didn't achieve any real solo success until the new wave era, when he was dubbed 'the American Elvis Costello', not breaking through properly until his mid-thirties. 1997's Little Head is his fourteenth album, notable for its wry observation of male sexuality on its title track: "I'm just so easily led when the little head does the thinkin'", one of the album's best tracks, along with Graduated, Sure Pinocchio and the vaguely Richard Thompson-esque Woman Sawed In Half.
Jon Brion plays Chamberlin, with cellos on Feelin' Again and flutes on Runaway, but it's not what you'd call one of the album's defining features. Hiatt tends to appeal to middle-aged guys who like a bit of blues and soul with their rock, all served up with good, memorable songs, which is exactly what you get here. Strangely, the album was regarded as a bit of a flop, but anyone who likes Mark Knopfler solo albums should give this a try and see where Knopfler gets his moves.