Letters to Cleo
Life & Times
Go! (1997, 35.11) ***/T
|I Got Time
Because of You
Find You Dead
Veda Very Shining
|Alouette & Me
I'm a Fool
Letters to Cleo are another in a seemingly endless list of American female/female-fronted pop/punk bands, this time from Boston. Going by their third album, 1997's Go!, they don't do anything especially original, although the bitter Alouette & Me impresses both musically and lyrically in comparison to the rest of the album. Anchor is probably the best of their punkier material, but little of it's anything to really write home about.
Guitarist Michael Eisenstein doubles on keys, with Farfisa on a few tracks and Mellotron on Sparklegirl, with upfront strings in a couple of places. So; perfectly ordinary pop/punk with only one track that stands out in any way. Maybe not.
Black Sun (1978, 38.24) ***½/T
Requiem pour un Astronaute
Adagio pour un Poète
Les Plaines de Feu
Fleur de Lit
Le "Blue Bar..."
|Romance de Garnison
Un Homme dans la Nuit
If this Claude Léveillé is the one to whom I keep finding Internet references, he was born in 1932 and has released over 30 albums, though I can't actually find any cross-reference to 1978's Black Sun. A really rather good all-instrumental progressive album, it doesn't fit fully into any of the usual convenient categories, although loosely 'symphonic' isn't a million miles off the mark. While keyboard-led, Léveillé was quite happy to throw other instruments into the mix, with both violin and sitar on the 'title track', Soleil Noir, and a decidedly funky guitar part on Le "Blue Bar...". Overall, the composition is good, if not outstanding, with plenty of strong melodies to hold the interest over repeated playings, especially in the 'awkward' instrumental field.
By the last track, Un Homme Dans La Nuit, I was firmly convinced this was another Mellotron non-starter, when suddenly that unmistakeable 'Tron string sound surged up through the mix. The bulk of the album's strings are clearly string synth, but that obvious 'Tron part made me reappraise the rest of the album, finding more of the same on Le "Blue Bar...". So; the handful of copies I've found listed on the Web are all expensive, though you may find one cheaper, especially if you're in the Québec region. It's definitely worth hearing for the prog fan who thinks he has it all, though not for the Mellotron.
Oshik Levi (1974, 35.16) **/T½
Shir Eres Ganuv
Yesh Li Shir
Yonatan Sa HaBaita
|Lo Hikarti Otha
Other than that he is/was a mainstream Israeli pop singer, I can't really tell you much about Oshik Levi/Levy, other than that his eponymous 1974 album contains Israeli folk-influenced pop. While not completely horrible, it's so tied into its time and place of conception that it's difficult to reassess it well over thirty years on; it sounds like exactly what it is, for better or (probably) worse.
Matti Caspi plays Mellotron, with orchestralish strings on Ze Mikvar, Agadat Deshe and Lo Hikarti Otha and flutes on closer Nigun Atik. An inability to read Hebrew (funnily enough) means that I can't even tell whether or not this is on CD; I can't imagine you really want to hear it, anyway, unless you're an obsessive collector of Israeli pop. A little Mellotron improves things slightly, but nowhere near enough to make this worth tracking down.
Leviathan (1974) ***½/TTTT½Arabesque
Angel of Death
Always Need You
|7" ( 1974) ***½/T½
Why Must I Be Like You
I'll Get Lost Out There
Leviathan were actually less a full-on prog outfit than a progressive hard rock act, and while none of the material on Leviathan particularly stands out, it's a good album of its type. Like so many US prog(-ish) outfits, they had a hard time getting signed by anyone, never mind a major, so it's fortunate for us that this album's actually available at all. Leviathan opens with some heavy-duty 'Tron strings, getting the album off to a good start, then, well, doesn't let up for the next forty minutes. This is a serious Mellotron Album, with John Sadler's 'Tron all over everything; mostly strings, but a couple of affecting flute melodies, too. It's difficult to pinpoint highlights, but the flutes on Always Need You are especially good; in fact, the only thing that stops it getting the full five Ts is a lack of 'Mellotron Moments' comparable to, well, all the classics.
It turns out (thanks, Mark) that Leviathan also released a non-LP single the same year, Why Must I Be Like You c/w I'll Get Lost Out There. The A-side's an average hard rocker, but the flip is more of a slow-burner, with plenty of those 'Tron strings, including an outrageous pitchbending section towards the end. Shame these tracks weren't added to the CD of the album, really...
So; good but not great, but if you like huge dollops of Mellotron splattered all over everything (hi, Gary), this album's yer man. The single's not bad, too, but you're not exactly going to find it easily.
Leviathan: In the Heart of the Beast (1980, 44.24) ***½/TT
San Andreas Rag
Room at the Top
Blues for Us
Leakin' Like a Sieve
Log Rhythms on Isaiah's Grave
Risin' Wind (1981, 36.37) ***½/TTEternal Return
I Can't Think
Pre-War Blues Phase II
Blind Leading Blind
Save the Black Hills
Live & Nuclear-Free! (1984, 45.37) ***/½
|Talkin' Raw Deal
The Fema Side-Step
Livermore or Less
Who Builds the H-Bomb?
Arms Race or Human Race
Fast for Life
The Ghost of Arthur McDuffie
Mark Levy is a folk musician and political satirist, active since the late '70s, his first album (to my knowledge) being 1980's Leviathan: In the Heart of the Beast, an excellent folk/singer-songwriter effort, covering several bases musically, while lyrically tackling various liberal causes of the day (mostly still relevant now). Highlights include solar energy plea Sunpower, witty earthquake warning San Andreas Rag, Shenachie Hill and Log Rhythms On Isaiah's Grave, with no clunkers amongst the rest of the material. Two musicians on Chamberlin: Paul Smith adds background strings to opener Sunpower, while Harriet Jacoff adds 'chorus' (sounds like mixed Chamby male and female vocals) to Shenachie Hill and strings, 'chorus' and church organ to Log Rhythms On Isaiah's Grave. Now, I didn't know there was a church organ sound in the Chamby library, so if nothing else, consider this an excellent demo, as it comes through the mix loud'n'clear.
He followed up in '81 with Risin' Wind, a good, if slightly lesser album than Leviathan. Its highpoint has to be its twelve-minute title track, rising (sorry) like a leviathan (even more sorry) over the rest of the record, a folk/rock epic, no less, other top tracks including opener Eternal Return, acoustic instrumental Celtic Phantasy and closer Save The Black Hills. Although there's only one credited Chamby track, it's all over opener Eternal Return, too, with strings and church organ, presumably from Levy, as are the credited strings, choirs and church organ on the title track.
1984's Live & Nuclear-Free! features one side of solo acoustic live satire and one of largely-unadorned studio material; the live side is good for what it is, although Levy's concentration on the nuclear issue is a little outdated these days, while the nine-minute Fast For Life is the studio highlight. Chamberlin (on the studio side, of course) from Justin Mayer, later to receive (admittedly rather minor) acclaim as inventor and builder of the J-Tron, his own, one-off Mellotron/Chamberlin hybrid and a thing of beauty. He adds a brief string part towards the end of Fast For Life, but that's your lot.
Levy is still recording and performing today, he concentrates on his faith these days, his more recent albums reflecting aspects of Jewish history and as such, probably (doubtless unintentionally) rather excluding fans of his early work. Sadly, none of his early titles are on CD, although Levy's website mentions that he still has a few LPs for sale, although he doesn't say which. Drop him a line and see if he can sell you any of these. Incidentally, major thanks to regular contributor Mark Medley for supplying these hard-to-find titles.
Echo [U.S. Version] (2009, 58.31) **/T
I Got You
You Don't Care
Outta My Head
Don't Let Me Down
Fly Here Now
Lost Then Found
Stone Hearts & Hand Grenades
For those of you who've been hiding in a cave in Tora Bora for the last few years, Leona Lewis won the 2006 British X Factor, by dint of being a fairly decent singer; given that most of the voters are teenage girls, she did doubly well to win against the hordes of useless-but-pretty boys that seem to clog up the show. Like I give a shit. The whole media circus is a horrible feeding frenzy of fake dramatics (though very real emotion, at least on the part of the contestants) and pure, capitalist-to-the-core money-making from that vampire of the music biz... OK, I'll shut up now.
Lewis has actually lasted to a second album, 2009's Echo, making it look like a distinct possibility her career may have some longevity and good luck to her. She hasn't got the greatest soul voice in the world, but I've heard a damn' sight worse, although the album's pretty anodyne, possibly excepting the electro of Can't Breathe, although it's not exactly Front 242. For some strange, no doubt income-generation-related reason, the album's been heavily re-jigged for the American market, including two songs not on the UK version. One of these is You Don't Care, with apparently real Mellotron flutes all over the thing (played by track producer Ryan Tedder and recorded at Abbey Road, fact fans), to passable effect, but hardly something to make the Mellotron fetishist splash out, to be honest.
Modal [a.k.a. Harpsichord Vol. 1: Modal Ballads] (1979, 33.52) ***½/½
Sad Girl on a Swing
Ballad for Clear
Rondo Alla Russe
Lazy Lady Land
Castle in the Night
Pavana for Clouds
Despite his mainstream classical training, Swiss pianist Jean-Paul Liardet also played beat, jazz, electronic music and other disparate genres through the '60s and '70s. He turned forty in 1979, the year he released Modal, a collection of self-composed harpsichord pieces, although many of them are generically 'baroque' enough to be standards, possibly at their best on opener Picky Pickings, Sad Girl On A Swing, Rondo Alla Russe and Castle In The Night. As if to prove that he wasn't interested in going the usual route, the album features several unusual - possibly unique - instrumental and compositional combinations, not least the 'lonesome cowboy' harmonica and pedal steel on Blueberry and Modal's bizarre harpsichord boogie-woogie.
Liardet's credited with Mellotron, but all we get is distant choirs on Sylvia's Tune, probably intended to fool the listener into thinking they were the real thing. Good, sometimes excellent music, but a Mellotron dud, I'm afraid. The album was reissued in 1997, with a truly appalling sleeve and a different running order, as Harpsichord Vol. 1: Modal Ballads.
No Time Lasts Forever (1977, 37.20) **½/TTT½Do You Have to Remind Me
Nesadel Song (War Machine)
Our Love Was Made With Time
You Do it to Yourself
I Believe (That You Belong to Me)
No Time Lasts Forever
To my knowledge, 1977's No Time Lasts Forever was Texans Liberty Bros' sole album, an odd, kind-of progressive pop release, probably at its best on the acoustic Anywhere Anytime and the heavier Nesadel Song (War Machine), its worst on the awful The Reds, a crummy by-numbers blues effort and cheesy rock'n'roller You Do It To Yourself. This gives the impression of wanting to be everything to everyone, so, of course, ends up being very little to anyone.
Shannon Taylor plays keys; well, piano and Mellotron, to be precise, so we get some lovely Mellotron overkill, with background flutes and upfront (almost solo) strings on opener Do You Have To Remind Me, strings on Anywhere Anytime, a Heart Of The Sunrise-style brief string part at the end of Nesadel Song, pseudo-orchestral strings and upfront flutes on Our Love Was Made With Time and distant strings on I Believe (That You Belong To Me) and the closing title track. You know, I really wanted to like this, but it's defeated me. Decades later, Taylor would put out a couple of excellent solo albums before his untimely death in 2012; I believe drummer Tommy Campbell has also gone the way of all things, sadly.
See: Shannon Taylor
Schock (Transfert-Suspence-Hypnos) (1976, 30.42) ***½/TT½
La Cantina/The Shock
Tema di Marco/Tema di Marco 2
|Il Fantasma Suona il Piano
Transfert 4/Tema Di Marco 2
Given that the misspelled Schock (Transfert-Suspence-Hypnos) (it should be Shock) is a mid-'70s Italian horror film soundtrack, it should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone to hear that Libra had a Goblin connection, although they were a long way from being the same band. You'd be forgiven for thinking they were, mind you, as their dark, frequently near-atonal music parallels Goblin's quite eerily, involving inventive synth patches and dissonant Mellotron choirs, amongst other musical pointers. Allesandro "Sandro" Centofanti's innovative keyboard work is probably the album's most outstanding quality, although the musicianship is excellent throughout; opener The Shock is a killer bass/drums/Hammond/synth workout, while guitarist Carlo Pennisi contributes some excellent acoustic playing on L'Altalena Rossa.
Centofanti's 'Tron strings open the album, with some of the loudest choirs I've ever heard within the first minute, clearly mixed way up from the part that precedes them. Transfert/Hypnos/Transfert features church organ tapes, although it's hard to tell whether the strings on the track are 'Tron or, er, something else. More choirs on Tema Di Marco, with choirs and cellos on L'Incubo, along with more of those 'are they or aren't they?' strings, although that seems to be it, sadly.
So; another excellent Cinevox release, unleashing more Italian horror onto the outside world. Libra were a good little unit, going by the evidence here, although their first two albums, recorded for Motown, of all labels, are apparently best avoided if you don't like The Funk. Can't comment on them, but Schock is quite essential for Goblin fans and horror film buffs generally.
Suburban Hymns (2005, 41.39) **/T
|My Last Hostage
Coat of Arms
Shift Your Gaze
A Chorus of Crickets
The Life & Times play a particularly empty, vacant variety of indie; as they describe themselves on their site: "...moody, spacey, sonically overwhelming, symphonic and always grandiose". What's not to hate? Like U2 but worse, they are the living embodiment of the old saw about empty vessels making the most noise; they make a lot of noise, it seems and are certainly completely empty.
Although J. Robbins is credited with Mellotron on Thrill Ride, he actually adds strings to the lengthyish Mea Culpa, helping to make it possibly the least bad track on the album. I wouldn't take that as any kid of recommendation, though; this is unworthy of your time.
No Name Face (2001, 55.23) **/½
|Hanging By a Moment
Sick Cycle Carousel
Somebody Else's Song
Cling and Clatter
Somewhere in Between
|CDS (2001) **/½
Hanging By a Moment
What's Wrong With That
Lifehouse (2005, 47.50/54.52) */½
| Come Back Down
You and Me
All in All
Better Luck Next Time
Days Go By
Into the Sun
|We'll Never Know
The End Has Only Begun
Along the Way]
I've seen Lifehouse compared to Crowded House and even, God help us, Nirvana. Er, huh? The former write transcendent pop, the latter transcendent rock. Lifehouse write third-rate indie drivel, held together by Jason Wade's annoying voice and clichéd vocal melodies. Transcendent nothing. Their debut, 2001's No Name Face, starts (almost) promisingly with their first hit, Hanging By A Moment, although the song becomes an irritant after a couple of plays. The album takes a serious dip after this, rapidly becoming bogged down in mid-paced pop/rock pointlessness, guaranteed to appeal to a certain type of teenager and equally guaranteed to piss off anyone who's heard any music made before 1998. Session bloke Marcus Barone plays Chamberlin on Trying, with some strings alongside real ones, and maybe some flutes hidden in the mix, but as usual with this type of album, it's not exactly major use. One of Hanging By A Moment's b-sides, Fairy Tales, features a short Chamby flute part from Aaron Embry, but you're not going to track it down for that, I can assure you.
2005's Lifehouse is actually considerably worse, full of the kind of empty, pompous rubbish listened to (or more likely, merely heard) by dullards without the imagination to think for themselves. Absolutely terrible. There are no best tracks. Producer John Alagia plays Chamberlin, with a distant flute part on Chapter One (and The End Has Only Begun?), although all of the album's (credited) strings seem to be real.
So; avoid. Clichéd, self-important rubbish with very little tape-replay.
Caverns of Your Brain (1990, recorded 1974, 36.56) ****½/TTTTSimplicity
Trippin' Over the Rainbow
Louisiana-based Lift (not to be confused with the East German crew [see below]) recorded their sole LP in 1974; it was bootlegged soon after as Caverns of Your Brain, although the band had planned to title it Simplicity. It finally received a proper release on Greg Walker's Syn-Phonic label in 1990, but with side one divided into two tracks, although it was originally conceived as one. Although the original title would've been better, the album was already known by its bootleg title, so that's how it remains. Keyboard player Chip Gremillion (thanks for all the info, Chip) played an M400 on the album sessions (over three days!), with 'mixed strings', choir and brass; a similar setup to Tony Banks, fact fans.
The music is firmly in the Yes/Genesis mould, with upfront Ricky bass, and tons of organ and Mellotron. All four tracks are excellent, but Caverns is maybe a fraction better than the rest, with some seriously epic 'Tron work towards the end. Buttercup Boogie is, essentially, a prog boogie number (!), with a smattering of 'Tron brass, and Trippin' Over The Rainbow is outrageously close to Genesis' Apocalypse In 9/8, but in 6/4, and done well, so Marillion comparisons are invalid. Think of it more as a cheeky homage than a rip-off. Chip's Mellotron work is superb throughout, so top marks on all fronts, really.
Lift recorded more material over the '75/'76 period, this time using Chip's Chamberlin and Orchestron. One track, Perspectives, came out on the Syn-Phonic sampler Past, Present and Future, but all four tracks are now available, along with the original album material, as Moments of Hearing (review forthcoming). Chip sold his M400 in 1979, but has recently reclaimed his Chamberlin and Mellotron M300 for future use. Hooray! So; buy Moments of Hearing immediately. Excellent stuff.
Lift (1977) ***½/TTTTWasser und Wein
...Fällt der Erste Reif
Und es Schuf der Mensch die Erde
Früh am Morgen
Ballade vom Stein
Du Falsche Schöne
Abendstunde, Stille Stunde
Meeresfahrt (1978, 38.24) ***/½Wir Fahrn Übers Meer
Lift were one of the few East German progressive bands to emerge during the Communist era; unlike some of their contemporaries, they don't appear to have been straightjacketed into applying their country's politics to their music, so to speak. Lift isn't a 'bit of everything so nobody's left out' album like Karat's Albatross, say; I'm not saying it's a symphonic prog classic, and it certainly has its more commercial moments, but there's no reggae or mainstream pop. Which is nice.
After a slow start, there's quite a bit of Mellotron to be heard, particularly on Und Es Schuf Der Mensch Die Erde, with some great string textures from Wolfgang Scheffler, one of the band's two keyboard players. Lift's overall sound is keyboard-heavy, with, despite the six-piece lineup, one member covering both guitar and bass. As a result, there's very little guitar to be heard, although the album's far less of a 'keyboard classic' than other similar outfits like Epidaurus. There's actually one bona fide prog epic on Lift, Ballade Vom Stein, taking up half of side two, with plenty of Mellotron scattered throughout. Actually, apart from the album's opener, there's Mellotron to be heard on every track; almost exclusively strings, though I think I heard some flutes warbling away under the real thing at one point. I relistened to this expecting a bit of a clunker, but I was pleasantly surprised. Not a classic, but a pretty good album, with some great 'Tron work. Buy if you like that German prog sound.
Lift's second album, Meeresfahrt, shoots my argument in the foot slightly by starting off as a 'something for everyone' record. The bluesy chug of clavinet-driven opener Wir Fahrn Übers Meer is pretty awful, Nach Süden merely average, and while a lot more listenable, the string quartet on Scherbenglas sounds oddly out of place. Tagesreise is a decent enough, Hammond-heavy ballad, Sommernacht rather less so, which leaves the title track. To my astonishment, Meeresfahrt is a truly wonderful piece, uplifting in the same way as, say, Gryphon's coincidentally German-titled (Ein Klein) Heldenleben, with a repeating melody to die for, in a vaguely medieval style, before lurching into a fusionesque middle section. Oddly, it's also the only Mellotron track, opening with phased strings and finishing, some 14 minutes later, with some muted choir, although the flute on the track is presumably real.
So; one reasonable album with loads of Mellotron but few real musical highlights, and one so-so record with next to no 'Tron, but containing one of the best prog tracks I've heard all year. Choices, choices... These are actually available on a twofer from German label Buschfunk, which seems to be going pretty cheaply, saving you a potentially agonising decision.
The Story of Moses (1972, 39.54) ***/T½The Water
The Blackberry Bushes
White Turns Into Black
The Red Sea
Light (originally Light Formation) were a one-off Dutch progressive band, unsurprisingly influenced by Ekseption, only without the cheese (well, they were from Gouda - geddit? Oh, never mind) and, of course, Focus. The album is exactly what it says on the tin, being a rather dodgy Biblical concept effort, although thankfully, there isn't too much singing, and very little narration (chiefly on The Desert). It's not bad, musically, although the jazzy Hammond workout complete with walking bass on White Turns Into Black is rather unnecessary. The rest of the album is essentially sub-Focus; heard worse, heard better.
It's difficult to tell what's producing the string sound on The Water, though considering the album was recorded at Phonogram's studios in Hilversum, chances are it was the strangely-popular-in-the-Netherlands M300 'Tron the studio obviously owned, used by several other bands at the time including Ekseption. Anyway, flutes on the track, too, from Adrie Vergeer, and more strings on The Nuisances, though that appears to be it. So; as I said, heard worse, heard better, not that much 'Tron. Passable.
VCU (We See You) (1973, 40.23/79.09) ***½/½
|In Those Times
Which is This
I'm Lying on My Belly (including
Eyes Look From the Mount of Flash
Chemical New York
Going by the 'Net reviews/biogs I've found, Lily formed in the late '60s as Monsun, being persuaded to change their name (and image) by their record company boss, who seemed to have some sort of hang-up about the emergent early '70s glam scene. The music on their sole release, VCU (We See You) is actually blues-influenced prog, with that instantly recognisable 'German' sound (NOT Krautrock), and may very well not appeal to all progressive fans, despite their extended compositional techniques. It's not actually a bad album, but a penchant for blues-based music would certainly help in appreciating it. It's difficult to pick standout tracks; they're pretty much of a muchness, to be honest, but they all seem to do the job they were designed for, which is more than you can say for many bands' output.
Dieter Dierks (again!) guests on Mellotron, but unless my ears deceive me, his entire input is limited to a few chords at the beginning of I'm Lying On My Belly, hardly making this a Mellotron Classic. Incidentally, the four bonus tracks almost double the album's length; there's nothing in the sleevenotes to denote when they date from, but they seem to be a reasonable addition to the album. So; not a bad album of its type, but don't bother for the 'Tron.