The Luck of Eden Hall
Where the Groupies Killed the Blues (1972, 41.24) ***½/T½Hobo
Rose on the Vine
...Where the Groupies Killed the Blues
Prince of Darkness
Summerdream/Delirium/No Reason or Rhyme
I'm Just a Rock & Roll Singer (1973, 44.00) ***/TTGroovin' Stone
Born on the Run
Lonely City Days
Song for Louie
Lucifer's Friend were one of quite a few European outfits who recruited a British or American singer to sound more acceptable to English-speaking ears (see: fellow Germans Epitaph or Norway's Titanic), in this case, future Uriah Heep man John Lawton. The band actually don't sound too dissimilar to Heep, although they're less organ-driven, with keyboard man Peter Hecht preferring the piano as his weapon of choice. On Where the Groupies Killed the Blues, they attempt that 'complex hard rock' thing that Heep and others were doing at the time, but they don't quite have the chops, although they make brave attempts on Rose On The Vine and the title track, amongst others. As for Hecht's Mellotron use, I can only hear it on two tracks, with brass and strings on Mother and flutes on ...Where The Groupies Killed The Blues itself. A string section is used in places, notably on Summerdream, although less so than on the preposterously overblown Banquet (***) of a few years later.
The following year's I'm Just a Rock & Roll Singer has a totally different style (a band trademark, it seems, a.k.a. an inability to stick to their guns), being more, er, rock'n'roll, with the first six tracks being largely undistinguished boogie. Mary's Breakdown is more interesting, then suddenly we're presented with the album's closer, Song For Louie, a seven minute-plus full-on prog track, complete with experimental middle section. Er, huh? Not that I'm complaining, mind, but it doesn't fit in with the rest of the album in any way, shape or form, just accentuating the band's almost schizophrenic genre-hopping abilities. Hecht's on 'Tron again, with a flute solo on Mary’s Breakdown that he plays so fast, I almost thought it was real, then he goes totally mad on Song For Louie, playing dissonant flutes in the middle section, plus strings and brass all over the place, bumping the album up to an impressive and unexpected two Ts.
Anyway, Where the Groupies... isn't bad, but isn't exactly a classic, either and with low-level Mellotron use, I don't really feel I can recommend that you rush out to buy a copy, while I'm Just a Rock & Roll Singer is a really quite unimpressive album, apart from its stunning closing track, so it's your choice whether or not you want to splash out for one killer effort. Incidentally (and amusingly), Peter Hecht's other known Mellotron credit is on James Last's sole (to my knowledge...) 'Tron album, Non Stop Dancing 77. Stop laughing.
See: Uriah Heep
Regal Crabomophone Volume 9 (2012) ****/T½Crystal Ship
This is Strange
Alligators Eat Gumdrops (2012, 40.46) ***½/T½
|High Heeled Flippers
Ten Meters Over the Ground
Amoreena Had Enough Yesterday
Wasting the Days of Youth
Goodnight Anne Berlin
|A Carney's Delirium
This is Strange
Alligators Eat Gumdrops
Victoria Moon (2013, 53.47) ****/TTT½
Queen of the Stars
The Collapse of Suzy Star
Drunk Like Shakespeare on Love
|Super Phantasmal Heroine
Blood on My Feet
She's Your Anodyne
The Horrible Pill Book
The Acceleration of Time (2016, 77.00) ****½/TT½
Blown to Kingdom Come
A Procession of Marshmallow Soldiers
Across The Clockwork Pudding
The Acceleration of Time
Channel 50 Creature Feature
The Family Timekeeper
|You Asked About Water on Mars
Only Robots Can Search the Deep Ocean Floor
Another High Speed Blowout
The Happiness Vending Machine
White Caps in the Wind
The Saints Are Quiet Above Us
A Man of Conservative Style
Somehow or other, Chicagoans The Luck of Eden Hall (their name derives from a medieval glass beaker, the Luck of Edenhall, in the care of a wealthy Northern British family), despite having been in existence for over twenty years, have passed me by up until now; in fact, I only became aware of them when they hired my Mellotron for a short UK tour (hi, chaps). My loss, going the contents of 2012's Regal Crabomophone Volume 9 EP, featuring two tracks from their Alligators Eat Gumdrops LP and two covers, The Doors' immortal Crystal Ship and SRC's Black Sheep. Excellent takes on these two are almost matched by the band's own material, making me look forward to hearing the album, their swirly, modern psychedelia being a match for keys man Jim Licka's own project, Umbra & the Volcan Siege. Licka slathers his new M4000 all over Crystal Ship, with choir and string parts that enhance an almost overly-familiar song beautifully, although that's all we get this time round. At the time of writing, I believe the band have a few copies of this left, after which I expect your only chance will be a Bandcamp download. Even if you invest in a copy of the album, this is worth it for the covers.
The aforementioned Alligators Eat Gumdrops, is, as expected, a fine psychedelic powerpop album, highlights including haunting, upright piano-led opener High Heeled Flippers, the propulsive, sax-driven Ten Meters Over The Ground, the lysergic Amoreena Had Enough Yesterday and the rocking title track that finishes things off. Only two obvious Mellotron tracks, Licka adding lush strings to Amoreena Had Enough Yesterday with some mucking about with flutes, plus brass and string section parts on A Carney's Delirium.
2013's Victoria Moon is a varied, powerpop/psych release, highlights including Queen Of The Stars, the superb, echo-heavy guitar part on Zap, Dandy Horse, vaguely reminiscent of Joe South's Hush and the '60s-ish Cracked Alice, with its treated upright piano part. 'Better left off' efforts? None, I'm pleased to say. Licka's Mellotron turns up on several tracks, unsurprisingly, with high-end cellos (?) on the title track, strings and a skronky flute part at the end of Sitting Bull, background brass (?) on Drunk Like Shakespeare On Love, choirs on Dandy Horse, echoed flutes and choirs on Super Phantasmal Heroine, lush strings on Blood On My Feet and strings on She's Your Anodyne.
2016's double vinyl The Acceleration of Time (getting older? You'll get the title) ups the ante somewhat, although I have to admit to some slight bias, as I played Mellotron with mainman Gregory Curvey recently, on a set including several of these songs. This is recognisably the same band as before, although sleeve credits indicate that Curvey does the lion's share of the work, recording six tracks, including all five instrumental pieces on his own, while Jim Licka only turns up on four. Without one duffer amongst its fifteen tracks, highlights are hard to pinpoint, but Arthropoda Lepidoptera, The Family Timekeeper, The Happiness Vending Machine and Twelve all stand out; uncoincidentally, they're the four I played live, so familiarity probably helps. Not that much of Licka's M4000 this time round, with strings all over opener Slow and Arthropoda Lepidoptera, strings and choir on The Happiness Vending Machine and strings and flute on Twelve, although it sounds like Curvey adds samples to several other tracks. Overall? A triumph. Buy.
So; a fine band, most worthy of your time and investment. Although the 'physical' version of Victoria Moon is limited to 300 copies, it's available on Bandcamp.
The Days of Our Nights (1999, 54.08) ***/TT
Hello, Little One
The Old Fashioned Way
Four Thousand Days
Seven Steps to Satan
Words Without Wrinkles
U.S. Out of My Pants!
The Slow Song
Sweet Child o'Mine
Luna are ex-Galaxie 500 guitarist Dean Wareham's band, who have apparently made a career out of not being noticed, which is a bit of a shame, as going by the albums I've heard, they're a reasonably appealing folk/indie sort of outfit with occasional Neil Young tendencies, which is no bad thing. The Days of Our Nights features songs of the quality of Dear Diary and Math Wiz, not to mention their laid-back cover of Sweet Child O'Mine, of all things.
Mellotron from bassist Justin Harwood and guest keys man Paul Kimble, although a faint choir swell and some background strings on Dear Diary are no match for the full-on (and very wobbly) string part on Hello, Little One, while although the backing vocals on The Old Fashioned Way sound real in places, with no female backing vox, we have to assume they're Mellotronic, too. Mellotron strings on Superfreaky Memories and The Rustler, although the cello on a couple of tracks is real, played by Jane Scarpantoni, who seems to have played with everyone, not least R.E.M. and Tiny Lights.
See: Samples etc. | Britta Phillips & Dean Wareham
Almost Grown (1975, 38.07/52.12) ***/T
|The Only Turnaround
One More Reason
Think of the Children
Stop the World
(It's All Over Now) Baby Blue
Never Gonna Take it Slow
Over and Under
Reflections on Earth
Garrett Lund was an obscure mid-'70s American psych guitarist, hanging on to the previous decade' style for all he was worth, which turns out to be a fair bit, actually. 1975's Almost Grown (his only album?) is a good, if not outstanding late-period psych effort, better tracks including opener The Only Turnaround, Serene and Silver Sails, interesting touches including his Cipollina-esque guitar work and the trumpet solo on Think Of The Children.
Angie Gudino adds a nice Mellotron strings part to Serene, although the strings on Lund's cover of Dylan's (It's All Over Now) Baby Blue and the CD's alternate take of Serene are real, indicating that the album must have had a reasonable budget. This is now easily available due to the efforts of German label World in Sound, and while I can recommend it to fans of West Coast psych, it isn't really worth it for its Mellotron use.
Free Mars (1997, 61.03) ***/T½
The Hotel Family Affair
Black Sea Me
Kill the King
My Good Fishwife/Blair's Spiders
Lusk were a '90s psych outfit, whose sole album, 1997's Free Mars, is a strangely unsatisfying blend of pseudo-'60s psych and then-current indie pop; it's full of moments that make the listener prick up their ears, followed by stretches of considerable averageness and over-stretched material. It certainly has its strong points: opener Backworlds vaguely reminds me of Knife World mainman Kavus Torabi's wonderful '90s outfit The Monsoon Bassoon, while Mindray's lysergic excursions make it one of the album's better tracks, but the album's sheer length (the timing above is minus the five-minute break between 'official' closer My Good Fishwife and the muckabout Blair's Spiders that actually closes the album) grinds all but the most patient listener down after forty minutes or so. I feel rather churlish in not giving this a higher rating, but despite its considerable attention to detail, it somehow failed to grab me in the way I was expecting.
Chris Pitman (now in Guns N'Roses, for his sins) plays Mellotron and Chamberlin, with what sounds like that weird Chamby solo male voice and possible strings on Savvy Kangaroos, Mellotron strings on The Hotel Family Affair and flutes on Kill The King. As always with the Chamberlin, it's quite possible it's on other tracks, too, although with two cellists listed and all four members of the band proper credited with 'synthesizer', all potential parts could be just about anything, really. So; not as good as it should have been and not that much tape-replay. Pity. Probably worth picking up if you see it cheap, however, especially if you haven't yet had this month's psych fix.
Distress Signal Code (2008, 57.52) ***½/TThrough Your Woods
Faith in You
Sketches for Two Puppets
Distress Signal Code
Memories of the Future
Meadow Rituals (2011, 53.31) ***/½Horse Heart
See You in Me
Ritual of Apollo & Dionysus
Distress Signal Code is Stelios Romaliadis' Lüüp project's first album; a record by turns gentle, persuasive and attacking, despite its almost total lack of conventional 'rock' instrumentation. Romaliadis is a flautist, basing his 'chamber prog' compositions around the region where tonality becomes atonality, pulling in ex-Van der Graaf man David Jackson/Jaxon to help out on a few tracks. Believe me, this really isn't an album for anyone who doesn't listen to properly progressive music, by which I absolutely do not mean the wildly unadventurous AOR-cum-Pink Floyd stuff that seems to pass for 'prog' these days. It's rather difficult to pinpoint a 'best track', although the fourteen-minute Sketches For Two Puppets possibly best defines Romaliadis' approach. Nikos Fokas plays Mellotron on closer Memories Of The Future, with a string part drifting in and out of the mix. Did they source a real Mellotron in Greece? Possibly; this site lists a few '70s albums featuring one, so there could still be one or two in the country.
2011's Meadow Rituals seems to be more laid-back than its predecessor and simultaneously a little less engaging, although that could just be me. Best track? Once again, there's little point in trying to separate any one part of this record from any other; they're obviously designed to be listened to as a whole. Jackson guests again, although not to the point where VdGG obsessives might feel they have to own this. David Svedmyr plays his MkVI Mellotron on the album, if only just, with a brief flute part on opener Horse Heart that doesn't sound like the real one used elsewhere.
Anyway, two for the more discerning prog fan in your life, though not really worth it for the Mellotron.
Sacred Groove (1993, 47.03) **½/T½
Love Power From the Mama Head
Flesh and Blood
We Don't Own This World
I Will Remember
The Beast, Part I
The Beast, Part II
Not Necessary Evil
|Cry of the Brave
Tierra del Fuego
Another Jim Rigberg reviews, ladies'n'gents.
In the '80s, George Lynch was the guitarist for Dokken, a band that registered at least two gold and maybe one platinum album while never really being on the top of anyone's list of favorite bands. Part of the problem was the uneven product they produced. Singer Don Dokken - like many of his kindred mid-'80s, LA scene metalheads - just so desperately wanted to be all things to all people. I remember hearing a radio interview with him in 1985 or 1986 describing the band's third album, Under Lock and Key, stating something along the lines of "We have some power ballads, we have some Metallica-like songs, blah, blah, blah". And they did. For every raunchy early Van Halen-like It's Not Love or truly heavy-metal stuff such as Back For The Attack (which would please current power metal fans), there was a wussy attempt to channel Journey (the Jonathan Cain/Escape era Journey). The latter category of tunes certainly bought them hits - Alone Again and the lame lite-metal Dream Warriors from one of those Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, for example - but they could have avoided the 'hair band' label and built a solid audience that might still exist if they'd stuck solely to the former.
George Lynch was one of the best guitarists that the LA scene produced in the '80s. He had, and has, a distinct sound - he loves the phrygian mode and diminished scales and always had a killer tone - which lent a doomy and/or aggressive quality to even the goofiest Dokken songs. Not surprisingly, he and Don Dokken did not see eye to eye, leading to a rather spectacular implosion while the band was touring behind Back for the Attack in 1988 (or so). In the '90s, Lynch somehow managed to quell his feud with Dokken long enough to produce two albums before they started sniping at each other again and Don Dokken became a favorite target of web humorists (see, e.g. the hilarious Metal-Sludge.com).
In between the '80s Dokken and reformed Dokken, Lynch released a couple albums with his own band, Lynch Mob, and a 'solo' piece, Sacred Groove. While I like Lynch's playing and much of his song-writing (I suspect he was behind the music on the better Dokken songs), Sacred Groove was a bit of a disappointment. Memory Jack is about 1.39 of noise and though The Beast is listed as being in two parts - suggesting two songs or (admittedly a stretch) some kind of multi-movement prog excursion, it sounds like just one song to me. Realistically, therefore, there are 8, not 10, tracks. Love Power From The Mama Head and closer Tierra Del Fuego are instrumentals, the latter of which has a Latin-jazz groove and nice Spanish-style guitar solo from Daryl Gable. Neither of these is offensive, but neither is terribly exciting, either. The anthemic Cry Of The Brave and the bluesy-hard rock Not Necessary Evil, both featuring vocals from Glenn Hughes, are solid.
The highlight - from both the casual listener's and this website's perspective - is Flesh And Blood. Good riffing, nice solo, and great moody 'Tron strings [and choirs - Ed.] played by Chris Fuhrman, who also engineered the album, underscoring the vocal melody in the chorus.
The low point is the aforementioned The Beast. It's not often that a singer's voice can destroy a song for me. Lynch got a fella who, unbelievably, is not (or was not in 1993) embarrassed to use the handle "Mandy Lion", to lay down pseudo-death metal cookie monster vocals on The Beast. These vocals don't sound threatening or scary. They sound like the cookie monster. That's why they call them cookie monster vocals. It's fucking horrible. Oh, and the lyrics, which presumably were meant to be funny, aren't. The worst part of all this, is that, as was probably apparent from the beginning of the paragraph, the rest of The Beast (i.e. the music) is a good 'on the heavier' side rocker, with plenty of interesting sounds, including sitar. Indeed, it's apparent that "Mandy Lion" could probably sing well if he'd wanted to do so. The CD notes list Mellotron in both Parts 1 and 2 of The Beast. I'll be damned if I can hear it in Part 1. However, the 'Tron is used to nice effect in Part 2, but not nice enough to make this song listenable.
If you must own everything Lynch has ever put out, buy it. You'll get at least four good hard rock songs with much-better-than average hard rock guitar playing. If you have your own mixing equipment, the master tapes, and the ability to sing at all, you can re-record The Beast for yourself and make that five good songs. No need to buy it for the 'Tron (I sure didn't, though the fact that there was some was obviously a pleasant surprise).
Wicked Underground (2003, 55.02) ****/T
|Breath and a Scream
Beast in a Box
When You Bleed
Zero the End
The Evil That You Are
Closer to None
Jim Rigberg AGAIN!
Last year, ex-Dokken guitarist George Lynch and bassist Jeff Pilson joined forces for what, hopefully, will be the first of several excellent melodic-hard rock releases. The bulk of these songs are driven by Lynch's punchy tone and Pilson's thick, at times Beatle-y bass and smooth vocals. The stand-out tracks - When You Bleed, The Evil That You Are, Ever Higher, Closer To None - hinge on great hooks without sacrificing one iota of aggressiveness, thanks to Lynch's stellar riffing. Also notable is the instrumental - Cromaniac - a nice little piece of guitar violence that sounds like a thrash band channelling Joe Satriani.
Jeff Pilson is apparently the proud owner of an M400 which he puts to excellent use on Ever Higher, an Indian-music inflected cut. A nice string line surfaces during the intro and wafts in and out through a good portion of the balance of the song. The track builds quite nicely culminating in a proggy hard rock à la (the equally wonderful) King's X.
I can't recommend this for the Mellotron content (although it is used well). However, I highly recommend Wicked Underground for anyone interested in driving hard rock, fans of interesting guitar work, and those who wondered what Dokken might have sounded like if they had been consistent.
Love, Shelby (2001, 42.15) **/T½
Jesus on a Greyhound
Wall in Your Heart
Ain't it the Truth
I Can't Wait
All of a Sudden You Disappeared
Shelby Lynne (elder sister to Allison Moorer) is a country singer who moved towards the mainstream pop market on her seventh album, 2001's Love, Shelby. It's about as bad as you'd expect, the one dissenter being the late-nite lounge jazz of Tarpoleon Napoleon which, while hardly classic (or even that good), at least provides some relief from the schlock that fills the rest of the record, including her closing version of John Lennon's Mother. The sleeve's sexist nonsense, too.
The ubiquitous Patrick Warren plays Chamberlin, with strings and flutes on Wall In Your Heart, strings on I Can't Wait and string swells on All Of A Sudden You Disappeared, with real strings on a couple of other tracks. This isn't as bad as many I've heard, which explains its relatively high two star rating, but I wouldn't take that as any kind of recommendation. Passable Chamby use.
See: Allison Moorer
Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd (1973, 43.03) ****½/TT
|I Ain't the One
Gimme Three Steps
Things Goin' on
|[CD reissue adds:
Down South Jukin'
Tuesday's Gone (demo)
Gimme Three Steps (demo)
Free Bird (live demo)]
Lynyrd Skynyrd's first album (or at least, first released) must've come as a breath of fresh air back in '73; an unpretentious record that rocked, though not without a degree of subtlety, too. Like a heavier, less jamming version of the Allman Brothers, Skynyrd's secret weapon was killer songs; in my opinion, all but the rather irritating Things Goin' On still stand up well, and the band play several numbers in their live set to this day.
Produced by Al Kooper, Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd features Mellotron on two tracks, one better-known than the other; Kooper plays some excellent semi-orchestral arrangements on the country-ish ballad Tuesday's Gone under his long-time pseudonym 'Roosevelt Gook'. It seems he used this name on some of the Dylan albums he worked on, giving rise to rumours that 'Gook' was ol' Bob himself. The other 'Tron track on the album is, of course, the infamous and horrendously-overplayed Free Bird, presumably played by regular keyboard man Billy Powell. Unfortunately, this has to be one of the worst Mellotron performances on record; it's noticeably flat, and badly-recorded to boot. Shame - however badly you never want to hear it again, the song is a classic, and it's a real pity the 'Tron couldn't have been done a little better.
Of course, after the meteoric rise came the (literally) cataclysmic fall; the plane crash in '77 that killed Ronnie Van Zant and several other band and crew members finished the band for a decade. Since then, another three original members have died, and they only manage to use the name at all by recruiting early drummer Rickey Medlocke, better known as guitarist/singer/mainman of slightly lesser Southern heroes Blackfoot, to make up the quorum of three 'original' members, satisfying various parties legally, if not exactly morally. Ronnie's brother Johnny has taken his place (leaving third brother Donnie with his own Southern/AOR crossover act 38 Special), but of the original seven, a sad one remains. Nonetheless, Skynyrd still rock like bastards, and are always worth catching; I can't find it in me to castigate them for their slight legal chicanery, 'cos you'd be hard-pushed to find a better night out. No Mellotron, of course, but you'll go home happy.
So; Pronounced's a great album, but a million miles away from anything in the prog vein. Good-time 'Suvvern' rock'n'roll, with great songs and one decent 'Tron track. Buy according to taste. Incidentally and very sadly, Billy Powell died on January 28th 2009, at all of 56. R.I.P.
Note: In 1978, after the band disintegrated, they released the best of their pre-Pronounced demos, poignantly, as Skynyrd's First...and Last (****½), which is at least as good as their first album proper. The expanded recent CD issue (Skynyrd's First: the Complete Muscle Shoals Album) explains the reason for the original version's lengthy track-by-track musicians list; the tapes were overdubbed before release, with extra parts being added for various reasons. The gentle acoustic ballad White Dove, featuring Rickey Medlocke (later Ricky Medlocke of Blackfoot) on curiously-choirboyish vocals, credits Randy McCormick with Mellotron. Oh no it isn't... On subsequent listening, it's a generic string synth, so it's anyone's guess why it's miscredited like that. Who knows. Anyway, great album, but no 'Tron.
See: Samples etc. | Al Kooper