Orion the Hunter
Our Broken Garden
Out of the Grey
Over the Rhine
Doorway to Norway (1999, 37.27) ****/TMike Love, Not War
Everything Goes Away
Donald, You're Freaking Out
This Snake Will Kill You
Apparently, Stephen Malkmus of Pavement isn't an Oranger fan, and one pea-brained 'reviewer' on Amazon took this to mean that no-one else should like them either. Er, like it matters what some dreary indie dweeb thinks? Going by Doorway to Norway, Oranger are an excellent modern powerpop outfit at the rockier end of the scale; think Redd Kross and you won't be too far off the mark. Their songwriting rivals many of their far more famous contemporaries; OK, let's be honest: their songwriting beats most of them into the ground. Donald, You're Freaking Out not only has a chorus to die for, but also has the best fuzz guitar sound I've heard all year, and simply the title of Mike Love, Not War earns them a star on its own.
OK, that's enough wildly enthusiastic praise; what about the Mellotron, I hear you ask? Well, it's only on two tracks, with an almost solo strings spot in the middle of Mike Love..., while more strings open This Snake Will Kill You, and I think that's 'Tron flute doubling the Farfisa (?) towards the end of the song. So; should a blend of The Beatles, Redd Kross and, er, The Stooges float your boat, go for it. OK, I lied about the Stooges. Not much Mellotron, but a damn' good album in its own right. I believe there are two subsequent Oranger 'Tron albums, which I shall review should I ever get hold of copies. Incidentally, this album's even shorter than your CD player tells you, as they've utilised that rather passé device, the 'several minutes of silence followed by a lengthy and pointless 'hidden' track', leaving the actual song content at around 27 minutes. Yikes.
The Oranj Album (1998, 49.26) ***½/½
|Call Me Mister Tibbs
The Magnificent Seven
A Man and a Woman
After the Fox
Up, Up and Away
Valley of the Dolls
Oranj Symphonette are/were a San Francisco-based five-piece, including legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck's son Matt, whose remit seems to be to tackle film themes in their own inimitable style. Since the whole band are session musos, the playing is immaculate, as are the arrangements, done with no little humour. I believe The Oranj Album is their second effort, although I can find no trace of any subsequent releases, so they may well have decided it was all too much trouble. A shame, as this is a witty, urbane album, without being at all up itself, taking on Bernstein's The Magnificent Seven, or John Barry's classic Midnight Cowboy without coming unstuck once.
Keys man Rob Burger plays both Mellotron and Chamberlin on Duke Ellington's Satin Doll, with some wobbly flutes from one and, er, something from the other, though it's hard to tell what, as the possibles (sax, banjo, piano) are all covered by the real things. Anyway, I enjoyed this vastly more than expected, to the extent that I'd say it's a definite buy for film theme fans, though I'd urge considerable caution on the tape-replay front.
See: Lullaby Baxter
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (UK) see:
Tim O'Reagan (2006, 38.41) ***½/T
Black & Blue
That's the Game
Just Like You
Drummer/songwriter Tim O'Reagan joined The Jayhawks in 1995, remaining with the band through their various hiatuses (hiatii?). His only (to my knowledge) solo album to date, an eponymous 2006 release, is a solid alt.country set with the occasional ripping guitar solo to remind us of the man's roots, highlights including Highway Flowers, Anybody's Only and closer Plaything. My only criticism is that a couple of tracks fail to sustain the momentum, but cutting them out would take the album down to around half an hour...
Pete Sands plays Chamberlin strings on Ivy and flutes on Plaything; nothing startling, but always nice to hear. Tim O'Reagan is pretty much an essential purchase for Jayhawks fans, or indeed, anyone into the alt. end of country, featuring good, memorable songwriting and a sound to die for.
Orion the Hunter (1984, 42.25) ***/½All Those Years
So You Ran
Dark and Stormy
Too Much in Love
I Call it Love
Orion the Hunter were formed by ex-Boston guitarist Barry Goudreau, apparently frustrated by his former bandleader's refusal/inability to finish their stupendously delayed sequel to 1978's Don't Look Back (the album, Third Stage, finally appeared in '86, and wasn't worth the wait). The rest of the band consisted of ex-Heart drummer Michael Derosier, Bruce Smith on bass and the silver-larynxed Fran Cosmo on vocals, who had also sung on Goudreau's 1980 self-titled solo effort, and ended up in (surprise surprise) Boston (thanks to Greg for that snippet of info). Orion the Hunter straddles the pomp/AOR divide slightly uncomfortably, leaning more towards the latter style, with the former somewhat out of favour by the mid-'80s (too clever). As a result, despite a strong opener in All Those Years, much of the album slips into commercial tedium, although still a very long way ahead of the new breed of AOR acts coming up at the time, including the execrable Bon Jovi, and Britain's 'once good' Def Leppard.
Without a permanent keyboard player, the band used three different musicians, including John Schuller on 'Oberheim organ' (presumably the pseudo-Hammond sound heard here and there) and Mellotron. Not that he overuses it, mind; background choirs on So You Ran and what I think are a couple of choir chords, either doubled with polysynth or heavily effected, at the beginning of Stand Up. So; not a 'Tron album, but if you go for that pomp thing, chances are you'll like some of this.
Official Barry Goudreau site
Uomo di Pezza (1972, 31.46) ****½/TT½Una Dolcezza Nuova
Gioco di Bimba
La Porta Chiusa
Figure di Cartone
In Concerto (1974, 45.53) ***½/TTTruck of Fire (parte I)
Truck of Fire (parte II)
Sguardo Verso il Cielo
Preludio a Era Inverno
Rittorno al Nulla
Contrappunti (1974, 33.33) ****/TContrappunti
La Fabbricante d'Angeli
Smogmagica (1975, 36.05) ***/TLos Angeles
Amico di Ieri
Ora o Mai Più
Amanti di Città
L'Uomo del Pianino
Verità Nascoste (1976, 41.20) ***½/TInsieme al Concerto
Regina al Troubadour
Il Gradino Più Stretto del Cielo
Like several other Italian prog outfits, Le Orme ('The Footprint', I believe) had been around since the '60s, starting as a beat group. Their early albums, Ad Gloriam and L'Aurora Delle Orme, are apparently more psych than progressive, and 1971's Collage has been compared to ELP (same lineup, too), but by '72's Uomo di Pezza, they'd discovered their own voice. It's a wonderful album, with folk-influenced material rubbing shoulders with full-on symphonic prog, sounding not totally dissimilar to PFM at times, although I realise that's a rather lazy comparison for an Italian band. It's inescapable, though, when you hear songs of the sheer quality of Gioco Di Bimba or Aspettando L'Alba. Toni Pagliuca is known more as a Hammond player, but his inventive synth and Mellotron work stand out here, with particularly good Moog parts on Figure Di Cartone and La Porta Chiusa. This last has what I take to be Mellotron brass chords, but they're completely overshadowed by the strings on Breve Immagine, not to mention the gorgeous polyphonic flute part on Aspettando l'Alba. A stunning album, with some great 'Tron to boot. You need to own this record.
Le Orme followed Uomo di Pezza with their finest hour, the superb Felona e Sorona (****½), which was also released in an English-language version as, er, Felona and Sorona, with lyrics by Peter Hammill. However, when it came to sticking out a live album, In Concerto, the band chose to go back to their earlier style, playing no less than three tracks from Collage, one brief snippet of Felona and a side-long largely improvisational piece. Pagliuca had his 'Tron on stage with him, and the first (and by far the longest) part of Truck Of Fire has some brass under a swooping Moog, although most of the track consists of a rather regrettable drum solo. Part 2 has more of the same, as does Sguardo Verso Il Cielo, while Era Inferno (I think) has another bloody drum solo! Strings at last on Collage, so there's actually quite a bit of 'Tron, though most of it's rather inessential, to be honest.
Contrappunti is generally regarded to be their last great album, and while not quite up to its two studio predecessors, yes, it's pretty good, although no one track really stands out. One 'Tron track only, too, with strings on the balladic Frutto Acerbo, plus plenty of the string synth that's also splattered all over Felona. By the following year's Smogmagica, Le Orme were beginning to lose the plot (Ora O Mai Più, most of side two), heading towards pseudo-commercial territory, although it's possible that some of the dodgier music pokes fun at consumerist America, though this is a complete guess. The only Mellotron here is a string arpeggio and monophonic melody, plus distant choir chords on Los Angeles, so given that the album overall fails to excite, I really wouldn't bother.
After I'd carefully listened to Verità Nascoste for 'Tronnic evidence, I opened the album's gatefold, to find track-by-track credits. Oh well, at least it proves my ears still work (just). The album's a definite improvement over its predecessor, but they'd moved on from their classic early-'70s days, so the songs are shorter and more conventionally structured, not to mention that there are no instrumentals. The sole 'Tron track this time round is Regina Al Troubadour, with an upfront string melody, although I wouldn't say it was the album's best track.
So; The only Le Orme album I'd really recommend on the Mellotron front is Uomo di Pezza, but both Felona e Sorona and Contrappunti are near-essential (especially the former), while In Concerto and Verità Nascoste are worth hearing. Even Storia o Leggenda, from '77, is OK, but I'm told you shouldn't bother with anything later. Oh, and while most of Smogmagica is a real dog, it has a few OK tracks, but don't pay too much for a copy. I found the later three listed above in a New Jersey second-hand shop for $3.00 each while on holiday a few years ago, which probably balanced out quality-wise.
A couple of clips from Modena, 1975.
More Orphan than Not (1974, 35.36) **½/T
|That's What You Said
Sometimes I Wonder About You
Don't Go Foolin' Me
What Goes on
You Give Me Such Good Lovin'
You Don't Know How I Cry
|Train of Glory
Have Yourself a Good Time for Me
I've Been Working
Boston's Orphan were one of around a million identikit 1970s American bands, tempering their country/rock with hints of r'n'b and soul, making a perfectly pleasant yet undemanding sound that probably sounded good on car radios. Vocalist/guitarist Eric Lilljequist clearly led the band, writing most of the material on 1974's groanworthy More Orphan than Not (notably You Don't Know How I Cry), although they also tackled a handful of covers, including The Beatles' What Goes On and Van Morrison's I've Been Working.
Dan Frye plays Mellotron, with orchestralish strings on Don't Go Foolin' Me, although the brass on (slightly) jamming closer I've Been Working is real. Orphan must have achieved some success, as it was their third (admittedly also their last) release, but sounds very much of its time these days.
Osamu (1977, 40.44) ***½/½Sui-In
Hear the Rain, See it Fall
Yesterday and Karma
Purple Hills and Crystal Streams
Fur, Fin and Feather
Osamu Kitajima is usually referred to as a new age artist, although his early albums are more in the pre-world music line, successfully combining Eastern and Western influences before such things became fashionable. His debut, 1976's Benzaiten, is an interesting fusion of styles, although it's his follow-up, '77's Osamu, which concerns us here. Comprised of roughly equal parts of traditional Japanese music, jazz, funk and rock, with the occasional vocal track (notably Yesterday And Karma), it's all over the place musically, albeit in a good way; Elemental Spirits almost sounds like '80s King Crimson, three years early, while the koto on several tracks gives the album the requisite far-Eastern feel.
Brian Whitcomb plays Chamberlin, with cellos on one of the album's more 'ethnic' tracks, Endless Steps, although I think the strings on Yesterday And Karma are string synth. Surprisingly, Osamu's early albums don't appear to be currently available, although I'm sure they'd sell well to the new age crowd. Or maybe not; they could be too eclectic for that highly restrictive market, falling between too many stools. Prog/fusion fans who aren't averse to a little ethnicity could do a lot worse than to track copies down, though not for Osamu's minimal Chamberlin use.
Palepoli (1973, 41.53) ****½/TT½Oro Caldo
Animale Senza Respiro
Landscape of Life (1974, 36.15) ***½/TT½Il Castello Dell'es
Landscape of Life
Fog in My Mind
Somehow, Somewhere, Sometime
Osanna are generally regarded as one of the best and most innovative bands to come out of the entire Italian '70s scene. Their debut, 1971's L'Uomo (***½) is good, if not groundbreaking, but their soundtrack to Milano Calibro 9 (****) from a year later is where their reputation begins. Some versions of this album credit 'Mellotron', but after close listening, I can confirm that there's none to be heard; much orchestral string work, but that's it. My copy doesn't even mention Mellotrons.
'73's Palepoli is almost certainly their best work; apparently it's a concept album, or 'rock opera', but without any Italian it's impossible to say. Consisting of two side-long tracks bisected by the under-two minute Stanza Città, the material is highly impressive, with complex instrumental interplay making it a 'difficult', though ultimately rewarding listen. Effectively a continuation of the style of Milano Calibro 9 applied to extended composition, this album is rightly hailed as one of the best of the genre. On the Mellotron front, the only 'Tron to be heard from Lino Vairetti during the first several minutes of Oro Caldo is an understated cello part, but about seven minutes in, a huge strings part erupts from the speakers in time-honoured fashion, with several other sections throughout the piece. Animale Senza Respiro has a little less, but the quality of the music here overshadows the actual sounds being used, which is as it should be. If only I could say the same for all the bands featured on this site...
My introduction to Osanna was their fourth album, Landscape of Life. Knowing their reputation, I was slightly disappointed when I heard it; don't get me wrong - it's not a bad album, not bad at all, but it's fairly generic, and really doesn't stand out from the crowd. Then I found out that their first three are the ones I should be hearing, and this is the one where they 'went normal'. Typical. For all that, I like Landscape of Life, it's just that after several plays the really good albums should be starting to 'stick', and this one doesn't. They used their Mellotron (played by both Lino Vairetti and Danilo Rustici) on three tracks, including the final segue of Fiume/Somehow, Somewhere, Sometime. Good use, mostly strings, but nothing particularly outstanding apart from some nice pitch bending on the title track. So, not a bad album, not a bad Mellotron album, but don't rush out to your corner prog dealer (I know you've got one).
So; Landscape of Life is worth hearing, but if your funds are limited, I can wholeheartedly recommend Palepoli, although its Mellotron content falls a little short of some of the band's contemporaries. L'Uomo and Milano Calibro 9 are both worth the effort, too, although I'd advise caution with regard to the reformed late-'70s lineup's Suddance, ditto a recent version of the band's Taka Boom, although both are supposed to feature 'Tron.
Here's some great Italian TV footage - you mean, they actually allowed bands like this onto mainstream media? Shocking.
Relish (1995, 61.19) ****/T½
Man in the Long Black Coat
Right Hand Man
One of Us
|Let's Just Get Naked
My lodger at the time Relish came out (hi, Dave) used to play this album constantly, to the point where I'm amazed it sounds so unfamiliar eight years on. I wasn't expecting to like it at all, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that Osborne's raunchy, bluesy voice and vaguely Tom Petty-ish material actually still sounds pretty good, even though she's played Lilith Fair with all the usual suspects. The album contains Joan's biggest hit, the over-catchy One Of Us, which caused some upset in religious circles at the time; so, you're not allowed to say "What if God was one of us"? Oh, get a life... The rest of the material is more 'down home', with Joan's excellent voice riding over the top of the warm, natural sound of the album, which has probably helped it to avoid sounding dated.
The instrumentation is largely analogue, with loads of what sounds like Wurly piano, plus a smattering of Hammond and Mellotron, which I can't believe I didn't spot at the time. 'Tron from keys man Chris Palmaro and drummer Rob Hyman, who gets a few string chords in on One Of Us. Palmaro adds a strings pitchbend on Spider Web and some nice flute work on Let's Just Get Naked, but the relative paucity of the 'Tron limits its overall rating.
I've no idea what the rest of Osborne's stuff is like, but if you're into a more populist version of that 'Americana' thing, you could do a lot worse than give Relish a spin. Surprisingly good.
Ozzmosis (1995, 56.50) ***/T½
I Just Want You
Ghost Behind My Eyes
See You on the Other Side
My Little Man
|My Jekyll Doesn't Hide
Old L.A. Tonight
After Ozzy left/was kicked out of Black Sabbath, he surprised everyone by returning with a killer band and two great albums in Blizzard of Ozz (****½) and Diary of a Madman (****), before the tragic death of his wunderkind guitarist, Randy Rhoads, an event from which the Ozz is said to have never truly recovered. As the '80s progressed, Ozzy's albums tended to follow the mainstream, largely consisting of undistinguished commercial hard rock, as he stumbled through various addictions, leaving him the sorry figure you've probably gawped at on 'The Osbournes', which has to take the prize for one of the most bizarre programme concepts ever, against stiff competition.
Ozzmosis was Ozzy's seventh studio solo album, and the second (?) to feature on/off Sabs bassist Geezer Butler, not that he makes any great difference to the album's content, to be honest. Guitarist Zakk 'Mastermind' Wylde (his real name, surely?) stamps his authority (as they say) all over the record, although he's frequently stymied by the rather average material on offer. Highlights include Perry Mason and Thunder Underground, but I'm afraid this is no match for Ozzy's first two efforts. Keyboards are played by producer Michael Beinhorn (no stranger to the Mellotron himself) and, surprisingly, Rick Wakeman, who I believe last worked with Ozzy on Sabbath's Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, over twenty years earlier. I'm sure I found a reference on Rick's site to the effect that he played Mellotron on Ozzmosis, but I can't currently find it; anyway, assuming it is actually the case, that clears up who plays the thing. Despite the generic sampled strings on several tracks, it's obviously 'Tron choir on See You On The Other Side, Tomorrow and My Little Man, with what sounds like strings on Old L.A. Tonight, although they could be real; hard to tell.
So, an OK album, no classic, not rubbish, just... ordinary. Not sure why he bothered to get Rick to play 'Tron (and Hammond), but don't look a gift horse in the mouth, eh? One for completists only, I think.
See: Black Sabbath
Oscar (1974, 35.54) **½/TTWell Known Lady
Good Loving Woman
Encore After Encore
Hugo (Can You Hear Us)
Looking Thru the Eye
Never Comin Back
Lord of the Night
I can't really find out anything about 'Oscar Bamforth'; his presumably sole, eponymous album is sort-of glam rock, with the man himself coming across as a vaguely low-budget/Hammer horror Screaming Lord Sutch on several tracks. Oscar opens with a strange, wartime-style ditty, Well Known Lady, quickly shifting into the era's pounding drums (no synchronised handclaps, though), particularly on Good Loving Woman and Feel Alright, while a few other tracks are at the poppy end of the hard rock spectrum. Confused? So was he. Sadly, none of it's that good, although some of it (notably rather silly closer Lord Of The Night) is at least entertaining.
'Bamforth' played Mellotron himself, with string parts on Looking Thru The Eye, Shady Lady and Lord Of The Night, with a nice solo part on the last-named. I've seen multiple copies of the CD of this on eBay as 'buy it now's, making me think 'Bamforth' is getting them pressed (or running off CD-Rs) himself and flogging them that way. Do you bother? Only if you're really into obscurities from the era, although three 'Tron tracks may help to tempt you.
The Ascension (2007, 61.05) **½/½
|Eet the Children
Milk of Regret
Noose & Nail
|March of the Martyrs
Otep are a female-fronted and led American (semi-) extreme metal band, the female in question being Otep Shamaya. Y'know, if I didn't know it was a woman singing, I'd assume all the 'roaring' stuff was a bloke, with Shamaya adding the quiet bits... Her/their third album, 2007's The Ascension (or the_Ascension) is fairly typical of the genre, quiet bits juxtaposed with bits that aren't quiet at all, with nary an original riff in sight, although that seems to be typical of the metal scene these days. Best track? Their cover of Nirvana's Breed, 'cos it's actually got a tune.
Holly Knight (yes, the one who's written for Bon Jovi, Heart, Aerosmith et al.) co-produced Perfectly Flawed, allegedly adding Mellotron to it. Yes, it's audible, but is it real? The jury will have to remain out, but I'd personally be surprised if any genuine tape-replay was involved, frankly. Listen, you really don't need to hear this unless you're a metal obsessive who's utterly unworried by the concept of unmemorable music with no tunes (strangely, not incompatible with the genre). Dull.
Other Lives (2009, 45.13) ****/T
Don't Let Them
End of the Year
It Was the Night
|How Could This Be?
After changing their name from Kunek (why? It's better), Other Lives have released an EP and two albums, the eponymous latter of which is quite lovely, operating in an Americana/folk rock zone, augmented by a small string section and multiple harpsichords (!). Actually, it's not difficult to spot a subtle progressive influence on several tracks, too, although I wouldn't be surprised to find that they've come to it from a different angle to that of most 'regular' prog fans. Singling out 'best tracks' is nigh-on impossible; suffice to say, the album features a refreshing lack of indie whining and a refreshing surplus of intelligent, emotionally mature songwriting, that should keep fans of the more cerebral end of the rock spectrum happy.
Josh Onstott plays Mellotron flutes on opener E Minor and End Of The Year, with possible other sightings, although it's hard to tell with real violin, viola and cello abounding. Overall, this is one of the best new albums I've heard in a while, although only time will tell whether its gentle, downbeat approach will grow or diminish in my affections in the long run. Very much recommended, though not really for the Mellotron.
Condom Black (2001, 61.15) **½/T½
Anjos do Asfalto
Dias de Janeiro
|Street Canabis Street
Condom Black (Stop Play)
Otto's Condom Black is probably best described as 'Latin electro' or similar, successfully blending typical Latin American music with the current dance scene, synths, loops and samples to the fore. I can't even tell whether or not it's any good at what it does, as I feel so little affinity with the music, but it seems successful enough and has apparently sold in large quantities in its home country. As so often, though, it's too long for its content, leading to boredom after forty minutes or so.
'Apollo 9' (Cibelle) plays various elderly keyboards, including Mellotron (does this now mean there's a definite M400 on the continent?). Anyway, he plays strings on Pelo Engarrafamento, flutes and strings on Por Que and flutes on the title track, though nothing to get too excited about. So; an album so far from the taste of the average Planet Mellotron reader that it almost comes round the whole 360°. OK, it doesn't. I'm sure it's good at what it does, but you're not going to like it, while there's not enough Mellotron to be worth bothering with anyway.
When Your Blackening Shows (2008, 38.21) **½/½Watermark
When Your Blackening Shows
The Rock Collector
Anna Brønsted is, essentially, Our Broken Garden, her slow, dreamlike songs and wispy voice defining the band's sound on their debut, 2008's When Your Blackening Shows. It's the kind of album that sounds good for a handful of tracks, but even though it's only 'vinyl length', its relentlessly sad approach begins to drag after a while, making you (or at least, me) beg for something with slightly more energy. Or indeed, any.
Palle Hjorth (Savage Rose) plays Mellotron, amongst many other things, with faint flutes on opener Watermark, although it's near-impossible to tell whether or not it's real. Overall, then, a far from unpleasant album that unfortunately requires rather more effort than I have time to give it, so with next to no Mellotron, I'm afraid it's a 'no'.
Distorted Lullabies (2001, 47.28) ***/TT½
I'm a Monster
Here is the Light
Meet Me in the Tower
As I Wander
Ours seem to get compared to the likes of U2, Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, even the awful Smashing Pumpkins or the Mission; what doesn't get said about them is "This highly original music..." Think miserablist, gothy, surprisingly English-sounding music, with the vocals just that little bit too high in the mix, and you won't be too far off the mark. The 'band' seem to consist mainly of singer/lyricist/guitarist (etc.) the rather un-goth sounding Jimmy Gnecco, a man who knows the meaning of the word 'overwrought', although, oddly enough, the end result on Distorted Lullabies isn't that displeasing.
Quite a bit of tape-replay work here, which makes a change for the odds'n'sods I pick up for a couple of quid, most of which are fairly (make that very) disappointing. The ubiquitous Patrick Warren turns up with his Chamberlin, adding strings to I'm A Monster, Here Is The Light and the fantastically-titled Meet Me In The Tower, while Gnecco himself plays Mellotron strings on Sometimes and Mark Endert puts some nice, upfront Chamby (strings again, plus cellos) onto Medication. So; not classic, but despite being rather silly, not that bad an album, and some reasonable 'Tron/Chamby work.
(See Inside) (1997, 43.10) **/½
Not a Chance
That's Where I Live
My God You Are (Psalm 22)
Can a husband-and-wife duo split up professionally but not personally? Scott and Christine Denté made six CCM albums as Out of the Grey (interesting UK spelling there) in the decade following 1991, then ground to a halt. Never mind, eh? 1997's (See Inside) is the fifth, containing all the usual Christian guff; in fact, if it wasn't for the lyrics and Christine's irritating delivery, this would have picked up an extra half star, as it isn't that bad musically. However, it was and it was, so it hasn't. I know I've asked the rhetorical question before, but why can't Christians sing songs about something else for a bloody change? It does get a bit boring for us happy heathens... To which they might well reply, "So don't listen to it, then", except that they wouldn't, 'cos they're infuriating, happy-clappy, evangelical... Er, sorry. The one thing about the album that amused me is track nine, Prove It, that being my usual rejoinder to Christians, if I'm in a foul enough mood and they push the wrong buttons.
Phil Madeira does his usual Mellotron-on-CCM-album thing, with faint flutes on Winter Sun, though that's your lot. So; you really don't need to bother with this one on any grounds whatsoever. At least, at 43 minutes, it doesn't outstay its welcome. Much.
Misty Moon (1985, 44.42) ****/TTPrelude
A Boy Playing the Magical Bugle Horn (1986, 43.51) ***½/TTMagical Blue Horn
The Silent Valley
Tower Over the Clouds
Out of the Old Castle
Sail and the Shadow
Whispering in the Wind
Beyond Good and Evil
The Scene of Pale Blue (1987, 52.55) ***½/T½Marionette's Lament
The Scene of Pale Blue
Outer Mania (1989, recorded 1980-84, 49.35) ***½/TTMarionette's Lament
The Scene of Pale Blue
I Love You
Outer Limits played a particularly symphonic brand of violin-fuelled progressive rock, largely (and thankfully) instrumental, rarely slipping into the common '80s Japanese progsters' habit of apeing the British neo-prog bands. Their debut, Misty Moon, is generally strong, although parts of Saturated Solution sound slightly too '80s for their own good. Prelude is actually a full-length track, and sounds almost orchestral in places, although I believe it's all keyboards. Shusei Tsukamoto's Mellotron work is restricted to two tracks, but Prelude has a lengthy flute part and some strings, with more strings and what may be male voice choir on Subetewa Kazenoyouni although, to be honest, the 'Tron use isn't that heavy. To my knowledge, this is now available on Musea, but the original Japanese CD release has no transliteration for the latter title, so many thanks to whoever it was that sent it to me.
They quickly followed-up with A Boy Playing the Magical Bugle Horn (the sleeve graphics on the original CD release are terrible, although the reissue goes back to the original vinyl version). Anyway, more mad, passionate, theatrical prog, with pseudo-operatic male and female vocals; Out Of The Old Castle probably being the most effective track, but no actual duffers. Tsukamoto on 'Tron again, with strings on The Silent Valley, flutes (and terribly flat vocals) on Whispering In The Wind and flutes and strings on Beyond Good And Evil, all other string parts being either real violin or synth.
I actually find The Scene of Pale Blue rather harder going, although I'm sure it's a fine album. Maybe you have to be really in the mood for it. It's long for a pre-CD (well, sort of) release, and I get the feeling it might've been better if it had been slightly shorter. Anyway, I've seen reports of a King Crimson influence, and I can hear them in places, particularly on the opening part of the title track (probably the album's best), with some choppy rhythmic stuff and a Frippish guitar part. Although they used Mellotron on three tracks, there's very little to be heard on either Mixer or Anti Podean, with the only overt use being a string part, doubled on real violin, in the lengthy The Scene Of Pale Blue itself.
I haven't heard either their live effort, Silver Apples on the Moon, or A Boy Playing the Magical Bugle Horn, but I have come across an archive release of some unreleased demos from the early '80s, called Outer Mania. Four of the five tracks are different (and largely slightly inferior) versions of tracks from the two above albums, with only I Love You being previously unheard. The Scene Of Pale Blue has what sounds like the same Mellotron part as the later version, leaving the short but 'Tron-heavy I Love You as the only real reason to buy the album.
So; Outer Limits aren't the first band to which I'd direct the new prog fan, but that doesn't make them bad, just slightly inaccessible. The albums are rather variable in quality, but the best tracks make them worth the effort. Start with Misty Moon, then progress (ho ho) through A Boy Playing the Magical Bugle Horn to The Scene of Pale Blue, though Outer Mania is a bit inessential.
Good Dog Bad Dog (1996, 60.10) ***½/T
All I Need is Everything
I Will Not Eat the Darkness
A Gospel Number
It's Never Quite What it Seems
Happy to Be So
Go Down Easy
Besides (1997, 60.29) **½/T
|The People Here Are Not Shy
Hej (I Do)
My Love is a Fever [live]
Within Without [rough mix]
(An American Deejay)
All I Need is Everything [chamber music mix]
If I'm Drowning [live]
Ohio (2003, 93.41) ***½/T
What I'll Remember Most
Jesus in New Orleans
Anything at All
Long Lost Brother
Nobody Number One
Cruel and Pretty
How Long Have You Been Stoned
When You Say Love
The Trumpet Child (2007, 41.52) ***½/T
|I Don't Wanna Waste Your Time
I'm on a Roll
Nothing is Innocent
The Trumpet Child
Who'm I Kiddin' But Me
Let's Spend the Day in Bed
|Desperate for Love
Don't Wait for Tom
If a Song Could Be President
Over the Rhine, named for the oddly-named district in Cincinnati where the band formed, have an intriguing sound, melancholy yet strangely uplifting. At the heart of the band are the husband and wife team of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, Detweiler playing guitar, bass and keys, and Bergquist singing and playing acoustic guitar and piano, her throaty voice suiting their music perfectly.
Good Dog Bad Dog is their fourth album, and is a triumph of 'slowcore', featuring a selection of downbeat songs that never tip over into parody, although highlights are hard to identify on an initial listen. Mellotron on just one track, with flutes on Faithfully Dangerous, plus strings at the end of the track, from guitarist Ric Hordinski; the sleevenotes state, "Ric... coaxed a melody out of his Mellotron... - no mean feat". It certainly sounds like it's on the edge of breakdown most of the way through, but that not only adds to its appeal, but proves that the damn' thing's real, in these days of rampant sample (ab)use.
Not so sure about the following year's Besides; it's an odds'n'sods album of live tracks, outtakes etc, but much of it is rather unappealing arena rock, with a distinct U2 edge (Edge! Geddit? Oh, never mind) in places, which they've done well to leave behind if you ask me. It has its good moments, not least Lucy, but if you like their later style, you're likely to be fairly disappointed here. Again, one 'Tron track, with flutes and cellos on Miles from Detweiler, although nothing overly essential, to be honest.
I don't know anything about their interim albums, but 2003's double-disc Ohio isn't wildly dissimilar to Good Dog Bad Dog, although it's noticeably more country influenced, reinforced by Tony Paoletta's pedal steel on several tracks. The chief trouble with the album is its length; this sort of downbeat material doesn't tend to lend itself to albums much over 40 minutes long, so over twice that is a bit gruelling, especially in one sitting. Anyway, very little Mellotron this time round, with cello parts on opener B.P.D. and Professional Daydreamer, assuming they are actually Mellotron; there's an uncredited saxophonist on Nobody Number One, with a sustained string part on the same track that you couldn't do on 'Tron, so I presume the cellos are tape-driven?
Now, 2007's The Trumpet Child is more like it; sensible length, some great songs, not even the faintest hint of U2 about any of it. Best tracks? Probably the title track, with its apocalyptic imagery and maybe Desperate For Love; the clarinet/muted trumpeter combination used across the album being particularly effective on the latter. Not so sure about the Tom Waits tribute Don't Wait For Tom, but there you go. Brad Jones played (credited) Chamberlin, with strings on Nothing Is Innocent, although there's nothing obvious on closer If A Song Could Be President.
So; Good Dog Bad Dog and The Trumpet Child are the best of the bunch here, although the former's rather too long; it certainly has the best 'Tron moment of any of these, although not exactly what you'd call essential. And avoid Besides unless you just can't get enough U2.
Mopping Up Karma (2008, originally recorded 1998, 53.50) **½/TT
|Creatures of Habit
Let's Hear it for Love
Ruby Red Lips
I Promise You
Get Into it
Message From Heaven
Who's That Girl
The Wide Road
Jusith Owen is a Welsh singer-songwriter now living in the States, whose most notable feature for yours truly is being married to Harry Shearer, Simpsons voiceover artist supreme and, of course, Spïnal Tap's Derek Smalls (they've been known to perform together, Shearer in character). Mopping Up Karma was originally recorded a decade earlier, but never released, finally appearing in 2008, 'stripped of its major label clutter', although there still seems to be a good bit of it, at least to my ears. It's a fairly typical lovelorn singer-songwritery effort, although Ruby Red Lips and Shine feature both interesting lyrics and quirky melodic twists in the chorus, which is more than most of Owen's contemporaries can manage.
Patrick Warren does his usual Chamberlin thing, with strings (and flutes?) on opener Creatures Of Habit and strings on I Promise You, Message From Heaven, Shine, Inside You and She's Alright, although the strings on Extraordinary are clearly real. I wouldn't actually swear that any of the 'Chamby' work actually is, while it's possible that some of the 'real' strings aren't, but you know, that's how it goes with Chamberlins. Anyway, better than many, but still not particularly exciting, with indeterminate tape-replay work. I've heard worse.
Owsley (1999, 42.27) ***/T½
|Oh No the Radio
Coming Up Roses
Good Old Days
The Sky is Falling
|The Homecoming Song
Uncle John's Farm
The Hard Way (2003, 47.28) ***/T
|Be With You
She's the One
The Hard Way
Rainy Day People
Band on the Run
I don't know if anyone else has made this comparison, but Will Owsley's eponymous debut (recorded over a period of three years, for some reason) reminds me more of The Eels than anyone else; he even uses an abbreviation of his name, à la 'E'. The music's a similar form of bittersweet melody-laden American pop/rock, with much use of 'authentic' instrumentation (Hammond, Wurlitzer, Moog, Mellotron etc.). Owsley isn't a bad album, but too many of its songs stray too close to schmaltz (Good Old Days), although there's a couple of stormers in there, too (notably I'm Alright). Tape-replay on three tracks: Coming Up Roses has Owsley playing Mellotron flutes and what I presume are Chamberlin strings, although there's real cello in there, too, and possibly real strings into the bargain. Sentimental Favorite has Chamby strings (along with real ones, again?) from part-time keys man Jonathan Hamby, while Class Clown has Owsley on volume-pedalled 'Tron strings, making it the album's Mellotronic triumph.
Four years on, Owsley released his second (and to date, most recent) solo album, The Hard Way. Is it just me, or is his powerpop schtick starting to wear a little thin? OK, most of the album's reasonably good, but there's a little too much lightweight filler for comfort, reminding me of the kind of mainstream fluff to which I already spend too much time listening. Decent 'hidden' version of Wings' Band On The Run, though... Two Chamberlin tracks this time round, with barely audible strings on Rise from John (Mark) Painter and nice cellos on Down from Jonathan Hamby, though not enough to rescue a rather insipid release.
So; Owsley's not a bad album at what it does, although I remain unconvinced by The Hard Way, but there's an awful lot of artists out there doing this sort of thing, often better. Saying that, I would've thought Owsley would appeal to the Eels' audience, at least. Reasonable 'Tron/Chamby work, particularly on the former's Class Clown and the latter's Down, but probably not worth a purchase on those grounds alone.
The Parabolic Rock: 1975-1982 (2010, 76.56) ***/½
Child of the Reich
Old Fart From Arcturus
Air on Venus
I'm So Stupid
Baby I Cried
Big Body Build
Here Lies a Fool
Monsieur le Bazoo
I Love a Tank
It Just Won't Work
Terror in the Streets
The Way of All Flesh
The Ballad of Jack Ruby
Kung Fu Karate Man
Never heard of Ozzie? (Apparently named in honour of Ozzie & Harriet, who mean little outside the States). Don't worry, nor had anyone much else until the recent release of The Parabolic Rock: 1975-1982, a retrospective of their various recordings. The actually formed in Southern California in the early '70s, although they seem to be more aligned with the late '70s new wave explosion than anything earlier in the decade, releasing a mere three singles/EPs, all in that period. The album (currently only available on double vinyl) skips between proto-punk (their first single Android Love, I'm So Stupid), epic rock (Child Of The Reich, Air On Venus), 'noo wave' (Faunmania, the Devo-esque Baby I Cried), powerpop (Beach Girls, Scattered Values) and others; not the easiest set to categorise, as you can see. Maybe adaptability was the band's strength, but I can imagine it was also its weakness and one of the reasons they never broke out of their home market.
Keyboardist William Fuller adds Mellotron to just one track, with block string chords on Air On Venus; hardly major use, but better than nothing. The rest of the album's keyboard works shifts between piano, Farfisa and some farty 'we've heard Devo' Moog on several tracks which, if slightly unoriginal, is still unusual enough to be worth commenting on. Overall, more one for students of the new wave era than anyone else, although there's probably a decent single album to be compiled from this set.