David Peel & the Apple Band
Victor Peraino's Kingdom Come
Matthew Hopkins & the Wormhole (2013, 41.41) ***½/TT
Tortured By Ghosts
Like a Butterfly
|We've Been Lovin'
Winter Atmosphere Head
We Can Help Ourselves
Kevin Pearce's second album, 2013's Matthew Hopkins & the Wormhole (subtitled Act One: Matthew Hopkins in the Woods), is a modern folk-rock release, with a vague concept somehow involving the legendary witchfinder of the title, who hailed from rural Essex, as does Pearce. The album's twelve songs shift between more introspective material (Freezing, Brian Haw, named for the sadly late anti-war protestor, the Strawbs-esque Tortured By Ghosts, Winter Atmosphere Head) and more rhythmic, if no less mournful (opener Walking Oceans, Tides, Antediluvian, Like A Butterfly's programmed percussion), although 'top track' award possibly goes to closer The Wormhole.
Pearce plays Jarrod Gosling (I Monster, Skywatchers)'s M400 throughout, with background choirs on Freezing, strings (from Gosling, with 'extended play' studio trickery) on Brian Haw, more background choirs on Like A Butterfly and Peaceful Skies (with more of that trickery on the latter) and watery strings on We've Been Lovin' and Winter Atmosphere Head. Enough to make this a worthwhile Mellotronic purchase? Possibly not, although it's a fine album in its own right. Worth hearing.
vs (1993, 46.15) ***/½
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
Vitalogy (1994, 55.22) ***/½
Spin the Black Circle
Not for You
Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's Me
Like Alice in Chains (an ex-glam outfit) and the Stone Temple Pilots, what was it about Peal Jam that makes them inherently 'grunge'? If 'grunge' was Mudhoney, Soundgarden and Nirvana, why was it also dodgy metal bands in lumberjack shirts and no makeup? (That's NO makeup, OK?). Actually, Pearl Jam are better than AiC or STP, which isn't to say that they're particularly good; everything's relative, you know. They certainly sucked a dead dog's dick when I saw them supporting Neil Young back in '93; what possessed him to take them on as his backing band for an album and tour I will never know.
Anyway, vs was their second effort, after the critically-acclaimed (why?) Ten (why?), and sees them already in a musical rut, doing that 'rock with emotions' thing, somewhere in between Led Zep on an exceedingly off day and, er, Neil Young, I suppose. While better than expected, I'm afraid I find this stuff terribly unexciting; not a patch on their influences, anyway. Faint (uncredited) 'Tron strings on W.M.A. from Brendan O'Brien, but that's yer lot.
Follow-up Vitalogy is both better and worse than its predecessor, with full-on punk like Spin The Black Circle contrasting sharply with muckabouts such as Bugs. Guitarist Stone Gossard is credited with 'Tron, and although I remember hearing some brass, oddly, on the track on a previous listen, it seems to've disappeared, with the only audible keyboard being a (deliberately) badly-played harmonium.
Rumours have it that 2002's Riot Act also features 'Tron, but close listening has proved this to be fallacious. So; I'd find it difficult to recommend Pearl Jam (OK, I DO find it difficult), and their Mellotron use is so utterly minimal as to be almost non-existent. Go elsewhere.
See: Stone Gossard
Under the Big Tree (1997, 63.20) ***½/T
Mouths and Frogs
Writer in a Rainstorm
The Teepee Morgue
Into the Opera House
Boulder and Cactus
|The Mountain, the Mirror, and the Pocket Watch
The Candle Card Game
Portrait/Bow in the Cabin
Where Do We Connect?
Finale: Into the Trunk
Nick Peck is the ex-keyboard player for rather lightweight US proggers Episode, who released a handful of albums on various formats between the late '80s and mid '90s, and whose career peak probably came when they played at Progfest 94, along with luminaries such as the mighty Änglagård and Anekdoten. Peck has recorded several solo albums, although Under the Big Tree confuses the issue by not actually mentioning him anywhere on the cover, though as it's so obviously his album, I feel justified in crediting it to him. Lyrically/conceptually, the album is based on a profound experience of Peck's during a lengthy meditation session, while musically, it's in the 'modern prog' category, rather than Episode's typical neo-prog. The album features eleven guest musicians, including two other Episoders, and while I wouldn't put it up there with, say, Spock's Beard, it's a worthy effort in the genre.
Peck plays a variety of keys, old and new, principally a grand piano and Hammond B3, but there's a couple of snatches of Mellotron choir on Portrait/Bow In The Cabin and Finale: Into The Trunk, but nowhere near enough to make it worth buying on those grounds. If you like modern US prog, there's a good chance you'll get something from Under the Big Tree, but more 'trad' proggers might be better off going somewhere else.
Don't Get Too Comfortable (1998, 42.03) **½/T
Big Blue Sky
Greatest Show on Earth
Some Day Soon
Pee Shy were the Floridian duo of vocalist/accordionist Cindy Wheeler and clarinettist/keyboardist Jenny Juristo, with other musicians coming and going. Don't Get Too Comfortable was their second and last album, best described as, well, indie, I suppose. It features both Wheeler's accordion and Juristo's clarinet on several tracks, making them distinct from their contemporaries, although the album doesn't have a great deal to recommend it to non-fans of the genre.
Brad Jones plays Mellotron, with a melodic flute part on Greatest Show On Earth, although I suspect the album's cellos are real. Generally speaking, you're probably not going to like this, unless you've found your way here as a fan of the band. Better than the subsequent non-genre of 'landfill indie', it still requires the listener to be tolerant of the low-fi aesthetic and for a blatant disregard for the conventions of a tight rhythm section. One passable 'Tron track.
Unofficial MySpace page
Bring Back the Beatles (1977, 46.57) *½/T½
|Beatles Pledge of Allegiance
Bring Back the Beatles
Turn Me on
The Wonderful World of Abbey Road
Apple Beatle Foursome
|The Ballad of James Paul McCartney
With a Little Help From My Friends
My Fat Budgie
Keep John Lennon in America
(The John Lennon Interview)
I've pondered at length upon the point of David Peel & the Apple Band's Bring Back the Beatles, as I clearly have nothing better to do with my life. It seems the estimable Mr. Peel didn't either, as the independently-released album must have consumed a considerable quantity of resources, although going by the cheap typescript on the rear of the sleeve, maybe not that many. Basically, this is a rather odd Beatles tribute, consisting of Peel's songs, all of which reference the Fab Four in one way or another, all sung in Peel's highly unappealing, flat tones, for no readily apparent reason whatsoever. To be fair, Peel's a street performer/political activist, on the eccentric side of an eccentric field, although I'm not sure that excuses this abortion of a record, although some reviewers see it as parody rather than shite.
Musically, we're looking at a series of poor Beatles pastiches (Lollipop Fish, the title track) intercut with decidedly average folk-rock material (The Wonderful World Of Abbey Road, The Ballad Of James Paul McCartney) and (get this) rewrites of Beatles-related material (Imagine, With A Little Help From My Friends); believe me, you've ain't heard nuthin' till you've heard Peel's 'reinterpretation' of the latter, with the original lyrics 'sung' to a new, vastly inferior tune. My Fat Budgie is apparently a Lennon lyric, to which I can only say, "On a bloody off-day", and I can't say Peel's music helps its cause any. I can only imagine (ho ho) that the whole thing was basically a scam, attempting to draw people in with the Beatles titles on the sleeve, set to new 'tunes' in a doubtless failed attempt to avoid paying too many royalties, although I can't imagine this sold that many copies, or was that widely available. Or was it? Or was it simply the product of a deeply eccentric mind and should be taken in that spirit?
American sessioneer Les(lie) Fradkin plays guitar, bass, assorted keys and Mellotron here, and has listed his contributions for me (thanks, Les). Nothing obvious on the title track, although Les says it's strings, background strings and apparently flutes on Coconut Grove, more strings (and apparently flutes again) on Imagine and flutes (and apparently strings!) on Turn Me On, none of which exactly set the world alight, to be honest, making this rather less than essential on the 'Tron front.
If I'm being generous, I'd describe this as a 'curio', although a more honest summation might be 'crap'. I can't imagine (ho ho again) at whom, exactly, this disaster was aimed. Mid-'70s US Beatles fans desperate for anything referencing their heroes? (See: the bizarre Klaatu debacle). I mean, who else would buy this rubbish? Its *½ rating is more for its laugh value than anything else, although it's not even really that funny, just sad, not to mention utterly interminable (the execrable Keep John Lennon In America is almost nine minutes of the title repeated ad nauseam with minor variations). The only thing here of any real interest is a brief Lennon street interview, where it seems he not only met Peel, but recorded with him. Christ, he's not on this record, is he? Maybe I'm being unkind and this is regarded as a lost classic of outsider music, but I doubt it. Fradkin's Mellotronic input is pretty minor, too, so I can't even say it's worth picking up on those grounds. Avoid. Please.
Marburg (1972, 40.00) ****/T½The Clown and the Queen
Rhapsody (1975, 39.53) ***½/TRhapsody
Frost of an Alien Darkness
Desert in Your Mind
Paris the Past
Only a Star (1977, 39.58) ***/TCount Down
Only a Star
Across the Universe
Trailors in Movie Halls
Phoebus is Dead
Pell Mell (not to be confused with the American avant-garde outfit of the same name) were one of many German progressive bands who 'grew out' of their Krautrock beginnings, becoming more symphonic along the way. Their debut, Marburg, named for their home town, is an intriguing mix of slightly old-fashioned UK 'proto-prog' and German Krautrock, with pastoral, organ-led passages coexisting peacefully with bizarre multi-vocal parts like Focus on speed (Friend). Another occasional influence is early Pink Floyd, particularly in the organ part in Alone; in fact, the Floyd seem to be a constant in the Krautrock arena, with several bands obviously getting stoned to A Saucerful of Secrets on a regular basis. Anyway, the band's violin use is notable, sometimes confusing the ear as to the album's Mellotron content, to the point where all I can hear is a string part under the violin on Moldau and a similar part doubling the organ on Alone.
Album no.2, From the New World, is more progressive (and 'Tron-free), and 1975's Rhapsody (with co-writing credits for Liszt and Rachmaninoff) is full-on prog, complete with eccentric interjections like the Can Can (yes, that one). Did you know it was written by Liszt? The band were a six-piece by this time, and with three people credited with keyboards, it's impossible to know who plays the rather minimal Mellotron on the album, so take your pick from Thomas Schmitt, Ralph 'Flipper' Lippmann or Cherry Hochdörfer, although my money's on Schmitt, one of the band's two main men, along with vocalist Rudolf Schön. Anyway, the only audible evidence is a few seconds of choir on part 1 of Rhapsody itself, Frost Of An Alien Darkness, and a short choir part, repeated once, on Paris The Past. Not a bad album, but not one for 'Tron fanatics.
'77's Only a Star was noticeably more straightforward, in keeping with the times. I've seen comparisons with Kansas, and there's certainly a couple of violin parts that recall Robby Steinhardt's style, but overall, it sounds like a mainstream version of their earlier sound, although there's still quite a bit of classical influence, particularly on side two. Again, very little Mellotron (definitely played by Schmitt this time), with faint choirs on Disillusion and the rather ropey Across The Universe (not the Beatles' song).
So; Marburg and From the New World are their best albums, although the 'Tron on their debut is far from earth-shattering. Rhapsody has noticeably better 'Tron, and Only a Star has its moments, but none of these are really worth it on the Mellotron front.
La Stagione per Morire (1972, 33.51) ***/TT½Paura
Cosa Aspetti ad Andar Via
Vent'anni di Galera
La Stagione per Morire
E Dire Cha a Maggio
Che Poi Non e Vero
Mauro Pelosi is an Italian singer-songwriter from Rome, who, for a brief period in the early '70s, recorded in the semi-progressive style popular at the time. He debuted with 1972's La Stagione per Morire ('A Season to Die'), a dark, embittered-sounding album, of the kind where not understanding the language makes a major difference to one's appreciation. While loosely 'progressive', this is never going to seriously challenge the big Italian players, or even most of the smaller ones, most of its material (nine tracks in under thirty-five minutes, note) being lyric-driven and acoustic-based.
Mike Logan and Il Balletti di Bronzo's Gianni Leone play Mellotron, with limpid string and flute parts on Vent'Anni Di Galera, more powerful strings in the closing seconds of the title track, with more of the same on E Dire Cha A Maggio and closer Suicidio, although the flute part opening E Dire Cha A Maggio is clearly real. So; no classic, at least on the prog front, but a decent enough listen, with some nice Mellotron. Put it on your 'B' list.
Do Right Man (1994, 37.10) ****/½
|The Dark End of the Street
Cry Like a Man
It Tears Me Up
You Left the Water Running
Do Right Woman Do Right Man
Memphis Women and Chicken
He'll Take Care of You
|I'm Your Puppet
Where There's a Will There's a Way
Dan Penn, of course, is best known as a songwriter and producer, often in collaboration with Spooner Oldham; a list of artists who've recorded Penn's songs would take me the rest of the day to compile, and it's only 10.30 a.m. Suffice to say; Aretha Franklin, Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris... Penn prefers a back-room role, so despite starting his career around 1960, 1994's Do Right Man is only his second solo album, where he revisits some of his most famous songs, not least opener The Dark End Of The Street. This is one of those albums that, even if you're not a fan of Penn's southern soul/blues style, it's almost impossible not to like, or at the very least, respect; it just kind of... strolls by, minding its own business, while gently letting you know it's written and performed by one of the major American songwriting talents.
Spooner Oldham turns up, of course, playing keyboards, including plenty of lovely Rhodes and Hammond work, and no bloody modern synths. Credited with Mellotron, it's only even slightly apparent on He'll Take Care Of You, with a very background string part, so you're not going to be rushing out and buying this on that account. Nevertheless, an album stuffed full of soul classics played and sung by their author. More please, Mr. Penn.
Michael Penn (US) see:
How Do You Live (1998, 35.51) **½/T
How Do You Live
Here I Go
Not Lovin' Anybody
Save My Life
House of Blues
Fool Come Down
Michelle Penn plays a kind of Americana-influenced singer-songwriter thing, which means (naturally) she's played Lilith Fair. To be honest, 1998's How do You Live is a pretty unexciting album, but I'm sure I should be concentrating on the lyrics, rather than the run-of-the-mill music. Trouble is, I almost invariably listen to the music first... It's not rubbish, by any means, but there's nothing here that grabbed my attention, unlike the best artists of her genre.
Aaron Swihart plays Mellotron, with flutes and strings on Drown, plus one or two possible (though unlikely) string sightings elsewhere. So; a somewhat average record, although I can't fault Ms. Penn's enthusiasm. She's made one more definite 'Tron album, 2001's irritatingly txtspk 2 Good 4 U, or is it meant to be referencing Prince?
Pentwater (1977, 37.31/50.19) ***½/T
Living Room Displays
|[CD changes track order slightly and adds:
Prelude to War
Out of the Abyss (1992, recorded 1973-76, 62.41) ****/T½EM 54
Cause & Effects
Gwen's Madrigal (the Violation Version)
Kill the Bunny
Ab-Dul (2007, recorded 1972-2006, 60.26) ****/T½
|It Feels Like Stealing
Luncheon at the Parade
Kill the Bunny
The Tale of Clear Fog
Sealed in Today
Across the Mediterranean
Somehow Feelin' Fine
The Tale of Clear Fog (Reprise)
|The Cry of Eugene
Turn the Key
It Feels Like 3 a.m.
Pentwater were one of a surprisingly large number of US prog bands who couldn't even get a foot in the door, managing one self-financed album, and never breaking out of their own region, in this case, the Illinois area, I believe (see: Leviathan, Lift et al.). Pentwater crept out in 1977, but only found its way onto CD in 2003, replete with four bonus tracks and a slightly revised running order, making it awkward reviewing the original tracklisting. It's a good album, while not really displaying the odder side of their repertoire, opening with the average hard rock of AM (moved to track 5 on the CD, swapping places with Frustration Mass), and rarely moving into non-(prog)mainstream territory from then on. This isn't to say there's anything wrong with the album, of course, just that it doesn't especially stand out from the pack. There isn't that much Mellotron to be heard here; I don't believe the band owned one, so keyboard man Ken Kappel would probably have decided where to use it pretty much on the spot in the studio. There are a couple of string chords on Orphan Girl and Gwen's Madrigal, with more serious use on Palendrode, but that seems to be it, with nothing on the CD's bonus tracks.
Given that very few people would've heard their sole album at the time, it was a wonder of the modern age that an archive disc, Out of the Abyss, appeared in 1992, triggering interest in the band among the newly-organised progressive community (praise be for the Internet...). It contained nine of the 54 (!) songs the band wrote in their lifetime, most of which are now, sadly, presumably lost to the ravages of time. It seems that their more interesting material was kept on the shelf at the time, so going by this disc alone you'd probably describe their sound as complex, driving prog, with Gentle Giant influences, amongst others, reminding me slightly of another obscure US outfit, Yezda Urfa. There isn't a bad track on the album, although some are, of course, better than others; definitely worth hearing for any fan of the genre.
Kappel is listed as playing a wide range of 'boards, but going by the rehearsal pic in the CD booklet, he probably owned the cheaper end of the list, with the one highly visible instrument being an Elka string synth. Oh well, at least they had the nous to borrow/hire some good kit for recording, unlike other bands I can think of (how much better would Fruupp have sounded if they'd hired a 'Tron?). Saying that, the Mellotron gets very little use indeed, with short (but intense) bursts of strings on EM 54 and Gwen's Madrigal (The Violation Version), and slightly more of the same on The Journeys, so this is quite a long way from being a 'Tron classic, although it's a damn' good prog album, especially if you're into the more 'twisty/turny' end of the genre.
Like many of their contemporaries, the band reformed in the 2000s and recorded some new (and old) material, combining it with more archive recordings, releasing the composite album as Ab-Dul in 2007. Bad news first: the cover. What are you thinking of, guys? Even if it's meant as a joke, it's possibly the ugliest prog sleeve design I've ever seen; maybe I'm missing something. Anyway, the good news: it's excellent. It seems a few more of those 54 songs have now been made available, which has to be good news, and while neither of the newly-written tracks are exactly jaw-dropping, nor are they offensive, which is a distinct result. I'm not sure if anything here is as adventurous as some of the Out of the Abyss material, but most of it is more satisfying than most of their original album. As always, very little 'Tron, but given the number of different sessions over which it was recorded, that's hardly surprising. Near-as-dammit identical flute parts on the exceedingly short and near-as-dammit identical The Tale of Clear Fog and The Tale of Clear Fog (Reprise), plus a monophonic string line (along with a real violin) on Chasing, only just tipping the album over the one-star level.
So; three good albums, though the archive material is definitely more adventurous. Not a lot of 'Tron on any of them, to be honest, but they're all worth hearing for prog fans of all persuasions.
Spare Time Machine (2007, 46.06) ***½/T
|The Mischief of Cloud Six
Ms. Wilhelmina and Her Hat
Go for Blue
Last of the Great Explorers
Pussy Cat Rock
Lucky the Blind Vs. Vacuum Cleaning Monster
Captain Carter's Fathoms
|Forgotten Knights Prelude
Queen of the Wave (2012, 48.08) ***/½
A Night and a Day
Temple of Unfed Fire
In the Cave
|My Flaming Thirst
Riders on the First Ark
Formed in the mid-'90s, Pepe Deluxé were the electronica duo of Vellu Maurola and Tomi Paajanen, or DJ Slow and JA-Jazz, although by their third album (minus Maurola), 2007's Spare Time Machine (ho ho), they had become the nearest I've heard in years to an original psych outfit. Influences range from soul (opener The Mischief Of Cloud Six) through a psych/electronica combo (Ms. Wilhelmina And Her Hat, several others) to that just-pre-psych style that you hear in the party scene in slightly clueless '60s films. There are more ideas here than even a couple of plays can properly assimilate; suffice to say, while it isn't all great, there should be enough here to keep you guessing for a while. Ville Riippa apparently plays Mellotron and Chamberlin, although where, exactly, he sourced the latter in Finland isn't known. On an M-Tron disc? Let's hope not, but it's all a bit suspect. Anyway, we get a few seconds of strings on Lucky The Blind Vs. Vacuum Cleaning Monster and a major Chamby string part, plus flute (it's not Mellotron and don't think it's the album's real one) on Captain Carter's Fathoms (seemingly based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars), although either machine could easily be on several other tracks, hidden away in the mix.
Five years on, Queen of the Wave is, somehow, rather less appealing. Less variety? Not sure, but the band have changed in the interim and not towards my taste. Better tracks include mid-'60s-esque opener Queenswave, the energetic Go Supersonic and the skronky electronica of Grave Prophecy, but the band have clearly shifted towards the early '60s in their influence base and away from psych. Pity. Paul Malmström is credited with Mellotron, but I'd love to know where; are those Mellotron strings on Go Supersonic? If so, I heavily suspect samples, but with so little to go on, this'll have to stay here, at least for the moment.
Anyway, Spare Time Machine's slightly dubious tape-replay content isn't why you should try to hear it, but the music is. Not a classic, but well worth hearing, although I'm having trouble saying the same for its successor.
|7" (1968) ***/T½
I Won't Be There
Keeping My Head Above Water
Peppermint Circus? Yup, yet another obscure late '60s British psych act who've only really come to light again due to a slew of compilations of lesser-known efforts from the era. I haven't heard the 'A' of their first (of four, surprisingly) singles, I Won't Be There, but the flip, Keeping My Head Above Water, is a pretty decent number, described on bassist Alan Tallis' website as 'the B side that should have been the A side'.
Presumably the band's keyboard player at the time (possibly Clive Hartley) plays a perfectly pleasant, if unexciting string part that runs through most of Keeping My Head..., adding to its 'worth hearing' status. Thankfully, those nice Past & Present people have included it on part two of their estimable Piccadilly Sunshine series, the 'A' being on part one.
No Man's Land (1975, 38.31/49.43) ***½/TTTTT
|Sun Sets Sail
Demon of Love
Empires of Steel
Lady of the Morning
Garden of Death
Run Through Your Life
At Last a Crew
Demon of Love
After Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come disintegrated following the release of the wonderful Journey, US keyboard player Victor Peraino somehow retained the name, releasing No Man's Land in '75 under the name Victor Peraino's Kingdom Come. It doesn't sound a million miles away from Journey, if you could imagine that album being played by a full band and sung by an American (go on - try). There don't seem to be any genuinely great songs on the record (although Lady Of The Morning's pretty good), but all the material's reasonable, in a hard rock/prog vein, although some of the tuning discrepancies between synths and 'Tron are enough to set your teeth on edge.
Peraino's Mellotron use is, again, quite magnificent, with lashings of strings, choir, cellos and brass all over the album. There are too many individual highlights to name, although Lady Of The Morning has especially good use on all fronts. Peraino frequently used two sounds at once (strings and choir being popular choices), although I doubt if he was able to reproduce this live. To my knowledge, his Mellotron ended up on the West Coast with Syn-Phonic label owner Greg Walker, who occasionally hires it out for gigs or recording. So; not a bad album, and it's finally out on CD, but an absolute Mellotron Monster, so highly recommended on those grounds.
Incidentally, the bonus tracks on the CD are from Peraino's 1981 EP, We're Next, in a very similar style to the album, despite being from several years later. Unfortunately, they've been 'mastered' from rather tatty vinyl, complete with distortion and considerable surface noise, with no obvious attempt made at de-noising. The tracks aren't bad (OK, Victor's version of Arthur's Fire is rather ordinary), although only two of them are actually new songs, Demon Of Love being on the album in its original form. Practically no 'Tron, with only a couple of choir chords at the end of Demon Of Love, although I'm quite surprised there's any at all. Anyway, you won't find this on vinyl, so you've got 'em whether you want 'em or not.
See: Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come