Squirrel Nut Zippers
Bedlam Ballroom (2000, 38.10) ***/½
Baby Wants a Diamond Ring
Bent Out of Shape
Stop Drop and Roll
It All Depends
|Just This Side of Blue
Don't Fix it
Do it This a Way
Squirrel Nut Zippers are a modern good-time swing outfit, of all things, inactive throughout most of the '00s, although their website states that activity is imminent. 2000's Bedlam Ballroom is something like their fifth album, stuffed with presumably self-penned ditties largely in a '30s style, taken at varying paces, mostly led by banjo and brass. Top tracks include opener Bedbugs, the title track and frenetic closer Do It This A Way, but nothing here offends.
Jim(bo) Mathus plays Chamberlin, with a cello line on the title track, although all other string and flute parts appear to be real. This is music made for dancing, not quiet contemplation at home, so if you like the sound of their, er, sound, I'm sure they're best sampled on stage. Saying that, this is a good album, but not one you'll bother with for its tape-replay work.
Stackridge (UK) see:
Not Just Another Pretty Foot (1975, 36.39) ***/TTT
|Making Love With the Headphones on
None of Us Are Here
I Got Stoned and I Missed it
I Can't Find Nobody Home
You'll Never Take Me Alive
Bring Me You
|Your Bulldog Drinks Champagne
I Ain't Working
Jim Stafford seems to have been pigeonholed as a country artist, but going by '75's Not Just Another Pretty Foot, complete with 'smokes cigarette with foot' sleeve pic, singer-songwriter would seem to be a better description. Notorious for 'novelty' songs, I Got Stoned And I Missed It is a little unnecessary, but the bulk of the album consists of perfectly good, varied material, if very much of its time. Opener Making Love With the Headphones On may possibly be the highlight, but that could just be in the lyric department; suffice to say, despite a couple of novelty efforts, although dated, this could be a lot worse.
Alan Lindgren plays ARP strings and 'Melatrone' (hey! New mis-spelling!), with the latter, startlingly, on almost every track, mostly strings, but with flutes on a couple of tracks, too. No especially standout performances, although there are some interesting pitchbent strings on Midnight Snack that you don't hear every day. So; an OK record, though not one that's going to appeal to most of you, but plenty of 'Tron, admittedly in 'string section substitute' mode.
Days of Wine and Roses EP (1982, 15.08) ****/TDays of Wine and Roses
Hurricane Town (1983, 40.43) ***½/TI've Been Told
The Other Side
Turning in Circles
Stampede appeared around 1981, rising from the ashes of the Bristol-based Lautrec, while just about hanging on to the fast-fading NWOBHM movement, such as it was. Notable for the singer being the guitarist's stepfather (!), both bands had a rather Lizzy/UFO sound; in fact, guitarist Laurence Archer went on to play in both Phil Lynott's post-Lizzy project, Grand Slam and eventually UFO themselves. So basically, we're talking melodic hard rock without having that dreadful wussy American sound that the likes of Grand Prix appropriated. Talking of which, it appears that when Sammy Hagar toured his Standing Hampton (arf arf, phnar phnar) album around this time, he got Grand Prix to support solely on the basis of their name. As our US cousins would say, "Go figure"...
Er, anyway... Stampede were snapped up almost immediately by Polydor, and had a dodgy live album, The Official Bootleg (***) (says it all, really) rush-released by the label, doing the band no favours at all. They had already lost their keyboard player and contracted to a four-piece, but they always missed the keys on stage, and smothered their studio recordings with them. Within months, they released their debut single, Days Of Wine And Roses, with the 12" EP version irritatingly appearing a week or two later (I've still got both versions as a result). The EP is magnificent, especially the two tracks not on the 7", with some great keyboard work, probably by Magnum's Mark Stanway, including a nice bit of 'Tron choir on Movin' On.
Unfortunately, by the time of their one and only studio album, Stampede had already recorded many of their best songs, leaving an album of too many also-rans. Hurricane Town's title track (more choirs, definitely by Stanway this time) and the single The Other Side are great, but many of the other songs have that 'filler' smell about them. There's a good Stampede compilation to be er, compiled, but you'd really have to pick and choose.
Standarte (1994, 47.00) ***½/TT½Dream Love Sequences
One Strange December Evening
As I Wandered
Beat Pimp Muzak
A War is Declared
In My Time of Dying
I Want You
Curses & Invocations (1997, 50.28) ****/TTTTT
What More I Have to Pay
Cities of Towers
Arrival of the Traveller
Mooning Around the Mill Hill
The One You Fear and Hate
Stimmung (1998, 50.12) ***½/TT½
(We Want) a Peaceful Village
Moon in Cancer
Dark Satanic Mill
In My Time of Dying
|Yellow Cave Woman
I Won't Start Another Song
...E Tu Vivrai Nel Terrore (1998, 9.17) ****/TTT[Standarte contribute]
Necropolis incl.Verso l'Ignoto
Thousand Days of Yesterdays: A Tribute to Captain Beyond (1999) ****/TTT[Standarte contribute]
Standarte fall fairly and squarely into organ-driven hard rock/prog territory, being vaguely akin to America's Bigelf, or, historically speaking, Atomic Rooster. Having not released anything for five years at the time of writing, I rather suspect that they're no more; their website is full of dead links, and I can't trace any current information about them anywhere. It would be easy to criticise the band for their considerable lack of originality, but that would be to rather miss the point; they obviously idolise early-'70s British hard rock, and don't care who knows it. The whole purpose of their existence is/was to recreate an era they love, which makes them ideologically identical to a million '60s-influenced outfits, just less fashionable. And as for '80s revivalists, let's just not go there...
Standarte is a solid enough debut, although it rarely transcends its influences, to be brutally honest; the songs aren't at all bad, but I keep spotting stolen riffs, which can be slightly disconcerting. Strangely, Michele Profeti's Mellotron use tails off as the album progresses. The first sound you hear is 'Tron strings on Dream Love Sequences, with flutes on One Strange December Evening and Beat Pimp Muzak, but a couple of the marked tracks only have a few seconds of The Beast under their spoken intros (there seems to be some sort of storyline running through the album). Sparse choirs on A War Is Declared and a few seconds of cello, and that seems to be it. Oh, and while In My Time Of Dying has the same lyrics as Led Zeppelin's version of the old blues standard, the tune is completely different.
Three years passed before their follow-up, Curses & Invocations, and it was immediately obvious that although the style remained the same, the songwriting had improved no end. The band chose to cover Gracious!'s Return Of The Traveller from This is... Gracious!, but otherwise stuck to their own material. Profeti's Mellotron use here is better and far more varied than on their debut; Dysangelium opens with a fantastic string part, and what I take to be solo trumpet starts What More I Have To Pay off nicely. There's ridiculously heavy 'Tron on Ordeal, with female voices, flutes and strings all vying for attention, not to mention the almost overpowering strings on Gehenna. Actually, the album's a complete Mellotron monster, with at least half the tracks featuring it as, essentially, a lead instrument. The music's good, but the 'Tron's fantastic. Buy.
In retrospect, it looks like the band were already starting to wind down on Stimmung, as half its tracks are live, including another (and slightly unnecessary) version of In My Time Of Dying. The studio tracks (1-5) tend to be better, with less jamming, but I suppose that's only one man's opinion. After Curses & Invocations, Profeti obviously decided to cut back a little on his 'Tron use, and it's not just because of the live tracks, as he used it onstage. Intro has (male?) choir, (We Want) A Peaceful Village has a short burst of strings, and Kankweezler is effectively based on a 'Tron flute riff, but the most major use on the album is the first live track, the instrumental Moon In Cancer, with an excellent strings part opening the song.
Well, Curses & Invocations is by far and away their best 'Tron album, and the material sounds superior to my ears, too, but their first and third releases are still worth the effort on both fronts. It appears, by the way, that the band has essentially morphed into psych monsters London Underground, so no more Standarte. Pity. Incidentally, the band recorded one track for Black Widow's 1998 ...E Tu Vivrai Nel Terrore set, Necropolis incl.Verso l'Ignoto, including plenty of decent string, flute and choir work. Hear it.
How on earth did Standarte ever get onto Italian TV? It isn't 1975, you know... Gift horses and mouths spring to mind.
See: ...E Tu Vivrai Nel Terrore | London Underground
All Years Leaving (2004, 40.56) ***/T
|I've Waited So Long
All Years Leaving
Outside Your Door
When This River Rolls Over You
It's Only Everything
Always is the Same/Shine on
Here She Comes Again
The Big Parade
|The Love You Give
I Need You
Some Weekend Night
The Way She Does
The Stands were an unashamedly retro Liverpudlian act, sounding more Byrds than The Byrds, although other '60s influences crop up on 2004's All Years Leaving, not least Dylan on Outside Your Door. About the nearest they get to a modern influence is the legendary La's, with Here She Comes Again bearing more than a passing resemblance to that outfit's heroin anthem There She Goes, sounding more 'authentic' than Lee Mavers ever managed. Maybe they used the right kind of dust. While it's difficult to fault their melodies, song construction etc., the album's far too derivative to excite anyone who's heard their influences, and cheeky nods to The Beatles like The Love You Give only serve to accentuate their unoriginality.
The unknown Mellotronist sticks it on one track, with flutes and cellos on The Big Parade, sounding like they might have been put through a Leslie, though that would appear to be your lot. So; a bit 'heard it all before', I'm afraid, though if you just can't get enough of that jangly 12-string thing, you may go for this anyway.
You Are Not Alone (2010, 45.08) ***/½
You Are Not Alone
In Christ There is No East or West
Creep Along Moses
I Belong to the Band
|Only the Lord Knows
Wrote a Song for Everyone
We're Gonna Make it
Too Close/On My Way to Heaven
I'd have thought that Mavis Staples needed little introduction: the youngest of the four sisters comprising the Staple Singers, along with their father, "Pops" Staples, she's released a dozen or so solo albums in forty-odd years, working with Prince and Ry Cooder, amongst others. 2010's Grammy-winning You Are Not Alone (produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy) is a gospel/Americana collection, perhaps a little blander than you might like (thus the Grammy), better tracks including the title track, Last Train, Wrote A Song For Everyone and raw blues closer Too Close/On My Way To Heaven.
Wilco's Patrick Sansone plays Mellotron on In Christ There Is No East Or West, with what sounds like a high cello part, although it could even be muted brass. Is it real? Along with recent Wilco albums, the jury's out, to be honest. This is a surprisingly bluesy release from a singer noted for her gospel/R&B tendencies that might even appeal to Wilco fans, but I wouldn't even think about it for its Mellotron content.
Citadel (1977, 39.15) ***½/TShine on Brightly
Shadows of Song
Can't Think Twice
Wings of White
Change in Time
Could This Be Love
Why Have They Gone
Champaign, Illinois outfit Starcastle were one of the handful of US progressives to get a 'proper' deal (Epic in this case), and actually managed to release four albums in their lifetime. Starcastle (****) and Fountains of Light (****) were both good, in a 'complete Yes copyist' kind of way, although by Citadel the cracks were just beginning to show, with more, and shorter tracks, although their overall style hadn't changed that much. Their multi-layered harmonies sound like a cross between Yes and their Champaign colleagues REO Speedwagon, on whose first album singer Terry Luttrell appeared, and the guitars lack Steve Howe's quirky individuality, but other than that, read 'Yes-lite' for a pretty accurate description of their sound.
Keyboard man Herb Schildt is credited specifically with Mellotron here, although there's definitely none to be heard on their first two albums. For that matter, there's not that much here, either, with nowt but a smattering of background choir on Evening Wind, and only a fraction more on Why Have They Gone. So, a good, if not great, album, but don't even bother for the 'Tron.
WARNING! Avoid like the plague Starcastle's fourth 'effort', Real to Reel (**). This is absolutely appalling AOR, with only closing track When The Sun Shines At Midnight being anything less than utterly offensive. File under 'shite'.
Old (2003, 39.08) ***/T½
New Wife, New Life
First Heart Attack
Starflyer 59 get reviewed on Christian music websites, but unlike the other dreck I've seen described as 'Christian music', Old is a perfectly acceptable, if rather unexciting album of indie-flavoured middle-ground rock, although its averageness wears the discerning listener down after a while. The quality of the material varies somewhat, with closer First Heart Attack being a highlight, but there's nothing here that made me want to reach for the 'off' button, which has to be a bonus.
Although Richard Swift is credited with Mellotron, the male voices on opener Underneath sound more like Chamberlin to me, while the strings on Major Awards could be either, although the strings on Passengers are either real or good samples. The title track's flutes are definitely 'Tron, with more of those voices on First Heart Attack, and while other tracks could possibly have some 'Tron input (notably Unbelievers), they're more likely to be synths or samples.
So; a Christian Rock album that treats the music as at least as important as the lyrics. Result! Not a classic, but quite listenable, with a smattering of alleged Mellotron.
Minimalistic official site
See: Richard Swift
Gate to Celdan (1998, 42.52) ***½/T½Dance of the Trolls
Fly Into the Rainbow
Celdan (the World of Colours)
It seems Gate to Celdan is actually Starglow Energy's fifth album, including a live release, which is a fair bit for a band so little known. Going by this album, their sound is a Uriah Heep-ish early-'70s style hard rock with a progressive feel in places; extremely retro, anyway, with plenty of Hammond solos and other period touches, not least the opening minute-long drum solo (!). It's not bad, and sounds authentically 'old', but... Maybe I need to play this some more, but like so many other bands who try to do this style (with the honourable exception of Spiritual Beggars), it doesn't really capture what made Heep et al. so great; maybe it's the songs? Anyway, this is OK, without being particularly outstanding.
According to the Black Rills site, the (borrowed) Mellotron used on Gate to Celdan was the same one used one Kedama's sole album, a good twenty years earlier. It's played here by Luky Bosshardt, although only on the 'side-long' Celdan (The World Of Colours), a partially jammed-out epic, fairly heavy on the strings. Amusingly, the band opted to fill the near-five minute gap before the unlisted Certain Friends with 'end of LP' noise, with the needle clicking in the runout groove. Very good, chaps, especially as the 'needle' goes 'back down' before track 7... Ironically, said bonus track is possibly the best thing here, so I've no idea why they've tried to hide its light under a bushel, especially since its title is clearly easily available (well, I found it).
So; an average-ish retro-style release, with one OK 'Tron track. Good, but not that good. Given the lack of an official website, and no information about subsequent releases, I think it's safe to assume the band have split up, which is a shame, particularly now that their retro approach has entered the mainstream. Bad timing, boys.
From in the Shadows (1999, 49.16) **½/T
Don't Let Them
North Winds Woman
Dreams You Had
Shelby Starner was a remarkably mature teenage singer-songwriter, signed to Warner Bros aged fourteen, which may have been the start of her problems. After one, surprisingly dark, rocky album, 1999's From in the Shadows, she ran into the classic 'second album syndrome', dipping out of the business for a while when her mother announced she had breast cancer. Somewhere along the way, Shelby developed bulimia, dying in 2003, aged nineteen. The material on the album is nothing startling, being fairly derivative of Fiona Apple and her ilk, but that still makes it several trillion times better than that of your typical pop starlet, making her untimely death all the more tragic.
Gary Breit plays Chamberlin, with string swells on North Winds Woman and a chordal part on Prisoner, although the strings on You and a couple of other tracks appear to be real. I'm not saying this is a classic - in fact, were Starner still alive, I'd probably dismiss it as a Bonnie Raitt/Stevie Nicks wannabee effort - but given the circumstances, I feel justified in saying that it's far better than I'd expected, although its Chamberlin use is predictably low.
Stupid Girl EP (1995, 34.08) **½/½Rebel
Going by her second release, the EP/mini-album Stupid Girl, Garrison Starr sits firmly in downbeat, Americana-influenced singer-songwriter territory; you know, the kind of stuff where the words are more important than the music. She doesn't help her cause any by her deliberately tuneless vocals, to be honest; yeah, Bob Dylan got (and still gets) away with it, but as many hate him as love him for it, and his songs are vastly better. Like Bahb, Ms. Starr likes to write reams of lyrics, making for six- or even seven-minute songs. Unlike Bahb, whatever she's got to say for herself becomes irrelevant when said songs are as tedious as these, with pretty much no change in pace throughout the disc's half-hour-plus length.
Clay Jones is credited with Mellotron, but it only even vaguely appears on closer Voices, with background cellos under the real violin, plus possibly a few seconds of strings. Some of you may go for this. I know I didn't, but I'm not usually that interested in whatever singer-songwriters go on about, as it's usually fairly self-absorbed and, frankly, boring (top names excepted, before you all start shouting at me). Anyway, next to no Mellotron and particularly dull instrumental interplay throughout. Incidentally, she's recorded a full-length Mellotron album, too, 1997's Eighteen Over Me; review forthcoming when I get to hear it.