Il Segno del Comando
Sense of Wonder
Sonny & Linda Sharrock
Reality (1968, 43.11) ****/TTT½
|A Fairy Tale
Denis James the Clown
Good Old '59 (We Are Slowly Gettin' Older)
The World Will End Yesterday
Denis James (Ode to D.J.)
The Bath Song
A Fairy Tale
Death May Be Your Santa Claus (1971, 39.13/44.09) ***½/TT½
|Death May Be Your Santa Claus
Hangin' on an Eyelid
Lucifer and the Egg
Somethin' You Got
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
Take to the Skies
|Death May Be Your Santa Claus (Reprise)
Dip it Out of the Bog Fred
Baby R U Anudda Monster]
Second Hand have been described as 'cult psychedelic heroes'; I can't find out anything about the core members before the band's formation, but keys man Ken Elliott and drummer Kieran O'Connor kept the band alive through several years and three albums, although the last of these, Chillum, was released under that name, for reasons now lost in the mists of time.
1968's Reality (Second Hand Reality, I suppose), is a typical late-ish period psych album, with all the usual influences, including the music-hall of Denis James The Clown and the rather overwrought balladry of The Bath Song (which reminds me of Simon Dupree, for some reason), amongst others. The album appears to be as good as dedicated to a gentleman by the name of Denis James (a friend? A fictional character?), with no fewer than three songs referencing him, including the sad tale of his untimely passing. Elliott gets plenty of MkII 'Tron onto the album, with flutes, strings and brass on opener A Fairy Tale, fairly heavy string use on Steam Tugs and a very upfront flute melody on Denis James (Ode To D.J.), distinctly different to the real flute to be heard in places. More strings and flutes in The Bath Song, including a 'Psycho'-style discordant string chord at one point, and finally more strings in the closing A Fairy Tale, a heavily-rearranged version of the album's opener. All in all, this is an excellent, rather overlooked psych gem from an undeservedly obscure outfit, with plenty of 'Tron to boot. Incidentally, I'm told that the MkII in question was Manfred Mann's (thanks, Roy).
It took the band another three years to come up with the strangely-titled Death May Be Your Santa Claus, by which time, of course, the world (music and otherwise) had moved on noticeably. Second Hand's answer to this was to produce an odd little album of shortish material, not exactly psych, or prog, or mainstream pop/rock; not exactly anything, really, and all the better for it if you ask me. Saying that, it's not that fantastic an album, but it definitely has its moments (Revelations stands out particularly), despite being slightly uncohesive. I've no idea if Elliott had a new M400, or whether the old MkII was still in use, but he gets some strings in on all the highlighted tracks above, with some excellent pitchbend work on Hangin' On An Eyelid, and an odd, choppy flute part on Death May Be Your Santa Claus (Reprise), along with some brass (so is that the MkII?). Unfortunately, the two bonus tracks Elliott (presumably) has elected to add to the disc are largely a waste of time, and to add insult to injury, are stuck in the middle of the running order, rather than at the end, where you'd expect, and could easily flick the 'off' switch.
After splitting up acrimoniously after the Chillum album, Elliott and O'Connor eventually got back together as Seventh Wave, recording another two albums with minor 'Tron action in the mid-'70s before a final parting of the ways. Sadly, O'Connor has subsequently died, but Elliott continues to work in the business, playing sessions, as he did in the early' 70s. So; Reality is probably the better of the two albums, although if late-'60s psych isn't your bag, you're not going to like it, simple as that. Death May Be Your Santa Claus is odder, and possibly more adventurous, though I suspect it'll take rather more work to get into. Better 'Tron on the former than the latter, but not bad throughout.
See: Chillum | Seventh Wave
Dreamin' of My Past (1994, 66.28) ***½/TTTTIn the Autumn of My Dreams
Through the Windows of Time
Secret Cinema are an odd one; ex-Arti e Mestieri keys man and general mover and shaker in the '90s Italian progressive scene, Beppe Crovella, plus four younger musicians combine to make a long-format symphonic album, and partially succeed. Partially? Well, Dreamin' of My Past's major let-down is its proclivity for neo-proggish structures and sounds, punctuated with a more '70s vibe that doesn't always quite fit. Mind you, it shits on Crovella's hilariously awful Romantic Warriors project of the previous year from a great height, thankfully. Another problem is the length of the material; if you're trying to sound like you're from the '70s, don't write two sprawling half hour-plus tracks and expect to sound authentic. In fairness, I'm sure 'authenticity' wasn't top of their agenda; it sounds like they were trying to mix the '70s and the '90s, and to a great degree, they succeeded. Both pieces do rather lose their way after a while, though, and some editorial work may've been a good idea somewhere down the line.
For all that, it's not a bad album (ignore the awful sleeve), and I haven't even got to its best feature yet: (what else...) the Mellotron. Crovella sticks loads of real 'Tron all over the record, usually right at the top of the mix, mostly strings, ignoring the IQ effect, i.e. 'choirs, choirs and more choirs'. It's actually done very subtly, without the blanket coverage that a lesser band might've used (usually a sure pointer to sample use, as it happens), with periods of some minutes passing with nothing at all, before another raw burst of strings come leaping out at you. Saying that, this isn't a five-T effort, but I've heard an awful lot worse.
So; good music but not great, very good 'Tron but also not top-notch. I think this has been out of print since the Vinyl Magic label went under; some of their titles have been reissued on the new VM2000 label, but I don't think this is among them. As a result, it's not the easiest thing to find, and I'm not advocating that you spend a fortune on it, but if you see a second-hand copy, it's definitely worth a blast.
See: Beppe Crovella | Arti e Mestieri | Cantina Sociale | Romantic Warriors | Tower
The Hungry Years (1975, 41.46/55.09) **/T½
Your Favorite Entertainer
Tit for Tat
New York City Blues
|When You Were Lovin' Me
The Hungry Years
Breaking Up is Hard to Do (slow version)
Hey Mister Sunshine
The Queen of 1964
Neil Sedaka is one of those names that have never previously graced Planet Mellotron, working on the basis that, as a major artist, he always used real orchestral instruments when he wanted, er, orchestral instruments. However, in the way of such things, it turns out that he used a Mellotron once, on his 1975 album, The Hungry Years, re-sequenced and -titled Overnight Success in the UK, for some reason. The album's exactly what you'd expect: ultra-professional, slick MOR of the kind that sells to middle-aged people and the middle-aged at heart, making my two-star rating a little unfair. Why slate something for doing exactly what it says on the tin? Because to anyone who grew up listening to anything in the rock field, it's enormously turgid and mainstream. Rating justified.
Sedaka plays the machine himself, with, surprisingly, strings on Your Favorite Entertainer (missing from the UK version) and strings and flutes on Baby Blue, although I have zero idea why he used it at all, never mind on just those tracks, when most of the album features the expected real strings. The CD has the stray tracks from the UK version as bonuses, plus what appear to be a couple of outtakes, one of which, Betty Grable, is actually the best thing here. So; sitting firmly in the middle of the road with two ordinary 'Tron tracks. Maybe not.
Smokin O.P.'s (1972, 34.58) ***½/TBo Diddley
Love the One You're With
If I Were a Carpenter
Let it Rock
Turn on Your Lovelight
Seven (1974, 30.33) ***/½Get Out of Denver
Long Song Comin'
Cross of Gold
U.M.C. (Upper Middle Class)
Seen a Lot of Floors
20 Years from Now
All Your Love
Beautiful Loser (1975, 33.01) ***/TBeautiful Loser
Nutbush City Limits
Live Bullet (1976, 71.15) ****/T
|Nutbush City Limits
I've Been Working
Turn the Page
|Ramblin' Gamblin' Man|
Get Out of Denver
Let it Rock
Night Moves (1976, 36.54) ***/0Rock and Roll Never Forgets
The Fire Down Below
Come to Poppa
Ship of Fools
Stranger in Town (1978, 39.32) ***/T½Hollywood Nights
Still the Same
Old Time Rock and Roll
Till it Shines
Feel Like a Number
Ain't Got No Money
We've Got Tonight
The Famous Final Scene
Bob Seger is, of course, the epitome of American blue-collar rock, hailing from that most rock'n'roll city, Detroit. His career peaked in the late '70s; sadly, these days, he apparently prefers to race sailing boats, which seems a sad waste of talent. Perhaps he's canny enough to bow out, dignity intact? I can think of a few others who could learn from that. Just a few... Chris Dale (hi, Chris) has kindly passed on some information he got from Seger's keys man, Robin Robbins. It seems that, although he preferred to use a Mellotron live, he favoured the Chamberlin in the studio (oh to have the choice!) The M1 has eight sounds on its half-inch tape, in this case, vibes/alto sax/tenor sax/violins/cello/flute/trumpet/trombone.
Seger's fifth album, 1972's Smokin' O.P.'s, features a convoluted pun in its title and sleeve design, viz 'smoking o.p.'s' refers to never buying one's own cigarettes, preferring to bum them from other people (o.p.). The album is largely covers, so other people's songs, while the sleeve is a parody of a Lucky Strike packet. Told you it was convoluted... The album itself is excellent, giving some idea of the kind of storm Seger could whip up onstage, highlights including opener Bo Diddley (also incorporating Who Do You Love), If I Were A Carpenter and one of two Seger compositions here, closer Heavy Music. The strings on Someday are a perfect illustration of how the Chamberlin can fool the ears; aside from a lack of even minor glissando, the sound is near-indistinguishable from a real string section, although this is from the horse's mouth... Robbins didn't mention it, but I think I can hear faint string and brass parts on Heavy Music, too.
Seger's seventh studio album, er, Seven, defines his down to earth, blue-collar style perfectly, with its 'that HAD to've happened' narrative opener, Get Out Of Denver, followed by another seven tracks of all-out, Midwest, mid-'70s rock'n'roll, plus the token ballad, 20 Years from Now. I'm not saying it's especially exciting in the cold light of day, mind, but it definitely defines a time and a place; Seger was always about playing live anyway, so his studio recordings are almost irrelevant, really. Next to no Mellotron from Robbins, with a brief (but potent) string part in closer All Your Love, which surprised me by NOT being a ballad. The following year's Beautiful Loser is a lot more varied, mixing rock'n'roll (Katmandu, Ike and Tina Turner's Nutbush City Limits), countryish balladry (Jody Girl, Momma) and more straightforward slowies (Sailing Nights, Fine Memory). Although Seger's chief keyboard player on the album was Barry Beckett, Robbins guests here again on various instruments, including Mellotron. It's on one track only, with fragile flute and string parts on Jody Girl, that vaguely enhance the song without being in any way essential. All in all, a reasonable album of its type, but for the real meat'n'two veg, see below.
Seger had been plying his thing around the States for the better part of a decade by the time he elected to record a live album in front of a hometown Detroit crowd. Like so many straight down-the-line rock'n'roll artists, Seger was at his best on stage, making this a fairly obvious option, and it kicked his career into high gear. Although not entirely to my personal taste, there isn't a bad song on Live Bullet, with the album capturing the Silver Bullet Band's live sound as well as a recording ever does. Highlights include opener Nutbush City Limits and Turn The Page, also known as 'The Road' (the lyrics are excellent), covered (well) by Metallica many years later. Robbins' keyboard work (mostly Hammond and Wurlitzer) is excellent throughout; he uses Mellotron on a couple of tracks. Jody Girl has a few string chords here and there, but Turn The Page is the album's Mellotronic highlight, with a rather nice string part coming in part of the way through the song, although two relatively sparsely-'Tronned tracks don't really make a Mellotron Album as such.
The multi-million-selling Night Moves, from later the same year, sounds a great deal better in retrospect than you might expect, although I've always liked Mainstreet, guilty pleasure or no. Other highlights include mini-epic Sunburst and Ship Of Fools, although too much of its material sits in the 'middling '70s rock' non-category to have aged particularly well. Robbins claims he played Chamby on Ship Of Fools, although whatever he added is entirely inaudible under the organ and accordion, but this stays here until/if I should find out he's mistaken. '78's Stranger in Town sold as well as its predecessor; it's actually more commercial, if anything, opening with propulsive hit Hollywood Nights (sounding better now than it did at the time, strangely), the affecting Till It Shines probably being its next-best track. Robbins adds orchestral-ish high Chamby strings to the album's other hit, gloopy ballad We've Got Tonight and, if I may push the boat out, on closer The Famous Final Scene. The strings sound 'authentic', until you realise there's not a single slide between notes. Not conclusive, but good enough for me.
Seger's work sounds all rather mainstream these days (did at the time, frankly), but there are a good few gems scattered across these albums, not to mention several decent tape-replay tracks, although I couldn't really recommend that you buy any of these for that alone.
Il Segno del Comando (1996?, 48.46) ****/TTenebrose Presenze
Il Segno del Comando
Salmo XVII di Baldassarre Vitali o "Della Doppia Morte"
Messaggero di Pietra
Ritratto di Donna Velata (Lord Byron's Night Promenade)
La Taverna dell'Angelo
Ghost Lovers in Villa Piuma
There seems to be some confusion over exactly what or who Il Segno del Comando are or were, but I've had it confirmed (hi Mauro) that they're most definitely a '90s outfit, taking their name from a cult '70s Italian TV series, translating as 'the sign of command'. Il Segno del Comando has a doomy, early-'70s sort of vibe about it, like so many of Black Widow's more contemporary releases, and the guitar work gives its recent origins away; no-one played like that thirty years ago.
Mellotron credited on one track only, with guest musician Osvaldo Giordano playing strings on the lengthy title track. There's the occasional 'Tron-alike sound elsewhere on the album, but if the strings on Messaggero Di Pietra and La Taverna Dell'Angelo are anything to go by, they're samples. Anyway, it's a pretty cool album, but a long way from 'Mellotron Classic' status. There's a second album, 2002's Der Golem, but I've no idea whether or not there's any Mellotronic involvement.
Among the Monster Flowers Again (2002, 48.51) ***½/TTT
|The Monster Flowers
The Tale of the King on the Hill
Among the Monster Flowers ... Again
Creatures of the Underworld (2006, 48.52) ***½/TT½Café Lola
Creatures From the Underworld
Dragon & Demons
Do as You're Told
Flight Towards the Sun
Seid are a Smell of Incense-related Norwegian psych outfit, whose influences range from 1967 to, oh, 1968 maybe. Some may see this as limiting, but their debut album, 2002's Among the Monster Flowers Again, covers a wide range of psych styles, from the almost-poppy Red Planet, through the garage-ish Fire Song (sitar and all) to the near-prog of the fittingly-named 5/4, most heavily infused with a Farfisa. However, Sleep is possibly the album's most impressive track, building for several minutes before bursting into a massive final verse in true prog style. Plenty of Mellotron, from Burt Rocket, Micke Moog and Cpt. Lazer (or possibly Jan Spaice - what's with the pseudonyms, chaps?), with a 'stabbed' chordal flute part in brief instrumental opener The Monster Flowers and a few choir chords at the end of King Leon, while The Tale Of The King On The Hill features background strings under foreground... something? Oboes? There's a flute part on Sleep, with strings on the final verse and solo strings and cellos on the track's coda, plus definite flutes and possible other stuff on the closing sort-of title track, and it's quite possible I've missed other parts in the sometimes dense mix.
Four years on and their follow-up, Creatures of the Underworld (Bosch cover art and all) is heavier than its predecessor, as if the early '70s acid comedown has encroached upon their late-'60s dream. Bit like what actually happened, then. Best tracks? Possibly Dragon & Demons and closer, the proggish Flight Towards The Sun, although it's all good, when it comes down to it. Burt Rocket and Organ Morgan on 'Tron this time, with strings on Café Lola and the sort-of title track (again), very non-late '60s background choirs on Dragon & Demons and finally, a string part (and possible cellos) on Flight Towards The Sun.
So; two rather good retro-psych albums, covering a lot of ground between them, with pretty decent Mellotron use. What's not to like? Incidentally, as with the Smell of Incense, several non-album singles have also been released, but they're not going to be the easiest things in the world to track down, even in Norway, so whether or not there's any Mellotron on any of them shall have to remain a mystery for the moment.
See: The Smell of Incense
Total (1994, 58.08) **/½
Metropolis (1995, 57.28/61.30) **/T (T½)
Slaver av Solen (Gold)
Rød Himmel (Spellbinder)
Epilog (Spellbinder part 2)
Circus (The Circus)
Sort Dissippel (The Man With the Golden Helmet)
Nihil (Mother Earth)
[The Grandmaster Recordings adds:
Seigmen (named for a brand of sweets, apparently) were some kind of alt.metal outfit, with vocals that I'm tempted to describe as 'emo', although I doubt whether the band or their fans would agree. 1994's Total was their third album and their first to be recorded somewhere other than Norway. If I were feeling charitable, I'd describe most of its songs as 'slow-burners', slow, overlong tracks which go nowhere for five or six minutes at a time. I'm sure the lyrics are profundity itself, but even if I could understand them, I rather doubt I'd be that impressed, frankly. Sylvia Massy (Old Hickory, Showbread) produced, which almost certainly explains the presence of Michael S. Guerra's Chamberlin on Nephilia, presumably added during the US segment of the recording, with a brief flute part, although the cello and strings sound real.
Massy also produced their follow-up, '95's Metropolis (yes, that's a still from the film on the cover), also released in an expanded and really quite different English-language edition, Metropolis - The Grandmaster Recordings, which loses one track and half another, while adding three. To the untrained ear, it's almost indistinguishable from its predecessor, 'featuring' the same combo of overlong emo nonsense and, er, more of the same, although, in fairness, a couple of tracks manage to be less irritating. Two band members, Noralf Ronthi and Marius Roth, play Chamby this time round, with background strings on the opening title track (a.k.a. Give) and more upfront ones on (The) Circus, an acoustic guitar instrumental, plus strings and flutes on Octopus, one of the English-only tracks.
Goth/emo/alt.metal/whatever. Do you care? Can't say I do, especially with albums this long and this content-free. A little Chamberlin, but really not worth hearing on those grounds alone. No, really.
Operation B.O.M.B.A. (1999, 38.30) ***½/T
The Right Track (Baby)
Theme From "To Kill 89"
Bright Lights and You, Girl
Theme From "Mondo Edgar"
Do You Know the Way to San Jose?
Main Title & Love Theme From "Satan's Shriners"
It Had Better Be Tonight
The Seks Bomba Theme (Part 1)
The Seks Bomba Theme (Part 2)
Somewhere in This Town (2001, 42.36) ***/0
|Bomba Au Go Go
It Takes Two to Tango
Agua de Beber (Water to Drink)
Somewhere in This Town
Seks Bomba's schtick lies in playing (mostly) instrumentals in a '60s style. Not psych, not beat, more spy thriller themes, surf and easy listening; imagine mini-skirted girls go-go dancing to The Ventures while Bond and Blofeld reminisce and sip martinis at the bar. Shaken, not stirred, of course. Don't know about the martinis, though. 1999's fake soundtrack album, Operation B.O.M.B.A., is loads of fun, reminding you what's so good about the era's 'grown-up' music, as against all that Beatles rubbish. It'll all be over by next year, eh? George Hall plays Mellotron, amongst other keyboards, with string parts on Theme From "Mondo Edgar" and Do You Know the Way to San Jose?, which is probably all the album needs, really, and it's not often I say that.
Two years on and Somewhere in This Town has a few more vocal tracks and, somehow, is marginally less appealing than its predecessor. Too much of a good thing? Dunno, but it didn't conjure up the same mental images as Operation B.O.M.B.A., or indeed, any at all. While Hall is credited with Mellotron again, there's none obviously to be heard, so no idea what that's about.
If you like the sound of this lot, Operation B.O.M.B.A. is the one to go for, both musically and Mellotronically, although it's far from a major work on that front.
The Half-Baked Serenade (1997, 35.33) **½/½
|Joy, the Mechanical Boy
Crimes on Paper
Cinderblocks for Shoes
Song for Nelson
Cater to Your Ego
When You're Alone
Tennessee's Self could probably be described as 'pop/rock' without libelling them too badly. Of course, it's up to the listener to decide how well they do it... The Half-Baked Serenade is their second album, and I'm afraid to say, it largely bores me, with, well, half-baked excuses for songs like Joy, The Mechanical Boy or Cinderblocks For Shoes, although KiDdies is an amusing Marilyn Manson piss-take.
The Mellotron is apparently played by Chris James, although band leader Matt Mahaffey tends to play most instruments in the studio. We don't get an awful lot, anyway: a few seconds of strings on Crimes On Paper and Cinderblocks For Shoes, that you feel were almost hardly worth including. Overall, then, a rather unexciting release, although I'm sure the band have their fans. Next to no Mellotron, either.
Matt Mahaffey's MySpace page
Powerbill (1996, 35.26) ****/TT
|Sticks and Stones
Future for You
Coming Up Roses
Jenny Won't Play Fair
Don't Say Goodbye
The Sky is Falling
Black and Blue
|Johnny Come Lately
Life Goes on
Glasses and Braces
The Semantics were an early-'90s powerpop band featuring Zak Starkey on drums, Will Owsley on vocals and guitar and, early on, Ben Folds, who left before they recorded their sole album. Powerbill was recorded in 1993, but not released for three years, by which time the band had split; chalk up another record company balls-up. There's not a single duffer here, but highlights include Coming Up Roses, Jenny Won't Play Fair's glam-rock handclaps and the 12-string-driven Johnny Come Lately, with its killer key changes. This is in the same ballpark as The Grays, from the same era; would it be ridiculous to claim that the early '90s, in retrospect, could be considered the 'powerpop renaissance'?
Will Owsley and Millard Powers both play Mellotron, clearly real, although '93's a bit early for samples, anyway. Owsley plays flutes, strings and cellos on Coming Up Roses and strings on Don't Say Goodbye, with a 'solo' on the instrument in the middle eight of the latter, while Powers adds 'Tron strings to Black And Blue, to good effect. All in all, then, if you can actually find this excellent, long-deleted album, you're onto a winner, my friend. Powerpop heaven with Mellotron? Result. Buy (if you can).
Feeling Strangely Fine (1998, 50.20) ***/T½
Singing in My Sleep
Made to Last
Never You Mind
This Will Be My Year
|All Worked Out
She Spreads Her Wings
Gone to the Movies
I've seen Minneapolis natives Semisonic described as 'alternative rock'; alternative to what? Rock, presumably, as there's no getting away from the fact that they're full-on indie-schmindie (US division). In fairness, their second album, Feeling Strangely Fine, isn't entirely unappealing, with the Beatlesy piano-driven Never You Mind, with its weird lyrical sidetrack into Star Trek territory managing to hold my attention throughout its length. Pity about the cheesy Secret Smile, but there you go.
Plenty of vintage keys here, with Wurly piano and/or Hammond on at least half the tracks. Only one credited 'Tron track, with a nice string part on She Spreads Her Wings, which is odd, as it's also clearly audible on two others, with a string part on opener (and largish hit) Closing Time, and understated flutes on the other hit, Secret Smile, although the strings on DND sound real.
So, three so-so 'Tron tracks, but a medium-dull album, so don't go too far out of your way.
Holyland (2004, 53.35) ***/T
|Money Dulls the Pain
A Black Place
Life and Times
It Was Love
Lord of the Subtones
|Too Shy to Say
A Final Song
Tony Senatore is a session bassist, in some ways the four-string equivalent of yer GIT guitar guys, only with far more taste. Although its sleeve pic is enough to put the fear of God into all non-bassists, 2005's Holyland (which appears to be his only solo album to date), is more 'jazz' and less 'bass wankery', notably the flute-led It Was Love, the album's only vocal track, which could easily have been extracted from a mid-'70s New York soul/jazz effort. Best tracks? To my ears, they're clustered in the album's second half and include Lord Of The Subtones, Senatore's fuzz-bass lead on Apostrophe and the Baroque-esque Because.
Tom Brislin (Yes, Camel) plays Mellotron on Lord Of The Subtones, with a string part running through the song that I presume is real (he's used real machines before), although a long, sustained note at one point sounds slightly suspect. Although this is chiefly an album for other bassists, prog fans will most likely get something out of it, especially if they ignore the jazzier tracks here.
Shingenma Teisen (1984, 36.35) ***½/TBig Prologue
Vega Pejour Cruse (Flight #39)
Sadistic Psychic Tiger
Taiyo no Senshi
Beatoris no Kanzashi
Sense of Wonder were a keyboard-heavy Japanese outfit, led by Hiroyuki Namba, yet another in a long line of ferociously good ivory-ticklers from that country. I believe they debuted with 1984's Shingenma Teisen (or ... Taisen, transliterations vary), which veers between the pomp-and-circumstance of Big Prologue and Vega Pejour Cruse (Flight #39), the (ridiculous) straight-ahead hard rock of Sadistic Psychic Tiger, albeit with synths riffing instead of guitars and the 'classical rock' of Superbaroque Princess (complete with outrageously dated Simmons pads), the 'keyboard pomp' approach being the most popular.
Although the choirs on Big Prologue sound like early generic samples, Namba's strings and male choirs on Taiyo No Senshi are clearly Mellotronic, as are the few seconds of strings on Beatoris No Kanzashi, although the strings on closer Big Interlude sound real. Well, you're not going to track this one down easily - it took me ages to even find a download - but if you can cope with the cheesiness of most Japanese '80s prog, it's well worth the effort, although not especially for the Mellotron.
Lucky Shoe (1996, 47.24) **½/½
Setting the Old House on Fire
Fire Engine Red
What's Wrong With Alice
Mercy is the Red Bird
Cassandra on the Dance Floor
Little Lantern Face
Bring Back the Weight
September 67 were a one-off project from Shannon Worrell, whose '96 album, Lucky Shoe, is a sort of alt.country/indie crossover effort, which is about as appealing as it sounds (take that any way you like). It has its moments, notably the last two tracks, Little Lantern Face and Bring Back The Weight, but it begins to drag badly after a while, and could very well have been shorter without compromising itself.
David Lowery plays Mellotron, with string and cello parts on Giant that don't especially add to the track. Overall, then, a rather ordinary effort, although at least it doesn't overly pander to commerciality, which has to be a bonus. Absolutely not worth it on the 'Tron front, anyway.
Shannon Worrell's MySpace page
Night Collector (1995, recorded 197?-198?, 59.47) ****/TTTT
Kaiki part 1
Kaiki part 2
Satsui Henu Funade part 2
Sakin No Uzu
Sima He Kaerou
Papa To Isshoni
|Return of the Night
Shingetsu only ever released one album 'proper', a self-titled effort from '79, but Night Collector (possibly also known as Kagaku no Yoru) appeared in 1995, collecting unreleased Shingetsu material along with recordings by their earlier incarnation, Serenade. The two bands shared a vocalist (Makoto Kitayama) and keyboard player (Akira Hanamoto), but they sounded noticeably different, largely due to the differing guitarists. Due to my somewhat non-existent Japanese, it's difficult to tell when the material dates from, but I think it says the Serenade stuff is from around '76, with the Shingetsu being from '79 and (probably) later. Whatever, it's a more than worthwhile release, with the more symphonic Serenade stuff being particularly worthy of mention.
The disc breaks down as follows: tracks 1-5, Serenade, tracks 6-9, Shingetsu Mk.1, tracks 10-13, Shingetsu Mk.2. The Mk.1 Shingetsu stuff isn't that great, to be honest, but the Mk.2 tracks are as good as the Serenade ones, both of which feature Hanamoto's Mellotron pretty heavily. Kaiki Part 1 has some serious string swells, while Part 2 has 'Tron cellos on the intro, followed by a lengthy flute part. Satsui Henu Funade Part 2 (no part 1, it seems) sounds like it's going to be 'Tron-free until several minutes into the lengthy piece, as some sterling strings work rushes in, including a wonderful pitchbent chord at the end. Despite the tape hiss, the 'Tron flutes/strings/cellos of the under-two minute Syuumatsu are absolutely beautiful, proving Hanamoto-san to be a master of the instrument; why is he not more widely known? Two Mk.2 Shingetsu tracks have more strings/flutes/cellos (guess what tape set they had?), making for some serious 'Tron content, despite the four dodgier (note: not dodgy) tracks.
I found this by complete accident in a cheap CD section, only picking it up because of its striking sleeve design; as you can see, there's no band name on the cover, and I didn't even know there was a Mellotron on board. I can't see you being quite so lucky, but I'll put my reputation (which reputation was that?) on the line and say; buy.
See: Shingetsu | Makoto Kitayama with Shingetsu Project
It's a Record (2003, 53.50) ***/½
|Let's Play in D-Major
The Amazing Face of Grace
City of Greens
How About 25?
Tunes & Rhythms
Mediocre Magic Tricks
Let's Play in C-Major
Time Will Tell
Sergeant Petter (ho ho!), a.k.a. Petter Folkedal, is a Norwegian singer-songwriter with a strange countryish edge to his style, though not to the point of offensiveness; his debut album, It's a Record, is reasonably good in an Americana kind of way, although it left me a little cold, I'm afraid. Surprisingly for this stuff, the upbeat songs tend to work better, although I noticed a faint Richard Thompson influence on a couple of the slower tracks, though I expect it's just coincidence.
On the Mellotron front, played by Folkedal himself, I can't tell if the brass on Let's Play In D-Major is or not, but the flutes in Perfection most certainly are, but... that appears to be it. Very odd. Wonder if it's real? I mean, it's not like it once was, when bands would go into a studio and find a machine in the corner, which they might stick on one track; now you've got to hire one in specially, although that doesn't seem to stop plenty of other artists from using one in a somewhat minimal manner...
So; one for Americana fans, I suppose, but don't even think about it for the 'Tron.
Things to Come (1974, 36.02) ***½/T
Intercity Water Rat
Old Dog Song
Smog, Fog and Sunset
Fail to See
Things to Come
Dance of the Eloi
Psi-Fi (1975, 45.37) ***/½
|Return to Foreverland
Roads to Rome
Loved By You
Only the Beginning
Star Palace of the Sombre Warrior
Seventh Wave were one of those odd little British progressive bands who never escaped from the third division, saleswise, although they did actually have something to offer in places. Rising from the ashes of psych-monsters Second Hand (themselves Mellotron users), the duo of the (now sadly late) Kieran O'Connor and good keyboardist/bad vocalist Ken Elliott operated mainly in the short song format (these are only regular-length LPs), just with a 'progressive' feel, not to mention keyboards, so there's plenty of those mid-'70s instruments, largely ARP, Moog and EMS synths. The material on Things to Come is a little variable, to be honest, with the instrumental stuff tending to work better than the vocal. Apart from the above-mentioned synths and various pianos, there's some 'Tron on a couple of tracks, with a few string chords on Premonition and similar on 1999½, but they're not exactly classics of the genre.
For some odd reason, a (British) south coast minor cult apparently sprung up around Psi-Fi at its time of release, or maybe that was just among the sickos I know. Anyway, I'm afraid to say I think it's pretty ropey; Seventh Wave accentuated the vocal aspects of their music, which was, musically at least, a trip in entirely the wrong direction. Instead of their debut's two-piece band, they toured six or seven musicians, but the end result sounds, to my ears at least, like a bit of a mess, although it does pick up noticeably towards the end, on Camera Obscura and the ridiculously-titled Star Palace Of The Sombre Warrior. The only Mellotron on the album appears to be played by guest Hugh Banton (from Van der Graaf Generator), with about two string chords on Manifestations, although Star Palace... has some choirs that may or may not be real.
I can't really say these are lost classics, but Things to Come isn't at all bad, although neither album is even remotely worth it on the Mellotron front. A 1999 2-on-1 CD reissue apparently replaces Psi-Fi's lone 'Tron track, Manifestations, with its single version, so I've no idea if there's more 'Tron or even less.
See: Chillum | Second Hand
Long Player Late Bloomer (2011, 43.36) ***½/T
|Get in Line
The Reason Why
Believe it When I See it
No Help at All
Michael and His Dad
|Middle of Love
Every Time I Follow
Ron Sexsmith is a Canadian singer-songwriter, active for the last twenty years, whose eleventh album, 2011's Long Player Late Bloomer's superficially lightweight sound hides a considerable depth of compositional talent, as acknowledged by several of Sexsmith's songwriting idols. Best tracks? Difficult to say without giving the album the several close listens it deserves, not to mention the ever-present singer-songwriter problem (well, for me) that the lyrics are usually considered at least as important as the music, but Believe It When I See It, Late Bloomer and Middle Of Love are particularly strong.
John Webster plays Mellotron, with obvious strings on Believe It When I See It and Every Time I Follow, although several other tracks, not least the strings on Miracles and No Help At All and the flutes on closer Nowadays, feature sounds which may or may not be Mellotronic. So; a good, modern singer-songwriter effort that teeters on the edge of MOR in places, but somehow always pulls back from the brink. Not so sure about that Mellotron, though, not only on exactly which tracks it's to be heard, but even whether or not it's real.
Charlie Sexton (1989, 46.46) **½/T
|Don't Look Back
Seems So Wrong
Blowing Up Detroit
I Can't Cry
While You Sleep
For All We Know
Battle Hymn of the Republic
Cry Little Sister
Cruel & Gentle Things (2005, 43.31) ***/T
I Do the Same for You
Cruel and Gentle Things
Bring it Home Again
Once in a While
Just Like Love
It Don't Take Long
Guitarist/vocalist Charlie Sexton was a bit of a child prodigy, releasing a mini-album at fifteen and his first full album, with his brother, before the age of twenty. He's best-known, however, for playing in Bob Dylan's band for several years and several high-profile projects, including work with Lucinda Williams and Edie Brickell (for whom he played Mellotron on her 2003 effort, Volcano), amongst others.
1989's Charlie Sexton is his first solo album, consisting of the kind of rather safe, slightly bluesy Americana-inflected material peddled by the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan (a mentor of Sexton's) in his later work. Best track? Battle Hymn Of The Republic is about the pokiest thing on offer here, but everything's relative. Suffice to say, while inoffensive, it isn't the kind of album to set the world on fire, not helped by its dodgy '80s drum and keyboard sounds. All of which makes Patrick Warren's presence on Chamberlin all the more surprising, as it's one of the earliest 'tape-replay resurrection' albums I've encountered. He doesn't (obviously) use it a lot, mind, with flutes and strings on I Can't Cry and a few seconds of strings, with a major pitchbend, on closer Cry Little Sister, and while it might be hidden away elsewhere, it's not apparent enough to be, er, apparent.
Fast-forward to 2005 and Sexton releases Cruel & Gentle Things, clearly influenced by his long-term employer. It's a massive improvement on his debut, but then, the odious '80s are a distant (if unpleasant) memory, along with their vile production techniques. I'm not saying it's a classic, but tracks like opener Gospel, Burn and Once In A While make it perfectly listenable, in a country/blues kind of way. Three Mellotron players on three tracks: Kevin Lovejoy plays flutes and wavery strings on the title track, Carter Albrecht does nothing audible on Once In A While, while Sexton himself adds strings to closer It Don't Take Long.
Charlie Sexton really isn't that exciting an album, to be frank, although I've heard worse by several orders of magnitude. Its worst crime is probably to be trapped in its time, soundwise, although it's never going to win any awards for imaginative songwriting, either. Or tape-replay use, but then, that was pretty much a given, really. Cruel & Gentle Things is a better proposition all round, if hardly a classic, but at least you can hear the Mellotron on a couple of tracks.
Seeds (2007, 52.31) ***/T
Thought I Knew Ya
Will it Go Round in Circles
Goin' to the Country
There Go I
Right Where You Belong
Still Think About You
How Far I've Come
Wild Angels (Reprise)
Keep it Simple
Martin Sexton is a singer-songwriter who draws from folk, country, soul and gospel traditions, all of which make his sixth studio album, 2007's Seeds, possibly slightly too diverse for its own good, better tracks including Marry Me and multi-overdubbed a capella closer Keep It Simple. Several tracks, including Marry Me, feature Sexton's trademark trick of feeding his voice through a fuzzbox and singing 'guitar' solos, which works far better than you might think.
Tom West plays Chamberlin, with a brief flute part on I'm Here and more of the same on Marry Me, although I can't hear anything else obvious. Overall, a middling kind of record, possibly too far from the folk end of things for my personal taste, but good at what it does, despite its low levels of tape-replay.
The World Will End on Friday (1978, 37.05) ***½/TWhite Room
World Will End on Friday
Shaa Khan are one of those rather second-division German progressive bands who ended up on the Sky label, presumably because Brain didn't want them. They're not bad, exactly, just not that great, either. The World Will End on Friday is a mid-paced sort of affair, with White Room (not that one) and Graveyard being the best tracks, albeit a little unexciting.
The only Mellotron on display, played by Horst Schlechtriemen, is some choir on the title track, but I wouldn't rush out to buy it on those grounds, to be honest. An OK album, but not exactly something to quicken your heart. It's been unavailable for many years, along with its successor, Anything Wrong? (***½), but both albums have just been reissued by German label Sireena, who seem to be tackling the bulk of the Sky catalogue.
Eyewitness (1999, 46.34) ***/½
|Edge of the Century
Sputnik (Watching Over You)
Stranger By the Day
One Starry Night
Speed of Light
Shades Apart, at least on their fourth full album, 1999's Eyewitness, are at the better end of pop-punk, filling the album with songs catchy enough to chart (as, indeed, Valentine did), yet not cheesy enough to repel the more serious listener. The album's actually stuffed with potential singles, not least Edge Of The Century and 100 Days, so it's surprising that they only had the one hit from it; once the public became aware of them, surely they would have bought others? Maybe their label didn't release any.
Bassist Kevin Lynch doubles on Mellotron, with a distant string part on the quiet bit of Valentine, although that seems to be your lot. Most of you aren't going to like this - I'm not really sure that I like this, either - but it does what it does perfectly well, which is more than you can say for a lot of the crud on this site.
Welcome to the Freakroom (2006, 45.26) ****/TTTShadow Circus
In the Wake of a Dancing Flame
Journey of Everyman
a. So it Begins
b. Find Your Way
c. Journey's End
Shadow Circus' name gives the impression that they're yet another half-arsed prog-metal band, which couldn't be further from the truth (well, not much). They're actually a new New York-based outfit, nothing like Shadow Gallery and their ilk; actually, Spock's Beard are a distinct influence, in the way the band meld newer and more 'traditional' forms of progressive rock, using piano like few other modern bands, alongside keyboards old and new. Welcome to the Freakroom's highlight is undoubtedly three-part closer Journey Of Everyman, although mock-AOR classic Radio People raises a wry smile, and, in truth, there's nothing here to offend the open-minded prog fan, with next to no nasty neo- influences to be heard.
Zach Tenorio plays keys, including (hopefully real) Mellotron, with choirs on the opening title track, strings on Storm Rider and Inconvenient Compromise, strings, flutes and choir on Radio People and choir (and strings?) on Journey Of Everyman. As so often these days, it's difficult to tell whether or not they're real, but this stays here until/if I find out otherwise. Welcome to the Freakroom is an excellent debut, well worth your time and money, with plenty of 'Tron, real or otherwise. Buy.
Watercourse Way (1976, 41.34) ****/T½The Shape of a Word
Book of Hours
Song for My Brother
Shadowfax (yup, another Lord of the Rings reference) are best-known for their rather dull '80s work on pioneering New Age label Windham Hill, assuming anything about the label could be described as 'pioneering'. However, the Chicago-based act had been in existence in one form or another since 1972, releasing the original version of their debut album, Watercourse Way, in 1976. So, is it full of wussy Chuck Greenberg Lyricon passages? Is it fuck. This is great, dynamic mid-'70s American prog, with nary a hint of the blandness to come, full of angular riffage and fab instrumental interplay, with the energy of a fusion band, without the jazziness. Some combination... The Shape Of A Word and Linear Dance stick pretty closely to this template, while Petite Aubade, with its vague renaissance feel (era, not band), or the title track's proto-World Music stylings could be seen as a portent of things to come, or simply as gentler progressive pieces in the context of a high-energy album.
There's no one overriding instrumental texture on the album, with Greenberg's wind instruments (acoustic and electric) being more or less prevalent on different tracks, alongside G.E. Stinson's ripping guitar work, particularly on acoustic, and Doug Maluchnik's keyboards. Speaking of which, it's alleged that Maluchnik used a Chamberlin on the album, but he's assured me that it's definitely an M400, not that he uses it very much; a short burst of strings in opener The Shape Of A Word, and a brief orchestrated section opening Petite Aubade, leaving the nearest the album gets to full-on use being closer Song For My Brother, although 'full-on' is something of a misnomer, actually translating to 'a bit more than anywhere else'.
Watercourse Way was reissued on Lost Lake Arts, a Windham Hill subsidiary, in remixed form; I've no idea whether or not the Mellotron parts survived the remix, and I don't feel inclined to track a copy down to find out, to be honest. The band went on to considerable fame and fortune, incorporating 'World' influences into their laid-back chillout style, before Greenberg's untimely death at the age of 45. The album's original release wasn't entirely obscure, being on the worthy Passport label, and is worth keeping an eye out for, although I suspect you're unlikely to find a copy outside the States. Happy hunting!
See: Armen Chakmakian
Shades of Rock (1970, 34.40) ***/T½
Johnny B. Goode
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
River Deep, Mountain High
What'd I Say
The Shadows, eh? To Brit rock fans of a certain age, the Shads will always be fondly remembered, not so much as Cliff Richard's original backing band, but as the nearest thing our post-war, just post-rationing country got to the spirit of American rock'n'roll. In those dark days post-rock's initial surge, when it looked like the whole thing could've just been a flash in the pan, The Shadows kept the dream of guitar-based music alive, holding the forces of Light Entertainment at bay, and in the absence of anything even remotely resembling rebellion in the media, the Shads, and Hank in particular, provided a focus for Britain's future guitar elite; almost all the major names who came up in the '60s have quoted Mr. Marvin as an influence. Unfortunately, with the benefit of considerable hindsight, they look as safe as milk, and were probably the first Heritage Act, decades before the term meant anything.
In case you've never heard them, their schtick was the Guitar Instrumental, with the melody line taken by guitar, usually with unfeasible amounts of mild whammy-bar action. After their original run of hits, they took to making albums of reasonably current songs, delivered in their own inimitable style, aimed at their already ageing audience, a position they've held till the present day. It's easy to sneer at The Shadows' squeaky-clean image and middle-aged takes on other peoples' songs, but it's just as easy to forget the massive impact they had on a whole generation of British musicians, many of whom went on to conquer the world, metaphorically speaking. Hank was allegedly the first UK muso to own a Fender Strat, a guitar that still looks cool and space-age over fifty years later, although the whole band went through a dodgy phase of using and endorsing the British Burns guitar range, whose unfashionability is only matched by their extreme ugliness.
Shades of Rock was The Shads' ninth non-compilation album, and was actually recorded after the (non-)'original' band had split, temporarily losing co-guitarist Bruce Welch. Unsurprisingly, even in 1970, it's a collection of mostly laid-back instrumental versions of already well-known songs, including some from the original rock'n'roll era, which had probably already attained the status of a 'golden age', even then. Nothing here offends, but then, nothing The Shadows do ever offends; they are inoffensiveness incarnate, then and now, so while a few tracks are interestingly re-interpreted, nothing exactly leaps out at you as innovative. The faux-rebellious sleeve looks a little silly now, too, assuming it wasn't meant ironically, which I doubt. Wonder who the 'biker' model was? Agency bloke, I expect. Nice BSA, though.
The album's prominent keyboards were played by 'the undisputed king of library music composers', Alan Hawkshaw, who adds Mellotron to their slightly 'tribal' take on The Beatles' Paperback Writer, with saxes in the verse and flutes in the chorus, plus flutes in George Harrison's major Beatles contribution Something, although that's it on the 'Tron front. I've actually been keeping an eye out for a cheap copy of this for years, since seeing a mention of its Mellotronic contribution in Record Collector magazine; for once, I haven't been let down by someone's faulty hearing or lack of knowledge of what a Mellotron actually is. Anyway, despite a couple of passable 'Tron tracks, you really don't want to buy this for that reason. Hey, I buy 'em so you don't have to.
See: Cliff Richard
Alya (2000, 87.30) ***/TT
The First Inquisition
The Dark Kingdom
The Last Drink
Shakary seem to be more of a project than a band, led by multi-instrumentalist Scandy. Although they're based in Switzerland, there's a noticeable connection with current Italian proggers Clepsydra, with one of the other two 'full' members involved, while their vocalist guests throughout. Their debut, Alya, is a slightly over-ambitious double CD featuring some sort of Biblical concept, although it manages not to be too intrusive. The music? Somewhere between several progressive styles, to be honest; I hear classic symphonic, '80s neo-prog and the more modern hybrid style of Spock's Beard et al., with the latter tending to dominate.
I'm not personally that blown away by the album; it's overlong, while short on ideas, particularly in the melody department, although there are some nice moments here and there. It's pretty derivative, too; other online reviews have pinpointed bits of IQ (specifically their Subterranea opus, oddly), and a very 'Waiting Room'-like piece in Pain! I really don't like Aluisio Maggini's voice, either; it tends to grate, and he over-emotes at every opportunity. Good points? Carlo Cantini's violin interjections stand out (it's the first sound you hear on the album), and the occasional use of Stefano Pista Salvadè's trumpet is unusual enough to be noteworthy, but the persistent digital synths scattered all over the place drag the whole thing down - in my humble opinion, of course. Anyway, the (real, studio) Mellotron is played by secondary keys man Giovanni Galfetti. It certainly isn't overused, with not-especially-overt string parts on Sunset and Seals on disc one, and some polyphonic flutes on disc two's The Dark Kingdom, with some more upfront strings on Babylon and Open Skies.
So... Some of you will love this; some of you won't. I'm willing to accept that it may grow on me with subsequent listens, but I suspect not by that much. It most certainly has its moments, but there's far too much unnecessary faff, and editing it down to a single disc should've been pretty easy; after all, if the fantastically verbose Dream Theater managed to trim their surprisingly excellent Scenes From a Memory to below 80 minutes, why can't this bunch? Anyway, a so-so release, with a modicum of 'Tron, but I've certainly heard better in the last few years. Incidentally, their second album, 2002's The Last Summer 'features' some rather poor 'Tron samples and is reviewed here.
Laundry Service (2001, 49.20) ***/½
Underneath Your Clothes
Ready for the Good Times
Te Dejo Madrid
|Poem to a Horse
Que Me Quedes Tu
Eyes Like Yours
Te Aviso, Te Anuncio (Tango)
Laundry Service is by far and away Colombian superstar Shakira Ripoll's best-selling album, at least to date. I have to admit, I was expecting a typical American light, fluffy pop record, so I was pleasantly surprised to be presented with a bright'n'breezy, Latin-flavoured pop/rock album (I was unaware of Shakira's nationality, I'm ashamed to say). No, this isn't exactly going to be a regular fixture on my stereo, but it's so nice to listen to a mainstream album and not have my beleaguered ears assaulted by lowest common denominator crud, and to know that the young lady in question has written and produced the album herself. She sets out her stall from the off, with the Latin intro to Objection (Tango), and even though the songwriting quality fluctuates (Te Dejo Madrid), I have to give this the thumbs-up simply for not offending me.
Keyboards are played by Lester Mendez, so I presume it's him on Mellotron flutes on The One. There may be some background strings on one other track, but it's difficult to tell, so it stays unhighlighted. Y'know, I'm not even sure where I found out there was 'Tron (or is it Chamberlin?) on this album; there's no credit in the booklet, and I can't find any 'Net reference. Sounds like it, though... So; not one for you progheads (you mean you're even READING this?), but rather better than expected. Minimal 'Tron, though.
Paradise (1975, 39.38) ***/TT½Apollo
End of the Rainbow
1953 Blue Boogie Children
Stunt jazz guitarist Warren Harding "Sonny" Sharrock had a chequered career, dropping out of music entirely at one point, despite having worked with Miles Davis, amongst other luminaries. 1975's Paradise was one of the few times he recorded with his then wife, Linda (they divorced three years later), an album of which he went on to express embarrassment, probably due to Linda's er, 'eccentric' vocal contributions, which do their level best to undermine hubby's hard work. It's best described as a funk/jazz crossover record, years before the horrible jazz-funk scene of the '80s and totally different in character, the jazz part taking the lead on most tracks, although opener Apollo is an excellent, Clavinet-led funk workout.
Kenny Armstrong plays Mellotron, with strings all over opener Apollo and Miss Doris and strings and thick, meaty cellos on End Of The Rainbow. This might've got another half star were it not for Mrs Sharrock's warblings; her close-mic'd 'vocal' gyrations on Apollo really have to be heard to be believed. Yup, it's experimental, but how often do experiments fail? Often. Anyway, this is approximately half good, with some decent Mellotron work on three tracks; Sonny died in 1994, making sure he couldn't object to Water Music's reissue of his work.
Official Sonny Sharrock site
Rev 9 (2000, 27.37) ***½/TTOn the Airwaves
Wood and Silver
The Shazam, presumably named for either the Move album or the cheeso US late '70s superhero TV show, play an appealing mixture of powerpop and the music made at the point where beat became psych. 2000's mini-album Rev 9 seems to be their fifth release, after four full-length albums; possibly because of its under-half-hour length, the band don't put a foot wrong, with material as strong as On The Airwaves or Okay making this a must for powerpop fans. Well, anyone fookin' cocky enough to title a track Revolution 9 can't be all bad... It's not actually a cover of The Beatles iconic cut-up, but incorporates elements of that piece's approach into its six-minute length.
Brad Jones plays Mellotron, with flutes and strings on Wood And Silver, alongside what sounds like real violins and cellos, plus strings on Take Me and distant choirs on Revolution 9, which is rather more than I expected, I have to say. So; an all-round good listen, with just enough Mellotron to keep tape-replay fans happy. Worth the effort.
The Radical Light (1992, 49.47) **½/0
|Searchin' My Soul
The Radical Light
100 Tears Away
Wake Up the House
Good to Yourself
Love Will Come and Go
|Out on the Town
Songs From Ally McBeal (1998, 43.01) **/½
|Searchin' My Soul
Ask the Lonely
Walk Away Renee
Hooked on a Feeling
You Belong to Me
The Wildest Times of the World
Someone You Use
The End of the World
Will You Marry Me?
It's in His Kiss (the Shoop Shoop Song)
I Only Want to Be With You
Ally McBeal: A Very Ally Christmas (2000, 37.24) **½/0
The Man With the Bag
Please Come Home for Christmas
Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow
Winter Wonderland (Macy Gray)
Run, Rudolph Run (Jane Krakowski)
|Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney (Lisa Nicole Carson)
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (Jane Krakowski)
Santa Baby (Calista Flockheart)
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
River (Robert Downey, Jr.)
White Christmas (Robert Downey, Jr. & Vonda Shepard)
What Are You Doing New Years Eve
Ally McBeal: For Once in My Life (2001, 62.20) *½/0
|For Once in My Life
Don't Think Twice, it's All Right
Chances Are (Vonda Shepard & Robert Downey Jr.)
Every Breath You Take (Robert Downey Jr. & Sting)
You and Me
Snakes (Robert Downey Jr.)
Reason to Believe
|How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (Al Green)
When the Heartache is Over (Tina Turner)
You're the First, the Last, My Everything (Barry White)
Love is Alive (Anastacia & Vonda Shepard)
Alone Again (Naturally)
Can We Still Be Friends
It's Not Unusual (Tom Jones)
Boom Boom (Chayanne)
Chinatown (2002, 39.16) ***/0
My Whole World
Lose My Way
Rain or Shine
Promising Grey Day
Vonda Shepard is best-known for her role in the tedious Ally McBeal, where she not only appears most weeks singing in the characters' favourite bar, but even sings the title song. Bit of a result, that... She actually released her eponymous first album in 1989, and spent the early '90s struggling in LA, before being picked up for the show by its producer. She released her first tape-replay album, The Radical Light, in 1992, best described as 'mainstream pop/rock', I think. Her voice is fine, for those who are interested in such things, but the music is entirely anodyne, blandola nonsense, which means it's more popular than nearly everything I like. David Campbell plays viola and Mellotron on the record, though I'll be buggered if I can hear where he uses the latter. The strings on a handful of tracks sound sampled, and there isn't even a hint of the flutes, the usual fallback for minor-use 'Tron albums.
Shepard's first McBeal album, 1998's Songs From Ally McBeal, is a bland (mostly) covers collection, although, in fairness, that was precisely what the series apparently required. All tracks are performed in a safe, light country-rock style, with far too much pedal steel for my liking, although Shepard has an excellent voice, which I'd like to think is the only reason the programme's producers chose her. Yeah, right. Worst track? Hard to say, although her ugly reinterpretation of the great Tell Him (anyone else remember late-period denim-clad UK glamsters Hello's killer version?) is pretty awful, as is her balladic take on I Only Want To Be With You. One Chamberlin track, from Jebin Bruni, with a reasonable string part, once again sounding quite like the real thing on Will You Marry Me, but not exactly the sort of thing that'll have you rushing out to your local rekkud store. The following year's Heart & Soul: New Songs From Ally McBeal is often referenced as having Chamberlin contributions from Mitchell Froom (later to become Shepard's husband), but the detailed track-by-track credits in the CD booklet make no mention of it, and listening to the album proves inconclusive (not to mention boring). Is that Chamby strings or some form of generic sample in Confetti? The Chamberlin's propensity for merging seamlessly into a mix goes against it here, making it near-impossible to tell whether or not it actually appears at all.
It is credited, however, on 2000's part-compilation, Ally McBeal: A Very Ally Christmas, where half the songs are sung by Shepard and the other half by various cast members, oh, and Macy Gray. It's dull, but even an old 'bah, humbug' type like myself can't entirely object to an album of Christmas songs performed in a bland but generally inoffensive manner, although I probably should. Patrick Warren's credited with Chamberlin, but yet again, while several things might be it, none are definite, so although it's credited, I can't reasonably highlight anything. 2001's Ally McBeal: For Once in My Life works on the same 'half Vonda' basis and is the usual selection of smooth-as-silk mainstream balladry, making it about as inessential a listen as it could be. I mean, she (or rather, her arrangers) turn Dylan's Don't Think Twice, it's All Right into complete slush, which is quite a trick. Least offensive track? Anastacia and Shepard's Love Is Alive, which at least manages to inject a little Clavinet-led funk into the proceedings. David Campbell's credited with Mellotron on Home Again and Alone Again (Naturally), but it's completely inaudible under the real strings on both tracks.
2002's Chinatown is back to Shepard's own material, away from McBeal, but proves to be barely any more interesting than anything else she's done, I'm afraid. Co-producer Mitchell Froom is credited with Chamberlin, but I'll be buggered if I can hear it amongst the real strings, though I'm sure it's doing its usual trick of hiding away in the background somewhere. So; a batch of somewhat dullsville records, the Ally McBeal ones doing good business at a charity shop near you. Despite four definitely credited Chamby albums, there's next to nothing to be heard across the lot of 'em. What a waste of time.