White Light Riot
Willard Grant Conspiracy
The William Blakes
Caught in the Crossfire (1980, 41.50) **½/T
|Turn on the Radio
Baby Come Back
When Will You Realize?
Cold is the Night
Caught in the Crossfire
Get What You Want
|I'll Be There
Monkey Business, 1972-1997 [as John Wetton & Richard Palmer-James] (1998, 60.48) ***/T
Too Much Monkey Business
The Night Watch (live)
|Rich Man Lie
The Laughing Lake 1
The Good Ship Enterprise
Book of Saturday (demo)
Book of Saturday (live)
The Glory of Winning
|The Laughing Lake 2
The Laughing Lake 3
The Laughing Lake 1977
Doctor Diamond 1997
Progfest '97 (1997, 21.03) ****/TT[John Wetton Band contribute]
In the Dead of Night
John Wetton really shouldn't need any introduction, having played with (deep breath) Family, King Crimson, Roxy Music, Uriah Heep and UK, and that was before the reprehensible Asia in the early '80s. Caught in the Crossfire can actually be seen as a precursor to said band, sadly, being a pretty commercial effort, Wetton having taken the poppier side of UK and run with it, certainly going by the Jobson-alike piano parts on some tracks. Actually, this is pretty duff, if I'm going to be honest (and when am I not?). Cheesy and 'commercial', but with few memorable songs, although I've got a nasty feeling opener Turn On The Radio could stick like glue. About the best moment here is Cold Is The Night, a reasonably atmospheric ballad with shitloads of Mellotron, with a flute part being replaced by choirs and overdubbed strings, although that's it for the album. Y'know, you really don't need to own a copy of this; I paid a fiver for it, and it was four quid too much - more fool me. This was probably the last time Wetton used a 'Tron, although he actually brought one along to Heep, who let him play it occasionally.
'94's Battle Lines and 2003's Rock of Faith both feature samples, leaving the only other solo Wetton 'Tron as Monkey Business, 1972-1997, credited jointly to him and lyricist Richard Palmer-James, who wrote the iconic lyrics to Mark 3 Crimso tracks like The Night Watch and Starless. Versions of both appear on the album, the former live in Brazil, '91, the latter in heavily edited form as a studio cut from '97. Many of the remaining tracks are brief snippets of studio and live work - the kind of stuff that's usually denoted as being 'for completists only', which is how 24 tracks fit onto a one-hour disc. Actually, Wetton completists really do need this, given that it contains versions of several tracks that (to my knowledge) aren't available anywhere else, not to mention a long-overdue studio take on Crimson's Doctor Diamond. Wetton plays Mellotron on The Good Ship Enterprise, recorded early '76 with Bill Bruford on drums, opening with cellos, before shifting into a lovely strings part under the double-tracked guitar solo. With only one 'Tron track, this archive release is probably about as essential as Caught in the Crossfire, although a better listen all round.
So; although Caught in the Crossfire's a waste of space, with one decent 'Tron track, Monkey Business is more worthwhile, entirely due to some of its material dating from the '70s, although it's on a par on the 'Tron front.
Incidentally, John played at Progfest '97 with a band including IQ's Martin Orford, who was persuaded to play a real Mellotron on the night. They get three tracks on the album, with (unsurprisingly) nothing on UK's In The Dead Of Night and Rendezvous 6:02, but the expected string part on a slightly truncated Starless. It doesn't seem likely that the rest of their set will appear at any stage in the near future, and I've no idea what else may be on it 'Tronwise, sadly.
See: Asia | Family | King Crimson | Roxy Music | Uriah Heep | Progfest
Bonfires (2007, 37.08) **/T
|Gladys Don't Be Sad
Cameras in California
As Sweet as Your Love
Shine a Little Light
City of Love
|Fields of Green
Kirk Wheeler released his first album in 1997 as Jitterwheel, although he went 'legit' for its follow-up, '99's Pelican Soup. Although he's not exactly the biggest name ever, someone's pumped some money into him (so to speak); his fifth album, 2007's Bonfires, features a whole slew of known session guys, not least producer Zac Rae (Macy Gray, Lisa Marie Presley), although (as a result?) the end result is the kind of bland singer-songwriter fare that's tailor-made for background music on TV nonsense like The O.T. or whatever. The gutsy Bullfight's about the best thing here, but that isn't saying much.
Rae plays Chamberlin, with background strings on Cameras In California, background cellos and strings on Dry Wood and background flutes on Fields Of Green; spot the connection? Everything about Wheeler seems to be background; just for once, dude, write something that actually grabs your audience's attention. Suppose that's no way to get lucrative TV contracts for your music, though.
Gynt (1997, 39.24) ***/TT½
|At the Wedding
The Abduction of the Bride
Peer Gynt and the Herd Girls
Peer Gynt and the Woman in Green
Great Folk May Be Known By the
Mounts That They Ride
In the Hall of the Mountain King
|Dance of the Mountain King's
Peer Gynt Hunted By the Trolls
Peer Gynt and the Boyg
The Death of Åse
The Thief and the Receivers
Peer Gynt's Serenade
Peer Gynt and Anitra
Peer Gynt at the Statue of
Peer Gynt's Homecoming/
Stormy Evening on the Sea
Solveig Sings in the Hut
Whitsun Hymn: "Blessed Morn"
Solveig's Cradle Song I
(8 String Loops)
Solveig's Cradle Song II
(4 String Loops and Birdsongs)
Psychedelic Wunderbaum (1998, 42.24) ***/TT½
Young Feet Flush
|The Intrepid Traveller
When are effectively Norwegian psychonaut Lars Pedersen's one-man band, allowing him to experiment to his heart's content. And experiment he does. Despite his work having little metal content, several of his album's are apparently revered on the Norwegian black metal scene for their overall darkness, which says more to me about what black metal enthusiasts really like than any number of torched churches.
1997's Gynt is, as you might expect, a severely mutated version of Grieg's best-known work, with 26 tracks squeezed into forty minutes. Pedersen has described it as, "A satiric play on Edward Grieg's Peer Gynt. Inspired by Henrik Ibsen" and he ain't kiddin'. Parts of it are recognisable, but more isn't than is and what is usually ends up mutilated almost beyond recognition. Is this what happens when it's impossible to escape your country's most famous work? This is properly weird-arse shit, a typical mangling being The Death Of Åse, which 'features' a rhythmic 'beep' throughout, that becomes a solid tone at the piece's conclusion, heart monitor-style. Pedersen plays Mellotron strings on Dance Of The Mountain King's Daughter, The Death of Åse (playing the main melody line over a Residents-style atonal backing), a descending line on The Thief And The Receivers, Peer Gynt's Serenade and Whitsun Hymn: "Blessed Morn", all to decent enough effect.
1998's Psychedelic Wunderbaum is better described as 'psychedelic cut-up' than dark per se. I won't pretend it's the easiest of listens, but who wants easy listening? Go and listen to James Last if that's your bag. In fact, since writing that, I've realised that Pedersen was a founding member of supposed Mellotron users The Last James, which is a strange piece of synchronicity, non? Pedersen on Mellotron again, with unusual cello use on opener Time Ago, 'stabbed' strings on Extremist Cow, high strings throughout As-Speak-You-Are and more normal ones on Young Feet Flush and Kali.
So; two rather odd albums with some reasonable Mellotron use amongst the weirdness (and occasionally contributing to it). Not easy listens, but potentially rewarding ones.
So We Are (1980, 41.58) ***½/TTTT½Return
Freedom in Me
So We Are
Gimme a Shine
Gonna Be Wild
So We Are was Whipping Post (presumably named for the Allmans song)'s second album, after their eponymous debut, and, unsurprisingly, has quite a blues influence running through it. In fact, I'd go as far as to call it a late-period blues/prog album, a style that fell out of favour in the UK in the early '70s. It's not a bad record, but lacks anything to make it particularly stand out, apart, of course, from its Mellotron work. C.B. Busser goes absolutely hell-for-leather with the thing; in fact, I can't detect any other keys on the album, which rescue it somewhat from blues/rock anonymity.
Freedom In Me sounds like nothing less than a prog version of Neil Young's incomparable Like A Hurricane, with 'Tron strings replacing the original's Stringman; Christ, they even use the same guitar tricks! Saturday'n Sunday has some distant choirs, more strings on Preball, brass on Your Love, then back to the choirs for the title track and Gimme A Shine. Strings on Gonna Be Wild, finishing with choirs again on Pioneers, making for a ridiculously Mellotron-heavy record, although little of the use is that outstanding. If you want to hear OTT 'Tron laid over blues/rock, though, this is going to become your favourite album.
See: C.B. Busser
Pneumonia (2001, 53.34) ***/T
|Ballad of Carol Lynn
Don't Wanna Know Why
Reason to Lie
Don't Be Sad
Sit and Listen to the Rain
Under Your Breath
What The Devil Wanted
Crazy About You
Poor Little Knitter on the Road (1999, 3.53) ***/½[Whiskeytown contribute]
Chamberlin (?) used:
Whiskeytown were formed by ex-punk Ryan Adams (who gets very, very angry when he's confused with Bryan) in 1994, along with Caitlin Cary and others. Along with The Jayhawks and a handful of others, they can probably be said to have invented alt.country, mixing pre-Nashville schmaltz country with rock and even punk, reinventing the genre and actually making it at least semi-palatable to non-country fans. Pneumonia was their third and last album, released two years after the band's premature split, which probably contributed to that event. It's a good record, although I can't say I hear any classics, although I'm sure fans would disagree. Maybe the almost-powerpop of Don't Be Sad?
Now, no tape-replay instruments are actually credited on the album, but given various peoples' involvement, not to mention the evidence of my own ears, it seems likely that something was used, probably a Chamberlin, with strings on Don't Be Sad and flutes on Mirror Mirror, with a couple of vague possibles elsewhere. Played by...? Unknown, although Ethan Johns is a possibility, given his work on subsequent Adams albums. Anyway, given the lack of any actual credits here, it could be generic samples dirtied up until they sound like a tape-replay instrument. Who knows?
So; a decent enough record if you're into the style, but not enough (real?) tape-replay to make it worthwhile on that front.
See: Ryan Adams | Caitlin Cary | Poor Little Knitter on the Road
Ramshackled (1976, 38.51) **/½Ooooh Baby (Goin' to Pieces)
One Way Rag
Spring-Song of Innocence
Marching Into a Bottle
Darkness, Pts. 1-3
As I'm sure you all know, Alan White replaced Bill Bruford in Yes in 1972, remaining with the band through all of their subsequent lineup trials and tribulations. I don't think it's that contentious to say that, while as solid a player as you like, he is in no way a stylist, playing workmanlike parts where Bruford would shine, which isn't to denigrate his contribution to the band over the decades.
Anyone who knows anything about the band will be aware of the 'solo albums project' of 1975-6, which brings us to a lesser contribution to the canon, Ramshackled, one of the later releases (Jon Anderson's jaw-dropping Olias of Sunhillow was last). I've heard bad things about this over the years, while having never actually heard it for myself. Well, they weren't wrong: White recruited his old buddies from an unsigned outfit named Simpson's Pure Oxygen; while the playing is perfectly competent, the material leaves a great deal to be desired, unless you have a yen for bland, r'n'b-influenced mid-'70s rock. Opener Ooooh Baby (Goin' To Pieces) is fairly typical, grinding its way through over five minutes of faceless, funk-free funk, while One Way Rag's middling rock is about as dull as it gets (unbelievably, Yes, briefly played this one live). More listenable moments include Spring-Song Of Innocence (the nearest the album gets to sounding like Yes), the flute/clarinet-led Marching Into A Bottle and (presumably) part two of closer Darkness, but to be blunt, this is an artistic disaster.
Many thanks (I think) to Max for spotting the album's Mellotronic content: we get a few seconds of strings opening Spring-Song Of Innocence, presumably from album keys man Kenny Craddock, distinctly different to the real strings on Giddy, but that really is your lot. Do you need to hear this? I don't think so, no; it was finally made available on CD by Wounded Bird a few years ago, but I can't imagine they've sold that many copies, even allowing for White's history. It has its moments, but you can easily live without them.
How Lucky I am (1999, 43.56) */0
|Everywhere I Turn
You're Still Beautiful to Me
Love Me Like You Mean it
God Gave Me You
Love Happens Just Like That
Two in a Million
How Lucky I am
You'll Always Be Loved (By Me)
Bryan White is the kind of modern country singer who barely even counts as 'country'. His fourth album, How Lucky I am, is more 'adult contemporary' than Nashville, despite being recorded there; the only traditional touches are pedal steel and (admittedly well-played) fiddle. Some online reviewers are more charitable than others (I don't count his rabid fans on Amazon), saying things like 'the material's above average', to which all I have to say is: how low do you have to go to reach 'average'? This is utterly horrible, lowest common denominator schlock of the nastiest order, cheesier than the entire Pizza Hut chain, slicker than the Exxon Valdez, squeakier-clean than the Carpenters having a sleepover at the Osmond household. I mean, just look at his horrid, smug expression on the sleeve; would YOU buy a used concept from this man? I've tried manfully to a) listen to the album without skipping through tracks and b) find anything even remotely nice to say about any of it, but I've been defeated. Defeated by shite.
A gentleman named Taz Bentley is credited with Mellotron, but I'll be buggered if I can hear the sodding thing; it's probably buried away under the ubiquitous strings for a few seconds somewhere. Anyway, this is one of the most distressing albums to which I've had the displeasure to listen over the last several years and I can only urge you to run, VERY FAST, in the opposite direction should White's name ever come up in conversation. Vile, vile, vile. I feel soiled. Apart from that, it's fine.
Official record company site
Tuff & Stringy: Sessions 1966-68 (2003, 56.02) ***/½
Hong Kong Hillbilly (a.k.a. Nashville West)
Make Up Your Mind
Grandma Funderbunk's Music Box
Guitar Pickin' Man
The Sandland Brothers:
Vaccination for the Blues
Don't Pity Me
Gotta Go See the World
The Kentucky Colonels:
Everybody Has One But You
|Gib & Jan:
Tuff and Stringy
I'm Tied Down to You
I'll Live Today
Not Enough of Me to Go Around
If We Could Read
Rocks in My Head
The Kentucky Colonels:
Made of Stone
Adam & Eve
The Great Love Trip:
Why Can't We Be
Jan & Clarence:
Tango for a Sad Mood
If We Could Read (backing track)
Clarence White (the family name was Anglicised from LeBlanc when they moved to California) is best known for his time with The Byrds, although he spent much of the late '60s working with musician/producer Gary Paxton, a time documented on 2004's Bakersfield Rebels. The previous year's Tuff & Stringy: Sessions 1966-68, released under White's name (he is, of course, featured on every track), seems to be the first compilation of various singles and session tracks from the era, recorded at the Bakersfield International studio. Highlights include the amusing Mother-In-Law (Paxton) and Guitar Pickin' Man (Wayne Moore), more for their lyrics than the music, although White's fans will swoon over some of his subtle string-bending (he co-invented the Telecaster string bender, later used by Jimmy Page, amongst others) and instrumental layering.
Someone, possibly organist Carl Walden, plays what I'd imagine is the studio's Chamberlin (as likely as not a MusicMaster 600) on White's own Last Date, with what seems to be a single string note at the beginning of the song, held for the full eight seconds, never to be heard again. Fans of White's groundbreaking playing probably already own this, but I can recommend it to anyone who loves his playing on the several Byrds albums on which he played. Tragically, White was killed by a drunk driver in 1973, robbing the world of a major guitar talent; this album fills in some of the gaps in his short career.
See: Bakersfield Rebels
Venusian Summer (1975, 38.56) ***½/½Chicken-Fried Steak
Away Go Troubles Down the Drain
The Venusian Summer Suite
Pt. 1: Sirènes
Pt. 2: Venusian Summer
Prelude to Rainbow Delta
Prince of the Sea
Lenny White shot to prominence at the tender age of twenty, in 1969, after drumming on Miles Davis' seminal Bitches Brew, going on to play with Return to Forever throughout the '70s. It's therefore hardly surprising that his first solo album, 1975's Venusian Summer, is a through-and-through fusion record, although it has its quieter moments, not least the ominous first part of The Venusian Summer Suite, Sirènes. The playing on the rest of the album is probably most accurately described as 'fiery', notably on Mating Drive, featuring some of the most ridiculously athletic bass playing this side of a, well, fusion bassists convention, I suppose, from the outstanding Doug Rauch.
Loads of White's mates play on the album, including no fewer than four different MiniMoog players, plus Onaje Allan Gumbs on Mellotron, amongst other things. Mind you, if you can spot where it might be, you're doing better than me; it might just be providing either strings or flutes in the deep background on Mating Drive, but not so's you'd really notice. Overall then, a superior fusion album, avoiding some of the genre's clichés whilst accentuating others, but in a good way. Maybe you have to be American to play this kind of stuff this well? Don't know, but fusion fans need this album a great deal more than Mellotron ones.
Star is Just a Sun (2002, 44.34) ****/T½
Love is So Real
Although The White Birch have been reviewed on some progressive sites, they have more in common with the quieter end of, say, Radiohead, Low, or more obviously, Iceland's wonderful Sigur Rós. 2002's Star is Just a Sun is apparently a major departure for the band, probably best described as melancholy; a far better word than 'miserable', which just makes me think of the likes of The Smiths. This is really quite gorgeous, actually, deserving a far wider audience than the one it doubtless has, although at least being on Glitterhouse should give the wider world a passing chance of becoming aware of their existence.
It's difficult to pick standout tracks on one listen (you think I have the time for multiple plays of new albums?), but opening instrumental Air sets the scene nicely, with most of the album being in a similar vein, only a couple having any percussion at all. The vocal work is reasonable, but I'd have been just as happy had the album been instrumental, although that wouldn't do the band's prospects any good, I suspect. Ola Fløttum plays the occasional Mellotron part, with sparse flutes towards the end of Donau Movies and what sounds like distant, heavily-reverbed choirs on Glow, leaving Breathe as the album's only real 'Tron track, with a flute part to die for.
So; very much recommended, particularly if you're in a mellow frame of mind (and no, that isn't a drug reference), although there's not an awful lot of Mellotronic involvement.
Strange Bedfellow (1993, 37.23) ***/TSnow
Behind the Locked Door
The Way We Were
Coloured Mind Drops
White Heaven were Japanese Quicksilver/Doors referencers, going by their second album (of four), 1993's Strange Bedfellow. The band coalesced out of '80s psychsters Living End, releasing their first album in '91 and refining their sound for the follow-up, which sounds almost exactly like a lost artefact from 1969, tracks like the rocking H.L. and the gentle Behind The Locked Door typifying their acid-drenched approach.
New guitarist Soichiro Nakamura plays a decent chordal Mellotron flute part on closer Mandy Blue, which almost sounds like it's from a different album. I've seen this described as a 'psych classic'; I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it's definitely worth the effort for fans of jammed-out guitar psych. You'll never find a vinyl original and it's apparently 'unlikely' ever to appear on CD (why?), but it's available from download blogs.
Phylactery Factory (2008, 45.54) ***/½Destruction of the Art Deco House
Dreaming of the Plum Trees
Home Town Hooray
Lindberghs & Metal Birds
A Beast Washed Ashore
Napoleon at Waterloo
Hung on a Thin Thread
White Hinterland are clearly the brainchild of Casey Dienel, whose strangely childlike, almost tuneless vocals pervade her first album under that name, 2008's Phylactery Factory. Try to imagine Joanna Newsom reinvented as an ethereal jazz spirit haunting New England (go on, try), and you might be getting close to their sound. I can't say it especially appeals to your esteemed reviewer (in fact, I find her voice highly irritating), but it's been critically lauded and is certainly a work of some intelligence and invention, so what do I know?
Dienel plays Mellotron, amongst other keys, with occasional flutes on Lindberghs & Metal Birds, although that would appear to be your lot. So; if you like the idea of slightly jazzy, downbeat singer-songwriter oddness, you may just go for Phylactery Factory, although I really can't recommend it on the Mellotron front.
Atomism (2007, 46.01) **/T
Out of Sight
In a Shotgun Whirlwind
Our Formative Capital
Forever in the West
White Light Riot play US indie in almost exactly the same way as every other US indie outfit, so while nowhere near as irritating/downright offensive as that terrible 'MOR rock' thing they've got going on over there, nor are they actually at all, you know, exciting. 2007's Atomism is their second album and their sole release (to date) on an actual label, as against self-released. What's it like? It's like US indie, almost entirely devoid of character, without even the benefit of any decent tunes to liven things up a little. I'm succinct, me.
Now ex-guitarist Joe Christenson plays (real?) Mellotron, with a string part towards the end of Transit State and the same on Tourniquet, plus background flutes on Choice Theory, although any other possible parts appear to be something else. This is very dull indeed, so with little Mellotronic input, real or otherwise, I feel honour bound to advise you to go elsewhere.
Style No. 6312 (2000, 39.26) **/T
|Appeals for Insertion
Crashing the Clarion
Call the Kiss
Piss and Vinegar
Crossing the Rubicon
|No Resolution Theory
This is Not a Subsistence Existence
Guts and Black Stuff
Style No. 6312
I couldn't honestly tell you into which tiny sub-sub-subdivision of The Beast Called Rock White Octave fit. Emo? Indie? Post-grunge (whatever that might be)? Going by their first (of two) albums, 2000's Style No. 6312, they seem to be quite upset about something, and while I've no idea what, they go on about it for nearly forty minutes of shouty nonsense, so it must be getting to them fairly badly.
Drummer Robert P. Biggers Jr. plays Chamberlin, although the only thing that seems even slightly likely is the long, long sustained string chord that starts in Guts And Black Stuff, continuing into the title track. But it sustains for ever... This could be a) studio trickery (been there), b) samples or c) real strings. Who knows? Chamberlin's credited, so I'd like to think Chamberlin's present, but in this game, you never can tell... Can't say I recommend the album on any other grounds, either.
White Willow (Norway) see:
White Wing (1975, 38.05) ***½/TTT
Wait Till Tomorrow
The White Ship
A Little Levity
White Wing were precursors to the (marginally) better-known Asia (vastly superior US version), and sound a great deal more 'mid-'70s', for the pretty fair reason that that's when they existed, I suppose. Rather than Asia's full-on frontal assault, White Wing played a rather sort of middling hard rock, with even the heaviest tracks (Patent Leather, A Little Levity) being slightly on the tame side in comparison, which isn't to say they were bad, just a bit generic. Actually, some of White Wing's best tracks are the quieter ones, not least opener Hansa (Cygnus) and its closing reprise, Hansa (Aquila), lush ballads stuffed full of Mellotron strings, making the former a slightly odd first track, though effective nonetheless.
Speaking of which, there's strings on three more tracks, played by guitarist Mike Coates, who reprised his dual role a few years later in Asia. All five of the album's relevant pieces feature it fairly prominently, although the 'Tron never gets quite as in-yer-face as on the first and last tracks. So; now this is readily available (albeit at Jap import prices, and probably unofficially), do you bother? Well, don't expect anything much like Asia, and you won't be too disappointed, although its 'Tron input is pretty reasonable. Good, but not outstanding.
Forgive or Forget (2010, 35.40) ***/½
|Raining in My Heart
There Was Love
Day Without Words
Truth and the Eyes of the Dead
|Cold, Cold Kisses
Jenny Whiteley is the daughter of Canadian blues musician Chris Whiteley, although her preferred oeuvre is largely gentle, country-influenced material, going by 2010's Forgive or Forget. It's a good album within its genre, which, of course, stands or falls on the quality of its songwriting more than most, although my favourite track is the one that deviates furthest from the formula, the vaguely Neil Young-ish Truth And The Eyes Of The Dead.
Producer Steve Dawson and Chris Gestrin play Mellotron, with background flutes on Truth And The Eyes Of The Dead, although given that I can't hear anything else, I'm not sure why it took both of them to produce a fairly minor part. Anyway, a superior country album, without the western. Incidentally, there's another Jenny Whiteley Mellotron album, 2006's Dear, which I shall review when I get to hear a copy.
Eternal Nightcap (1997, 63.36) ***/T
Buy Now Pay Later (Charlie No.2)
Love is Everywhere
You Sound Like Louis Burdett
Where's the Enemy
Life's a Beach
|Tangled Up in Blue
Laugh in Their Faces
Up Against the Wall
Band on Every Corner
I'm assured The Whitlams are a pretty cheerful bunch most of the time, but it seems Eternal Nightcap is largely about a friend of their who committed suicide the previous year; several of the tracks are about him, including the three 'Charlie' ones (thanks to Adrian for that info). A few tracks up the ante and the pace, including Love Is Everywhere and Up Against The Wall, but most of the album relies on an almost alt.country laid-back feel, not to mention the waltz-time folk of Band On Every Corner, although the rest of it's nearer the rock/pop mainstream than that.
Mellotron on one track only, Melbourne, with band leader Tim Freedman playing 'Strawberry Fields'-style flutes, mixed with real strings in places, although the 'Tron's well down in the mix. As a result, not a 'Tron album in any way, although Melbourne is worth hearing. Incidentally, this is one of those irritating albums that has several blank minutes before a hidden 'bonus' track, although unlike most similar efforts, this one has snippets of early takes of various tracks, with the guy who died (Stevie Plunder) talking dolefully about why he left the band superimposed over some of it.
Din of Ecstasy (1995, 47.29) ***/0
O God My Heart is Ready
Can't Get Off
|Some Candy Talking
Guns and Dolls
Ultraglide/Days of Obligation
Chris Whitley is that rare thing: an artist who actually deserves the label 'alternative'; over the course of his career, he shifted through various styles, landing on a alt.rock/electric blues hybrid by the mid-'90s and Din of Ecstasy. It's a good singer-songwriter effort and while its rock element sounds a little dated fifteen years on, the power of Whitley's songs remains undiminished, particularly Can't Get Off, New Machine and the 'hidden' track at the end, the acoustic slide blues of Days Of Obligation.
Andy Rosen is credited with Mellotron on opener Narcotic Prayer, although whatever he contributed is entirely lost in the mix. Din of Ecstasy's a good album of its type, although had its style been a little more timeless, it would probably stand up better today. As a postscript, Whitley's lifestyle sadly caught up with him in 2005 and he died of lung cancer in November of that year.
God & a Girl (2008, 61.50) **/0
|Cost of Being Free
Faith Don't Fail
Don't Look Down
Behind the Scenes
Holding on to Me
Not Through With You
In This Hour
Traces of You
Day of the Lord
Joy Whitlock considers herself a 'prodigal', going by the biography on her website; preacher's daughter gone bad, before 'God caught up with her' at 21. Well, good for God, I say. Of course, untold numbers of people actually believe that 'He' is omnipotent (even if they can't spell it) and is actually able to pinpoint individuals and haul them up from the depths to which they've sunk. Yeah, whatever. Do none of them ever consider that it might have been THEMSELVES that did the 'hauling up'? Give yourselves some credit, people... The end result, in this case, is a Christian artist who, going by her first full-length album, 2008's God & a Girl, makes upbeat pop/rock CCM, which is at least preferable to the drippy 'oh God I LOVE you!' variety. There's still plenty of that in the lyric department, but at least the music is only 'modern pop/rock' awful, rather than 'typical CCM' awful. Is this an improvement? Slightly, yes, but only slightly.
Rick Steff plays Mellotron on Cost Of Being Free, which proves the worth of track-by-track credits, since if I didn't know, I wouldn't know, if you know what I mean. Is there anything in there at all? Anything? Why bother? I don't get it. Anyway, one of the less nasty CCM albums to which I've subjected myself recently, which shouldn't be taken as a recommendation in any way, shape or form.
From Philly to Tablas (1977, 35.19) ***/TTTT
What Have You Seen
Rain Swollen Highway
Nine Day Sunflower
Oh Boy, I've Won The Contest At Last
As far as anyone knows, Stephen Whynott released just two LPs in the late '70s, 1977's From Philly to Tablas and the following year's Geography. He operated in the rather overwrought end of the folk-rock spectrum, sounding rather out of time in '77, although the US market seemed to support various supposedly 'outdated' styles past their alleged sell-by dates, probably due to the country's size. From Philly to Tablas was the only one to feature the Mellotron, and despite Whynott's emoting, it has its moments, not least its two longest tracks, Go Around and Snows Edge [sic], the former featuring a great solo Hammond part, and the latter some classy echoed Rhodes work, both from Dan Frye.
Frye also played Mellotron on several tracks, with flutes, cellos and strings in opener Retreat Suite, piercingly high strings on Rain Swollen Highway, cellos and strings on Without Us, flutes on Go Around... Seems like this is another unsuspected 'Tron-heavy album (plus real oboe), and is worth picking up for its 'Tronness, should you feel so inclined. I hear that although this has never been issued on CD, it sold surprisingly well at the time, all things considered, and isn't impossible to find for a few bucks. You may not warm to Whynott's dated material, but the Mellotron use here is excellent, so pick it up if you see it at a decent price.
Steve Wiggins (1991, 35.30) **½/T
|Don't Ya Think
Jesus is Real
Dancin' in Sunshine
|Knock it Off
All the Darkness
Steve Wiggins' self-titled 1991 debut is a rootsy Christian pop/rock/soul album. How does that sound to you? Something you'd like to hear? Sample lyric (from Dancin' In Sunshine): "Mom, I just don't understand creation/well I asked the preacher/he just says it's better than evolution..." I rest my case, m'lud. In all fairness, it's not that bad musically, if entirely generic, but Wiggins' lyrics will really divide opinion, his evangelical drivel sitting uneasily next to Motown-esque brass and organ arrangements, turning an average-to-above-average effort into something with which most of us aren't going to feel too comfortable.
Frank Weber plays Mellotron, a flute arrangement opening Dancin' In Sunshine, reiterating throughout, although the Mellotronish strings on the track more than likely aren't. Despite being fêted at the time of its release, Steve Wiggins is brought down by its author's faith, quite certainly turning a potential audience away and relegating him to the Christian ghetto. Dare I say, "Serves him right"?
Titans Wheel (2002, 68.05) **/T½
|Remains to Be Seen
Drive on Driver
Win Your Love
Drinks on the House
|Good Mornington Street
The Lost Lizard King (Ababacab)
To the Other Side
Heaven in a Modern World
That's the Way (Someone Chanted Evening)
Some Several Moons (2005, 60.54) **½/T½
Deep Pop (Before the Only One Comes)
Squaw Valley Non-Event
|Tokyo Joe (One Roll From Paradise)
Banging on the Ceiling
Cacobe Bar Two-Step
I was warned that these two recent Wigwam albums bore little in common with their excellent '70s work and my informant/supplier (hi, Johannes) wasn't wrong. Wigwam, led by Brit ex-pat Jim Pembroke, were a damn' good band in their day, and were one of the few progressive bands from a non-English speaking country to actually achieve some wider recognition. After splitting in the late '70s, they released Light Ages in 1993, then nothing until 2002's Titans Wheel [sic]. I'm afraid there's only one way to describe this album, particularly when you consider how good some of their original albums were: pseudo-commercial dreck. This is a very mainstream record indeed, although it's dated for when it appeared; maybe you can get away with this sort of thing in Finland? It would be generous to describe most of the songs as poor AOR with a blues influence; I certainly can't imagine the international audience taking this to their hearts, to be honest. As if another fault was needed, the album is overlong, with several tracks dragging on for two or three minutes longer than necessary, all assuming you considered them necessary in the first place. The most embarrassing part of an already poor album is Pembroke's jokey ending, where he merely sounds like a man out of time, referencing Sinatra and other singers from the era. Grim.
Finland's Mellotron player to the stars, Esa Kotilainen, adds 'Tron to a handful of tracks here. There's strings and 'Strawberry Fields' flutes on Remains To Be Seen, with more of the same on the title track and a neat descending/ascending string line on closer That's The Way (Someone Chanted Evening), although that's the only good thing about it, plus faint choir/strings/flute on Bitesize. It sounds like it could be Mellotron on one or two other tracks, but the uncredited flutes sound real, and the strings don't quite have that strained quality about them (is the quality of Mellotrons not strain'd? Sorry).
The reconstituted band followed up three years on with Some Several Moons, which manages to be better than its predecessor, although I wouldn't take that as any sort of recommendation. The horrible AORisms are largely absent, replaced by a more 'down home' feel on several tracks, which, while rather uninteresting, isn't actually offensive. The mostly-spoken Squaw Valley Non-Event is about the best track, showcasing Pekka Rechardt's guitar work nicely, but this isn't an album to which I can see myself returning very often. OK, ever. Kotilainen gets his 'Tron in again, with more of those 'Strawberry Fields' flutes in the background on Chord Squad, and a more straightforward part on Bow Lane, although the album's best 'Tron work is the layered flutes on Squaw Valley Non-Event (also featuring cellos). Background strings on Tokyo Joe (One Roll From Paradise), exceedingly faint flutes on Cloudy Dream, and that's yer lot.
So; some of Wigwam's '70s work is very fine indeed, but neither of these albums is worth your time or money, sadly. Maybe their Finnish fanbase will buy anything with their name on the cover, but these records absolutely do not cut the mustard internationally. Some OK 'Tron work, but overall, avoid.
See: Esa Kotilainen
Summer Teeth (1999, 53.09) ***/TT½
|Can't Stand it
She's a Jar
A Shot in the Arm
We're Just Friends
I'm Always in Love
How to Fight Loneliness
When You Wake Up Feeling Old
In a Future Age
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002, 51.56) ***/T
|I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
War on War
Ashes of American Flags
Heavy Metal Drummer
|I'm the Man Who Loves You
Pot Kettle Black
Sky Blue Sky (2007, 51.26) ***/T
You Are My Face
Sky Blue Sky
Side With the Seeds
Shake it Off
Please Be Patient With Me
Hate it Here
|Leave Me (Like You Found Me)
On and on and on
Wilco (the Album) (2009, 42.46) ***½/T½
|Wilco (the Song)
Bull Black Nova
You and I
You Never Know
The Whole Love (2011, 56.23/75.07) ***/T
|Art of Almost
Dawned on Me
Rising Red Lung
One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)
Summer Teeth, as in 'some are teeth... and some aren't'. Boom boom. Wilco's third album continued the vaguely 'alt.country' feel of their first two, but with added Mellotron on a few tracks. Can't Stand It has some nice strings under the chorus from Jay Bennett, and both She's A Jar and ELT feature some decent pitch-bend work; no samples here... Like several other similar things I've heard, the Mellotron tracks tend to be the best on the record (biased? moi?!), and I found the rest of the album a little overrated. By the way, I've been (humorously) berated for not giving this a rave review, so I gave it another shot and have decided I may've been a little unfair. It doesn't really ring my bell, but Sparklehorse et al. fans may well be into this. Not great, but certainly not bad.
They belatedly followed it with 2002's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, after lineup upheavals that had founder member Bennett moving on. Far more downbeat than its predecessor, it's a good album, but one I suspect the listener will have to work at, as it's far from readily accessible, but since when was that a bad thing? Obvious 'Tron on two tracks, presumably from Bennett, despite his general lack of involvement in the recording process, with an upfront strings part on Pot Kettle Black, and some muted cellos on lengthy closer Reservations. It took the band another five years to come up with another tape-replay album, 2007's Sky Blue Sky. It's roughly comparable to their earlier work, although the alt.country quotient may be down slightly. Pat Sansone plays Chamberlin and Mellotron, with inaudible Chamby something on the title track, Mellotron strings on Side With The Seeds, and some other inaudible things on Hate It Here and Leave Me (Like You Found Me), making all of one audible tape-replay track. Hmmm.
2009's Wilco (the Album) is definitely a Wilco album, but maybe slightly better. Why? Difficult to define, but the songs just seem to grab me a little more, along with nice touches like the amusing George Harrison pedal steel quote from My Sweet Lord on You Never Know. No-one's credited with anything, as such, but that's probably Mellotron (as against a Chamberlin, that is) flutes on One Wing and a nice string part on Everlasting Everything. 2011's The Whole Love is yet another inconsistent Wilco album, highlights (I Might, Black Moon, twelve-minute closer One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)) mildly scuppered by a raft of Wilco-by-numbers material that could/should have been pruned to improve the overall health of the album. Seemingly two Mellotron tracks, from Sansone again, with a string swell on Art Of Almost that pretty much opens the album and background strings on Open Mind, although it could well be present on anything up to three or four other tracks. For that matter, is it even real? Hard to tell, frankly.
So; five good albums in their field, though they're not going to be to everyone's tastes, with the first the better Mellotronic prospect. Incidentally, there's also 'Tron on one track of the band's second Billy Bragg collaboration, Mermaid Avenue Vol.II, though it's really not worth writing home about.
See: Jay Bennett & Edward Burch | Golden Smog | Billy Bragg & Wilco
This Can't Be Life (1996, 45.40) **½/½
Wake Up Sad
The Wild Colonials formed after Angela McCluskey moved to California from her native Scotland and teamed up with a group of like-minded musicians. Their schtick is faux-Irish roots-rock, although I don't believe there's a genuine Irishman/woman amongst their number. 1996's This Can't Be Life is their second album, filled with rather ordinary songs with an Irish feel to them, which is either going to make you say, "Hell, yeah!" (or similar) or... it isn't.
Jon Brion plays Chamberlin, although not so's you'd notice. Is that background flute on Coy? If it is, it's the nearest this dullsville album gets to any tape-replay content. I don't think I need to elaborate.
See: Angela McCluskey
Heroine (1995, 43.28) **½/T
|I Don't Want to Think About it
On My Own
Everything That Rises
Give it Up
Everybody Loves You When You're Dead
Twist (2000, 56.06) **½/0
Love Song 3000
|All I Want
I Know You're Gonna Break My Heart
Wrong to Let You Go
Wild Strawberries are the Toronto-based married couple duo of Ken and Roberta Carter Harrison, who've been making albums, with varying commercial success, since the late '80s. The fact that they've played Lilith Fair probably tells you a good bit about how they sound; perfectly pleasant, but a bit wet, in a typically indie manner. 1995's Heroine features nice instrumentation in places (plenty of Wurly piano), although the '808 kit' credited on a few tracks wears one down pretty quickly. Ken (the duo's sole songwriter) plays inaudible Mellotron on I Don't Want To Think About It, while Fall has a very audible flute part and Fine a lesser one.
Two albums later, 2000's Twist is, essentially, more of the same, only longer, so if lightweight indie-pop's your bag, you've come to the right place. Is there a best track? Yup: their rocky cover of Gloria Jones via Soft Cell's Tainted Love. Harrison (K.) supposedly plays (real?) Chamberlin on All I Want, but I've no idea what it might be doing. Incidentally, one oddity here is the series of brief, silent tracks, interspersed with bursts of ambient noise, separating the two covers that end the disc from the rest of the album. Why?
So; if Canadian female-fronted indie is your bag, go for it. As for the rest of us... Extra marks, though, for the wonderfully ironic 'fifties' domestic goddess' sleeve design on Heroine and the title of their latest album, Deformative Years.
Space Flower (1990, 41.43) ***½/½
|Melting Blue Delicious
I'm a Lighthouse
Sea of Tranquility
The Wild Swans came out of the same Liverpool scene as Echo & the Bunnymen and Julian Cope's Teardrop Explodes; in fact, mainman Paul Simpson is ex- of the latter band. Their '80s incarnation never fulfilled their initial promise, splitting up before recording an album, then reforming after various members found more success with the likes of The Lotus Eaters. Space Flower was their second (and last, at least in this form) album, following '88's Bringing Home the Ashes, and is best described as Scouse psych, along the lines of The Icicle Works, whose Ian McNabb actually guests on the record. It's one of those albums that will almost certainly grow on me should I ever give it enough plays to give it a chance; an initial listen highlights the title track and I'm A Lighthouse, but there's nothing genuinely bad here, and at 40-odd minutes, it doesn't outstay its welcome.
Now, this Mellotron business: Simpson is credited with playing one, that I've even seen described as his 'trademark'. Er, huh? While I'm grateful to my hobby for introducing me to this band, I'd never previously heard of him and was only vaguely aware of his band. I know it's credited, but the only thing here that sounds even slightly like a 'Tron is the strings on Magic Hotel, and I wouldn't actually put money on them being genuine. This is in pre-'Tron sample days, of course, but the 'Mellotron' could easily be some variety of string synth, or a combination of several string sounds. Impossible to tell, to be honest.
Anyway, a good album, with a full-on psych blowout in ten-minute plus closer Sea Of Tranquility, but not a 'Tron album by any stretch of the imagination. Incidentally, the band's record company (Arista) were so fuck-useless that they didn't even originally release this album in the band's home country; Sire finally released both albums as a set entitled Magnitude in 2007, which quickly disappeared, at which point US reissue label Wounded Bird picked them up. Once again, this is only available on import; plus ça change...
Golden Daze (2007, 40.55) **½/T
|421 (Everybody Loves You)
Hard on Me
It's Alright Now
Way Down Low
All Get Away
Where Has Goodness Gone
|Someday We Can Fly Away
Please Don't Go
I've seen Wildbirds' 2007 debut, Golden Daze, described as 'a timeless record', to which I can only say: Sir, you are deluding yourself. It's a thoroughly average, early 21st-century indie album, guitars thrashing away to no particular effect, although they stick in the odd exception to the Velvets-esque rule like All Get Away or Someday We Can Fly Away to attempt to relieve the boredom.
Matthew Reetz plays a Mellotron flute melody on Where Has Goodness Gone, but we're not talking the most essential use etc. etc. All in all, dull, little Mellotron, don't bother.
Mojave (1999, 62.12) ***½/½
|Another Lonely Night
Color of the Sun
The Work Song
How to Get to Heaven
Go Jimmy Go
I Miss You Best
Cat Nap in the Boom Boom Room
Love Has No Meaning
Right on Time
The Willard Grant Conspiracy are essentially Robert Fisher plus whoever, although he formed the band with Paul Austin in the mid-'90s. 1999's Mojave is their third studio album and second to be recorded at Boston's all-analogue Zippah Studios, an alt.country set crossed with what I've seen described as 'American Gothic', which sounds about right. Top tracks include opener Another Lonely Night, which sets out their stall, The Work Song and slow-burning, eight-minute closer The Visitor, which builds to a massive crescendo without ever once entering post-rock territory. Not so sure about 'odd man out' Go Jimmy Go's hardcore approach, mind...
Someone (probably studio owner Pete Weiss) plays faint Mellotron strings on I Miss You Best, although that would seem to be your lot. I first saw a reference to Weiss playing Mellotron with the band years ago, so it's good to finally nail down an otherwise uncredited performance. So; good album of its type, but next to no Mellotron.
The Way of the Warrior (2010, 52.48) **/½
|Caves and Light
Mountains and Valleys
The End of the World
The Way of the Warrior
Three Brothers (Trois Frères)
The Next World
After the Kill
The William Blakes (ho ho) are a Danish pop group who, despite their relatively traditional lineup, sound more like Take That crossed with, say, The Flaming Lips, of whom they are big enough fans to name their debut album after that outfit's frontman, Wayne Coyne. Their third album, 2010's The Way of the Warrior, is a pretty insipid affair, I have to say, heavy on limpid, chart-friendly material and light on substance. About the best things here are the ambient-ish Forest Spirit and the percussion-heavy The Next World, but that really isn't saying much.
Kristian Leth plays (real?) Mellotron, with nothing obvious on The End Of The World or Pocahontas and naught but an occasional high string line on Three Brothers (Trois Frères), while Bo Rande adds flutes to Come Closer. So; a very dull, frequently irritating record with next to no Mellotron, which might not even be real. Why do I bother? I mean, why?
The Green World (2000, 42.41) ***/½
|Playing to the Firmament
And a God Descended
What Do You Love More Than Love
We Learned the Sea
I Won't Be Your Yoko Ono
Calling the Moon
|I Had No Right
It Happens Every Day
My Better Self (2005, 49.56) ***/TT½
|Teen for God
I'll Miss You Till I Meet You
Blue Light of the Flame
Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
Two Sides of the River
So Close to My Heart
You Rise and Meet the Day
Dorothy "Dar" Williams is usually described as 'pop/folk', which is probably as good a description as you're going to get. She's essentially a protégé of Joan Baez, who's also covered several of her songs, which probably gives you a good idea of where she's coming from. 2000's The Green World is her fourth full album of original material, and, while very worthy, isn't the kind of record that makes this reviewer's heart quicken. I hate myself for saying that, as Williams strikes me as the kind of person this world could do with more of, but her music's a bit lightweight, in my humble opinion; as so often, the message seems to be more important than the medium, which is generally left to fend for itself. There seems to be some confusion over whom, exactly, plays Mellotron on the album: Stewart Lerman's a definite, Steuart Smith's a possible and ex-Hooter Roby Hyman's a rank outsider. No big deal, anyway, as all you get are a brief string part on And A God Descended and possibly a few seconds of flute somewhere else, but we're not talking major 'Tron use here.
Five years on, and Dar releases another Mellotron album, 2005's My Better Self. The album sounds ever so slightly more muscular, although I've no idea whether or not this is deliberate. Dar covers a couple of classics this time round, with good versions of Neil Young's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and, bizarrely, Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb. In direct contrast to The Green World, although only one musician is credited with playing Mellotron (Julie Wolf), it's on several tracks, with strings on I'll Miss You Till I Meet You, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and (quietly, sadly) Comfortably Numb, flutes and strings on Blue Light Of The Flame and flutes on You Rise And Meet The Day and The Hudson, although none of it's that overt.
Overall, then, two albums at the pop end of the folk spectrum. Williams has a lovely voice, a far easier listen than Baez' shrill soprano, but too much of her material's a little too inconsequential for my tastes. On the Mellotron front, don't bother for The Green World, but My Better Self's rather, er, better.
Visions (1977, 31.02) **/T
|Time on My Hands
I'll Forgive But I'll Never Forget
I'm Getting Good at Missing You
In the Mornin'
Missing You, Missing Me
Some Broken Hearts Never Mend
Fallin' in Love Again
We Can Sing
|I'll Need Someone to Hold Me (When I Cry)
Expert at Everything
Don Williams is an old-school country singer, whose 1977 release, Visions, despite its 'traditional' sound, is rather more listenable than you might expect, although that may well depend on how much country you've been subjected to over the years. As someone from a country where this isn't the default setting, it strikes me as harmless enough, but it's easy to understand how Williams' slightly hokey, downhome philosophy and mainstream sound could drive music-lovers to distraction/homicide. Better tracks include I'm Getting Good At Missing You and closer Cup O'Tea, but I can't imagine they'll endear this to anyone other than fans of the genre.
Probably for financial reasons, someone (more than likely Charles Cochran) plays Chamberlin strings on several tracks, notably Time On My Hands, I'll Forgive But I'll Never Forget, Some Broken Hearts Never Mend (the album's hit) and Cup O'Tea, although his use is complicated by the solo violin that crops up here and there. To be honest, most of you are going to hate this with a vengeance, so with so little obvious tape-replay use, whether or not I recommend this is a bit of a no-brainer.
Two [as Kathryn Williams & Neill MacColl] (2008, 39.34) ***½/½
Innocent When You Dream
Come With Me
Before it Goes
Holes in Your Life
The Quickening (2010, 37.44) ***½/½
|50 White Lines
Just a Feeling
Winter is Sharp
Wanting and Waiting
Cream of the Crop
|There Are Keys
After her 1999 zero-budget debut, Kathryn Williams came to the general public's attention when she was nominated for the 'prestigious' (it says here) Mercury Prize for the following year's Little Black Numbers. Five albums later, 2008's Two is a duet with Neill MacColl, a gentle, all-acoustic album of the pair's heartfelt songs, the kind of music that is often called 'folk', but isn't. Top tracks include Innocent When You Dream and Blue Fields, but there isn't anything here that should offend the discerning ear. Williams plays Mellotron herself, with flutes on opener 6am Corner, although the strings on Shoulders are real.
2010's The Quickening combines relatively upbeat material with the kind of haunted folk that goes down well at Planet Mellotron, highlights including Just A Feeling, the mandolin-fuelled Winter Is Sharp and closer Up North. Leo Abrahams (The Smoke Fairies) plays (real?) Mellotron, with a high, distant string line on Noble Guesses (ho ho) and cello on Little Lesson, although I'm not fully convinced it's real. Anyway, two decidedly decent acoustic singer-songwriter albums (yes, with a little touch of folk for good measure), although very little Mellotron.
Official Williams/MacColl site
Little Honey (2008, 64.44) ***/½
Circles and X's
Tears of Joy
Little Rock Star
Well Well Well
If Wishes Were Horses
Plan to Marry
It's a Long Way to the Top
I've been waiting for Lucinda Williams to turn up here for years; somehow, she's the kind of artist you feel really should use a Mellotron (or Chamberlin) at some point. And here she is, with 2008's Little Honey, repeating the successful 'part rock/part country' formula of her breakthrough, 1998's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, leading to weird juxtapositions like the mournful Plan To Marry sitting cheek-by-jowl with Williams' superb rock'n'roll (OK, more rock'n'roll) take on AC/DC's iconic It's A Long Way To The Top that closes the record.
Rob Burger plays Mellotron on Little Rock Star, with what I have to assume is an otherwise uncredited vibes part, as nothing else on the track sounds even close. Overall, then, another worthwhile Lucinda Williams album, but as for that 'finally on Planet Mellotron!' brag, only just.
Mark Williams (1975, 36.19) **/T
|Gimme Little Sign
Get on the Right Road
Love the One You're With
Let Love Come Between Us
Sail on White Moon
Ain't No Sunshine
Jimmy Loves Marianne
Yesterday Was Just the Beginning of My Life
A Perfect Love
Mark Williams left his band, The Face, in 1973 for a solo career; the first evidence of this, 1975's Mark Williams, was apparently New Zealand's 'best selling pop/rock album of the '70s'. With the benefit of hindsight, it consists of soul-inflected mid-'70s pop, concentrating on slightly lesser-known cover versions, although Stephen Stills' Love The One You're With isn't exactly unknown. Other writers featured on the album include Todd Rundgren (Wailing Wall), the Easybeats' Vanda and Young (Yesterday Was Just The Beginning Of My Life) and Tony Ashton and Jon Lord (Celebration), all tackled in a bland, mainstream sort of way that probably wouldn't have turned anyone's head in Britain or the States, or possibly even Australia.
David Fraser plays Mellotron on a couple of tracks, with flute and string lines on Bill Withers' Ain't No Sunshine and a rather maudlin string part on closer A Perfect Love, but as so often with this kind of album, nothing you can't do without. On the offchance you should happen to a) be in New Zealand or b) be a New Zealander, please avoid this album. It may be perfectly professional, but so are any number of tedious mainstream efforts; I think giving it two stars is rather generous, to be honest.
Sing When You're Winning (2000, 75.58) ½/½
|Let Love Be Your Energy
If it's Hurting You
Singing for the Lonely
Love Calling Earth
|Knutsford City Limits
By All Means Necessary
The Road to Mandalay
Escapology [U.S. Version] (2002/03, 60.07) **½/0
Get a Little High
One Fine Day
Me and My Monkey
How Peculiar (Reprise)
Intensive Care (2005, 53.04) **½/T
Make Me Pure
Spread Your Wings
Please Don't Die
Your Gay Friend
Sin Sin Sin
|Random Acts of Kindness
The Trouble With Me
A Place to Crash
King of Bloke and Bird
After Robbie Williams left the massively successful Take That, he was widely expected to disappear into obscurity, but surprised all and sundry by becoming everyone's favourite Cheeky Chappie, notching up hit after tedious hit. The biggest, or at least the most ubiquitous of these was the irredeemable Millennium, which without the replayed 'sample' from the Bond soundtrack 'You Only Live Twice' wouldn't even have been a song. His popularity (almost exclusively with women of seemingly all ages) refuses to wane, however, mostly due to his saturnine good looks and 'rock star' persona.
I'd have liked to review Sing When You're Winning properly, but I found it impossible to get more than about 30 seconds into each track, due to their general awfulness. I gritted my teeth and sat out the whole of The Road To Mandalay, all for a few seconds of producer/songwriter Guy Chambers' 'Tron string line. Chambers, you should be ashamed of yourself. This is shit. So; don't buy this record. Appalling music, remedial singing, terrible songs, almost nonexistent Mellotron. Avoid like the plague. Unbelievably, Williams' hyper-inflated ego has allowed him to think he can take on Sinatra (!!) and record an album of big band standards, Swing When You're Winning (ho ho). He seems to have missed the essential point that Sinatra is one of popular music's great voices, if not the greatest. Oh well, that's egos for you...
Well well well; how times change... 'Robbie' (you know someone's a household name when they become synonymous with their Christian name) seems to've matured greatly in a pretty short period; something to do with getting the monkey off his back, maybe? Anyway, without sacrificing any popularity whatsoever, he's reinvented himself as an 'adult entertainer'; I'm not saying he's suddenly worthy of serious attention, but he's making respectable albums like 2002's Escapology, which, while largely dull, rarely actually offend. Escapology's actually quite confusing, given that there are two noticeably different albums of that title floating around; the standard UK release has no Mellotron, while the 'clean' (seemingly interchangeable with 'American') version does. There are three different tracks on the 2003 version, Get A Little High, One Fine Day and closer How Peculiar (Reprise), although why they make a difference is far from obvious; there are still several tracks with lyrics calculated to offend the Moral Majority, which don't seem any better than the three dropped ones. Strange. Anyway, Claire Worrall plays Mellotron, although I'll be buggered if I can tell where, so mark that down as a big, fat zero.
2005's Intensive Care carries on in the same vein, mixing medium-outrageous lyrics (opening couplet "Here I stand victorious/The only man who made you come") with more heartfelt stuff like the pedal steel-infused King Of Bloke And Bird. It certainly toys with mainstream drivel (A Place To Crash), but avoids that awful dance-influenced style that so many of his contemporaries seem to find it perfectly acceptable to foist on the general public. Jebin Bruni plays something unidentifiable on a Chamberlin on Spread Your Wings (what is it about this guy and Queen song titles?), but Claire Worrall's Mellotron strings on King Of Bloke And Bird cut through nicely throughout the track, which ends with a genuinely beautiful minute or so of solo lap steel.
So; a man improving himself, which has to be applauded; under no circumstances, however, even think about voluntarily hearing any of Williams' early work. Very nasty. For that matter, don't go too far out of your way for his recent albums, either; just because I'm saying 'it's a lot better' isn't to actually say 'it's any good'.
Official site (should you, for some bizarre reason, wish to go there)
See: Take That
Buy My Record (1981, 11.54) ***/TBuy My Record
Time to Dance Again
Robert Williams is probably best known as Captain Beefheart's drummer on his last couple of albums, although he was also co-credited on Hugh Cornwell's Nosferatu. Unsurprisingly, his first fully solo release, 1981's Buy My Record EP, is a fairly peculiar effort, sounding not unlike Beefheart at his most disorganised, with pretty odd vocals, if we're being generous. Of course, it's meant to sound odd; you think it'd have got three stars otherwise?
Beefheart's co-conspirator, Eric Drew Feldman, plays Mellotron here, amongst other things, with faint string and brass interjections on Black Yard, though nowhere near as upfront as on Doc at the Radar Station. Overall, then, an odd little effort that I don't believe's available anyway, although I could be wrong. Not worth it for the Mellotron, whatever.
See: Captain Beefheart | Hugh Cornwell