Dennis Weise [Denis Wize]
Liquorish Allsorts (2014, 63.43) ****/T
|The Ladies' Valley Prelude
Why Oh Why
Grand Canyon of My Dreams
The Journey By Camel
Bach Flute Sonata Allegro
Carmina Burana (O Fortuna)
Runnin' in, Runnin' Out
The Ladies' Valley
After forty years of musical activity, Robert Webb (not that one), keeper of the England flame, finally releases his first solo album, Liquorish Allsorts. Liquorish? Robert insisted on the spelling, based on the London pronunciation, apparently! The running order is anything but chronological, but its seeming eccentricity actually works rather well, recordings from decades apart sitting next to each other quite comfortably. As you might expect of a career-spanning collection, Robert covers so many styles that I think it's safe to say that no two pieces here really sound alike, so, on the offchance that you were naïve enough to do so, don't go expecting a re-run of Garden Shed.
Stylistically, the set travels from a jazzed-up Gentle Giant's Kerry Minnear's Moog Fugue through the mainstream pop/rock of the two previously-released tracks here, Jenny Darren's Grand Canyon Of My Dreams, from her eponymous 1979 debut (Robert was her MD) and Takin' Part, from the little-known Merlin's self-titled, lone 1974 release, to unexpected takes on classical pieces, not least a reggae version of Bach's Flute Sonata Allegro and Daquin's Cuckoo pushed, kicking and screaming, onto the dancefloor (!). Not to mention, of course, (relatively) full-blown prog, including the superb Limoncello (part of which apparently started life as an England piece in 1977), Destiny (begun in the late '90s) and closer The Ladies' Valley, partially based on Saint-Saëns' Aquarium section of his best-known work, Carnival of the Animals.
There's only one genuine Mellotron track here, Robert playing a borrowed Streetly M4000 on Destiny (the overdub recorded, I believe in 2010), with a brief, polyphonic flute part (I suspect the 'Ian McDonald' variety) opening the track, with strings (possibly not the 'regular' ones) later on and a reiteration of the intro flutes as a coda. Do you buy this? Mellotron fans may well be disappointed, ditto those expecting more England, but anyone who's followed Robert's career over the years will hopefully finds its unexpected twists and turns both intriguing and rewarding.
Official England site
See: England | Samurai of Prog
Dear Bo Jackson (2013, 44.55) **½/T½
|Dear Bo Jackson
Brother in the Night
King-Sized Death Bed
Ain't My Stop
Thief in My Mouth
Wo is I
The Weeks play a kind of indie-Americana, at least on their sixth album, Dear Bo Jackson. Unfortunately, the end result, rather than the Neil Young-esque slow-burn country rock I'm sure they imagine they're conjuring up, just sounds dreary and one-paced. They finally discover a (small) reservoir of untapped dark(-ish) energy on Bad Enough and Chickahominy, but it's rather too little, rather too late.
In an online interview, the band claim "The only organ on the record is Booker T's Hammond from 'Green Onions', and the Mellotrons [note plural] were on the Big Star records", also mentioning Memphis' legendary Ardent Studios. So this is that studio machine we're hearing? Had I not know better, I'd have stuck this in 'samples'. Is that actually a real M400? Anyway, Alex "Admiral" Collier plays it on three tracks, I believe, with a melodic flute part on Bad Enough, background strings on White Ash and strings and mad flutes on Gobi Blues.
Fire in the Arms of the Sun (1998, 57.56) ****/TTT
|The Angel of Death
Joan of Arc
Shady Skies and Lullabies
The Flesh of Terrain
Tracey Bowen's Double Life
The Pale Shade
Leaves and Limerance
|New Silver Finger II
Harvester of Sighs
King Rides By
Awake Like Sleep (2001, 41.22) ***½/TT½These Days
Past Four Corners
East 5th Street
The One True Song
I Will Fall to Meet Her
Sun Way Off
The Hive (2004, 44.20) ***½/½
|You Won't Be the Same Ever Again
The Lamb's Path
Burn the Margins
Not Meant for Light
Be Yourself: A Tribute to Graham Nash's "Songs for Beginners" (2010) ***½/T½[Greg contributes]
Greg Weeks exists in a region of psychedelic folk, having not only released several solo albums, but co-founded the excellent Espers, whilst guesting on several other projects, probably in a similar capacity. Fire in the Arms of the Sun is his 1998 debut, a beautiful album of acoustic guitar, occasional keyboards, bass and cello, all overlaid by Weeks' fragile voice. The songs are pretty much uniformly excellent, although, like so many similar albums, a slight lack of variety begins to tell after a while. Weeks plays a Mellotron flute solo on opener The Angel Of Death, while Starless (not that one) is a short, unaccompanied 'Tron flute piece. More flutes (from Matt Martens) in The Pale Shade, sounding almost like recorders at one point, with a gorgeous string part on Leaves And Limerance, from Martens again. Back to Weeks for more strings on the lengthy Fallow, making for a most satisfying Mellotronic (and musical) experience. Oh, and there's a credit for 'Mellotron hire', just in case you weren't sure.
Three years on and Awake Like Sleep is Weeks' next full-length release, more keyboard- than guitar-orientated and somewhat shorter than its predecessor. The songwriting's still extremely good, yet possibly not quite up to his previous standard, although Made, East 5th Street and The One True Song are all quite excellent. Just Weeks on 'Tron this time round: Made has spitty flutes (HIT those keys!), wobbling all over the place, plus groaning string section, with more flutes on East 5th Street and strings and flutes battling it out with a harmonium on Sleep Right, making for another good 'Tron album.
Nothing on his 2003 EP Slightly West, or (I believe) 2005's Blood is Trouble, making us wait until 2008's The Hive for another dose of Weeks 'Tron. The album is even more electronic than its predecessors, although full band arrangements are a no-no, despite a 'drums and percussion' credit. The material is probably on a par with that on Awake Like Sleep, which is obviously where Weeks is at these days (Espers mix folk and electronica, too), with opener Lay Low and the title track probably being highlights. Now, I have an issue here: Weeks credits himself with Mellotron before anything else, yet it's barely to be heard on the record. Huh? His business, obviously, but the only things here that even might be Mellotron are distant, hazy string parts well down in the mix on Burn The Margins and The Hive itself, both of which could easily be something else. Bizarre.
All in all, then, I personally prefer Fire... to either of Weeks' later efforts, but that's simply one man's meat. All three albums are worth hearing, and I suspect the latter two will grow on me given the imaginary time I fondly imagine I may find one day. The first of these three is easily the best for its Mellotron work, although Awake Like Sleep is no slouch. Avoid The Hive is that's all you're listening for, though.
See: Espers | Be Yourself
Tarot (1972, 88.12) ***½/TTT½
Walter Wegmüller was a Swiss artist who made just the one album, the double Tarot, in 1972. Despite his not actually being German (although a Swiss German speaker), this is full on krautrock of the highest order, a psychedelic pot-pourri of mad juxtapositions, with English and German dialogue intercut with post-Floyd organ, erratic percussion and Wallenstein's Jürgen Dollase's fractured Mellotron parts. There are more conventional moments, too, not least the rocking Der Herrscher (The Emperor) and the gentle Der Hohepriester (The Hierophant), although they're heavily outnumbered by the weirder stuff. The album's sound comes as absolutely no surprise when you realise that the band comes from the same pool of musicians as the Cosmic Jokers, including Klaus Schulze, Walter Westrupp (of Witthüser & Westrupp), members of Ash Ra Tempel and the more conventional Wallenstein.
The album's concept is, rather obviously, the 22 cards of the Tarot's major arcana, in sequence, although quite what angle Wegmüller was taking has to remain a mystery to a non-German speaker. There isn't any singing in the conventional sense on the album, but it could be argued that Wegmüller's incantatory narration works better than someone warbling horribly over music this powerful and strange. Just about every krautrock base is covered here, making this possibly the ultimate kraut album, although I'm sure fans of La Dusseldorf, Neu! and early Kraftwerk might have something to say about that. Dollase's Mellotron work (apparently both the Dierks Studios' MkII and M400) encompasses the insane pitchbent strings and flute on Der Magier (The Magician), which are tempered by ghostly but conventional string parts on Die Hohepriesterin (The High Priestess) and Die Herrscherin (The Empress). Early choir use on Der Weise (The Hermit) and cellos on Das Glücksrad (Wheel of Fortune), with a mélange of sounds on disc two's Die Mäßigkeit (Temperance), including brass. Cellos and choir on Die Zerstörung (The Tower), with a heavenly choir part on Das Gericht (Judgement), although I can't tell if the screechy sounds on either Der Mond (The Moon) or Die Sonne (The Sun) are Mellotron or some form of glissando guitar. Or, for that matter, something else entirely.
Well, for Tarot-inspired albums, I think I'm more likely to stick to Steve Hackett's Voyage of the Acolyte and the subsequent album whose concept supposedly influenced him, The Enid's In the Region of the Summer Stars. Saying that, Tarot sounds absolutely bugger-all like either of those esteemed records, but if your preferred listening includes the likes of the Cosmic Jokers, you probably can't go too far wrong here. Decent Mellotron use, too, against all expectations.
See: Ash Ra Tempel | Cosmic Jokers | Klaus Schulze | Wallenstein | Witthüser & Westrupp
Percolator (2005, 46.32) ***/T
I had no idea The Band had reformed in 1985, but it seems Jim Weider played guitar in the reconstituted band, replacing Robbie Robertson, until they split in 2000, following Rick Danko's untimely death. Weider has made a handful of solo albums to date, of which I believe 2005's Percolator is the second. It's a mixed bag, as far as instrumental guitar albums go, with fusion workouts (The Maze, the title track), guitar balladry (New Day, No Goodbyes) and smooth jazz (Smooth Move) amongst the styles he tackles.
Our old friend John Medeski plays Mellotron, with a relatively normal flute part on Troll, at least as far as Medeski's concerned. A couple of other tracks (notably the flutes on New Day) have a vaguely Mellotronic feel to them, but it's only credited on the one track, so they're likely to be synth approximations. Overall, this is a mostly fusion effort, with other influences thrown into the melting pot (coffee pot?), making it stand out from the glut of identikit jazz guitar albums, with a little Mellotron thrown in for good measure.
See: Medeski Martin & Wood
12 Bar Blues (1998, 59.13) ***/T
Where's the Man
|Jimmy Was a Stimulator
Lady, Your Roof Brings Me Down
Opposite Octave Reaction
When he recorded 12 Bar Blues, Scott Weiland was on some sort of drug sabbatical from the outstandingly average Stone Temple Pilots, with the end result sounding little like his alma mater, which isn't to say it sounds much better, just different. In fairness, there's obviously been some experimentation on the production front, with several tracks using the sort of loops/fake analogue thing that was everywhere in the late '90s, and the overall effect is definitely more interesting, so maybe I'm being rather unfair (what? Me?). Lady, Your Roof Brings Me Down even has a sort of Kurt Weil thing going on, so you certainly can't accuse this album of one-dimensionality.
As for the Mellotron, Victor Indrizzo plays some very upfront flutes on Divider, while Weiland himself allegedly plays it on Cool Kiss, although his contribution is completely inaudible. Maybe he just thought he played it. So; a surprisingly adventurous album, although one which, sadly, doesn't appeal to me very much. Very little audible Mellotron, although what you can hear is pretty good, but hardly enough to recommend purchase. Of course, Weiland finally left STP to join the wholly tedious and overrated Velvet Revolver with various ex-Guns N'Roses. Yawn.
See: Stone Temple Pilots
Valhalla (1979, 36.09) ***/T½Machine Time Ship
Y M Alim-Kader
Breathe the Form
The Big Apple Mystery
The Return of the Akpallus Mutants (Part A)
The Return of the Akpallus Mutants (Part B): 93rd Current
Consciousness Program [as Denis Wize] (1980, 39.38) ***/TT½
|Thought Proceeds Action
Love in Foam and Surf
Only Time We've Got
Back to Earth
Light as Air
Celestial Cungo Dub
Dennis Weise was an American electronic musician who put a couple of albums out at the turn of the '80s. 1979's Valhalla is one of the nuttiest albums I've reviewed on this site, which is saying something; mad, atonal electronics, splintered vocal fragments and bucketloads of white noise, suddenly interrupted by almost normal string synth or Froese-ish guitar. Melodies turn into random squirts of notes, pseudo-tribal rhythms pulsate in and out... Getting the picture? This is quite bonkers, and you really will probably either love it or hate it. After nowt but electronic gyrations, suddenly, on Hedonic Rapture, big slabs of reverbed 'Tron choir make their entrance, although the strings on the track sound synthesized to my ears. There's a little more choir on both parts of The Return Of The Akpallus Mutants, but that's your lot.
Did I say Valhalla is the maddest piece of shit I've heard all year? Weise decided to respell his name Denis Wize and released Consciousness Program the following year. It makes its predecessor look almost structured, full of found sounds, pre-sampler samples and crazed juxtapositions of noises. Oh, and a Mellotron. It's difficult to think of anything constructive to say about the music itself, but Weise/Wize sticks plenty of 'Tron choir on two parts of side one's thirteen-minute 'medley', Anima Manna and the title track. Side two's similarly-lengthed segue has some very faint choirs on Light As Air and some more upfront phased choir on closer Celestial Cungo Dub. It's still difficult to tell what's producing the strings, but I'm sticking with string synth until/if I should find out otherwise (like, how?).
I think it's safe to say you're not going to find these very easily, at least in non-downloadable form; they're the sort of thing that someone will suddenly decide to reissue, but will remain unbelievably obscure until then. Not that much Mellotron on the first, a little more on the second; these are more one for the synth nuts out there who've run out of better-known practitioners.
Welcome (1976, 41.39) ****/TTTTThe Rag Fair
Chain of Days
You're Welcome (1978, 38.12) ***½/TTT½Music is Life
Join the Party
Welcome were a late-'70s Swiss outfit who seemed to be trying to be the Swiss Yes; mission accomplished, chaps. Their debut, Welcome, while derivative, is a very nice listen indeed, although the vocal harmonies are a little off in places (what was I saying about Yes?). Loads of Mellotron from Bernie Krauer, although the strings on The Rag Fair start off sounding like string synth, though soon resolve into definite 'Tron. The opening flutes on Glory switch to strings almost immediately, before shifting back and forth between the two sounds, but the inaccurately-titled Dirge may be the album's Mellotronic and musical highlight, with a beautiful polyphonic flute part followed by some gloriously upfront strings, although there's probably actually less 'Tron, second for second, than on some of the other tracks.
Their second album, You're Welcome, isn't quite up to the standard of their debut, to be honest; most of the material's reasonably good, though, with the glaring exception of Join The Party, without which the album would be noticeably better. A slightly more American sound too, strangely, with the band reinforcing the ir Yes fixation by adding a Styx influence, themselves Yes-influenced. Mellotron all round, from Krauer again, with choir on Music Is Life, then strings on everything else (even Join The Party), and both sounds cropping up on the side-long The Whip, the album's best track.
So; Welcome is really very good, although I wouldn't call You're Welcome a classic, to be honest, although it's definitely got its moments. I believe there are some non-LP compilation tracks, also featuring 'Tron; more news should I get to hear them sometime.
Paul Weller (UK) see:
Brotherhood of Electric: Operational Directive(s) (1998, 50.12) ***½/T½
Born With a Tail
Red Light Green Light
Right of Left Field
Ladder to the Moon
Wellwater Conspiracy are effectively a duo, comprising ex-Soundgarden man Matt Cameron (who played Mellotron on their Superunknown, fact fans) and John McBain, ex-Monster Magnet, with various friends guesting. Unlike many such projects, they're actually really good, making a heavily psych-influenced sound, throwing all sorts of stuff into the pot, most of which works. Difficult to pick standout tracks, especially on a first listen, but the ones with the Floyd-ish Farfisa are all worth hearing.
I've absolutely no idea who plays the Mellotron parts on their second album, Brotherhood of Electric: Operational Directive(s) (the brackets appear to be optional), as both Cameron and McBain are credited with keyboards, as is Glenn Slater on several tracks, including the 'Tron ones. Anyway, strings and flutes on Red Light Green Light and VERY LOUD strings on B.O.U., which makes a welcome change; they sound cranky enough to be real, too. So; not bad at all, and decent 'Tron on two tracks.
See: Soundgarden | Monster Magnet
Southpaw (1974, 38.15) ***/T
Here We Are
What is Love
Only a Fool Fools With Love
Take My Love With You
Come on Baby
Hard-and-fast information on Michael Wendroff is hard come by, but I've stumbled across a reference that says he grew up in Brooklyn, becoming a member of an a capella aggregation, The Holidays, in his teens, going on to release a clutch of solo albums in the '70s. The second of these, 1974's Southpaw (slang for a left-hander, if you haven't previously encountered the term), is a decent enough effort, somewhat of its time, highlights including the potent Here We Are and the eight-minute, West Coast space-rock (!) of Lost Planet, although much of its material fails to stand out from the pack.
Michael Montgomery plays Mellotron on just one track, with a flute part on Take My Love With You, more upfront towards the end of the song. I don't believe any of Wendroff's limited oeuvre is available these days, although, at least to my ears, he's no less listenable than many still-revered names from the era, merely less well-known.
Rainbows End (1979, 41.05) ***/TT
Beware of the Dog
Tale of Tenderness
Help Me to Do it Alone
A Deadly State of Mind
Secrets of Mother Earth
A Glamour Story
Max Werner was vocalist and sometime drummer for Dutch progressive popsters Kayak, standing stage-front with an M400 to his right, in an almost unique set-up. Rainbows End (sic) is his first solo album, from '79, standing up very well against Kayak's contemporaneous albums, with better tracks including the title track, the instrumental Sir Dance-Alot, Secrets Of Mother Earth and closer A Glamour Story. The sleeve is far more mid- than late-'70s, too, possibly giving some idea of Werner's inspiration for the album.
The album utilises modern technology, including sequencers and what sounds like Prophet brass riffs on several tracks including Rainbows End itself and Beware Of The Dog. However, rather surprisingly, Werner's Mellotron crops up on several tracks, although he only uses the choirs. The title tracks sounds more like a Roland Vocoder, although I think it's the real thing on Tale Of Tenderness, Sir Dance-Alot, A Deadly State of Mind and Life's Serenity; unexpected, but welcome.
Overall, Rainbows End is a pleasant surprise. Yes, it's (progressive) pop, but so are Kayak, and they produced some fine material, better than, say, Earth & Fire's more mainstream efforts. None of the Mellotron work here is exactly essential, but nice to hear on an unexpectedly decent album. Unsurprisingly, though, there's nothing to be heard on his successful follow-up, 1981's Seasons.
See: Kayak | Ton Scherpenzeel
Late Registration (2005, 70.25) ***/½
|Wake Up Mr. West
Heard 'Em Say
Touch the Sky
My Way Home
Bring Me Down
Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)
Diamonds From Sierra Leone
hip-hop, eh? Wossit all about then? Fucked if I know - I'm utterly the wrong demographic for this stuff, but it seems that the controversial Kanye West (real name, it seems) is more inventive and, well, eccentric than most. After a massive hit with 2004's The College Dropout, West could afford the time and money to sink into the following year's Late Registration, including collaborating on several tracks with Chamberlin legend Jon Brion, making for some interesting instrumentation, at least.
According to interview footage in Diana Dillworth's Mellodrama film, Brion plays Chamberlin on Gold Digger, with some squiggly pitchbend stuff at the end of the track, but if you didn't know it was there... So; superior hip-hop, but it's still hip-hop, with next to no obvious Chamby. Maybe not.
See: Jon Brion