So what does an ex-Spice Girl do with herself when her route to fame and fortune splits asunder? Crapola solo career, of course. Melanie "C" Chisholm, a.k.a. Sporty Spice, is one of the two Spice Girls who could actually sing; I can attest to this, as I worked as an extra on their dreadful film and was (un)fortunate enough to witness their between-takes attempts at five-part harmony onstage at the Albert Hall It was only the two Mels would could hold a tune at all; a cat's chorus had nothing on the rest of them, believe me... Anyway, Ms. Chisholm has been mooted as the ex-Spice most likely to make it, which is pretty scary (ho ho).
Her first solo album, the indie-friendly Northern Star (she's a Liverpudlian) did fairly well, but the anodyne Reason has apparently blown any credibility its predecessor may've engendered. What's so bad about it? It's bland, her vocals are terrible (did I say she could sing?), the material's rubbish... Need I say more? Mellotron credited on On The Horizon, played by Rick Nowells, who added (sampled) Chamberlin to a couple of tracks on Dido's horrible No Angel, but I'll be fucked if I can hear it. Yeah, there's a string part, but it sounds far more like real ones than any form of tape-replay and certainly does nothing to enhance the already gruesome song to which it's attached.
Has anything improved in Mel C-land by 2007? Going by that year's This Time, containing the blandest, least interesting mainstream pop you can imagine, the answer has to be 'no'. Saying that, so-called 'R&B' is worse; Mel's faintly rootsy, quite 'trad' pop sounding almost good in comparison, but only in comparison. Is there a best track? Maybe Out Of Time, with some raucous guitar work, while her cover of The Strangeloves' I Want Candy is at least recognisable. Out Of Time also has credited Mellotron from Phil Thornalley, but I have to say, once again, whatever it's supposed to be doing is entirely inaudible and, as on its predecessor, quite certainly sampled anway.
Despite considering themselves a cross between powerpop and metal, CRX (including ex-Stroke Nick Valensi) are more electro-punk on their debut, 2016's New Skin, at least to my ears. Better material includes opener Ways To Fake It and Slow Down, but, despite the album's brevity, it all becomes pretty tiresome, pretty quickly. Richie Follin, presumably, adds Mellotron-esque strings to Broken Bones, fairly obviously sampled. While the album isn't a complete disaster, I can't imagine why anyone much out of their teens would wish to hear it.
Cadillac Sky, unsurprisingly, peddle a variety of Americana than leans heavily towards the bluegrass end of things, rich with fiddles, banjos and mandolins. 2010's Letters in the Deep is their third album, recorded live in the studio, veering between the bluegrass/rock of opener Trapped Under The Ice through the punk bluegrass of Bathsheeba and the more straightforward bulk of the record, highlights including Trash Bag and Lee Of The Stone: West. David Mayfield, Matthew Menefee and Ross Holmes are all credited with Mellotron, which is rather surprising given that it's barely used, as far as I can tell. We get a pitchbent something opening 3rd Degree, repeating throughout, sounding more like pitchbent samples, frankly and more obvious distant choirs on Trash Bag. Samples all round, methinks.
Caedmon's Call are at the folkier end of the CCM spectrum, although Cliff Young's vocals come straight from the 'indie/alternative' school, particularly the irritating near-hiccup with which he ends many lines. They're notable in Christian circles for Derek Webb's on/off membership, although he has a successful solo career of his own. 1999's 40 Acres was their third album and I'd imagine it's pretty typical of their sound; a rather lifeless male and/or female-fronted Christian thing, with those horrible vocals that so many modern practitioners (and not just Christian ones) insist on using; you know, the 'fake-emotive' type than can turn a reasonable man homicidal. Keys man Randy Holsapple supposedly plays Mellotron on Petrified Heart, with a nice flute part on one of the album's better songs, if you ignore the vocals and lyrics (not easy, I'll admit), although the high notes sound distinctly unreal. That'll be because they're sampled.
Robyn "Cage" Kemp is a new American singer-songwriter, her 2014 EP Tales of a Thief, being her first release under her nom de plume. And it's... twee, mainstream pop of the 'music for sensitive people' variety; harmless, but somewhat on the unexciting side, to say the least. Is there a 'best track'? Closer Theatre Noir, complete with Cage's 'silent movie'-style upright piano taps into her country's carney tradition in reasonably pleasing fashion, although it's not enough to rescue the EP from overall mediocrity. Zac Rae (Fiona Apple, Macy Gray), plays supposed Mellotron, with a chordal string part towards the end of Theatre Noir; hardly the most overt use ever, but at least it's there. Saying that, Sara Lov has posted a picture on Facebook of Mr. Rae cheerfully holding an M4000D Mini sample player, labelled 'Zac Rae on mellotron', so I'm not at all sure we can trust his recent 'Mellotron' credits.
Cage the Elephant are a current American indie outfit, sporting a relatively eclectic range of influences, which apparently shift from album to album. Their third release, 2013's Melophobia, seems to be their attempt to 'find their own sound', the end result being an unappealing mish-mash of various strands of the alt.rock non-genre, less bad efforts including opener Spiderhead, the punky It's Just Forever and the energetic Black Widow, but that really shouldn't be taken as any kind of recommendation. Someone adds a samplotron string line (and cellos?) to Telescope and murky choirs, strings and cellos to closer Cigarette Daydreams, which do little to improve matters, if truth be told. Current US indie? No thanks.
Calabrese, consisting of three (genuine) brothers, have been around since the early 2000s, 2015's Lust for Sacrilege being their sixth full-lengther. After odd-man-out semi-ambient opener The Dark Is Who I Am, the band revert to type on Down In Misery's downtuned, punky metal, the only other holdout being closer Drift Into Dust, the two exceptions to the rule clearly deliberately bookending the album. The nine tracks inbetween the bookends are similar enough to be near-indistinguishable to non-fans (yet I like The Ramones...), but the two more experimental efforts gain this an extra half star. Bob Hoag is credited with Mellotron, but if we're supposed to be hearing one on The Dark Is Who I Am, er, we're not. Background choirs and a four-chord solo on what might be a strings/flute mix.
Kathryn Calder's 2010 release, Are You My Mother? (named in honour of a well-known children's book) was written while Calder was caring for her terminally ill mother, the end result being, while not exactly a bundle of laughs, less mournful than you might expect. It crosses the indie/singer-songwriter divide, the more rhythmic tracks losing out as a result of the indie influence, better songs including the string-laden Down The River and So Easily, although I can't help feeling that she might've made a better album had she not used members of the pre-existing band she joined not too long before, The New Pornographers. Although the album was recorded largely at her home, Calder is credited with Mellotron, but given that it's completely inaudible, it's impossible to say whether it's real or sampled, so we'll opt for the latter. So; a few decent tracks, several rather dull ones and no obvious Mellotron.
Calexico, formed by two ex-alumni of Giant Sand, play a kind of Tex-Mex Americana, which, on their seventh non-soundtrack release, 2012's Algiers, translates to 'rather mournful Americana with a bit of mariachi thrown in'. Is it any good? In places, definitely, although this reviewer found that it began to outstay its welcome towards the end, despite not being over-long. Best tracks? The (relatively) energetic Splitter, the stately Para and the gentle Better And Better, perhaps, although I'd imagine aficionados would disagree. Craig Schumacher is credited with Wurlitzer organ, percussion and Mellotron on four tracks, although the latter only obviously appears on three and, what's more, appears to be sampled. We get cello, string and brass lines on opener Epic, with strings on Para and Maybe On Monday, but it's Para that really gives the game away, with an overly-sustained note towards the end that then pitchbends in a decidedly inauthentic way. Do you bother? Only if their take on Americana sounds like it might be up your street. The jury's still out here, to be honest.
Calhoun are an indie/Americana quintet from Fort Worth, Texas, whose fourth album, 2011's Heavy Sugar (the title coming from the lyric to Horsefeathers), might be more listenable had the band listened to and learned from artists further away from the indie mainstream. Rhythmically, this is a disaster, at its least bad on its quieter tracks, notably Lioness and Snow Day, although Tim Locke's vocals irritate throughout, just to help matters along. Nolan Thies plays samplotron, with strings on Heart Of Junk, although all other string sounds seem to be generic samples. No, I did not like this. No, I do not recommend it. If you want Americana, there are hundreds of better artists out there.
Two albums down the line from Cali's Menteur, 2008's L'Espoir isn't wildly different, yer man tackling a similar combination of styles, even adding kind-of Celtic hard rock to the mix on Résistance. One notable feature of the album is the involvement of The Waterboys' Mike Scott, who adds his suitably Mike Scott-esque tones to Pas La Guerre and the bonus track on some editions, List Of Lies, both adorned with Waterboys-esque brass. Julien Lebart plays 'Mellotron' flutes on Giuseppe Et Maria and Je Me Sens Belle (sample giveaway on a solo section), but again, the strings are real.
Rather than shoehorn themselves into the already-overcrowded Giallo format, Calibro 35 play a retro form of Italian cinema music, at the funk end of the genre. Their fourth album, Traditori di Tutti, kicks off in a proggish vein, but quickly reverts to their usual style, highlights including Prologue (the proggy one), the propulsive Giulia Mon Amour and the doomy Traitors, although Enrico Gabrielli's 'Mellotron' strings are exceedingly obvious samples.
Awkwardly-named female trio Calico the Band's Rancho California is a perfectly respectable Americana effort, although I'm afraid I'm not hearing anything that hasn't been done before, many, many times. Brandon Schott is credited with Chamberlin, but, although he's used one before, not only can I hear nothing on this album, but I doubt whether it's genuine anyway. Tell me I'm wrong, Mr. Schott.
California Wives play a breezy form of indie that, at least on Art History, works surprisingly well during the more energetic numbers, before the repetition becomes tiresome. However, Tim Wheeler's 'Mellotron' strings on opener Blood Red Youth and choirs on Purple really, really aren't.
Calling All Stars' Blue Eyed Soul kicks off brilliantly, like a modernised version of the mighty Diamond Head's Am I Evil (you'll know Metallica's version), all pounding, epic, Holst-esque rhythms. Sadly, it's downhill all the way from there, the bulk of the remainder being a kind of metal/punk-tinged alt.rock of no especial interest. J. Cason Neill's Mellotron? Inaudible.
Calliope were one of a handful of halfway decent prog bands to come out of Italy in the '90s, fighting their way through a sea of turgid neo-prog tosh in an attempt to regain their country's '70s glory. As you can see from their main review, they owned an M400 and used it extensively on their first two albums, before major line-up changes and a rather average third record that may or may not have featured real Mellotron.
As if their previous line-up changes weren't confusing enough, their final album, the live Generazioni, changes almost everyone again (back to male vocals), the only survivor from Il Madrigale del Vento being second keyboard player Enrico Perrucci, leaving precisely no original members in under a decade. Consisting mainly of first album material, opener La Prova (from Città di Frontiera) is as 'Mellotron'-free as its studio version, with Pensieri Affascinani, Margherita A Rodi and Non Ci Credo Più featuring most of their studio counterparts' 'Tron sections (new song Luci Ed Ombre also has some), at least on strings, although it has to be asked: is it real? I'm rather doubtful, to be honest, so until I find out otherwise, I think this has to stay here. There is actually a short burst of 'Tronlike choir to be heard on the album, at the end of Non Ci Credo Più, but while it doesn't sound that authentic, at least it's a Mellotron sound...
Calogero (Maurici) is a French singer-songwriter who initially found fame with Les Charts, a band he formed in his mid-teens. 2004's Calog3ro (or, according to some sources, 3) is, unsurprisingly, his third solo effort, an unappealing concoction of pop and rock, with elements from hip-ho and other dance-related styles thrown into the mix for bad measure. Best tracks? Non. As far as the album's samplotron content goes, some warbly flutes on Qui Parlait and Un Jour Parfait and flutes and strings on Les Hommes Endormis are your lot, doing not one jot to make this album any the more worth hearing.
Camouflage are a German synthpop act who incorporate elements of mainstream rock into their thang. Meanwhile, from 1991, is a rather overlong and irritating indie/electronica album with hints of a decade earlier's synthpop, notably on Heaven (I Want You). Several tracks begin well (Accordion, Spellbound) but spoil it when the vocals start, or the rest of the band enter; maybe if the album was half its eventual length and they'd mixed the vocals out? Maybe. Mellotron (the song) doesn't appear to be about Mellotrons, unsurprisingly, although it does contain a fair dollop of not-especially-gritty samplotron choirs (from Heiko Maile). Early 'user's own' Mellotron samples? Hard to say, but they crop up on Mother and possibly Spellbound, too.
Their seventh 'proper' album, 2006's Relocated, mixes the two well enough to make them difficult to categorise; suffice to say, if you like their previous work, chances are you'll like this. Although Heiko Maile is credited with 'Mellotron', it's almost certainly samples again. The chief use here is the choirs at the end of Stream, although there's a couple of places where the string sounds are more Mellotronic than anything else. Overall, then, not the most interesting album I've ever heard, and not the most arresting Mellotron (sample) use, either.
Given that David Campbell is the lovechild of Aussie blue-collar star Jimmy Barnes, his chosen milieu is slightly surprising: swing. Well, swing, showtunes, 'adult pop', you name it; if it's smooth, Campbell will give it a stab, it seems. 1997's Taking the Wheel features his interpretations of standards, mostly from the swing era, with a few newer numbers chucked in for good measure, not least a particularly slushy version of Bridge Over Troubled Water. Y'know, I absolutely cannot fault Campbell's voice on a technical level; it sounds about as little like his dad's whisky-soaked rasp as you can imagine, but he's probably reaping the benefits of a non-rock'n'roll lifestyle there. Maybe Barnes could've sung standards if he hadn't started smoking at three months. Paints an amusing picture, doesn't it? Mike Gubb plays samplotron, amongst other keys, with a restrained flute part on It Will Always Be You.
Going by the evidence presented here, Jessica Campbell writes and sings the slushiest singer-songwriter guff possible, typified by the horrible Stay. Cason Cooley plays somewhat un-Mellotronic 'Mellotron' strings on opener Like Fire.
Simon Campbell has worked his way through various styles in his thirty-plus-year career, currently playing a rather British form of Americana, if that isn't an oxymoron. 2014's min-album, The Knife, is his second release in this area, a decent enough record, probably at its best on the slower numbers, notably the title track, with David Kilgallon's mournful harmonium accompaniment and Do You Want Me, co-written and jointly sung by his chief collaborator, one Suzy Starlite. Starlite also plays credited Mellotron on Do You Want Me, with a flute line that doesn't sound especially authentic, to be honest. While probably not the best Americana record you'll hear all year, this is also a long way from the worst, although I wouldn't bother for that 'Mellotron' credit.
Camphor are essentially Max Avery Lichtenstein (Hopewell, Timesbold)'s solo project, releasing an EP, Silver & Gold, in 2001, taking another seven years to get round to an album. Drawn to Dust is, as you might expect from its title, slow and quiet without being laid-back in any meaningful way, although it does branch out here and there, with the more aggressive The Sweetest Tooth and Castaway and the country of Confidences Shattered, top tracks including opener Daybreak, Bones and Sundown. Lichtenstein plays supposotron on several tracks, with distant strings on Button Up (plus vibes), Tired Light and Beauty In Ruins and flutes on Bones, although given his connections with the sample-using Mercury Rev crew, it's quite certainly fake.
Philadelphians Canadian Invasion's first full-lengther, Songs for the Atco Ghost, is probably best described as being at the indie end of powerpop, meaning, in practice, that its songs promise much, but often fail to deliver. Better tracks include Ephedrine, Hotel By The Airport and closer Buffalo, but, despite not being an overlong record, this could've done with a bit of an edit. Stewart Myers and Daniel Clarke are credited with Mellotron and, indeed, it's all over the album, with high strings on opener Under The Sodium Lights and Gemini Drinking Island, an upfront flute line on The Other Side Of The Dirt and murky choirs on Red Line To Shady Grove, amongst other use, but, sad to say, it's sampled.
Although sometimes described as 'chamber pop', going by Chicagoans Canasta's second album, 2010's The Fakeout, the Tease & the Breather, 'tedious sub-post-rock/pop' might be closer to the mark. Irritatingly, the band occasionally summon up the imagination to attempt something interesting, but seemingly lack the skill to do anything with it. Kyle Mann and Ian Wilson are credited with Mellotron, but the rather-too-clean strings on Shortcuts sound enough like samples to place this here. Post-rock/indie, anyone? Thought not.
The Candy Snatchers, named for the 1973 exploitation flick, were a rough-arsed Virginian punk outfit; think: The Ramones without the finesse. No, really. 1996's The Candy Snatchers is a brutal album of short, sharp punk blasts, proving, once again, that punk was only ever really over-amped rock'n'roll. Best tracks? They're all the best. They're also all the worst. This is punk fuckin' rock, mate and don't you forget it. Guitarist Matthew Odietus is credited with Mellotron, but fuck alone knows where, as, unsurprisingly, it's completely inaudible. What was that? "'Try the ballad"? What fuckin' ballad? Tragically, Odietus died in 2008, splitting the band, although it seems reunion shows are on the cards. Mellotron not expected.
Candypants seem to have discovered a form of holy grail, that being good indie. Of course, the gap between pop/rock, overt powerpop and creative indie is so small that they sometimes overlap, but Candypants really does straddle the not-so-great divide with aplomb. Highlights? I Want A Pony, Lisa Jenio's vocals at their mock-petulant best, Cherry Picker, Cluster Bomb Boy and Sweet Judy Blume Eyes (ho ho). Danny McGough's credited with Mellotron on three tracks, with really terrible string samples on Attila The Honey, string stabs on Cherry Picker and outrageously-extended string notes on Fake It. Non.
Jeff Cannata's career began as drummer with Jasper Wrath, although he's now better known as a vocalist and guitarist. 2009's covers set My Back Pages Volume 1 is his fourth solo album in a twenty-year period, a fairly typical 'all my influences' effort, most tracks being fairly faithful recreations of the originals. They're largely what you'd expect of someone who came up through the progressive scene: Crimson, Tull (twice), The Beatles, The Byrds (also twice)... Being American, Cannata tackles several US outfits, not least Spirit, Jefferson Airplane and The Amboy Dukes. Somehow or other, I've managed never to hear the last-named's excellent Journey To The Center Of The Mind before; how could that buffoon Ted Nugent claim that he 'didn't know it was a drug song'? Twat. The nearest the album gets to low points are his take on Pink Floyd's limp On The Turning Away (from 1987's A Momentary Lapse of Reason): a strange choice, given that a) it's the only cover here from outside the era and b) there are far more appropriate tracks from their repertoire, plus closing 'bonus' Life, a cheesy self-written AOR number referencing all Cannata's faves.
Two 'Mellotron' tracks, credited to Cannata himself, with the expected fakeotron strings on Space Oddity and Court Of The Crimson King; good samples, I'll give you, but samples all the same. Is there any point to this album? We certainly get some unexpected versions, not least Tull's Mother Goose and the Airplane's Embryonic Journey (George Manukas on acoustic), so it'd be fair to say that it's a reasonable primer into what a young American musician was listening to at the time, without all the licensing hassles you'd get trying to compile the originals.
(Francisco) Javi(er) Cánovas (Pordomingo) is a rare Spanish entrant in the modern EM stakes, his trademark sparse sound separating him from the pack of 'Berlin School' clones. I believe 2005's Impasse is his debut, a typically lengthy electronic effort, if better than many, the sequencing on Zenith being more complex and original than the usual. The sampled Mellotron choirs come in on opener Sun Radiation around the same time as the sequencer's first appearance, with more of the same on North Of Circle and some particularly nasty low string notes on Zenith, on the offchance that you thought he might be using a real one.
The following year's Light Echoes relies more heavily on Cánovas' sequencer patterns, actually losing some of its limited originality in the process. Once again, a perfectly 'good' release (well, how difficult can it be?), but nothing that will appeal to any but hardened aficionados. The first Mellotron sound this time is the flutes, a Tangs-like melody splattered all over the opening title track, with more of the same on Two Toned Rock On Mars, leaving closer Interpherometry to the strings and choirs. 2007's Red Metal is a very different proposition indeed: twelve (relatively) short tracks, some beginning to approach the dance spectrum, although most are similar to the above two albums, only vastly shorter. Next to no Mellotron samples, with naught but a flute line on Voices In The Space, surprisingly.
Corneel Canters Quartet's Analogarhythm EP gives us a kind of bluesy, jazzy instrumental progressive rock; surefire single material, I'm sure you'll agree. It's actually pretty decent stuff, although the nine-minute title track goes on a bit. Sören Tesch's 'Mellotron' is no more than samplotron strings on lead track Abbygayles Cow.
Cantina Sociale's sole album, Balene, is an interesting mix of contemporary and 'classic' prog, with some modern influences from completely outside the genre. There's the odd sampled beat here and there and some current synth sounds, although used in a good way on the whole. Apparently, it's a concept album, but my Italian's no better than it ever was, so unless someone out there would like to enlighten me... I admit it may well grow on me with repeated plays (like, when I retire...), but I don't currently feel I can give it a higher star rating, although it's far more inventive than most current Italian acts. Good old Beppe Crovella turns up on the most-likely-it's-a-samplotron. It's used quite unconventionally in places, which makes a refreshing change; the flutes on Macina are far higher in the mix than they have any right to be, while some of the 'choppy' choir work is way off the map for 'standard' use, although the strings at the beginning of Una Vela give the sample game away.
Laura Cantrell is a Nashville-based singer who avoids all the terrible country clichés that we know and hate, making music more akin to American folk with a country edge, which is more palatable than the Nashville orthodoxy by a factor of infinite to one. Saying that, those of you totally allergic to anything even remotely country aren't going to like her third album, 2005's Humming By the Flowered Vine, although once upon a time, folks, that was me... Best tracks? Probably Letters and slightly rockier six-minute closer Old Downtown, although more upbeat efforts like California Rose and the honky-tonk Wishful Thinking help to knock the album's rating down a notch. Just say no, Laura. A little samplotron from Rob Burger, with a nice string part on Letters, but, as with so many albums, nothing you can't do without.
You can add Canyon Country to the pantheon of 'low-key, low-fi' outfits, although they're more a solo project than a real, flesh'n'blood band, it seems. On There's a Forest in the Fire, Nick Huntington's vision takes him through post-rock territory and out the other side to a kind of parched, sparse, Americana-influenced music, light on conventional melody and structure and heavy on atmosphere. Huntington plays samplotron, with gentle choirs on opener Rusted and closer Battle Axe. This is an album to get shoegaze fans salivating, though I can't guarantee it'll do much for the rest of you.
Joey Cape and Tony Sly are frontmen for what passes for American punk bands these days, respectively Lagwagon and No Use for a Name. No, I haven't heard of them, either. 2004's Acoustic, is, as you might expect, a document of the pair playing some of their repertoire acoustically, although it's more a split release than a collaboration, the first six tracks by Sly, the remainder by Cape. Do they work in this format? Acoustically, Sly's material sounds like just about any awful current US singer-songwriter you care to name, cheesy melodies (and is that a hint of Autotune I hear?) floating over inconsequential chord sequences, although Cape's have a little more substance, thankfully, the best example possibly being Wind In Your Sails. Todd Capps allegedly plays Mellotron on Cape's tracks, but the flutes on Tragic Vision are most unconvincing. Unfortunately, the solo flute's relatively simple waveform makes it probably the easiest Mellotron sound to sample effectively, thus the hardest to spot. Either way, this is a pretty unexciting effort, although at least Cape's songs didn't have me lunging for the 'next' button.
Vinicio Capossela is an offbeat Italian singer-songwriter, so influenced by Tom Waits that he often uses his regular guitarist, Marc Ribot. 2011's two-disc Marinai, Profeti e Balene is something like his tenth studio album in a twenty-odd year career, nineteen tracks of Waits-influenced Weimar-esque folk, great in isolation, less so en masse, with no obvious highlights, especially for the non-Italian audience. Capossela is credited with Mellotron, rumoured to be on Polpo D'Amor, but not only is it entirely inaudible there, but also everywhere else, despite a preponderance of various orchestral sounds. Well, had this been half its length, it may've earned three stars, but so much music, unless it's absolutely top-notch, gets to be a real grind. Less is the new more. Or something.
Cardiacs should need no introduction to anyone interested in unusual, challenging music; often labelled 'prog', they could just as easily fit into several other genres, or equally, fall between the various cracks, effectively creating their own genre (in a manner not dissimilar to Magma's Zeuhl). 1989's On Land & in the Sea (named for a line from 1985 EP lead-off track Big Ship) was their second full-length studio album to appear on vinyl and while (arguably) not quite hitting the peaks of the previous year's A Little Man & a House & the Whole World Window, it runs it an exceedingly close second, classics such as The Leader Of The Starry Skys [sic], Arnald [also sic], Fast Robert and deathless closer The Everso Closely Guarded Line [also also sic] staying in the band's set for the next two decades.
Having used a real Mellotron on their previous album, crafty samples had been made (pretty early in '88, but there you go), finding their way onto a handful of tracks here, with background choirs on I Hold My Love In My Arms, Buds And Spawn and The Everso Closely Guarded Line, although I could swear there was a major string swell somewhere on the record, too. Anyway, assuming you can actually get hold of this (Cardiacs CD availability has always been a bit of a nebulous thing), it ranks alongside A Little Man... and the Big Ship EP as an utterly essential release.
Cardinal play a not-totally-offensive form of indie, which isn't to say that it has many saving graces, either, although the instrumental Surviving Paris isn't bad, while they get brownie points for referencing legendary Aussie pre-punks Radio Birdman on their track of the same name. Sadly (yet somehow inevitably), Luis Leal's credited 'Mellotron' on I Am A Roman Gypsy is clearly sampled.
When I Was Made sits at the banjo-driven, country (not Americana) end of the singer-songwriter spectrum, at its least dull on I Need You. Evan Brubaker's credited with Mellotron. Why?
Brandi Carlile treads lightly through the common ground between pop, folk and country, at least on her third album, 2009's Give Up the Ghost. Irritatingly, the album veers between the kind of alt.country you might wish to hear again (opener Looking Out, Dying Day) and the kind of pop/rock/AOR you probably won't (Dreams, Before It Breaks), other better tracks including the jaunty Caroline (a lesbian love song) and gentle closer Oh Dear. Jesse Carmichael plays samplotron, although he makes us wait for it, with a pleasant flute part on Oh Dear.
Never let it be said that I don't listen to a variety of music for your reading pleasure. Carlou D (ex-Senegalese hip-hop collective Positive Black Soul) has released (to my knowledge), two albums outside his home country, the second of which, 2015's A New Day, concerns us here. It starts well with the insistent Begge Sa Rew and Soldier, but quickly begins to sound somewhat samey, at least to ears unattuned to African styles. It finishes with two ballads, the slightly cheesy Mbeggeel and the rather better I Believe (Carlou is also a decent guitarist), which at least add some variety to the proceedings. Jesper Nordenström (the album was partly recorded in Sweden) is credited with Mellotron, but the polyphonic flute part in Wax doesn't ring true to my ears. So; westernised Afropop, done well, but unlikely to be of any more interest to you than it is to me.
On some tracks from Petter Carlsen's second album, 2011's Clocks Don't Count, his soft tenor voice could actually be mistaken for a female contralto, particularly on opener Table For One and Home, temporarily confusing me. His 'transcendent pop' (think: a far more straightforward Sigur Rós without the good bits) is unlikely to appeal to anyone looking for any real depth in their music, although it could be an awful lot worse, I suppose. If there's a 'best track', it might be the slightly more musically inventive Cornerstone, but we're not exactly talking Shostakovich here. Vincent Cavanagh plays samplotron on Built To Last, with a string part opening the track, then running through its quieter second half.
Now is one of the most downbeat releases I've heard for a while, against pretty stiff competition, sounding as if it was written by a terminal depressive. Thankfully, at only twenty minutes, it keeps its misery brief and manageable, probably at its best on My Old Room. But why is Zack Schneider credited not just with Mellotron, but Chamberlin, too? What, the vaguely orchestral strings dotted about?
Ballet student Vanessa Carlton switched to music, signing with A&M soon after recording her first demo. Now tell me this: how is it that a complete nobody (as she was at the time) can get signed with so little real effort? Could looks and an ear for a commercial tune have anything to do with it? Thought so. Anyway, after a hugely successful debut, her next two albums relatively flopped, leading to her releasing no.4, Rabbits on the Run (a line from Wings' Band On The Run) on Razor & Tie. To be honest, Carlton's rather insipid singer-songwriter style does little for this reviewer, although I'm sure her fanbase will love it. Best track? Dark closer In The End stands out, although only in the context of such a wet record. Steve Osborne adds a background Mellotron flute line to the second verse of opener (and single) Carousel. Real? Well, the album was mostly recorded at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios, although a quick check reveals that there isn't a house Mellotron, while the strings were recorded at Ray Davies' Konk facility in London, who own an EMI M400, which, of course, means nothing. I'd say samples.
Going by their eponymous 2012 debut, Pennsylvanian instrumental quartet Carpe Nota play a kind of vaguely fusion-inflected 'modern prog', consisting of a heavy dose of faux-'70s Spock's Beard-isms, some near-Dream Theater heaviness and more than a little good ol' '70s hard rock; 'heavy prog', as against 'prog metal', if you like. Top tracks? Kind-of irrelevant, as the album's more about its overall impact than any specific highlights, although Obsidian's a personal favourite. Keys man Dan Pluta lists his setup, proving what your ears will already tell you, that the 'Mellotron' strings (phased, in some cases) on Thoracic Park, It Can't Be So, Bio-Freez and ten-minute closer For All Time are sampled. All in all, then, Carpe Nota is a fine album that should, if the stars are aligned, appeal to both 'trad' and 'modern' prog fans, without alienating either. Good work, chaps - I look forward to the follow-up.
Michael Carpenter's first album with his band, King's Rd., is a fine slice of powerpop, highlights including No Way Out and the ripping chord sequence in You're So Alone, although the overall effect has more punch than picking out individual tracks. Lachlan Williams' alleged Mellotron isn't even especially audible (the strings on Holiday?), so the chances of it being genuine are minuscule, I'd say. Rolling Ball is Michael Carpenter's sixth album and is apparently the one where his diverse influences come together, rather than sounding like several different records rolled into one. He still writes in a multitude of styles: powerpop (the opening title track), alt.country: (Nothing At all), singer-songwriter: (Good Enough), almost-hard rock: (No One), but the album retains a cohesive sound overall. Its chief problem seems to be the old 'handful of great tracks and lots of filler' syndrome; while there are no genuinely bad tracks on offer, there just aren't quite enough really good ones to make the album a satisfying overall listen. Carpenter plays the samplotron himself, with faint flutes on Emily Says, more obvious strings on No One, flutes and strings on Let Down and The Ache, with a background string part on On My Mind to finish things off nicely.
Carptree are categorised as 'neo-prog' by ProgArchives, but they have little in common with the '80s bands that define that sub-genre, sounding instead like a cross between 'modern prog' (Spock's Beard et al.) and the tuneless prog metal that seems to pass for mainstream progressive rock these days. 2005's Man Made Machine isn't a bad album as such, it's just rather faceless, and its pomposity is enough to make any old-school prog fan who appreciates a little subtlety run for the hills. Although I've seen references to 'Mellotron' in relation to this album, the strings heard throughout are very clearly 'Tron samples, the upper end of their reach being screechy and stretched, though, in fairness, nothing's credited on the album. So; rather uninspired modern prog with sampled 'Tron. Your choice, methinks.
Seems Mickael Carreira's a big name in Portugal, big enough, in fact, to release a sprawling double live CD (two hours, folks) after only three studio albums. In fairness, it's padded out to the max with lengthy singalongs and minutes at a time of crowd noise and Carreira's stage chat, but it still strikes me as a little hubristic. But then, what do I care? His mix of Iberian-flavoured pop/rock and Big Mediterranean Balladry is guaranteed to make him precisely zero fans outside his home market, like he cares. Our old friend Armando Avila gets his usual 'Mellotron' credit for playing something vaguely reminiscent of a Mellotron string sound on Filho E Pai and others. FFS.
I had no idea before I played this album, but Nick Carter is a member of The Backstreet Boys, which probably tells you all you need to know about him. 2002's Now or Never is his only proper solo album to date, ignoring his 'early demos' collection, Before the Backstreet Boys 1989-1993 and while it shows a reasonable diversity of style, it's still a mainstream pop album, mixing his usual boy-band thing with various dance styles, piano balladry and that kind of neutered 'metal' guitar sound on a few tracks, usually thrown in by producers in a vain attempt to portray their client as 'edgy'. The original, 12-track US release has no Mellotronic input, but one of the two overseas bonus tracks, Forever Rebel, has an exceedingly brief samplotron flute part from Phil Thornalley; his credit includes the fatal words 'programmed by'. I rest my case.
Along with the better-known Ryan Adams, Caitlin Cary is the other ex-Whiskeytown member to have a visible solo career, taking that outfit's Americana template and, er, making it more mainstream. Saying that, several tracks on her solo debut, 2002's While You Weren't Looking put the alt. into alt.country, not least Thick Walls Down and Pony. Jen Gunderman plays supposed Chamberlin, but, yet again, it's nowhere obviously to be heard. Why? Really, why? Why use such a cool instrument then ensure it's buried in the mix? I know it's shy and retiring, but a sympathetic producer can make it stand proud and tall, not hide its light under a bushel (whatever that is). Not this time, however. Cary took a whole year to follow up with I'm Staying Out, which shifts yet further away from 'alt.' territory, despite the odd track of the quality of Cello Girl (great guitar solo) and closer I Want To Learn To Waltz With You, complete with Frank Gratkowski's clarinet. Gunderman on samplotron this time round, albeit not very much, with strings on Sleepin' In On Sunday, Beauty Fades Away and I Want To Learn To Waltz With You. Samples all round, I reckon.
Neko Case runs her solo career concurrently with her membership of Canada's The New Pornographers (she lived in the country for some years). The Worse Things Get... is her sixth solo release, an indie-end-of-Americana record, at its best on the energetic Man, Bracing For Sunday and the gentle Calling Cards, maybe. Bo Koster's 'Mellotron' can be heard on opener Wild Creatures, with some improbably speedy flute arpeggios, plus cellos.
Peter Case has had an incredibly varied career, from playing bass with The Nerves, who wrote Hanging On The Telephone, later covered by Blondie, to working his way through other powerpop/Americana-orientated acts, including The Plimsouls, before kicking off his solo career in the mid-'80s. 1998's Full Service No Waiting is his seventh solo effort, by which point Case seems to've moved across into alt.country - actually, not so alt, really - treating the genre for what it is: American folk, rather than the slushy Nashville version, which has to be applauded. Best track? Probably the lengthy Drunkard's Harmony, which seem to have the bite missing on much of the album's content. Producer Andrew Williams is credited with Mellotron, rumoured to be on See Through Eyes, but I'll be buggered if I can hear it, there or anywhere else. So; decent enough alt.country album, no obvious Mellotron.
Shadowblack is, apparently, the last release in a trilogy, a combination of ELP-style prog bombast and neo-prog, although Gabrielle Agachiko's vocals on the non-instrumental tracks fail to convince. The album's chief failing is its lack of musical inspiration, typified by closer Till We Meet Again, with its bland G# to C# chord sequence. Nothing here startles, or makes the seasoned listener look up, even for a moment. Mellotron? The album opens with a (get this) minute-plus samplotron string chord, played by Casey. Eight-second limit? Pshaw. Loads more pseudotron, for what it's worth, mostly strings and choir.
Casiotone for the Painfully Alone are effectively San Franciscan Owen Ashworth's solo project, although he uses collaborators as and when. 2009's vs. Children (or Casiotone for the Painfully Alone vs. Children, I suppose) is something like his sixth album, a low-fi delight of cheap drum machines, muted voices and school-hall piano, filled with strange, ageless little songs with titles like Tom Justice, The Choir Boy Robber, Apprehended At Ace Hardware In Libertyville, IL or Traveling Salesman's Young Wife Home Alone On Christmas In Montpelier, VT. I'm not even sure who might go for Ashworth's highly individual approach to music-making, although I hope someone does; this is too quirky to ignore, even if it's not exactly my bag. Ashworth freely admits to using Mellotron samples, which makes a nice change, with flutes and cellos on Man O'War, very upfront flutes on Killers (an amusing parody of Bowie's "Heroes") and closer White Jetta.
Amazingly, Mexico's Cast originally formed in 1978, keeping a low profile in the stinky '80s and releasing their first album in 1994. Although they tended heavily towards the neo-prog end of things in the '90s, they've slowly developed a sound of their own, until by their fifteenth release (they were very busy in their first decade), 2007's Com.union (ho ho), they can probably be said to be about as original as they're going to get within the confines of the genre. Despite its length (again...), the album has several highlights, not least the epic Elfonía, the odd, brassy, '60s-ish Hogar Dulce Hogar and Lobos, although one major criticism is Claudio Cordero's guitar work: all too often, it seems he can't think of anything more original to do than riff along with the keyboards. More imagination please, sir. Alfonso Vidales is credited with 'Melotron', but the strings and choirs on Elfonía sound about as genuine as that spelling, to absolutely no-one's surprise. Overall, then, a far better effort than I was expecting, having vestigial memories of being bored stupid by this lot in the late '90s. A shame a few more bands from that time can't pull their socks up in a similar fashion.
Castle Canyon were yet another early '70s US progressive band who, more through circumstance than lack of talent, never got the breaks, even in a small way. Bassist Fred Chalenor and keys man Erik Ian Walker reconnected twenty years later and after finding drummer Paul Elias, decided to record some of their old material, the end result finally appearing in 2009 as the self-deprecatingly-titled Gods of 1973. And they sound like...? They sound like they listened to a variety of bands back then, not least Kansas, Gentle Giant and (unsurprisingly) ELP, other non-prog artists and a range of classical musics. Highlights include the epic Canoeing On The River Styx, the even more epic Triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number thirteen, years before Present's Triskaidékaphobie) and Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs/Cantabile Semplice, although, in truth, there's not a single track on this sensibly-lengthed album that disappoints.
The band openly admit Mellotron sample use (which makes a nice change), with strings on The Mighty Arp and flutes on the title track, plus other probable background use. Incidentally, the ARP 2600 heard all over the album was (get this) found discarded next to a skip. Do you know how much these things are worth? Thank fuck they found it before it was junked... When you consider some of the utter rubbish that passes for 'progressive' these days, or even if you don't, Castle Canyon are an absolute breath of fresh air, succeeding in sounding like no-one else in particular, while writing accessible material that's unlikely to offend any but the most ardent neo- fan. Buy this album.
To prove it wasn't a flash in the pan, the band have released a second album, Criteria Obsession, admittedly, six years after their exceedingly belated debut. And? It's noticeably more diverse, shifting between the welcome Focus/Trace-isms of opener Wiggy Beets and the psychedelicisms of the lengthy Criteria Obsession/The Mushroom Song, while Disaster goes all Canterbury on us. Two archive recordings from 1974 find their way onto the album, with that rescued 2600 getting an outing on Pope's Cabin and closer Zig Zag River. To be brutally honest, I'm less fussed about the jammed-out, repetitive My Lady Carey, even if it's based on a piece from the 16th Century, but it's hardly enough to put off prospective buyers. Surprisingly little samplotron use, with naught but background strings in Wiggy Beets, but a snippet of fake Mellotron is neither here nor there, frankly.
Cristian Castro is a Mexican actor/singer in possession of the requisite sultry good looks expected of such a thing, working in the mainstream Latin area, which is about as palatable to the rest of us as you can imagine. 2009's El Culpable Soy Yo is something like his twelfth album since the early '90s, full of plaintive Spanish-language balladry of the kind you try to avoid during Mediterranean (or Mexican) holidays. It's perfectly good at what it does, I suppose (he said, grudgingly), but what it does is awful. Armando Avila allegedly plays Mellotron, although you'd be forgiven for not spotting it; the nearest thing to it is the cellos on closer No Me Digas (Balada), but they could just as easily emanate from one of the album's programmed synths. In other words: just don't.
Despite being yet another American Idol contestant, Jason Castro's eponymous album's powerpop/conteporary pop hybrid is surprisingly good, although its 'vocal nine times as loud as everything else' mainstream pop production's a little hard to bear. Better tracks include It Matters To Me, his take on Leonard Cohen's deathless Hallelujah and the deluxe edition's Heart Of Stone. John Fields is credited with Chamberlin. Really?
Catbird are the Danish duo of Billie Koppel (daughter of Savage Rose's Annisette and Thomas Koppel) and Frank Hasselstrøm, whose second (?) album, 2008's Among Us, could be considered a triumph of sparse, vaguely jazzy adult pop, if you were feeling generous. It could also be described as too slow for its own good, without quite enough content to justify its melancholy excesses, although the truth almost certainly lies somewhere in between. Better tracks include the string-laden opening title track, the vaguely Gallic How Long Must I Wait and the jazzy piano-and-vibes of City Of Blue, but Koppel's weary, little-girl voice is definitely an acquired taste. Savage Rose's Palle Hjorth is credited with Mellotron on How Long Must I Wait and Midnight Shelter, but the vague string parts on both tracks clearly have little to do with a real machine, making that band's own supposed use from the previous year even more suspect than before. Sorry to be so negative, but, while a few tracks of this album have a certain childlike charm about them, a whole album becomes something of a drag.
Chris Catena? Whadd'ya reckon? Sensitive singer-songwriter? Mainstream Italian pop artist? Avant-garde Euro-synthesist? Wrong, wrong, wrong. Chris Catena is a 'melodic rock' (as I believe it's now known) vocalist, whose Discovery sounds like a collection of Whitesnake (crap era) outtakes, frankly. OK, it's harmless enough, but this stuff now occupies a niche not dissimilar to that of prog; a once-massively popular style reduced to a hardcore of devotees, for better or worse. Catena clearly has a 'name' of some sort in the biz, however, as the album features guest spots from musicians of the calibre of Tony Franklin, Pat Travers, Carmine Appice, Bobby Kimball, Earl Slick, Bruce Kulick and, er, Uriah Duffy, none of whom make it any the more interesting a listen.
Someone called Eugene is credited with Mellotron on the seven-minute The Space, but I really can't imagine that the vague string and choir sounds utilised towards the end of the piece have anything to do with a real machine. So; not quite AOR, not quite hair-metal, more a middle ground for the genre's slowly diminishing fanbase. Progressive rock still throws up some artists prepared to take a chance, in the spirit of its pioneers; melodic rock was always designed to be part of the commercial mainstream, so it comes as no surprise to learn that, once washed up on a beach of the bleached bones of superseded musical styles, it, too, will eventually die.
Cathedral (UK) see:
The Caulfields were a Delaware-based band who, although rarely described as such, were essentially a powerpop outfit, albeit one with a few '90s indie influences thrown into the mix. 1995's Whirligig was their first album (of two), covering a fair bit of ground in the genre, including the jangly powerpop of Alex Again, the more hardcore-influenced Rickshaw and the balladic Fragile, although, sadly, the album never really ignites in the way of the field's top names. Bruce Kaphan guests on samplotron, with rather watery strings on opener Devil's Diary, although that appears to be it. So; a decent enough album that tries really hard, but rarely actually hits the spot. Unfortunately, the general public clearly thought so, too, as the band split after their second album, 1997's L.
I'm not really sure what Celebration are trying to achieve on their second album, 2007's The Modern Tribe. Modern psychedelia? Indie? Soft rock? All of the above? Moments of instrumental beauty are squashed flat by long, long minutes of failed funk and overcooked Hammond work, not to mention Katrina Ford's voice, which, shall we say, frequently lacks tunefulness. The album's worst crime, though, is a lack of memorable material, surely a prerequisite for music towards the 'pop' end of the spectrum? Sean Antanaitis is credited with Mellotron, along with Taurus pedals and others, but if the strings on several tracks, notably closer Our Hearts Don't Change, actually emanate from a real machine, I'll be stunned. Seriously, they're not even good samples. I'd like to be nicer about this album, but I'm afraid it's defeated me. Nice sleeve?
After a (relatively) confirmed Mellotron album in 2007's This Isn't Here, I wouldn't really call David Celia's I Tried 'Americana', more 'an Americana update of old-time music'; not very snappy, I'll admit, but accurate. Highlights? Rocking opener Turnout, I'm Not Texan, as much for its superb lyrics as the music and the gentle Bug's Apocalypse, possibly. Celia's supposed to play Chamberlin, but the full-on string and woodwind parts on Severeine don't quite convince.
Despite being Italian, Cellar Noise's 2017 debut, Alight, is 'set' in London, namechecking several landmarks, although I can't work out what the concept might actually be. In many ways, this is a typical modern Italian progressive release, its contents veering between quiet, piano-led sections and all-out rock, with large helpings of 'symphonic' prog to fill in the gaps. My personal preference would be for less of the pseudo-metal guitarisms, but their potential audience has been primed for this sound over the last couple of decades or more, so I can hardly blame the band for making a record that people will like! Best tracks? Probably lengthy instrumental opener Dive With Me, Temple, with its classical guitar intro and the quietly ominous Move The Stone, while Blackfriars is notable for copping Genesis' Slippermen riff. Keys man Niccolò Gallani wrote to me, admitting his use of an M4000D sample player; to be honest, sir, I'd have spotted it immediately; the sounds are 'authentic' enough, but far too smooth to ever be mistaken for a real, tape-based machine. Strings and choirs on all tracks, with the occasional burst of flute, plus vibes and cello on Embankment and male choir on Temple.
Mercy sits at the duller end of the pop/rock spectrum, waffling along for nearly fifty minutes without really saying anything. Any better tracks? Opener Watching You Drown and Sorry, maybe, probably because they're the two most energetic things here. Frank Amato's 'Mellotron' isn't, however, with sampled flutes all over the title track and further in the background on Everything He Loved.
Céu's Latin grooves have more than a little of that intermittently-popular brand of pre-psych '60s pop about them, which, given that Latin styles were that era's chief inspiration, is hardly surprising. Anyway, the album's at its best on its less obvious material, such as the brief, Hammond-heavy Fffree and the gloomy Streets Bloom. The obviously sampled 'Mellotron' only seems to crop up once, with flutes on Asfalto E Sal.
Chain Poets is a really rather good heavy-end-of-powerpop album, highlights including The Crush, the superb Little Tin Toys, the haunting Spleen, Emotion Sickness, closer Tidal... Nary a bad track here, I'd say. Greg Kaegen is credited with Mellotron; the strings on Spleen and Sweet Dreams appear sampled, but every now and again, an authentic wobble creeps in. Messing about with the samples?
Armen Chakmakian was a latterday member of Shadowfax, so it should come as no surprise to hear that his second solo album, 2004's Caravans, while almost obscenely pleasant, is also very, very dull. This is the new age end of prog (or, of course, vice versa), at its best on the three-part Birdsong Medley, probably due to his use of repeating melodic themes, rather than his usual 'drifting' style. Although Chakmakian is credited with Mellotron, the strings on a few tracks (notably Without A Word) are far too smooth and regular for any level of genuinity, not to mention several notes sustained for too long. Sorry, but despite decent moments here and there, this is a very 'background listening' release; fine if that's what you're after, I suppose...
How ironic that I should finally review a band called Chamberl(a)in, yet they use a Mellotron... Going by their second and last 'proper' album, The Moon My Saddle, Chamberlain were an ex-hardcore band who moved into the realms of mainstream, 'rootsy' pop/rock in a Counting Crows vein. The only keyboards used are Hammond, piano and Mellotron, while a slightly alt.country air to the proceedings makes comparisons with the Crows, The Hooters et al. unavoidable. Outstanding tracks, or even slightly above average ones? Good Enough and Until The Day Burns Down up the energy levels for a few moments, although the latter's about three minutes too long, but that's hardly a recommendation. Mellotron? Not a lot, no. A background cello (?) part on Stars In The Streetlight and a slightly more audible one on closer Last To Know, from Jonathan Cohen, fairly obviously sampled. This is a stupendously dull album; I couldn't find a single thing about it that grabbed my attention in any way. Chamberlain sounded just like a thousand other American bands, with their 'heartfelt' vocals and faux-'authentic' instrumentation, so it's not particularly surprising they came up against a brick wall eventually; as is well known, there's only room for so many artists of any one type in the industry.
Über-session drummer Matt Chamberlain's eponymous album is, unsurprisingly, rhythm-led, incorporating elements from jazz, electronica, various world musics and a generous helping of the avant-garde. But is it any good? Fucked if I know. Chamberlain is (gratifyingly) credited with Chamberlin, but the occasional flute lines and other possibilities sound sampled.
Californian Courtney Chambers' Bigger & Brighter sits at the Americana end of the singer-songwriter spectrum, better tracks including Pencil And Paper, Under Zenith and lengthy closer I'm Ready To Go Now. Sean Hoffman's Mellotron? Background strings on opener Any Way and Bigger And Brighter and more upfront ones on Confessions, only the last-named sounding at all authentic.
Chance: Risiko sound like they've been listening to the outer edges of King Crimson, although I wouldn't be surprised to find that their direct influences are more that early '90s strain of post-hardcore math rock (Shudder to Think and their ilk, assuming they have an ilk). Angular-yet-melodic, in its own way, Sleep Talking isn't the easiest album on which to get a handle, but when you've heard as much musical slop as my good self, you realise how badly bands like this need encouragement. Samplotron? Nothing especially obvious.
I can't work out, from Rumors of My Death, whether or not Jerry Chapman's an obviously Christian artist; Do Anything quotes from the same Biblical verse as The Byrds' Turn! Turn! Turn!, but they weren't god-botherers, either. I've seen the album described as 'adult contemporary', which sounds about right; utterly bland, faceless adult pop. Things pick up a bit on opener Surround You and Goin' Nowhere, but it's too little, too late. Chapman's credited with Chamberlin; what, the background strings on One Wheel In A Hurricane and Do Anything? Incidentally, a second, short disc of covers has been added to reissues, Chapman tackling Styx (the unexpected Man In The Wilderness), Prince, The Beatles and The Blue Öyster Cult (guess which song? Anyone who said Black Blade can go to the back of the class), amongst others, although, in fairness, he makes a decent go of (Don't Fear) The Reaper, refusing to merely play it in the same style as the original, but badly. Yes, Big Country, I'm looking at you. Shame Chapman didn't release the covers disc as the actual album.
Sweden's female-fronted The Charade are at the better end of indie-pop, with influences stretching further back than merely the previous generation of bands (i.e. about five years); The Byrds and other, lesser '60s outfits are clearly audible in their sound, which makes a nice change. Saying that, 2006's A Real Life Drama's overall tweeness counts against it, although a couple of tracks at a time are perfectly acceptable. Mikael Matsson supposedly plays Mellotron, but while the lovely flute part on opener My Song To You sounds reasonably authentic, the 'Mellotron' strings all over A Tough Decision, Stockholm July 2005 and closer Faith are clearly sampled. Scando-indiepop with sampled Mellotron, anyone? Even the better stuff? Thought not.
Americanbittersweet is, as you might expect, an Americana album, at its best when it steps away from the standard template, not least on Promised Land, or closer Light Pollution. Charlton and Stewart Myers are both credited with Mellotron, but the distant strings on Clementine and Already Gone and background choirs on Light Pollution sound distinctly inauthentic.
Scott Chasolen's Solitude Speaks is an infuriating album: for every sublime melody or unexpected chord change, we get acres of lite jazz and fucking Autotune. Why? I mean, WHY did he think it might be a good idea to Autotune his voice? It sounds perfectly good without, so why stick that shitty, dating effect on it at all? Surreal. Anyway, Things Between is about the best song, or would be without... you guessed it. Despite his collection of vintage gear, Chasolen's 'Mellotron' consists of no more than faint, most likely sampled string pitchbends on A Line Through Time. Seven years on, Fracture is a better proposition all round, although I can still detect subtle Autotune use here and there. The best songs sound like an updated Elton John, perhaps, including opener Novocaine, the Wurlitzer-driven Larceny and the Genesis-channelling Evolve, with a 'Mellotron' polyphonic flute part on I Didn't Mean to Let You Down and upfront strings on Scatterbrain.
One Room Palace is a goth-end-of-singer-songwriter record, although I'm not sure Odessa Chen would thank me for saying so. The trouble is, her fragile, minor-key material has something of the night about it, so when Default's goth-riffery kicks in, I'm left with no alternative. Jeff Byrd is credited with Mellotron on For A Song and Default, but... it isn't.
María "Chenoa" Falomir, despite being Argentinian-born, grew up and resides in Spain, singing professionally since her teens. Her fifth album, 2007's Absurda Cenicienta, is a Spanish-language pop/rock effort, less irritating tracks including the rock'n'roll of Mucho Rodaje and the funky Cita A Ciegas, but the majority of the record is pretty dullsville, if relatively inoffensive and professional to a T. Jacob Sureda plays Mellotron, with sampled strings on Vive Tu Vida, although the part on Dieciseis sounds more like generic string samples.
Cherubin are one of those mid-'70s outfits, German in this case, who get labelled 'prog' without really being anything of the sort. The bulk of Cherub Safety Match is middling soft/country rock, better moments being the first minute of Overture, the second half of Choo Choo Train, Silver Song Part I (the instrumental part, unsurprisingly) and the jammed-out Now We're Coming. Bo Born might very well be credited with Mellotron, but, aside from an occasional string synth and the real strings on After All This Time Te Ka Hum He, there's precisely nothing here that matches that description.
Cheryl (Cole, née Tweedy) quite possibly means little outside the UK, for which the rest of the world should be thankful. Finding fame with rubbish girl group Girls Aloud, she went on to marry a famous(ly philandering) footballer and carve herself a media career, becoming such a household name in the process that she clearly feels confident enough to try for entry to the 'first name club'. You know, Madonna, Beyoncé, Cher, Adele... Arrogant? Possibly, but most likely management-driven, rather than down to Ms. Cole's self-regard. He said, trying to give her the benefit of the doubt for no particular reason.
2014's Only Human is her fourth solo album, entirely predictable in its 'currently-popular mainstream pop' production. Then again, criticising it on those grounds is akin to berating the Pope for being Catholic, really; what else is she going to do? Hard house? Industrial? Black metal? Of course it's as-mainstream-as-it-gets pop. Are there any better tracks? Not especially, no (he said, to absolutely no-one's surprise), although Coming Up For Air at least features some slightly creative synth work. Hmmm. Not really good enough, is it? Producer Caesars' Jocke Åhlund is credited with Mellotron on I Don't Care, but the stabby strings on the track are extremely obviously sampled. That takes care of that one, then. Anything else to say? Nope.
The Chesterfield Kings (named for the once-popular brand of American gasper) formed way back in '79, when bassist Andy Babiuk was only sixteen. Although their specific style has shifted over the years, they unsurprisingly fall loosely into what Americans would probably refer to as post-British Invasion; late beat/early psych to the rest of us. I've read somewhere that 1994's Let's Go Get Stoned was originally meant to be a Stones tribute album, becoming watered down to, well, an album of originals containing one Stones cover. Mind you, the rest of the material might as well be by Mick, Keef'n'the boys, with Long Ago, Far Away copping its intro from Sympathy For The Devil, while you'd sweat Brian Jones was playing on several tracks. Babiuk is credited with Mellotron on I'm So Confused, Baby, with strings all over the track, although we're clearly hearing early samples (eMu's Vintage Synth box appeared the previous year).
2003's The Mindbending Sounds of... is something like their ninth non-compilation album in twenty years, and while it's a decent listen for those into the era, its chief problem is that it's more pastiche than homage, channelling The Stones one minute (Flashback, Memos From Purgatory), Love the next (Transparent Life)... You get the picture. It's not a bad record, by any means, but its dearth of originality scuppers it in the 'undying classics' stakes. All four members are credited with multiple instruments, including, in Greg Provost's case, Mellotron. Er, if you say so, Greg... There's absolutely nothing audible at all, so Christ knows where it's supposed to be, but it doesn't seem to be this album.
Their follow-up, 2007's Psychedelic Sunrise, is, unsurprisingly, more psych-influenced than its predecessor, although there's still plenty of '66 Stones copies for the old school brigade, including the Lady Jane-style acoustic effort Inside Looking Out and the Paint It, Black near-rip-off Spanish Sun (that sitar riff!). Provost's 'Mellotron' is actually audible on one track this time, with a background string part on Rise And Fall, once again sampled, with an odd 'tape slowing down' thing at the end of the song.
Despite being largely non-Latin New Yorkers, Chicha Libre's music is based on a Peruvian variant of cumbia, called, funnily enough, chicha. Their second album is a case-study in joie de vivre, the band's lack of authenticity allowing them to experiment, bringing outside influences into the genre. Best track? Undoubtedly their amusing take on The Ride Of The Valkyries, genre tropes intact. Joshua Camp supposedly plays Mellotron - in fact, it even sounds authentic in places - but the high-speed strings on Ride Of The Valkyries and similarly speedy strings and flutes elsewhere give the sample game away.
Led by Paul Dougherty, the Nashville-based Chilhowie were an indie/powerpop outfit existing between 1992 and 2000, never quite breaking out of their home region. Their only album was 1999's Happy Hour, a decent enough effort without being particularly outstanding, better tracks including the muted Hüsker Dü-isms of Ash Wednesday, the angular guitar work on Cold Fusion and the punky Fuck. With no Mellotron specifically credited, it's no work of genius to decide that Dave Layne's string part on Loser is sampled, particularly noticeable on the high notes. Presumably long out of print, the album's available as a free download from Dougherty's website, a practice from which many other artists could learn, I think.
Choo Choo Train were effectively the duo of Paul Chastain and Ric Menck, who went on to form the semi-legendary Velvet Crush, although they only released an EP and a handful of singles in their original incarnation. The Briar Rose E.P. is a brief, perfect slice of powerpop, with no obvious '80s influence whatsoever (hurrah!), every track a winner, its possible peak being the gorgeous vocal harmonies on Flower Field. Chastain allegedly plays Mellotron, although I've absolutely no idea where; the production's transparent enough that it should be pretty obvious, but the only keyboards present sound distinctly un-Mellotronic. Still, it'd be a shame to deny such a great record a review on such a nitpicking point, wouldn't it? I don't know if the compilation of most of their recorded works, 1992's Briar High (Singles 1988), is still available, but should you spot a copy, grab it to hear a minor powerpop classic. Superb.
Fly High Brave Dreamers is a resolutely downbeat record, its tempos only rarely exceeding 'funereal', although it's difficult to pinpoint stylistically. Slowcore? I'm vaguely reminded of Low, although Chris (Eckman) and Carla (Torgerson, both of The Walkabouts) are no match for that outfit. Chris and Carla are both credited with Mellotron, but all we get are somewhat inauthentic flute and string parts on opener At The Twilight's Last Gleaming.
Tim Christensen (Denmark) see:
Christianes' sole release is a cheaply-recorded, low-fi, female-fronted psych/pop album, South American style, which pulls through despite its handicaps, at its best on material such as Amor Ultravioleta and Sol. José Miguel Miranda may very well be credited with Mellotron, but, as they're few and far between on that continent, it'll come as no great surprise to hear that there's absolutely nothing audible.
Made Out of Babies/Battle of Mice's frontwoman Julie Christmas has been memorably described as 'batshit crazy', which seems a tad harsh, although I'll admit that her solo debut, 2010's The Bad Wife, is a little odd. Musically, it falls between several stools, not least punk, jazz and avant-garde, the end result being more listenable in some places than others. Christmas memorably elects to tackle Jacques Brel (If You Go Away) and Willie Nelson (I Just Destroyed The World), although the album's climax, both figuratively and literally, is overblown closer When Everything Is Green. Andrew Schneider supposedly plays Mellotron on the last-named, with high strings hiding under a slide guitar part that obscures the sound's origin: sample or real? Not an album for the faint-hearted, I'd say.
Torched Laughter is apparently 'an acoustic companion to the 2006 avant-prog album Smoke & Origination', although if you didn't know, you... wouldn't know. Elements of folk and Americana creep into its sound, although I'm not sure the songs are strong enough to respond to their low-key treatment. Christopher (Krupey) adds sampled Mellotron flutes to a few tracks, including a line on opener Jaw Filled Wreckage and a chordal part on Clockwork Contaminate.
Tonight's Going to Be Everything That I Said rediscovers the invisible link between punk and psychedelia, peaking on the raging Dhobi Wallah Blues, A Carnival Affair, the psychedelic Finding Pasture and Tryptizol. Paul Bothén is credited with Mellotron on opener Comin' Back To You, but the rather bogus flutes on the track aren't convincing anyone.
The Church must be one of Australia's, if not music in general's best-kept secrets. Active for nearly thirty years at the time of writing, they've released something like 25 albums in that time, still flying the flag for psychedelic pop in one form or another. 2009's Untitled #23 keeps their standards high, featuring material of the quality of Cobalt Blue, with its prog chord changes, Deadman's Hand and dreamy closer Opperetta, although there's nothing here that should've been left on the shelf. Despite an average song-length of around five minutes, nothing outstays its welcome either; good trick if you can do it, chaps. Steve Kilbey plays Mellotron female choir and vibes on Sunken Sun, although the band's website lists him as playing them on Deadman's Hand. Tim Powles adds a nice string part to Pangaea, gentle flutes on On Angel Street and upfront strings on closer Opperetta, with several other instrumental parts on the album sounding Mellotronic, although I think we can assume they're not. However, a re-listen tells me it's all most likely sampled.
Annabelle Chvostek's Resilience is a late-period Lilith Fair-style album, more folk than Americana. John Hermanson's credited with Mellotron, but the distant strings on Firewalker really aren't cutting the mustard.
The New York-based Cibo Matto consisted of Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda; the band name translates loosely from the Italian for 'food madness', reflected in the gastronomically-related titles of most of the tracks on their 1996 debut, Viva! La Woman. Musically, they incorporated hip-hop, various Latin styles and mainstream pop, amongst other things, creating a veritable smorgasbord of sound, with considerable variety on their second and last album, '99's Stereo Type A. NYC resident Sean Lennon was a band member at the time, though it has to be said that his influence isn't that discernable, unless you count what have to be sampled Mellotron strings on Clouds and choir on Mortming (from Yumiko Ohno and 'Zak'), although he used a 'some real, some sampled' approach on his '98 solo album, Into the Sun, also featuring Yuka Honda. So; if you're feeling eclectic, in a hip-hop/Latin kind of way, you may well go for this, but it's really not worth it for some sampled Mellotron.
The female-fronted Ciccada have greatly surprised me by being a new progressive band from somewhere outside Scandinavia who are trying to do something with the genre, if only in a limited way. Actually 2010's A Child in the Mirror's chief influences seem to be medieval music in general and Änglagård in particular; rarely a bad thing, although some of it's a bit blatant, particularly the root-to-flattened-fifth chord changes heard here and there. Overall, though, while lacking originality, this is a very listenable album, although too long by a good fifteen minutes, to be honest. Standout tracks? This is one of those 'should be listened to as a whole' records, rather than something you dip into. Plenty of fake Mellotron, with string, cello and choir parts dotted throughout, although the flute is real. Hurrah! A new prog album that isn't full of pointless riffing guitar and overwrought vocals! While this is very good, I suspect Ciccada can do better; I look forward to their follow-up.
And... here it is! A five year wait, but worth it. I'd be lying if I attempted to accuse the band of originality, but within the stylistic parameters they set themselves on their first release, this is a triumph, highlights including instrumental opener A Night Ride, the folk-inflected Around The Fire and The Finest Of Miracles, a five-part epic that, er, sounds like five different tracks. Mucho samplotron, with flutes, strings and brass all over A Night Ride, choirs and strings on Eternal and combinations of the above on pretty much everything but the under-a-minute Lemnos. Question: how do you inject any real originality into symphonic progressive rock these days? Answer: fucked if I know. I don't think Ciccada know, either, but they still manage to produce some of the most melodic examples of the genre in these moribund times.
Cinerama began as a Wedding Present side-project, quickly eclipsing them before leader David Gedge split the band and reformed the 'Weddoes'. Confused? Good. Cinerama recorded so many Peel sessions that they've been released in three volumes; I haven't heard the third in the series (the first appears to feature real Mellotron), but John Peel Sessions: Season 2 consists of four live tracks and eight studio, all in the band's faux-early '60s style, clearly in thrall to Serge Gainsbourg and John Barry. I suppose you really have to be into the era's ethos to get anything much out of this material; suffice to say, the lyrics (some of which are really very good) seem to take precedence over the music, which is pretty bland fare, all told. Sally Murrell (Gedge's then-partner and chief Cinerama collaborator) plays keys, including Mellotron flute samples on several tracks, notably Aprés Ski (probably the best thing here, at least lyrically), Lollobrigida (French Version), Sly Curl, their take on The Carpenters' horrible Yesterday Once More and Get Smart. Not exactly what you'd call essential listening, then, although Gedge fans will lap (and almost certainly already have lapped) it up.
Circadian Rhythm (named for the natural 24-hour sleep cycle of lifeforms on our planet) manage to be better than the average CCM band by the simple expedient of, er, sounding like U2. You don't like U2? Believe me, you prefer them to the usual near-MOR pap churned out by most Christian bands. Actually, Circadian Rhythm like U2 so much, they do a pointlessly straight cover of their Gloria on what appears to be their sole album, Over Under Everything, although it ends up being the album's best track, so let's not whinge too much... No, their music isn't the most inspired ever, but (gloopy lyrics aside), it's good by CCM standards, should you be into this strange, lyrically-defined genre. Two supposed tape-replay tracks here, with Mellotron strings on Into You from Otto Price that sound nothing like a Mellotron and allegedly some Chamberlin on Sounds Of A Revolution, though I'll be buggered if I can hear anything (am I allowed to say 'buggered' in a CCM review?). Circadian Rhythm split up in 2002, which is sort of a shame, as their indie rock thing should have given the Christian music community a kick up the arse and maybe diverted it from the usual shite with which it associates itself.
Tulikoira is Circle's fifteenth studio album in around a decade, ignoring the raft of live albums, EPs etc. So who are they, anyway? They describe themselves, with no little humour, as 'NWOFHM', or, in case you hadn't guessed, the New Wave Of Finnish Heavy Metal, although both they and others have also used the terms Krautrock, Speedkraut, Psych... Basically, Circle do whatever the hell they like, for which both their fans and I love 'em, whether or not I actually like their music.
So do I actually like Tulikoira or not? It's probably fairer to say I respect it rather than actually like it per se, although repeated exposure could well sway me. It's certainly intriguing, mixing genres like there's no tomorrow; opener Rautakäärme starts in a semi-ambient manner, before the speed metal kicks in, overlaid with sampled strings, shifting back to a ghostly monks' chant with occasional powerchords... Get the picture? Probably not, no, not that I can blame you. Tulilintu is marginally more 'normal', with vocals this time, in a declamatory Finnish kind of way, while Beserk is slower, with English-language spoken vocals. The 'side-long' Puutiikeri is the album's centrepiece, though, all 24 minutes of it, starting like an Iron Maiden epic, all galloping guitars and more Finnish half-sung lyrics, before heading off into more interesting pastures. OK, not much like an Iron Maiden epic at all, really. This track is where the band earn their 'Krautrock' spurs, at least as far as this album's concerned, with motorik drumming and interlocking guitar parts that Maiden wouldn't dare try, or even contemplate.
The album's 'Mellotron', presumably from vocalist Mike Rättö, consists of an octave string part on Puutiikeri, slipping in and out of the mix, although the suspiciously high pitch (a tone above the Mellotron's top note) and unnatural sound comdemn this to the sample dungeon. Anyway, that's your lot, as the strings on Rautakäärme and the choirs on Beserk are generic samples. So; do you bother? 'Yes' if you want to hear something new and different, 'no' if you want something fairly generic with loads of Mellotron, or indeed, any at all. Circle are different enough that I wouldn't mind hearing more (and there's plenty of it), although I shall probably approach with caution.
Circulatory System are yet another neo-psych act straight outta Atlanta's Elephant Six stable (Apples in Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control), although the original grouping apparently dissolved in the early 2000s. Will Cullen Hart was E6's chief guiding light in the '90s, but an MS diagnosis has slowed him down in recent years, making Signal Morning his first significant release in the better part of a decade. It's certainly psychedelic and in a particularly skronky way, but is it any good? Influences include Syd's Floyd (of course) and what sounds to my ears like various US protagonists of the era, the end result being varied/confused (delete according to taste). Best tracks? Hard to say, although the druggy Rocks And Stones and surprisingly mainstream (circa 1968) The Breathing Universe stand out. As with every other 'Mellotron' E6 band, sample use is de rigeur, with obvious flutes on This Morning (We Remembered Everything) and distant strings on Gold Will Stay, with other probable parts dotted around, low in the mix. To be honest, if you're after a twee, sub-Piper...-esque album, I really couldn't recommend Signal Morning, but if something a little more out there is more to your taste, feel free. At least it's better than Thee Oh Sees.
New York-dwelling Sicilian ex-pat Chiara Civello seems to receive plaudits from jazz-lovers, although going by her third album, 2010's 7752 (kilometres from NYC to Rio, the two cities that inspired it), I have absolutely no idea why. It's a mainstream, Italian/English-language 'adult pop' release, better tracks including Latin-esque efforts such as opener 8 Storie and Dimmi Perche, let down by tedious string-laden balladry like closer Non Avevo Capito Niente. No jazz, however. Civello is credited with Mellotron, but where? Where? There are string parts all over the album, but they all sound real, so fuck alone knows. Anyway, despite its overall professionalism (so what?), this is a pretty dull release, without even the icing of some Mellotron to liven things up.
Eric Clapton's nineteenth or so solo album is pretty much what you'd expect of an old bluesman; a light, jazzy effort, concentrating mainly on covers and featuring a plethora of famous friends. Is it any good? Not especially, no, but then, I never was a fan. In fairness, Clapton's artistry isn't in question, although his motivation just might be. Alongside his clearly audible Clavinet, Justin Stanley's credited with Mellotron, but I'm afraid the background strings on Every Little Thing do little to convince.
Claire "Clarika" Keszei's fourth album, 2005's Joker, is a very acceptable French-language singer-songwriter effort, if a little musically unadventurous, trading avant-garde credibility for good tunes and inoffensive pop/rock arrangements. In keeping with her chosen genre (such as it is), the lyrics assume more importance than the music, making my (and possibly your) limited French something of a handicap, although I doubt whether she's exactly imparting the secrets of the universe to us. Philippe Desbois plays samplotron on L'Avant-Dernier, with a polyphonic flute part that enhances the song nicely.
Alain Clark is a Dutch singer-songwriter who's managed to get that American soul sound down pat, to the point where you'd have absolutely no idea he didn't hail from Chicago's South Side or similar. 2007's Live it Out is his second album, full of impassioned soul sides like Go There and closer All You Gotta Change, which, frankly, aren't really going to appeal to the average Planet Mellotron reader. Good at what it does, assuming you like what it does. Two credited 'Mellotron' tracks, with Reyn Ouwehand's major flute part on Head Over Heels and Clark's flutes and strings on I Need You, while one or the other puts uncredited flutes (and strings?) onto the title track. Samples, methinks.
After belonging to some no-hoper L.A. bands in the '80s, Gilby Clarke joined Guns N'Roses (always loved their half-arsed approach to punctuation. Not.) in 1991, replacing original rhythm player Izzy Stradlin (whad'ya mean, "Isn't that his real name?"). After being ousted a couple of years later, in one of Axl's perpetual power games, Clarke has gone on to lead a Hollywood b-list rock star life, releasing competent solo albums and forming short-lived outfits with other nearly men, not to mention bagging major parts in low-rent US TV 'reality' shows. Hey, it's a living, right?
Actually, I'm being rather unfair, as his records seem to have some substance to them, with none of Guns' horrible sub-Aerosmithisms, I'm please to be able to report. '94's Pawnshop Guitars is his solo debut, featuring a slightly intriguing mixture of styles, with the (very) slightly Zep-esque Johanna's Chopper contrasting sharply with the swamp-blues of Skin And Bones, although the bulk of the album fits fairly and squarely into the 'bluesy hard rock' category. Let's face it, it could be a lot worse... Clarke's vocals are decent enough, if slightly characterless, which probably sums up this album's chief failing; everything on it is 'OK', 'alright', 'not bad'. I feel as if I'm damning it with faint praise, but there really isn't anything here that leaps out at you and yells, "Listen to me!" A couple of covers create a pattern for his next several albums, with passable stabs at The Stones' Dead Flowers and The Clash's Jail Guitar Doors, neither of which adds an awful lot to the originals. I get the impression Clarke was still in G N'R when this album was recorded, as various members guest, including the mighty Waxl (cough) and long-term keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who plays 'Strawberry Fields'-esque samplotron flutes on Black to reasonable effect.
His follow-up, '97's The Hangover, is essentially more of the same, with several slower and/or bluesier tracks to break up the pseudo-'70s hard rock template. None of his material's that inspiring, but the driving rhythm of Zip Gun and the acoustic Blue Grass Mosquito are about the best of the home-grown bunch. Two back-to-back covers again, with a fairly good Happiness Is A Warm Gun (Beatles, of course) followed by a pointless carbon-copy of Bowie's Hang On To Yourself, which only shows up Clarke's material as being as ordinary as it is. Clarke himself plays more of those 'Strawberry Fields' flutes, fittingly I suppose, on Happiness Is A Warm Gun, although it would've worked nicely on at least two or three other tracks. Spoilsport. '98's Rubber repeats the formula once more, although it has its moments. Janis Joplin's Mercedes Benz starts as an attempt at swamp blues, with self-deprecating lyrics, while Saturday Disaster features one of the album's best riffs, but even his original material's all a bit second-hand, I'm afraid to say. Teddy Andreadis plays samplotron on the album's two opening tracks, with yer typical 'Strawberry Fields'-style flutes (again!) on Kilroy Was Here, with less of the same, buried in the mix, on The Haunting.
2001's Swag (2002 in the States) isn't a world away from its predecessors, but somehow manages to be better; I suspect that after doing it for so long, Clarke's songwriting skills have improved to the point where he could actually have a major hit on his hands with the right promotion. Whether he'll ever get that is another matter entirely, of course, but he deserves it a damn' sight more than many of the other journeymen guitarists doing the rounds. Why the iffy covers, though, Gil? More Bowie this time round, with an ever-so-slightly too-slow take on Diamond Dogs, which still manages to be the album's best track, even with the superior writing. Clarke's supposed to play Mellotron on Judgement Day, but I'll be stuffed if I can hear it.
Discovering that Texan Kelly Clarkson won the first season of American Idol in 2002 came as no surprise after hearing her seventh album, 2015's Piece By Piece. Think: mainstream pop. Then think: even more mainstream. I mean, it's not even as if it's tempered by a touch of country, or soul, or... anything. This is so bland that the moment in Run Run Run when the guitar kicks in sounds like momentary genius, even when it isn't. Clarkson clearly has a great voice (even if she does sound permanently breathless), so why so many shitty vocal effects? Here's a woman for whom Autotune is utterly redundant, so why use it anyway? Fucking producers. Greg Kurstin is credited with Mellotron and Chamberlin, with a low-in-the-mix arpeggiated string part opening Invincible, a similarly unassuming part on Take You High, rather screechy strings on Dance With Me and a chordal string part on deluxe edition bonus In The Blue. Samples, says I.
Kill Devil Hills is a rather maudlin Americana-end-of-singer-songwriter record, probably at its best on Before The Beating Starts, So Much Confetti and the driving After The Flood. Steve Payne and Kevin Quain are both credited with Mellotron. What, the flute solo on Another Sky? Surely not?
Musically active since the '80s, guitarist Barry Cleveland stretches the definition of guitar 'playing' to its extremes, although much of his work on 2010's Hologramatron is surprisingly straightforward. His best-known collaborator on the album is ninja bassist Michael Manring, while obvious influences include King Crimson (almost all eras), Peter Gabriel, jazz and various world musics. Highlights? Vicious protest piece Lake Of Fire, vocalist Amy X Neuberg giving it her all and Discipline-era Crimsonesque You'll Just Have To See It To Believe, although ('bonus' remixes aside) there isn't an expendable track here. Cleveland adds Mellotron string samples to opener Lake Of Fire and Suicide Train, though barely on the latter; it's hardly what you'd call central to the band's sound, anyway. All in all, an imaginative and relatively original release, as you'd expect from New York's forward-looking MoonJune label. Worth hearing.
Cliffhanger were one of a plethora of neo-prog outfits to emerge in the Netherlands over the late '80s (associated, as were many others, with the awful S.I. label), although their first official album release came as late as 1995. I have to admit that I haven't actually played anything by them in quite some time, so it was only recently, when keys man Dick Heijboer wrote to me, that I realised the band used sampled Mellotron at all, precipitating a listening spree and, probably for the first (and only?) time on this site, an artists going from 'no site presence' to 'their own page' in one fell swoop.
Although their debut studio album (ignoring 1993's EP-length demo) was a year off, the band elected to release a lengthy live tape, er, Cliffhanger Live, in 1994. In retrospect, this might have been a mistake; not only could it have affected sales of their debut proper (actually, thinking about it, probably not, knowing the prog audience of the time), but much of its material is fairly poor, possibly prejudicing otherwise sympathetic listeners against them from the off. The best stuff here was re-recorded for the following year's Cold Steel, but AOR-ish stuff like Good Things (Last Forever) and Escape are rather unnecessary, frankly. Mellotron sample use in 1994 almost certainly means eMu's rather crummy Vintage Keys module, although it was the only way many bands could access the sounds at all back then. Anyway, Heijboer adds various combinations of choirs, strings and occasional flutes to Kill Your Darlings, Escape, Hope & Despair, Colossus and the overly lengthy Hopeless.
Cold Steel reaffirms my original belief that the band had more to offer than the average neo-prog horror, despite guitarist Rinie Huigen's terrible vocals. Gijs Koopman's Ricky bass and Dick Heijboer's keyboard work are more intricate than you might expect, although the band's propensity for defaulting to bland, unoriginal chord sequences does them no favours. Indeed they do use Mellotron samples: Heijboer adds them here and there, with choirs all over Six Minutes Closer To Death, strings on Colossus and both on 'side-long' closer Bad Dreams (Cruel Visions), although many of his sounds are generic. 1995's Burning Alive! (originally another cassette-only release) is, effectively, a live preview of the forthcoming Not to Be or Not to Be!, right down to utilising a variation on its sleeve art. The weakest track here is the one otherwise-unavailable effort, Gratwanderung, the three new pieces all being good, within their limitations, although probably better heard in their studio versions. Samplotron strings and choirs (variously) on all but Gratwanderung.
The following year's strangely-titled Not to Be or Not to Be!'s chief fault is its length: over seventy minutes makes for an exhausting listen, especially when the album could've been improved by slicing, ooh, at least fifteen minutes from that figure. How? By removing all the extraneous neo-proggisms, that's how. This, kiddies, is what happens when a post-'80s wannabe prog outfit listens to Marillion; however hard they try, that benighted outfit's pernicious influence always slips through. Saying that, the very lengthy Ragnarök is actually pretty damn' good, if a little overlong, while instrumental closer Moon is excellent, with no reservations. Loads of samplotron (how had I forgotten they'd used it?), with strings and choirs on Sewers, choirs on The Artist and Moon and choirs, strings and flutes on Ragnarök.
For some reason, 1997's live Mirror Live appeared some months before their next studio album, Mirror Site (is a pattern forming here?). The original release was a seventy-minute edit of a two-hour set, now available in full on 2011's posthumous Dug Out Alive! 1993-2001; to be honest, I'm not sure that two hours of this stuff is justifiable, other than to the most fanatical. In fairness, that's at whom the set is aimed, but the more casual listener may just lose the will to live after a while. Unfortunately, there's something about hearing so much of this style in one sitting that actually diminishes the better material on board, turning the whole into a bucket of neo-prog slop that makes this listener, at least, wish to listen to something else and fast.
1998's Mirror Site (see what Cliffhanger did there? They went all contemporary on us, late '90s style) infuriates as much as it enervates, moments of genuine excellence, not least the point on Mirror Site II when things get properly weird, interspersed with acres of neo-prog-by-numbers, not least the Genesis-playing-The-Fountain-Of-Salmacis-via-Marillion of closer The Undiscovered Country. Er, The Final Frontier? The Undiscovered Country? Is there some kind of Star Trek fandom thing going on here? Not as bad as the horrible Chandelier's Ferengi Lover, I suppose... (I actually (accidentally) witnessed that band playing this rubbish many years back, complete with the singer wearing... a Ferengi mask, which is nothing to do with Cliffhanger). Less samplotron this time round, more notable parts including the strings and choirs all over The Final Frontier and the solo strings part that opens The Undiscovered Country.
The live Hope & Despair from later the same year is something of a disappointment; clearly intended as an official release for several previously-widely-unavailable songs, including material from their first demo in '93, much of the unheard stuff is dodgy neo-by-numbers and serves only to diminish their better material. It's not all bad, but far too much of it isn't good, either. Samplotron here and there, although, as Heijboer's limited to two instruments at any given time, several studio parts seem to be missing. After a three-year gap, Cliffhanger released what turned out to be their last studio album, Circle. Having split and reformed in the intervening years, the band clearly took something of a left turn stylistically, making a more straightforward record, not so much 'more neo-prog' than a case of 'more mainstream rock', particularly noticeable on opener Limits and Moving In Circles, although The Birthday Party, amongst others, just about rescues their prog credentials. Again, not that much samplotron, notable use including the very un-Mellotronic string melody on Autumn and the choirs all over Gigolo and One-Track Mind.
As previously mentioned, 2011's Dug Out Alive! 1993-2001 DVD exists as a repository for the band's complete live recordings, although I'm not sure how many of their studio albums are still available. I haven't finished trawling through it yet, so expect a few more reviews next time round.
Nels Cline (Wilco's guitarist since 2004) came out of the '80s jazz scene, also playing in various alt.rock acts over the years. Destroy All Nels Cline, his third solo release, is a lengthy, Crimson-esque album of avant-rock that veers between more or less rhythmic approaches, possibly at its best on Chi Cacoan and the gentler (note: not gentle) Progression. Samplotron? Chordal flutes on After Armenia that don't even sound particularly Mellotronic.
Make it Land is a supremely bland album of what I suppose I'll have to call 'adult contemporary'; vaguely folky pop songs for adults who wear beige, at its least dreadful on Go On Your Way. Drummer John Wolf allegedly doubles on Mellotron, but, as you might expect, the cello and flute parts on Breaking Sweetly and strings on No Cause Left are sampled.
I haven't heard her earlier work, but Jen Cloher's third album, In Blood Memory, sits somewhere in between old-school singer-songwriter territory and indie, with a dose of post-rock thrown in for good measure. To be honest, many of its seven tracks come across as overlong, probably more to do with their extensive lyrics than out of musical necessity. Any highlights? Possibly Name In Lights, though more for the lyrics than the music. Peter Lubulwa's background Mellotron strings on opener Mount Beauty really aren't.
Cloud Eleven is powerpop hero Rick Gallego's nom de plume, under which he's released five albums, the latest being 2015's Record Collection. Gallego covers a lot of genre ground in forty minutes, from the opening title track's classic Beatles/Badfinger-esque powerpop, through the propulsive High As The Rising Sun, the Bacharachesque duo of Too Soon Was Yesterday and What If I Found You, to first cousin to Within You Without You, Indian Guru. Personal favourite? Probably A Sadness In Sorry, complete with its almost certainly unconscious borrowing of a melody from The Motors' incomparable Airport. Amusingly (well, it amused me), the opening title track reminds me, albeit only in spirit, of Put Me On, the lead-off track on Styx's Crystal Ball, in its 'plea from a slab of sentient vinyl to be played every once in a while'. As for Gallego's 'Mellotron' credit, the flute melody in The Mystic's Mistake is too fast and too smooth, ditto the parts in As You Are and A Sadness In Sorry, while the high strings on Too Soon Was Yesterday just don't have that 'authentic' ring about them. Nonetheless, a fine album from an unfairly obscure talent.
David Clynick's soundtrack for the Perfect Dark Zero Xbox game is pretty much exactly what you'd expect of a game soundtrack: mostly an electronic/metal hybrid, with hip-hop elements thrown in for good (?) measure. I'm not entirely sure why anyone would choose to listen to this mash-up for pleasure; isn't it irritating enough while playing the game? Several tracks feature samples that may or may not have been recorded from a Mellotron sometime in their ancestral past, although the only track on which it's actually credited, closer Pearl Necklace (actually by MorrisonPoe), it's completely inaudible. Unsurprisingly, although I applaud this album's professionalism, I really can't recommend its actual contents, fake Mellotron or no fake Mellotron.