Baraka apparently bears similarity with Koyaanisqatsi, scored by Philip Glass, largely due to being directed by Ron Fricke, a cinematographer on that film. I haven't seen it, but its time-lapse techniques sound familiar, which isn't to say there isn't a lot more mileage to be had from them. Its score is suitably ethnic, largely written and recorded by ambient composer Michael Stearns, giving a reasonable idea of how the film might look, which makes it a successful soundtrack, I suppose. The mighty Dead Can Dance are also featured; now if ever a band should've used a Mellotron... Mike Pinder (Moody Blues, of course) is credited with both Mellotron and Chamberlin on the soundtrack, although I'm quite certain they're sampled (see: his quote in his reniew entry). The strings on L. Subramaniam's Wandering Saint and Stearns' Finale could be Chamby samples, but there's no sign of anything even vaguely Mellotronic. This is more an album for soundtrack fans or those who like to listen to Western interpretations of various ethnic musics.
Donnie Darko is the kind of film that picks up fanatical fans, who dissect it to the nth degree, trying to fathom the plot's complexities. I haven't seen it (not a great film watcher, you may've noticed), so whether it would have the same effect on me is, as yet, unknown. The soundtrack is somewhat on the confusing side, as it's been released in two entirely different versions, one of the mainstream songs included in the film and one of the incidental music, which is the one that interests us here. It actually sounds like a soundtrack, which makes a nice change, with a series of suitably dark, short, instrumental pieces, ending with Gary Jules' by-now overly-familiar version of Tears for Fears' Mad World. Responsibility for the soundtrack was handed to Michael Andrews, along with a minuscule budget, leading to him playing most of the instrumentation himself, including credited Mellotron, although it doesn't sound real. Anyway, we get flutes on The Artifact And Living and Rosie Darko, although it's possible it's hidden away elsewhere, too. Overall, then, an interesting, claustrophobic score; just chop the last two songs off for the perfect soundtrack experience.
Happy, Texas (an actual, two-bit town) is a cult film concerning escaped convicts pretending to be a gay couple, while organising a beauty contest and waiting their moment to rob the local bank. Thank you, Wikipedia. Although rumblings have been heard, there doesn't seem to be any great fuss about straight actors playing gay roles, unlike white actors blacking up, now only ever done for ironic comedic effect (see: Tropic Thunder). Should there be? Any more than the minor fuss caused by the able-bodied Eddie Redmayne playing Stephen Hawking (R.I.P.)? I'm not sure how a disbled actor would play someone over the course of many years as their illness progresses, but there you go. Anyway, this soundtrack contains, unsurprisingly, chiefly various flavours of country music (with a dash of Tex-Mex), some apparently exclusive to this set, some not. I'm not at all sure why Tony Harrell's credited with Mellotron, though.
Idiot Box appears to be an Antipodean slacker movie (I hate the word 'movie', but 'film' simply doesn't fit in this context), soundtracked by a host of 'never 'eard of 'ems' and our friends You am I, who provide a half dozen otherwise-unavailable tracks, including a couple of instrumentals. I've no idea about the film (although, from the snippets of dialogue on the disc, it sounds like it might be fun, if nothing else), but the soundtrack's actually pretty good, in a punky kind of way, non-You am I highlights including My Pal's Magic Dirt and Hoss' Simple Love. You am I's Tim Rogers is credited with Mellotron, but I strongly suspect it simply isn't here. Not a bad album in its own right, then, particularly as the contributors all wrote new material for it, but not one for anything remotely Mellotronic.
Noah? Remember this one? The Russell 'can't act for shit' Crowe vehicle? Latest in this year's 'retelling Bible stories' films, as against last year's 'retelling fairy tales' ones? Thinking about it, is there any real difference? No, I didn't see it, no, I don't care. Clint Mansell wrote the music, a typically portentous orchestral effort, perfectly good for what it is, only slightly spoilt by a lone vocal track, Mercy Is (the main theme?). Mansell is credited with Mellotron, but if you can spot anything that might even be the sampled variety amongst the overblown orchestrations, then good luck to you.
I haven't seen Our Idiot Brother, but it seems to be about a bit of a loser and his dysfunctional family. There you go - Planet Mellotron film reviews in a nutshell. The soundtrack (from Nathan Larson and Eric D. Johnson) combines what I believe are new recordings of old songs, not least Johnson's take on Dawn's cheese 'classic' Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree and several contributions from Willie Nelson. Is it any good? Suffice to say, it probably works better in its intended environment, i.e. soundtracking the film. Johnson and Larson are both credited with Mellotron, but Larson's Mellotron Melody gives the game away in grand style, as I'm fairly certain he wasn't actually using a MkII to produce the left-hand manual rhythms on the track, ditto the vibes, although it's difficult to tell whether or not the samples are used anywhere else. Actually, do we care? Maybe not.
The Quinceañera seems to be one of those coming-of-age ceremonies you hear about, this one a Latin American speciality, clearly designed to keep girls in their place. See: first communion/confession. Ugh. If you really want to know what the film's about, I'm sure Wikipedia or IMDB will give you the lowdown. The soundtrack's mostly Latin pop, of course, with a handful of more reflective instrumental pieces, clearly incidental music. Are those Micko Westmoreland's samplotron strings we're hearing on Acoustic Space?
2010's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World looked like it might be at least mildly entertaining, but it came and went from the cinemas without overly troubling myself or Ms Planet Mellotron. I hope the actual film's better than its soundtrack, which mostly consists of (probably deliberately) crummy faux-punk and unintentionally crummy contemporary pop/rock, most of which probably makes (at most) a fleeting appearance on the actual soundtrack. Incidentally, in case you're wondering who the appallingly-named Sex Bob-Omb and Crash & the Boys are, they're imaginary bands featured in the film itself, so their hopeless punk/electro pastiches need not trouble us too much.
As far as the 'proper' music here goes, I can't say I'm blown away by the contributions from Frank 'Pixie' Black, Black Lips and Broken Social Scene, amongst others, making The Bluetones' Sleazy Bed Track a rare winner here. As far as I know, T. Rex's Teenage Dream (from Zinc Alloy..., one of Bolan's handful of Mellotron albums) and The Stones' misogynistic Under My Thumb are the only 'known' tracks here, although I've no idea how either might fit into the plot. On the Mellotron front, we also know Beachwood Sparks' By Your Side (from 2001's Once We Were Trees), leaving Beck's Ramona (Pilgrim's chief love interest) as the soundtrack's sole new contribution, with a very background, almost certainly samplotron string part, largely smothered by real strings. All of which tells you, dear reader, to probably go somewhere else, frankly.
Mark Asche and Thad Spencer, collectively Asche and Spencer, were Minneapolis-based soundtrack composers who composed the incidental music for 2005's Stay, an eerie, downbeat work, that doubtless usefully augments the film. Whether it's a good listen in its own right is another matter, but people who regularly listen to soundtracks out of context are a breed apart, anyway. Tommy Barbarella is credited with Mellotron, but there's little evidence of one on the album. When we finally get some choirs (on I'm Never Gonna Sleep Tonight), they're far too smooth for their own good, leading me to suspect sample use. Overall, then, good in small doses, but more than about ten minutes of this is enough to make me want to listen to something a little more energetic. Redefines 'ambient'.
"In your city a storm rages. Shaking walls. Rattling foundations. The trembling is unbearable. It must stop - for the sake of survival. The pummeling is not against walls or buildings but against our very souls. The quake attacks the heart of man, eroding the basics of morality. There is only One who can calm the storm. There is only One who can repair that which is broken. And it is on this One, Christ the solid rock, which we stand." Are you puking on the floor yet? No? Why not? Acquire the Fire (gah!) are an organisation who 'challenge youth to stand for their Christian faith', which can also read as 'coerce waverers into returning to the fold', a tactic which I'm reliably informed these types of groups use. Predatory Christianity, eh? Surely not etc.
Anyway, 2001's Unshakeable is stuffed to the gills with the kind of religious frenzy you'd expect, only Superchic[k]'s energetic opener Holy Moment actually managing to be not actively musically offensive, although, absolutely as you'd expect, the album's lyrically vomitorious throughout. Mellotronically speaking, Christa Joy Black supposedly adds something to Melissa Tawlks' Uncommon Love, but the cello sounds real, so I've absolutely no idea what it might be. Anyway, I can only urge you, in the strongest terms, to avoid this vile record, no matter what its credits may allege. I refuse to provide a link to Acquire the Fire's 'Teen Mania Ministries' site, for fear of being branded abusive.
To my shame, I had to check where Dakar was; it's the capital of Senegal, for those as ignorant as my good self. African Underground: The Depths of Dakar is apparently the follow-up to African Underground Volume 1: Hip-Hop Senegal, although it would be a mistake to think that it's no more than a hip-hop compilation. Admittedly, many of its featured artists fall loosely under that banner, but there's far more going on in most of its tracks, elements of jazz, soul and various local musics finding their way into the sonic mélange. Personal favourite? Zoo Squad's Fresh Time Pt 2 (Beyondo Outro), with its mellow Rhodes work. Dan Cantor plays samplotron, with distant choirs on Adama's Aduna Bi and Tigrim Bi's self-explanatory Hip-Hop.
Assassins of Silence/Hundred Watt Violence is a Hawkwind (family) tribute, rather less successful (IMHO) than Daze of the Underground, from a few years later. Most of the versions here fall into the lo-fi/psych category, to a greater or lesser degree, while I, at least, have heard of precisely none of the featured artists. Are most of them one-off conglomerations? No idea. Personal favourite: Fuzzface's Urban Guerilla. Voco Kesh's Richard Franecki is credited with Mellotron (strings) on their take on We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago, to which I can only say: you must be fucking joking. Bum notes and all. Scrapes three stars.
As far as I can work out, Below Zero are a label and Below Zero: Minus, Vol.1 is a compilation of (previously unavailable?) tracks, all loosely in a 'dance' vein; a lack of knowledge of the genres involved makes it difficult for me to separate the R&B from the hip-hop, or the trance from the electronica. Suffice to say, you are most unlikely to like any of this unless your tastes veer in the direction of modern electronic music with an irritating rhythmic component, although Guts' Latin-flavoured/dub closer And The Living Is Easy! is the least bad thing here. Sebastian Arocha Morton is credited with Mellotron (it looks like there might be the equivalent of a 'studio band' used on the record), with probably samplotron flutes on Samantha James' Rain, while all the strings sound like generic samples.
ATO Records' Bob Dylan in the 80s: Volume One defines the phrase 'filling a much-needed void'. Why would anyone want a tribute album to an artist's (arguably) worst decade? Admittedly, the idea was to highlight hidden gems in the Nobel Prize winner's back catalogue, to which I can only (and sadly) say: fail. OK, it has its moments, not least Dawn Landes & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's Dark Eyes and Hannah Cohen's Covenant Woman, while Lucius' When the Night Comes Falling From The Sky features some beautifully Andy Summers-esque guitar chording, but pickings are slim indeed. Notable horrors include Reggie Watts' remix-style Brownsville Girl (Reprise) and Aaron Freeman and Slash's piss-taking version of the appalling Wiggle Wiggle, which fully brings out the absurdity of the 'song'. "Wiggle wiggle like a pail of milk", my arse. Marco Benevento is supposed to play Mellotron on Every Grain Of Sand, but (to no-one's surprise) he doesn't.
Canossa: A Rock Opera is unusual in that it's a modern, multi-artist European prog concept effort, yet it has nothing to do with either Finland's Colossus project or Italy's Mellow label. It's actually the brainchild of Mangala Vallis's drummer, Gigi Cavalli Cocchi, who also provides the narration on every other track, although Fabrizio Varchetta provides the pseudo-orchestral backing for same. Of the seven bands involved in the project, I'll come clean and say that I've only heard of one; perhaps the others are one-off projects? Mangala Vallis provide a reasonable piece in Pietra Su Pietra, better than pretty much anything from either of their albums, while Type's La Battaglia is pleasingly angular, but most of the album is fairly average prog-by-numbers, I'm afraid, while the concept (stories relating to the northern Italian castle of Canossa) is somewhat opaque to non-Italian speakers. Mangala Vallis provide the album's only 'Mellotronic' input, with some occasional murky choirs, clearly sampled, on their contribution. I've seen rave reviews of Canossa, but I'm really not sure why; a decent enough listen, certainly, but far from outstanding.
It seems that Universal France's 2003 various artists Cinemix project was something of an add-on to their Écoutez le Cinema! series of twenty-eight soundtracks, mostly from French films. Now, I know I'm an old git, but I genuinely fail to see the point in taking perfectly good pieces of music, cutting them up and adding unwelcome programmed beats, squelchy synths et al. Yeah, I'm that old. Are any of these eighteen tracks worth the effort? Not really, no, the best any of them manage is to be less irritating than their neighbours (honourable exception: Alif Tree's closing Dernier Domicile Connu). On the whole, all they make me want to do is hear the originals. Perhaps that's the point? David Emmings' 'Mellotron' flutes and strings on Readymade FC's "Bright Star" remix of Sans Mobile Apparent are clearly sampled, making this even less worth hearing than it might otherwise have been. Recommended? Don't be silly.
Neil Young must be the most-mentioned non-Mellotron-using artist on Planet Mellotron. So here's another. 2008's Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young for Charity is exactly what it says, despite the oddness of women singing Young's frequently male-orientated, first-person lyrics. Of course, you really can't go that far wrong with an album of Neil songs, unless they were all played by hip-hop trios, perhaps, or arranged à la Stephen Sondheim. Actually, they might even survive those treatments. The bulk of the versions here are played straight, or, in the case of some of the acoustic tracks, made even gentler, with the result that few of the versions really stand out, although The Watson Twins' Powderfinger is almost unrecognisable, the twins singing the guitar harmony themselves. The two versions of CSNY classic Ohio perfectly illustrate the versatility of Young's material (as, of course, do his own live versions), Darcie Miner's electric take contrasting sharply with Dala's acoustic one. Julie Peel plays supposed Mellotron on her own take on I Believe In You, with a pleasant yet brief flute part, although I'm exceedingly doubtful as its veracity. If, however, you're a fan of either a) some of the artists on this compilation or b) Neil Young, you could do a lot worse than to get to hear a copy, at least. Decidedly worthwhile.
DMDK, or Depeche Mode Denmark (DK) is a tribute to the band featuring exclusively Danish artists, most of whom, to be bluntly honest, mean nothing to me, probably because they work in the mainstream pop spectrum, as against the Danish artists I do know. Are any of their versions any good? It doesn't help that I'm fairly ignorant of DM's career in the first place, but The Gospel's Personal Jesus (known to me from Johnny Cash's version) and Lake Placid's Everything Counts are the two things that stood out for me, amongst the clumps of electro-by-numbers that clutter up most of the disc. Nicolai Land plays supposed Mellotron on Marie Frank's It's No Good, with a background flute part that is most likely sampled. If you're a Depeche fan, you may wish to hear what's been done to their songs; the rest of us may not.
2009's Dark Was the Night (named in honour of the Blind Willie Johnson composition Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground) is the twentieth Red Hot compilation, a series designed to raise awareness and funds to help AIDS victims, with which it's difficult to argue. Its two hours-plus are filled with what appear to be exclusive tracks, mainly from current indie acts along the lines of Sufjan Stevens, Cat Power, The New Pornographers and The Arcade Fire, which is fair enough, as it's intended to sell. And sell it has, having raised over a million dollars at the time of writing.
But is it any good?, I hear you cry. Do you like modern indie? Do you yearn to hear unreleased tracks by the likes of Antony (without his Johnsons), Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), Iron & Wine and Grizzly Bear? Then yes, it's brilliant. Would you rather never hear another thing by anyone even remotely describable as 'indie'? Then no, it isn't. As one sitting nearer the latter camp than the former, I found the set harmless, if overlong and dull, Buck 65 Remix Featuring Sufjan Stevens & Serengeti's Blood Pt 2 being the only thing here that actually had me reaching for the 'next' button. No, I didn't find it very interesting, even The Kronos Quartet's take on the title track, but it isn't aimed at me and has raised a shitload of cash for its chosen charity, making my opinion entirely irrelevant. Did I actually like anything here? Do you care? Riceboy Sleeps' elegiac Happiness is excellent, although it turns out it's actually by Sigur Rós side-project Jónsi & Alex, so that explains that one.
Mellotron? TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek adds some strings to his version of The Troggs' With A Girl Like You, albeit to rather mundane effect, but they strike me as sampled. To be honest, while this has been an amazing fundraiser, I really couldn't recommend it to anyone not into the current crop of indie outfits or to anyone hoping to hear a reasonable helping of Mellotron. The star rating above is more for the thought than the deed.
Medeski, Martin & Wood's drummer Billy Martin released Illy B Eats in 2001, inviting listeners to layer their own work over his and send it to him for reworking. The result, Drop the Needle, is every bit as eclectic as you'd expect of such an approach, contributors mixing hip-hop, electronica, jazz, blues and other genre mash-ups into a surprisingly cohesive set that may well appeal to fans of the NYC scene centred around John Medeski and pals. Rob Marscher (Addison Groove Project) is credited with Mellotron on his and Mister Rourke's Voiles, but the flutes on the track fail to convince.
2003's A Fair Forgery of Pink Floyd is yet another entrant in the growing pantheon of Pink Floyd tribute albums. Like so many similar, its contents veer wildly between pretty-much faithful recreations (Which One's Pink?'s Dogs and John Stack & Numira's Sheep, possibly proving that Animals material doesn't re-interpret well) and, er, less faithful ones, highlights including Yortoise's rockabilly Money (don't laugh, it works! Although I remain unconvinced by 50 Cent Haircut's similar take on Breathe), Ira's Have A Cigar, which brings out the full industry horror of the lyrics and Harvette's superb Bike, although Rat Bat Blue's closing 5 Minute Version Of The Wall is clever, but somehow unfulfilling. WTF's with Big Lee's Another Brick In The Mason's Wall, though? A hip-hop thing based around the expected, with new and deeply inferior lyrics? Why? Although someone called John Would is credited with Mellotron, those are definitely string samples on Ira's Have A Cigar, while the cellos on Sally Semrad's Wish You Were Here could be anything. Overall, then, a decent tribute album, for those who enjoy such things; in fairness, there's plenty here to enjoy, especially if you like to hear much-loved material re-interpreted. No Mellotron, though.
I don't know what the concept behind Flere Sange Fra 1. Sal ('More Songs From the 1st Floor') might be, other than Danish artists covering '60s and '70s songs unplugged, its best-known contributor probably being Tina Dickow. The collection's at its best on Kirstine Stubbe Teglbjærg's breathy Ain't No Sunshine and Angu's Heroes, although Laust Sonne's You Really Got Me takes too few chances with its source material to be particularly credible. Boi Holm is credited with Mellotron on Thomas Dybdahl's Song To The Siren, though I have no idea why.
For a Few Guitars More is, as its subtitle heavily suggests, a Morricone Spaghetti Western tribute, most participants tackling the material in an early '60s surf style, which, of course, in turn influenced the original soundtracks. The material covered is sourced from ten films, including the four that everyone knows (A Fistful of Dollars/For a Few Dollars More/The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly/Once Upon a Time in the West, of course), although I think it'd be fair to say that the artists involved are, to a man or band, pretty damn' obscure, the only one ringing a bell with yours truly being that well-known beat combo The Bambi Molesters. Personal favourites include Canadian Brent J. Cooper's take on For a Few Dollars More's Sixty Seconds To What?, The Langhorns' trumpet-driven The Vice Of Killing (complete with musical box) and The Hellbenders' take on the piece of the same name, while In the West's Once Upon A Time In The West actually manages to sound slightly like Focus, of all bands. 'Mellotron'? Cooper plays 'faux Mellotron' on his take on Sixty Seconds To What?, with a background string part that could be almost anything, really. So; despite a couple of less essential tracks, one for fans of surf guitar or Morricone. Or both. And who isn't? Silly, but a lot of fun.
For an outfit dubbed 'the most popular overtly Christian act of all time', I have to say, I've never heard of DC Talk/dc Talk/dcTalk. It seems they were a Christian hip-hop trio who slipped into a more pop/rock sound towards the end of their career. 2006's Freaked! A Gotee Tribute to dcTalk's "Jesus Freak" is what it says on the tin, a track-by-track reinterpretation of the original album, although not having actually, y'know, heard said opus, it's difficult for me to meaningfully compare the two. Actually, I have to say, going by not just the performances, but the songs themselves, I suspect it might be quite listenable, at least within its genre, although at an hour, it's considerably too long. The best tracks on the tribute disc are probably The Showdown's opener, So Help Me God, Fighting Instinct's Like It, Love It, Need It and, above all, Grant Harrison's amusing Mr. Tobin, a spoken-word piece standing in for the original album's Mrs. Morgan. Relient K's Matthew Thiesen allegedly adds Mellotron to their take on Between You And Me, although I have no idea in what role, as it's completely inaudible. This isn't the most exciting tribute album you'll ever hear, but, despite its overtly Christian lyrics, it's actually very listenable in places, in a pop/rock kind of way. Not that good, but not awful, either, which is a nice surprise.
Sub Pop's 2001 tribute disc, Give the People What We Want: Songs of the Kinks (named for the band's 1981 release Give the People What They Want) is the usual curate's egg, contributors veering between respectful copies (Model Rockets' Byrdsian Ring The Bells, The Fastbacks' Waterloo Sunset) and sometimes out-there reinterpretation (Baby Gramps' channelling of Tom Waits on Sunny Afternoon, Nikol Kollars' light, jazzy I Go to Sleep). Best tracks? Perhaps surprisingly, the usually anodyne Minus 5 have a decent stab at Wicked Annabella, helped, as are so many of the featured acts, by having excellent material as a starting point. Although Steve Fisk is credited with Mellotron on Heather Duby's The Way Love Used To Be, he's known around these parts for using samples until more recently than 2001, although he makes the strings here sound more convincing than many. As usual, you're really not going to buy this for a few seconds of sampled Mellotron, but if you're up for a handful of interesting takes on Kinks songs, look no further.
I've heard bits and pieces of Dan Treacy's TVPs' work over the years, notably the insanely catchy Where's Bill Grundy Now?, although Part Time Punks is apparently better-known, while I still remember their seriously misplaced prank whilst supporting David Gilmour in 1984, reading Syd Barrett's address out from the stage while playing I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives (not covered here, interestingly. Forever tainted?) Clever... Possibly the ultimate cult band (serious competitor: Cardiacs), it's no surprise at all that there's a tribute album devoted to their oeuvre, 2005's If I Could Write Poetry, which, like most similar, combines reworkings (although I'm not too familiar with the material, I don't think anything here could be classed as 'radical') with slavish recreations, highlights including Higher Elevations' breezy The Engine Driver Song, the murky punk of Bartlebees' And Then Suddenly and The Mandervilles' powerpop Where's Bill Grundy Now?
The now-late Nikki Sudden (Swell Maps) supposedly plays Mellotron on his 'Texas mix' of If I Could Write Poetry itself, but, well, you're joking, surely? That vague stringy sound towards the end of the track? Doesn't even sound like a sample, frankly. Anyway, TVP fans will almost certainly get something from these reworkings, although the rest of us are probably better off with a copy of '95's Yes Darling, But is it Art? or '99 compilation Part Time Punks.
Indelible Grace are a Nashville-based Christian artistic community, who have apparently 'restored the historic practice of writing new melodies to old hymn texts' (Wikipedia, I love you). Volume IV, Beams of Heaven, contains a selection of the usual bland CCM, less bad efforts including Derek Webb's His Love Can Never Fail (well, Webb does have some previous) and Dan Haseltine's Beams of Heaven, but that's really scraping the barrel, frankly. Jeff Pardo plays samplotron flutes on Rachel Briggs' Come Ye Disconsolate, although I can't say they improve matters any. Why put crappy, pop/rock tunes to old hymns when the originals worked perfectly well? Pointless. Incidentally, in a proper 'couldn't make it up' turn of events, the community were originally led by a minister going by the name of Kevin Twit. Priceless.
Axels & Sockets was the third release from The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project, reworkings of unfinished recordings made by the late Gun Club frontman, in this case featuring contributions from the likes of Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry and Nick Cave, amongst other luminaries. While the bulk of its contents fall into a Gun Club-esque tortured delta blues homage/pastiche, a handful tip over into noise rock, for want of a better term. Supposed Mellotron from Andrew Innes on easily the worst track on the set, Primal Scream's utterly interminable Goodbye Johnny, remixed by the tedious and overrated Andrew Weatherall, but I can't even hear samples.
Last Summer seems to be a fairly homemade affair, only available on CD-R or as a download. I don't know the background to the 22-track release, but the bulk of it consists of dreary indie/folk, a.k.a. folk with the good bits removed, Whalebone Polly's Wakka, with its intricate vocal work, being the closest this gets to 'interesting'. In Gowan Ring's B'ee (who also plays with Birch Book, also present here) is credited with Mellotron, but the inauthentic flutes all over In Gowan Ring's Taking Wing tell another story.
As far as I can ascertain, the chief purpose behind 2004's The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered is to introduce legendary lo-fi naïf Daniel Johnston to a wider audience by persuading fans of the contributing artists to buy the two-disc set. So? I hear you yawn. Another tribute album? Ah, but this one has a twist: disc one is the expected more or less reverential covers, while disc two repeats the tracklisting with the original recordings. A genuinely original idea, at least to my knowledge and absolutely in keeping with the set's presumed purpose. 'Executive production' is by Johnston's manager, Jordan N. Trachtenberg and Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous, a man who knew a thing or three about outsider artists, being a borderline one himself.
Of course, the contributors are all the usual 'alt' suspects of the early 2000s; you know, T.V. on the Radio, Eels, Bright Eyes, Beck and, of course, Tom Waits, without whom any such collection must be considered incomplete. But is it any good? I suspect you have to be a fan of both Johnston and the artists concerned to really get anything out of this; better efforts include Beck's acoustic-and-harmonica take on True Love Will Find You In The End, Sparklehorse's Flaming Lips collaboration on Go, Mercury Rev's indie-Appalachian Blue Clouds, Waits' King Kong (of course) and a handful of others, clustered together towards the end of the disc. To be honest, I think I prefer Johnston's originals in many cases, particularly his harmonium classic Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Your Grievience (note spelling and pronunciation).
Although Jeff Mercel is credited with 'Mellotron' on Mercury Rev's Blue Clouds, we can be quite certain that it's as genuine as their other usage, i.e. not. As it happens, we only get a few bursts of murky strings that were never going to convince anyway. So; do you buy this album? Yes for Daniel Johnston fans, possibly for fans of more than a handful of the contributing artists, maybe not for the rest of us.
In 2008, Cardiacs' much-loved Tim Smith suffered a catastrophic heart attack/stroke combination that has left him in a parlous state; we can only be thankful for our 'socialist' NHS, which will essentially care for him for the rest of his life, if necessary, at the cost to him of precisely nothing. To think that many citizens of a rather larger country across a large body of water actually voted against a seriously watered-down version of the same system simply beggars belief. Some people really will believe anything they're told.
Anyway... Tim's short-term goal is apparently to be able to return home, obviously with a full-time carer; to this end, various fund-raising activities have been instigated, not least the 2010 release of Leader of the Starry Skies: A Tribute to Tim Smith: Songbook 1. As you may've seen from other reviews on this site, I'm not always a fan of the tribute album; most of them are stuffed with either a) overly-reverent exact copies or b) underly-reverent piss-weak versions in the covering artist's own 'style', in arrangements usually designed to stroke said artist's ego, rather than to actually produce anything of musical merit. Wonderfully, Leader of the Starry Skies contains few of the former category and none of the latter, which probably has as much to do with the artists who care enough about Cardiacs to be involved as anything.
Several contributors are themselves ex-Cardiacs of various eras (William D. Drake, Kavus Torabi (Knifeworld), Christian 'Bic' Hayes (mikrokosmos) and Mark Cawthra), several others part of the band's extended 'family' (Stars in Battledress, Max Tundra, North Sea Radio Orchestra and Mediaeval Baebes' Katherine Blake). All concerned tackle their chosen material with as much or as little reverence as needed, so while Ultrasound's Big Ship is effectively a carbon-copy, mikrokosmos' Is This The Life is both completely recognisable, yet wildly different to the original, the remainder sitting somewhere between these two extremes, other highlights including William D. Drake's Savour, Knifeworld's The Stench Of Honey and Robert White (ably assisted by no lesser a personage than Andy Partridge) tackling Lilywhite's Party.
Mellotron? Well, samples: Steven Wilson's beautiful version of Stoneage Dinosaurs (you can be certain that Tim's anachronism was deliberate) adds the 'Mellotron' flute and choir parts for which the original always cried out. The best thing about Leader of the Starry Skies might just be not that it's an excellent compilation in its own right, but that it makes you want to go back and listen to the originals, in the best possible way. Please buy this album, not just for charitable reasons, but because, if you've ever liked anything by Cardiacs or its offshoots, you can't fail to enjoy it in its own right.
Looking Into You seems like a good way to introduce oneself to Jackson Browne's music, until you realise that almost every contributing artist interprets his songs in a country-rock vein. Don't get me wrong, a few songs tackled that way can be excellent, but a whole (very lengthy, two-disc) album of them can become a bit much. Best efforts? Eliza Gilkyson's Before The Deluge and Lyle Lovett's Rosie. Lucinda Williams' Jason Borger quite blatantly uses sampled Mellotron strings on The Pretender, at one point stretching them a rather outrageous four full tones above the machine's top note.
It's hard to say whether Lost on the River should file under various artists, producer T Bone Burnett or The New Basement Tapes, the name given to themselves by the all-star band that convened to record the album, including Elvis Costello and My Morning Jacket's Jim James. It's based around a selection of previously-unseen handwritten Dylan lyrics from 1967, arranged individually by the various contributors, leading to multiple versions of some songs, not least the title track. I can't say it all works, but Spanish Mary, Florida Key and Lost On The River #20 are all highlights. Costello, James and Taylor Goldsmith are all credited with Mellotron, but the strings on Hidee Hidee Ho #11 tell another story. Non.
Dead Can Dance are one of those ensembles that you always feel should have used a Mellotron, but didn't. Call it bad timing (the '80s, of course), although that never stopped labelmates and (very) loose reference point The Cocteau Twins. DCD's five or so album run beginning with 1986's Spleen & Ideal are classics of the genre they created, sitting somewhere inbetween art rock, goth, world music(s) and medieval church music, although many fans prefer their later, more world-influenced work. Notably, their most-covered album here is 1987's Within the Realm of a Dying Sun (goth? Us?), but only their purportedly generic goth debut and '96's Spiritchaser are completely untouched.
2004's lengthy The Lotus Eaters: A Tribute to Dead Can Dance is possibly too much of a good thing; DCD are great, but two and a half hours (and covers at that) in one sitting could be construed as a bit much. I have to say, I've heard of few of the contributors, the only familiar names being Swans' Jarboe, Holland's The Gathering, Ulver and Noekk, which probably says more about my lack of knowledge of all things darkwave than the actual obscurity of the rest. Most of the contributors stick fairly closely to the accepted template; mould-breakers include Trail of Tears' The Arcana (from DCD's goth-crossover Garden of the Arcane Delights EP), although its guitar-heavy intro soon reverts to standard DCD mode, Imperia's The Lotus Eaters pulling a similar (albeit heavier) trick, as do Nightfall and Darkwell, although top marks go to Sarah Jezebel Deva's excellent a capella take on the atmospheric The Wind That Shakes The Barley.
Noekk and Subterranean Masquerade are both credited with Mellotron, but the brass/strings mix (?) on the former is clearly sampled, while the latter features a real violin, but no obvious Mellotron, sampled or otherwise. I can't imagine anyone not already a fan of Dead Can Dance getting much out of this, but, fifteen years after their last album, they still have a sizeable fanbase, although I'd have thought hat those of them who were going to buy this have probably already done so.
As other online reviewers have noted, Lounge-a-Palooza manages to combine several irritating late '90s musical fashions into one neat, tidy package, not least the brief 'lounge' craze, leapt upon by bored fashionistas before they tired of it, too. The album's not even entirely sure what it's trying to do, with lounge versions of recent hits (Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gormé's ridiculous Black Hole Sun, The Ben Folds Five's She Don't Use Jelly) rubbing shoulders with the likes of Edwyn Collins' Witchcraft or The Pizzicato Five's tired The Girl From Ipanema. P.J. Harvey & Eric Drew Feldman's Mel Torme-by-way-of Was (Not Was)' Zaz Turned Blue is actually halfway decent, bringing real drama to the track, Glen Campbell & Michelle Shocked's Wichita Lineman isn't that different to Campbell's original and The James Taylor Quartet's Music To Watch Girls By is actually pretty cool. However, the always-terrible Fun Lovin' Criminals' dreadful take on 10cc's I'm Not in Love is seriously misguided and the aforementioned Black Hole Sun isn't even funny. Kim Bullard is credited with Mellotron, but without track-by-track credits, it's far from the easiest task to locate it; the flutes at the beginning of Black Hole Sun are the most likely location, but they appear to be sampled, anyway. Overall, then, a rather dull effort, heavy on the 'humour' and light on anything you might actually want to listen to more than once (or even once, in several cases).
The Matinée Hit Parade is a compilation 'commemorating a decade of top quality pop music' from California's Matinée Recordings, featuring previously unreleased tracks by mostly British bands. Lightweight, C86-style indie is the order of the day, better tracks including Math & Physics Club's A Little Romance and Australia's The Lucksmiths' Good Light, although Strawberry Whiplash, amongst others, are just too fey for their own good. Cornel Wilczek gets a Mellotron credit, but the background strings on Good Light and Slipslide's Let Things Fall Apart are clearly nothing of the sort.
2000's Miniatures 2 is the successor to Morgan Fisher's 1980 release, er, Miniatures, which followed hot on the heels of the previous year's Hybrid Kids, frankly, one of the most bizarre musical experiments on which you are ever likely to lay your hands. And I know one of the album's backing singers, fact fans. Anyway, Miniatures 2 works in the same format as its predecessor: persuade loads of 'name' artists to record very brief pieces, in any style that takes their fancy, stick 'em all together and Bob's yer uncle. Of course, Fisher is more curator than artist (although he contributes one track), although, without his concept and guidance, this album would never have happened.
So, er, what's it like? More normal than The Hybrid Kids, but that isn't saying much. Actually, most of its sixty tracks (average length: just over a minute) aren't that weird, Klaus Trabitsch's guitar piece Jodler being a case in point. Does any of it actually catch the ear? Led Zep's John Paul Jones channels Brian May on It's Coming (A Fanfare For The Millennium), Wolfgang Mitterer's atonal Solo No.3, Fripp and Gunn's typically late-Crimsoid Blast... There's definitely some decent and/or weird stuff on here, but too much of it seems to be exactly what you'd expect of the artist in question, only shorter. The Mellotron? Ireland's Daniel Figgis adds most likely sampled flutes to his Fail Better, but we're not exactly talking major stuff here.
Nashville is a TV drama based around, you guessed it, country music, still running at the time of writing, five years after it debuted. The albums released from the first series were produced by T Bone Burnett, which may or may not have anything to do with their supposed Mellotron content. The songs are as good as country songs from anywhere, at least to my ears, unlike most material written for films about fictional rock bands (who said Spinal Tap?), better tracks including the stomping Wrong Song and Telescope. Keefus Cianca supposedly plays Mellotron for Connie Britton, who gets three tracks on the first volume, but the flutes on opener Buried Under ain't foolin' no-one (said in an authentic 'Southern' voice), while Gabriel Witcher's 'Mellotron' on the second is no more than the samplotron flutes on Looking For A Place To Shine.
Norway's (Not Just) Another X-mas Album covers a fair bit of ground, musically, from Popface's twee opener, The December Snowfall, children's choir and all, through Syme's seasonal electronica on Ad Kosmos! and the reggae of The Rub a Dubs' Another X-mas, not to mention a slew of various flavours of indie, 2000s-style. Highlights? The raucous powerpop of Stavanger Energi's Ka Bler Det Te Med Den Snøen and Ståle Strømsvold's Adeste Fideles, an instrumental band arrangement of the tune better known as Oh Come All Ye Faithful. Tom-Erik Løe plays somewhat inauthentic 'Mellotron' string swells on Tom-Erik Örbeck's Woodland Winter.
The Old Town School of Folk Music Song Book (three discs over two volumes) collates a raft of contemporary artists' renderings of the Great American Folk Songbook, albeit much of it transplanted from Britain or Ireland, although a handful of tracks on Vols. 2 & 3 aren't in any way 'trad', including Kelly Hogan and Scott Ligon's take on Tom Paxton's Last Thing on My Mind and Laura Doherty's version of Donovan's Colours. Top versions include Shelley Miller's Red River Valley (the source for Johnny & the Hurricanes' coruscating Red River Rock), Bill Simmons' beautiful acoustic guitar version of Greensleeves and Jimmy Tomasello's amusingly rewritten take on Old Time Religion. Despite its considerable length, as a primer on (loosely) American folk, you'd struggle to find much better. John E. Abbey is credited with Mellotron, with chordal flutes on Colours, vibes on Emily Hurd's Hard Travelin' and strings on Water Is Wide, all quite clearly sampled.
1997's One Step Up/Two Steps Back: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen is one of the 'most versions sound just like the originals'-type tribute albums, although you would've thought at least some of Bruce's songs would respond positively to rearrangement. Sadly, it's all a bit ordinary, to be honest, few of the takes here stepping too far from the sheet music, leaving it up to individual performances to stand out, as so few of the arrangements take any real chances.
Plenty of Planet Mellotron artists present here, including The Smithereens, Joe Cocker, Elliott Murphy, David Bowie and Allan Clarke, plus several more who will hopefully find their way to these pages eventually and a whole load who almost certainly never will, not least Ben E. King, Nils Lofgren and the missing-presumed-dead Little Bob Story. The contributors' collective unwillingness to stand out from the crowd means there are no real stinkers, but also no stand-outs, although John Hiatt and sometime Bruce guitarist Lofgren perform particularly impassioned takes on Johnny 99 and Wreck On The Highway respectively and, maybe surprisingly, Bowie's string-driven It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City impresses.
Mellotronically speaking, Wesley "John Wesley Harding" Stace allegedly plays the thing on his take on Jackson Cage, but all I can hear is a couple of real violins. As far as the album's content's concerned, I'm personally surprised there's so little from the iconic Born to Run (only Syd Straw's lesser-known Meeting Across The River), with a good few newer selections. Maybe that should be taken as Springsteen's contemporaries' faith in his later material, or at least its suitability for reinterpretation, not that very much here is especially reinterpreted. Anyway, probably essential for the Bruce-fan-with-everything, though not for the rest of us, and certainly not for anyone hoping to hear some Hot Mellotron Action.
2009's Il Paese è Reale is a compilation of current Italian indie outfits, curated by Afterhours, although I'm not sure whether or not all of its contents are exclusive to the set. While not the most exciting effort ever, several of its tracks are gutsier than just about anything you'll encounter in the British and/or American scenes, although I wouldn't take that as too much of a recommendation. Andrea Allulli adds alleged Mellotron strings and flutes to Marco Parente's Da Un Momento All'Altro, to reasonable effect, although it's over all too quickly.
I'll be honest; I've never given The Monkees' work the time I'm told it deserves, let alone their members' solo careers, to the point where I didn't even realise Mike Nesmith tribute Papa Nez: a Loose Salute to the Work of Michael Nesmith alluded to the title of his 1970 album Loose Salute. Despite The Monkees' manufactured image, Nesmith was (and is) a serious musician, not to mention a country rock pioneer, so it's no great surprise that the bulk of this album's contents sit in that genre. Jason MacIsaac is credited with Mellotron on Heavy Blinkers' Magic, to which I can only say, "Where?"
Musical ignoramous that I am, I have to admit that I've never previously knowingly heard anything by (or even written by) the legendary Virginia Patterson "Patsy Cline" Hensley. Of course, 'legendary' is an epithet often utilised when the artist in question is no longer with us, in Cline's case, due to a light aircraft crash in 1963. I've always thought she was a straight country artist, but it seems that she crossed over into the pop charts with a series of jazzy ballads having little in common with Hank Williams et al. (speaking of dead legends). 2003's Remembering Patsy Cline is MCA's attempt at a tribute album to the lady, largely concentrating on country artists, although a handful of jazzier singers (Norah Jones, Diana Krall) get a look-in, too. I feel an opportunity may have been missed by not getting any male vocalists; not all of Cline's material is gender-specific, after all, but there's little about this album that rocks any boats. Oh well, at least I suppose we're spared the likes of Marilyn Manson and U2 trashing their subject material. The most listenable thing here, at least to ears unattuned to lounge jazz/pop, is Terri Clark's bluesy Walkin' After Midnight, while Rebecca Lynn Howard takes the prize for turning a Patsy Cline song into a semi-power ballad, cheesy guitar solo and all. Greg Wells is credited with Chamberlin, although, irritatingly, track-by-track credits appear to be absent, so given that a string section is also present (unsurprisingly), my guess is that samples provide the blocky strings on Natalie Cole's I Fall To Pieces that opens the set.
Unusually for a 'tribute' album, Schizoid Dimension is largely very listenable, with a high good-to-shite quotient. I'm tempted to say this is a result of the excellence of the source material, but that doesn't stop most similar efforts being vile; maybe it's the fact that very few of the contributing artists deviate too far from King Crimson's original arrangements. Brand X (West) and Spirits Burning's respective recreations of Red are almost identical to the 1974 version, while Solid Space's In The Wake Of Poseidon could actually be the original, although most of the rest of the artists involved stamp at least a little of their own personality on their chosen tracks. Most innovative? Xcranium's Cat Food is a hard rock take on the track, while Astralasia's techno-orientated I Talk To The Wind moves furthest from the song's roots although, amusingly, without the programmed percussion, it would be almost identical to Crimson's version.
As far as the 'Mellotron' work here's concerned, it all apears to be sampled. Alien Planetscapes' A Sailor's Tale has a string part, probably from band leader Doug Walker, while Solid Space's In The Wake Of Poseidon has strings from Daniel Todd Carter. Architectural Metaphor's Cirkus dispenses with the Lizard version's strings, flute and brass, but layers plenty of samplotron choir all over the track, making for an interesting departure, due to Crimson's non-use of the sound. Although Astralasia's I Talk To The Wind sounds like it could contain Mellotron flute, it's far more likely to be a synth, ditto the vaguely Mellotronnish parts on a couple of other tracks. Not at all bad, then, although particularly low marks for the appalling sleeve; it appears to be a crude parody of the late Barry Godber's fantastic artwork for In the Court of the Crimson King (I mean, what's going on with those eyes?), but since I can't imagine why the compilers would wish to mock the original, I can only assume that it, too, is meant as a tribute. In fairness, it's the worst thing about the album; worth picking up second-hand.
Scott Walker: 30 Century Man (Music Inspired By the Film) could just as easily be titled Music Inspired By the Film Scott Walker: 30 Century Man; it appears to depend on your viewpoint. Stephen Kijak's acclaimed 2006 Scott documentary, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, has no soundtrack per se, the producers opting for what amounts to a tribute album instead, twelve artists mostly tackling material from Walker's first four solo albums (unsurprisingly), plus two recent tracks and one late-period Walker Brothers. As with most non-prog tribute collections, I haven't heard most of the originals, but the bulk of the contributors here treat the material (overly-?) reverently, highlights including Damon & Naomi's The World's Strongest Man (Scott 4), Saint Etienne's breathy Manhattan (Tilt) and Dot Allison's Montague Terrace (In Blue) (Scott), but, in truth, every version here is, at least, intriguing, which is more than you can usually say for tributes.
Saint Etienne use uncredited Mellotron string samples on Manhattan, while Bee & Flower's Jonathan Heine's credit on The Bridge (Scott 2) turns out, unsurprisingly, to be some form of sampled, er, something. Brass? Strings? Both? Quite certainly not a Mellotron, anyway. I'm not sure how many non-Scott fans will be interested in this release, but the more obsessive (er, most of them?) probably need to hear it.
This is a rather splendid two-disc set, covering Jellyfish's entire, two-album career, in sequence, serving to remind us what a fabulous (and ahead of their time) band they really were. And yes, Joining A Fan Club is still their best song. Any standout performances? Not as such - in fact, the bulk of the set could easily actually be by Jellyfish - but I can't imagine fans being disappointed. Daniel Lee supposedly plays Mellotron on Diel's take on Runnin' For Our Lives, but... no. Mind, you, excellent though this is, you're still better off buying the band's two original albums.
2008's Shockadelica: 50th Anniversary Tribute to the Artist Known as Prince is, er, shockingly, a five-disc set of Norwegian artists covering Prince, would'ja believe; by all accounts the purple one was less than amused, which is a) amusing and b) par for the course, so I can't imagine anyone got too worried. To be honest, given that I know where the 'Mellotron's used, I simply cannot be arsed to trawl through all five discs, so you'll get a review of disc 3 alone and you'll like it. So there. Well, although I've encountered a few of the artists spread across the set (Audrey Horne, Bellman, Anne Marie Almedal, The White Birch) and I've heard of a few more, most of them are new to me, while I suspect that, as on many tribute albums, a good few are one-off collaborations, usually operating under ridiculous monikers.
Anyway, Disc 3: Pop Life, Everybody Needs a Thrill, is, as expected, a mixed bag, Christopher Knutsen tackling I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man in overblown Phil Spector style, Matias Tellez' Do U Lie being a mid-'60s take on glam rock (!), Brødrene Lowenstierne takes a bizarre country/swing approach to Nothing Compares 2 U, while Joacim Lund's Sign 'O' The Times is possibly best described as spaghetti country'n'western. Sadly, however, far too many contributors play the songs pretty straight, in something approximating the purple midget's funk/soul crossover style. Presumably one of the aforementioned one-off collaborations, Dylan Mondegreen featuring The Aluminum Group (if you don't know what a mondegreen is, it's on Wikipedia), provides the entire set's only 'Mellotronic' contribution, Børge Sildnes playing vague samplotron flutes throughout. Like so many of this type of tribute set, I can't imagine at whom, precisely, this is aimed. Prince fans? Doubtful. Fans of the contributing artists? What, all of them? Given the expense of producing a set of this size, I really can't see how the record company can recoup their outlay, but there you go.
I'm slightly ashamed to say I've never become acquainted with the works of Tim Buckley, although I own his son's two 'must-have' albums. As a result, listening to the two-disc Sing a Song for You: Tribute to Tim Buckley can only be a second-hand experience, like seeing a film reflected in a distorting mirror. I also have no idea how any of the songs contained herein sounded originally, or how faithful these interpretations are (not to mention how faithful they should be). Most of the versions tend to be suffused with melancholy, as I imagine the originals to be, although Lilys' Strange Feelin' is the joker in the pack, tackled in an early psych style, bouncing along in a post-garage kind of way. Given the quality of both the material and the interpretations, I found this to be a very listenable collection, but then, without any real knowledge of Buckley's recordings, I can hardly become outraged at the possible liberties taken by the contributors. Mellotron's credited on two tracks, with background, most likely sampled strings from Alan Forrester on Mojave 3's take on Love From Room 109 At The Islander and something entirely inaudible on Neil Halstead's Phantasmagoria In Two from Halstead himself.
Sol Invictus? No more than a name to me, despite existing since the '80s and releasing fifteen or so studio albums. Led by Tony Wakeford, they broadly fall into the 'neofolk' movement, alongside Wakeford's old outfit Death in June and David Tibet/Current 93, taking in elements of dark folk (Comus are a touchstone), neoclassical and industrial musics. Unfortunately, the end result has an awful lot in common with, er, goth, which probably doesn't please its practitioners, who seem to be relatively bereft of anything resembling a sense of humour.
Having not actually heard anything by the band themselves, I'm left to judge their work via 2002's Sol Lucet Omnibus: A Tribute to Sol Invictus, a two-disc tribute set featuring, for once, not a single artist of whom I've heard, although I believe Tor Lundvall does a lot of artwork for the actual band. I get the feeling that most of the versions here are fairly 'straight' covers, giving us over two hours of doomy, pagan dronings, sampled orchestral accompaniment de rigeur. One disc of this stuff's OK, but the full monty's a bit much, frankly, so the star rating above should be taken more as an indicator of the quality of most of the contributions, rather than for the set's numbing overall effect. Worst track? Spiritual Front's croaking take on Minimal Baby. No contest.
It seems most unlikely that Oraison's Alek S actually had access to a real Mellotron for their recording, as the strings and choirs on Fields are low enough in the mix to evade accurate appraisal. So; if you love Sol Invictus, you stand a good chance of loving this. Conversely... Incidentally, the first 77 copies (why that figure? Does it have some significance?) came in a wooden slip-case with the band logo burnt into its surface. Very pagan, I'm sure. And I didn't mention Nazism once.
I have to be honest here and say, 'what exactly is the point of this kind of album?' 'Tribute' albums are always going to be a bit hit-and-miss, but can someone please tell me why a group of musicians would get together to record tracks from one's band's repertoire, then release the results? I've heard a couple of appalling Rush ones, not because of the material, but its treatment, although other efforts fare better. Stairway to Heaven: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin contains contributions from the likes of Sebastian Bach (Skid Row), Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society), Lita Ford, Foreigner's Lou Gramm, Def Leppard's Vivian Campbell and Slash (ex-Guns N'Roses, of course), but mostly ends up sounding like a half-arsed covers album which is, essentially, precisely what it is. Of course, the material's impeccable, but none of these versions even come close to matching the majesty of the originals (how could they?) and only Going To California strays from its original arrangement, and then only slightly.
Richard Baker is credited with Mellotron, but the anaemic flutes on (of course) Stairway To Heaven itself barely sound like the real thing, which probably means they are [sigh]. Kashmir suffers even more, with truly horrible string and 'brass' sounds that highlight just how bad modern synths can sound if employed inappropriately. Overall, only the hardest of hardcore Zep fans really needs to bother with this, and then probably only for completion's sake. Yeah, I've heard worse, but as soon as I hear Mr. 'Bach's voice, its utter pointlessness and futility come crashing down on me from a great height. Don't bother. Really.
Acid Jazz' Sugarlumps: A Psychedelic Selection of Groovy Movers & Sweet Freakbeat caused a minor stir upon its 2005 release, appearing to resurrect a cluster of extreme rarities, not least Grantchester Meadow's Candlelight, allegedly an unreleased 1971 single. Unsurprisingly, given its label, the album concentrates on the groovier, danicer end of the pre-psych/psych era, although a small problem confronts the dedicated student of the era: how many of these tracks were actually recorded in the late '60s? The answer seems to be: surprisingly few. One verifiable effort is Quiet Melon's Early Roller Engine 4444, apparently a drunken collaboration between various Artwoods, Small Faces and Rod Stewart, quite clearly one of the two featured vocalists, while Andy Ellison was a member of John's Children in the late '60s, not to mention Jet and The Radio Stars, although his contribution appears to be a new recording. Several of the artists (Soul Hooligan, Jarvis Humby, The Noel Gilpin Emporium) are definitely contemporary, as, I suspect, are the bulk of the remainder.
As for Grantchester Meadow, for the handful of you who haven't spotted the reference, it's the title of a solo Roger Waters track from the Floyd's Ummagumma (1969), that practically defines the term 'pastoral'. Anyway, if you'll allow me to quote from Acid Jazz' own description... "Found within a box within a box. Scrawled upon the label of a reel of EMI Tape. The Holy Grail for the Psych collector, Amber Limited ABR.004. Dripping with Mellotron and euphoric in its arrangement, this fantastically rare track has a musical folklore attached to it as rich as its fanfare chorus. Believed to be the work of a certain Pink faced musician, we are pleased to return this tune from the dark side." [Their italics]. To which I say: bullshit. OK, it's a joke and a good one at that, not to mention far from the first of its kind, its humour dependent on how much amusement you might gain from watching frantic collectors scrambling around trying to trace a copy of a non-existent single. Come to think of it... Anyone else conversant with the 'Hairy Door' story?
The album's one 'Mellotronic' contribution is on, surprise, surprise, Candlelight, a lovely, melodic flute part with background strings later in the track, although it's most likely samples. Played by whom? Who knows? Anyway, the 'single' has been deleted from this site forthwith, so don't bother joining the aforementioned frantic vinyl junkies, 'cos you won't find it. Overall, then, a decent enough compilation, although its lack of genuine period charm slightly diminishes its appeal, at least for this listener. Of course, should I ever discover the truth behind Grantchester Meadow, you'll read it here first.
Sweetheart 2005: Love Songs is a various artists collection of exactly what it says, sold exclusively through Starbucks and clearly aimed at their typical customer, i.e. young, middle class women. Its contents range from songs from pre-war musicals (Rufus Wainwright's My Funny Valentine, Tricky collaborator Martina Topley-Bird's original I Only Have Eyes For You) through to (relatively) modern classics (Calexico's take on Joy Division's iconic Love Will Tear Us Apart, Joseph Arthur's version of The Smiths' There Is A Light That Never Goes Out), to Dylan (Neko Case's Buckets Of Rain) and Cat Stevens (Gary Jules' How Can I Tell You. Whatever happened to Gary Jules, anyway? And who cares?). Better efforts include the aforementioned Love Will Tear Us Apart and Old 97's She's Got Everything, but the bulk of the album consists of exactly the kind of easy-listening schlock you'd expect.
Jim Waters (engineer at the studio) supposedly plays Mellotron on Love Will Tear Us Apart, but the occasional string notes that drift in and out of the mix really don't have that ring of authenticity to my ears, so, given that they've already got some sample 'previous', into samples it goes. If you spent any time in a Starbucks in the mid-2000s, you've probably heard most of this already and will know that it isn't worth the effort.
I don't know TF100's backstory, other than that it's Dutch label Tonefloat's (The Use of Ashes, various Steven Wilson-related projects) hundredth release, the title being its catalogue number. Although its seven tracks are credited to various combinations of Wilson, Theo Travis, Use of Ashes' Peter van Vliet and others, there's little discernable stylistic variation across the record, its default position being dark, yet major-key ambient, possibly at its best on Pale Ghostlike Friend, also the repository for Wilson's distant samplotron choir.
You've most likely never heard of Alain Bas(c)hung (1947-2009), but he's apparently regarded as second only to Serge Gainsbourg (who wrote for him) in the pantheon of French chanson artists, also known for his songwriting and acting. Given that he, along with every single other Frenchman of a similar disposition, was an epic smoker, I consider making it to sixty-one before lung cancer caught up with him was quite an achievement. Tels Alain Bashung is a tribute album, including contributions from a good half-dozen artists already on this site, not least Christophe (a friend/collaborator of Bashung's), Dionysos and Benjamin Biolay. Far better than you might expect, this is probably at its best on Keren Ann's sprightly take on Je Fume Pour Oublier Que Tu Bois ('I smoke to forget you drink'. How French), Vanessa Paradis' Angora and Dionysos' 2043, but not one track here lets the side down. Mellotron? Serial sample-user Reyn Ouwehand's credited, but if he means the handful of string chords on Raphaël's closer L'Apiculteur, well...
A good various artists tribute album? Whatever next? Unlike many similar, many of the songs on This is the Town: A Tribute to Nilsson, Vol.1 benefit from more modern arrangements, as Nilsson albums suffer (in my humble opinion, of course) from dated, pseudo-pre-rock'n'roll-compositions-trying-to-sound-like-'70s-singer-songwriter-records productions. As a result, his superb songwriting is here stripped of its soft rock trappings, allowing the genius to escape. Highlights? Low Cut Connie's Jump Into The Fire, Willy Mason's Think About Your Troubles, The Wiyos' Nobody Cares About The Railroads Anymore, Church of Betty's bizarre take on Without You (not, of course, actually by Harry) and Tracy Bonham's Everybody's Talkin', amongst other gems. Church of Betty's Chris Rael is credited with Mellotron, but the flutes lack that distinctive, well, Mellotronness.
Top 25 Heart Seekers: Praise Songs, Vol.2 is, er, the second (and hopefully last?) volume in Maranatha's various artists series, a two-disc set featuring a pool of musicians who play on various tracks. Its contents seem to be sourced from traditional hymns, standards and original material, mostly played in that 'American roots' style that seems to fit Christian albums better than anything more contemporary, its most irritating feature being the reverence with which the various singers treat the somewhat anodyne material. I have to say, the title is somewhat contentious; what's with the armament-inspired 'Heart Seekers' bit, then? Sorry, I forgot: the American Christian right and guns go hand in hand, don't they?
The actual songs are pretty much what you'd expect: the usual lyrical guff spouted over sporadic not-too-offensive backing (bit of a bonus, that), better examples including the sparse Breathe, all female vocal and low organ notes, the reasonably rocking Forever, the Cars-esque I Will Not Forget You and Freedom's country hoedown, although I'm not sure what to think of the set's techno-lite effort, Your Name Is Holy. OK, I am. I have one major bone to pick with the lyricists, above and beyond my usual 'oh Christ (pun intended), it's an album full of God-botherers': Wonderful Cross. Yeah, right; I can imagine that's just what their mythical saviour (not to mention the untold thousands also executed in this particularly brutal fashion) thought as he (allegedly) dragged a massively heavy wooden construction through the streets before being, for fuck's sake, nailed to it, hauled into the air and left to die of clinical shock, blood loss and dehydration in the burning desert sun. Christianity is a sick, warped death cult. There, I've said it.
Rick Ochoa plays supposed Mellotron and Chamberlin throughout, with what sounds like Chamby cellos and strings on That's Why We Praise Him and Mellotron (?) strings on Surrender, Not My Will and The Trade, although his top use is the very upfront flutes that open Let My Words Be Few. However, I'm quite sure it's all sampled. Unless you're an outraged Christian who's found their way here by mistake, you're not going to like this any more than I did. Had it been half the length and stuck to the rootsier material, it might've been halfway listenable, but as it is, it quickly sinks into a slough of despond, as, indeed, did I.
2016's Transformers Roll Out is apparently an album of 'original tracks inspired by the franchise', so, ten songs about Transformers. Right. Unsurprisingly, it chiefly consists of stuff in an indie/metal vein (is this 'emo'? I'm seriously out of touch), all quite outstandingly dull. The nearest any of them gets to 'interesting' is Ours' Stronger, with its acoustic intro, but that's akin to clutching at straws, really. Jimmy Gnecco and April Bauer of Ours are credited with Mellotron, but the too-fast-for-veracity strings part on Stronger give the sample game away. Is anybody above the age of sixteen interested in Transformers, anyway? The first two films were terrible; time I'll never get back. The same goes for this album.
2005's Værsgo 2 is a tribute album to Danish artist Kim Larsen's iconic, much-loved 1973 release Værsgo, apparently a far cry from his main band Gasolin's work, being a light singer-songwriter effort. The Danish artist-only tribute album varies enormously in quality and style, as you might expect, veering between pop/rock (Warwick Avenue, Juncker, Hush), slightly 'alt.' (Ataf Khawaja, Ida Corr, Østkyst Hustlers) and even commercial hard rock (Johnny Deluxe). But is it any good? I found it all rather dull, but then, I'm not a fan of the original album (or have even heard it) or the Danish mainstream, so I was never going to, really. The album's only 'Mellotronic' contribution is from Tue West, who adds cellos and strings to his take on De Fjorten Astronauter, although I hear samples. I can't honestly recommend this to any but mainstream-loving Danes, frankly; I mean, a Danish tribute album and they didn't even ask Tim Christensen? You wot?
Working Class Hero: A Tribute to John Lennon contains exactly what it says on the box: reinterpretations of some of John's solo oeuvre, by a bunch of mid-'90s 'names', some of whom still mean something, some of whom don't. Of course, how much one likes a tribute album, more often than not, depends on how much one likes the original artist. In this case, I sit fairly firmly in the 'solo stuff's not that great, frankly' camp, although this album has introduced me to a handful of impressive tracks, not least Steel And Glass, (although I've actually heard it before, as it's on one of his Mellotron albums, Walls & Bridges).
Of the fifteen tracks here, the otherwise fairly awful Candlebox's Steel And Glass, pick-up band The Magnificent Bastards (with Scott Weiland on vocals) tackling the anti-Paul diatribe How Do You Sleep? and Cheap Trick's incendiary Cold Turkey are about the best. The remainder are largely a collection of also-ran versions of songs, notably Blues Traveler's Imagine, which manages to get some of the chords wrong (twats). Despite being loved by millions, (heresy alert! Heresy alert!) the bulk of these songs just don't sound that great with the benefit of hindsight. I know it's not just me, but why did none of The Beatles do anything half as good on their own? I seem to recall a phrase about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, or somesuch... Essentially, the versions that treat the source material with the least reverence tend to be the best and vice versa. One supposed Mellotron track, with Matt Serletic from Collective Soul playing pretty full-on strings on Jealous Guy, although I hear early samples.