Jack Traylor & Steelwind
Michael B. Tretow
Trace (Netherlands) see:
Tractor: 30th Anniversary Special Edition (1972/2002, 40.43/63.52) ****/0 (T)
|All Ends Up
Little Girl in Yellow
Ravenscroft's 13 Bar Boogie
Hope in Favour
Everytime it Happens
Make the Journey
|[30th Anniversary ed. adds:
No More Lies
Mr. Evolution Man
Every Time it Happens
Tractor are pretty much yer original DIY outfit, recording their two albums (the first as The Way We Live) in their home studio in Rochdale, near Manchester; the sainted John Peel fell in love with the duo's decade-early indie aesthetic, releasing both albums on his own Dandelion imprint. So how does Tractor hold up, almost half a century later? It's a raw, uncompromising, psych-into-hard-rock album, highlights including insistent earworm opener All Ends Up, acoustic psych-fest Everytime It Happens and mad, nine-minute closer Make The Journey, while Ravenscroft's 13 Bar Boogie (guess what: it isn't) is their paean to Peel, referencing his real name.
Mellotron? Nothing on the original album, as you can see, but 2002's 30th Anniversary Special Edition adds half a dozen bonus tracks (irritatingly different from earlier CD issue bonuses), including uncredited, obviously real Mellotron on one of the more contemporary ones, No More Lies, with a string part snaking in and out of the mix, although I've no idea where they sourced a machine. Not only are there several Tractor albums from the '90s on, featuring both old and new material, but these lunatics have even released a brand new record this year (2020), Shubunkin Over Rochdale College Bank. I haven't heard it, but fully expect another piece of low-fi is it?/isn't it? genius, in their own, inimitable style. Allow me to quote from Q magazine, back in '91: "Tractor - they are completely mad". Couldn't have put it better myself.
|7" (1967) ****½/TTT
Hole in My Shoe
Mr Fantasy (1967, 34.40) ****½/TT
|Heaven is in Your Mind
House for Everyone
No Face, No Name, No Number
Dear Mr Fantasy
|Hope I Never Find Me There
Giving to You
When the Eagle Flies (1974, 40.03) ***½/T½Something New
Walking in the Wind
Memories of a Rock n'Rolla
When the Eagle Flies
Traffic were probably the first UK band to 'get their heads together in the country' (an obvious euphemism), with quite excellent results. They debuted with the quite brilliant Paper Sun, encapsulating 1967 in all its psychedelic glory (you can tell I wasn't there, can't you?), but their first Mellotron use was on the follow-up, the even more demented Hole In My Shoe, later tediously covered by 'Neil' from The Young Ones (early-'80s UK comedy show for non-Brit readers). The original is absolutely fantastic and a total period piece, right down to the nice, middle class little girl's voice saying something about giant albatrosses in the middle eight. Mellotron strings, complete with judicious pitchbend, help to make the track a complete classic.
Neither single found its way onto their first long-player, Mr Fantasy, but with the quality of material on offer, nobody noticed. Like so many other bands of the era, Traffic mixed together a plethora of influences, with the added bonus of not having a recent past in the beat boom era, at least not collectively. Although less 'psychedelic' than many contemporaneous albums, Mr Fantasy still manages a couple of lysergic outings, particularly House For Everyone, which also features the album's first Mellotronic input, with Dave Mason's stabbed brass chords under the verse, while Utterly Simple is a full-on sitar-laden psych-fest; their own Within You Without You, no less. The other really outstanding track here is the Latin-tinged Dealer, later covered by Santana, but there's very little wrong with the album, if truth be told. As far as the Mellotron's concerned, the single No Face, No Name, No Number is a deceptively gentle ballad with a haunting Mellotron string line, while Coloured Rain completes the album's trio of Mellotron tracks, with some background string chords. To my knowledge, all flute parts on the album are real, played by the now sadly late Chris Wood.
I don't believe Traffic used a Mellotron again until the tail-end of their career, on final release When the Eagle Flies, a dark album, probably reflecting the early-'70s come-down after the end of the hippy dream. I'm not personally a great fan of the music the band were making by this time, but it's all exceptionally well done, in a laid-back kind of way. Mellotron on one track only, the 11-minute Dream Gerrard, with a string part drifting in and out of the mix over the track's considerable length.
So; buy the first album and any hits set including the early singles. I'll leave When the Eagle Flies to yourselves to judge, but while there's one good Mellotron track, it probably doesn't make a purchase worthwhile for that alone.
Official Steve Winwood site
See: Jim Capaldi
Train (1996, 56.31) ***/½
If you Leave
Drops of Jupiter (2001, 48.33) **½/½
|She's on Fire
I Wish You Would
Drops of Jupiter
It's About You
Let it Roll
Train's eponymous debut sounds an awful lot like Counting Crows, so it's no particular surprise to note that its keyboard parts (Hammond/piano/Mellotron) were played by that outfit's Charlie Gillingham, accentuating the vaguely alt.countryness of the proceedings. While nothing here actively offends, nor does anything especially stand out, with most of the tracks disappearing into a mush of sameness. Gillingham's Mellotron can definitely be heard on two tracks, with a polyphonic cello (?) part on opener Meet Virginia and faint flutes on Eggplant, with most of the other keyboard work being Hammond.
By Drops of Jupiter, five years on, Train had morphed into one of those inexplicably-currently popular bands, like Nickelback, who don't seem to actually have any particular sound at all, or write especially good songs, but who all look good and get plenty of record company push. You can sort of see that they were going to end up like this from listening to Train, but it's still a bit depressing. Pat Monahan's voice had picked up that awful whiny edge that so many contemporary singers seem to feel they have to have, but he must be doing something right, I suppose. I can't even pick out any tracks to comment upon, as they all blurred into one long wash of 'Rock', without being 'something-Rock' or, for that matter, 'anything-Rock'. 'Rock', but utterly bland. How did that happen? Although there's no Mellotron actually credited here, that has to be Mellotron flutes on Getaway, possibly played by drummer Scott Underwood (the only member credited with keys) but more likely to be by producer Brendan O'Brien, a noted Mellotron fan. It's, er, a passable Mellotron flute part, but you'd have to be certifiable to buy this album for that reason alone. Consider this a warning.
See: Samples etc.
Silver (1972, 42.12) **½/T
Can I See You
The Driver's Engine
Couldn't Possibly Be
Nice and Easy
Dear Oh Dear
Now, I can say in all honesty that I know bugger all about Tranquility; it took me long enough to ascertain that they were British. The sleeve gives the impression that the album just may have a progressive slant to it, but in all honesty, 'slant' is probably too strong a word; think typical early-'70s mainstream soft rock but marginally more interesting. Infuriatingly, there's the occasional 'almost there' moment, like the closing section of Whip Wheel or Silver itself (definitely the album's highlight), but they never last long enough to be of any real consequence. There's a country edge to some of the material and their massed harmony vocals sound like a rather low-budget CSN&Y, so don't expect anything too exciting. And what the hell's with the dodgy Donovan impersonation on The Tree?
Although a bit more Mellotron would probably have livened the album up slightly, keyboard player Tony Lukyn only uses it on Nice And Easy, with some almost inaudible flutes, then a genuinely good string part in an otherwise average song. In all honesty, I'd be pretty hard-pushed to particularly recommend this album, although there are a few OK-ish tracks; if only they'd concentrated a little harder on not sounding so bloody wussy. Dear Oh Dear indeed.
Sex Change (2007, 42.58) ***/½
North East Rising Sun
Conspiracy of the Gods
Exit Management Solution
Climbing Up the Ladder
|Tesco Vs Sainsbury's
The Fucking Champs-associated Trans Am play a kind of ironic/non-ironic synth metal with krautrock overtones, their eighth album, Sex Change, apparently being a return to form after a couple of unsuccessful diversions. It shifts between sort-of synth-pop (First Words, North East Rising Sun, most of the rest) and something nearer Champs territory (Conspiracy Of The Gods, Shining Path), with the odd sidetrack here and there. 'Best tracks' are entirely a matter of taste, I feel; I like Shining Path and the synth-heavy Tesco Vs Sainsbury's (have they visited the UK lately?), but their fanbase may prefer the lighter material.
The album was recorded in Auckland and the band borrowed some vintage gear while in NZ, including Tall Dwarfs' Chris Knox's M400, although it's only at all obvious on one track, with rather background strings on the superbly-titled Conspiracy Of The Gods, played by an unknown (Knox, maybe?), that could almost be something generic. Anyway, an interesting album, if not one I'll be returning to that often. Incidentally, a Mellotron was also used on on of their Champs collaborations (below), TransChamps.
See: Fucking Champs | Fucking Am | TransChamps
Funky Steps (1974, 35.23) ***½/TT½Dance Ritual of Fire From Love, the Magician
Largo From Mandolin Concerto
Dream of Love
Morning From Peer Gynt Suite No. 1
Andante From Pathetic Symphony
Moderato From Piano Concerto No. 2
Tranzam were, according to Discogs, a 'Japanese rock/pop band', including ex-members of The Flower Travelin' Band and the Sadistic Mika Band, amongst other, lesser-known names. Their debut, 1974's Funky Steps, is less the jazz-funk horror you might expect, more a jazz/classical/prog (!) mashup, six classical pieces reinvented for rock band and brass section, composers tackled including Vivaldi (Largo From Mandolin Concerto), Grieg (Morning From Peer Gynt Suite No. 1), Tchaikovsky (Andante From Pathetic Symphony) and Rachmaninov (Moderato From Piano Concerto No. 2). To my great surprise, the material largely survives its reworking, highlights probably being the Grieg and Tchaikovsky pieces, although classical buffs may need a strong stomach to cope with the jazz and funk elements utilised here.
Keys man Nobuhiko Shinohara adds Mellotron to most tracks, with volume-pedalled strings notes and chords, including a wicked pitchbend, throughout opener Dance Ritual Of Fire From Love, The Magician (20th Century Spanish composer Manuel de Falla), more strings on Dream Of Love and Morning From Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 and choirs on Moderato From Piano Concerto No. 2. You're not all going to like this, but, given that it's never been reissued and is on YouTube, there's nothing to stop you listening to it yourself.
Shine on Me (1972, 35.18) ***/T½Shine on Me
Maybe I Wrote This Song for You
Found Myself in You
Time's Running Out
Carry Me With You
Travis (not to be confused with the current Scots miserablists), were an early-'70s UK outfit, vaguely akin to Wishbone Ash, concentrating on slightly hard rock with plenty of vocal and guitar harmony. I'm told that they morphed into Strange Days, who released the rated 9 Parts to the Wind in '75, although there's no Mellotron on that album. Travis are quite insipid in places, I'm afraid, although some of the material on Shine on Me isn't bad, particularly the guitar-driven Flagstone Path and the very Blowin' Free-like Maybe I Wrote This Song For You.
Keys man Christos Demetriou plays Mellotron on a couple of tracks, with largish helpings of strings on Found Myself In You, a typical ballad, while Carry Me With You has a few chords on the fadeout. All in all, given the record's rarity, I wouldn't spend a fortune, unless you're a Mellotron nut in the unlikely position of having money to burn. Average.
Child of Nature (1973, 38.34) **½/½Child of Nature
Birds and Beasts and Bumblebees
I've Got You
Time to Be Happy
Come on, Children
Fifteen Years After
Gone to Canada
Jack Traylor was a Grateful Dead/Jefferson Airplane associate who contributed towards Kantner, Slick & Freiberg's Baron Von Tollbooth & the Chrome Nun, various members of the collective returning the favour by playing on his 1973 solo album, Child of Nature, credited to Jack Traylor & Steelwind. As you'd expect, it's a fairly drippy folky effort, like a weak-arse Airplane, although the ensemble manages to summon up some life on Gone To Canada.
Airplane associate David Freiberg plays what I presume is that band's M400, with a string part on I've Got You, although all the album's flute parts are real, played by Skip Morairty. This is once again available, from Traylor's website, but I think I can only really recommend it to Airplane family completists, although it has its moments. As for the Mellotron, as with his other work, Freiberg's playing on the album is too background to be of any real consequence.
Maybe it's Me (1997, 49.52) ***/T
|Friend of Mine
How She Died
Stupid Thing to Say
Ever She Flows
Christ is on the Lawn
Takes Me Down
Left Feeling Odd
On the evidence of their third album, Maybe it's Me, Canada's Treble Charger veer between pop-punk and powerpop, utilising elements of both, frequently in the same song. The end result is definitely aimed more at the young than the not-so-young, but isn't that how rock should be? The album's quieter songs tend to make more impact, to be honest, with both Red and Christ Is On The Lawn standing out from the pack, although it's noticeable how the album's better tracks are let down by whiny drivel like Ever She Flows. It's also noticeable how most of the album's tracks are too long; there's nothing here under three minutes (or over five, conversely) and many of them outstay their welcome by a minute or more, making the album overlong as a knock-on effect.
There's no cellist credited (although the brass section is), but I suspect the cellos on Red and Ever She Flows are real, making the album's only Mellotron track Christ Is On The Lawn, with a lovely (and obviously real) flute'n'strings part from guitarist Bill Priddle, nicely enhancing what might otherwise be a rather workaday ballad. Albums like Maybe it's Me depress me a little, as they indicate that the artists concerned have only listened to the musical generation immediately before their own, which if carried to its logical conclusion would culminate in a situation where everybody just ran round in circles, biting each other's tails. Oh, you mean we're already there? I'm being a bit unfair in this case, as the album has its moments, but the 'indie' vocals are bound to irritate those who haven't grown up with them. One good Mellotron track, though, so we'll let 'em off. Maybe. p.s. Horrible sleeve design.
Master (1970, 38.37/79.32) ***/TT½
|Wait on Me
Now's the Time
But Then I
Before I Sleep
|By the Way
Me and My Life
[The Early 70's Sessions adds:
(Call Me) Number One (new stereo mix)
Right Wheel, Left Hammer, Sham (new stereo mix)
|Take it Easy
What Can I Do
Wait for Me
Wait a Minute
Yellow River (demo)]
|7" (1973) **½/½
May Morning (2000, recorded 1970, 35.30) ***/TTT½
All Pull Together
Till the Sun Goes Down
Turn on With Thee
I Can't Even Breathe Down There
May Morning (Reprise 1)
Think of What You Said
I'll Take You Home
Bunch of Rapes
May Morning (Reprise 2)
I Know You
After several years of mainstream pop hits with and without vocalist Brian Poole (Silence Is Golden, Here Comes My Baby), The Tremeloes found themselves rather adrift by the end of the '60s, seen as seriously old hat by the counterculture, something they clearly found difficult to wholly embrace. 1970's Master was their attempt to bridge the gap, shifting between relatively contemporary stuff (opener Wait On Me, Try Me, Boola Boola) and mainstreamish fare (But Then I, Willow Tree) and what's with the Elvis impersonation on Baby? Bizarre. Anyway, the band allegedly bought Jeff Lynne's MkII from his Idle Race days, utilising it on a few tracks (probably played by Len "Chip" Hawkes), with strings and flutes (and brass?) on Now's The Time, sustained strings (bit of studio trickery here) and vibes on But Then I, strings on Boola Boola and flutes and strings on By The Way, making this semi-worthwhile on the Mellotron front. An expanded CD version, Master...Plus!: The Early 70's Sessions, adds a slew of mostly 'yeah, whatever' tracks, with Mellotron vibes on What Can I Do, while 1973's cod-glam Ride On 7" has occasional pitchbent strings and underpinning cello.
Italian director Ugo Liberatore then dug them out of a bit of a hole by signing them up to soundtrack his cult film May Morning, not officially released for another thirty years, although various tracks leaked out on compilations. With the benefit of hindsight, it can be seen as a decent transitional record, bridging the gap between their pop work and the light end of early '70s rock (think: solo Rod Stewart), although quite a bit of ground is covered across its fourteen tracks. Although most of the material is on the acoustic side, Anything has echoes of The Who about it, while Hard Time has a distinct early Floyd vibe and several tracks feature a sitar somewhere in the mix. More of that ex-Lynne Mellotron, the band using it to good effect across much of the album. Obvious use includes the strings on Turn On With Thee, Think Of What You Said and Beer Duel, plus the flutes on May Morning (Reprises 1 & 2), although top Mellotron track is probably Till The Sun Goes Down, opening with vibes and flute, adding strings to the mix further into the song. Add the almost-inaudible accordions in All Pull Together and you're left with a pretty damn' good Mellotron album from an unexpected source.
Let's Boogie (1976, 36.51) **/½
Bottom Coming Up
I Can See What You Mean
That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles
Keep Your Hands to Yourself
Doc McGurgle's Babylonian Lizard Tooth Oil
He Can't Sing
Michael B. Tretow is a Swedish musician and producer, best-known for his long association with Abba, apparently 'play[ing] an essential part in creating [their] sound'. His first solo album, 1976's Let's Boogie is a pretty poor effort, frankly, even by the mainstream standards of the time, largely consisting of borderline-novelty stuff like Sandwich (sample lyric: "Make yourself a sandwich") and Doc McGurgle's Babylonian Lizard Tooth Oil.
Tretow's credited with Mellotron (presumably Abba's M400) on Paper Dolls and Doc McGurgle's Babylonian Lizard Tooth Oil, although it's difficult to tell exactly what it might be doing: faint strings on both tracks? Barely scrapes half a T, while the album's a waste of time for all but Swedish pop historians.
Trettioåriga Kriget [a.k.a. Thirty Years War] (1974, 38.24) ****/TTTKaledoniska Orogenesen
Röster Från Minus Till Plus
Krigssång [a.k.a. Warsong] (1976, 38.30) ****/TTTKrigssång
Jag Och Jag Och 'Jag'
Elden av År (2004, 49.05) ****/TT½Ljuset
Elden av År
Nightflight - 77
I Början och Slutet (2007, 54.15) ****/TTT½
|I Krigets Tid
I Början och Slutet
I Krigets Tid II
Efter Efter (2011, 49.09) ****/TTT½Mannen på Bänken
Till en Sputnik
Seaside Air (2016, 43.28) ****/TTTThe Photograph
Dreaming of Vermeer
Behold the Pilot
Trettioåriga Kriget, or Thirty Years War, are a bit of an oddity; driving, high octane jazz-inflected hard rock with a progressive edge and Swedish vocals. What could be an appalling mish-mash of influences is actually a rather wonderful mixture of genres; TK had a unique sound that still stands up well today. Trettioåriga Kriget manages to combine several different approaches into a cohesive whole and should appeal to the hard rock crowd as well as the progressive fraternity. The band didn't use Mellotron live, unsurprisingly, as it was played in the studio by drummer Dag Lundquist; used sparingly but effectively, it often bursts in after several minutes of a song, then disappears just as quickly. Trettioåriga Kriget have been quoted as a major influence on '90s Swedish wunderkind Änglagård; listen to Mina Löjen for proof. Trettioåriga Kriget is a real grower; listening to it again for review purposes I'm struck by how good the songs actually are. It's a great shame they never found any success outside their native country, despite being signed to the Scandinavian branch of CBS; it would probably have been seen as a terrible sell-out, but some English-language lyrics may have done the trick (well, it worked for PFM).
Krigssång (War Song) was recorded in summer '75, although it wasn't released until early '76; while obviously the same band that recorded their debut, the album's a little more acoustic and maybe a tad more straightforward, too. The Mellotron work fits the same pattern as their first LP; sparse but effective. TK took their only step into larger-scale composition on this album; Krigssång II takes up the whole of side two of the original album and has the best Mellotron work on the record. TK spent five weeks in Britain in late '76, just before punk hit the headlines. Obviously mindful of the impenetrability of their lyrics to a British audience, they rewrote a few of their songs in English; On Going To England is a new version of Mina Löjen from their first album. Despite a good review in Melody Maker, the band made no further headway in the UK; presumably their albums were unavailable here and it was at the time unheard of to sell your own recordings at gigs. The live tracks added to the CD were recorded in Stockholm a few weeks later.
Trettioåriga Kriget carried on for some years, eventually changing their name to the more manageable Kriget, but they simplified their approach (haven't we heard this somewhere before?) and never attained the heights of their first two releases again. There is a compilation of outtakes and suchlike called War Memories (1972-81) (***½); while worth having, there isn't a trace of Mellotron on it anywhere.
However... having dissolved some time in the early '80s, with occasional reformations, the Kriget boys have decided to have another stab at fame and fortune, or at least making some more great music. Elden av År (Fire of Years) doesn't disappoint, with the band having lost none of their energy, although it by no means sounds like a carbon copy of their '70s style. It's difficult to pinpoint the best material after a single listen, so I may well revisit this review at a later date; suffice to say, it's about as far as you can get from the (allegedly) insipid reformation works from the likes of Epidaurus or Il Balletto di Bronzo. Mellotron from Mats Lindberg on four of the eight tracks, with intelligent and restrained use of strings and flutes; nothing jaw-dropping, but well worth hearing, as is the album as a whole. Incidentally, they used Mellotronen boss Stefan Dimle (Paatos, ex-Landberk)'s machine.
Three years on, just to prove it wasn't a flash in the pan, I Början och Slutet (The Beginning and End) appears, every bit as good as its predecessor. Like their other albums, in many ways this is not so much 'progressive' as mainstream rock with a progressive edge, although the greater use of keyboards over their '70s work increases the 'progressiveness' of some of the material. Highlights include both parts of I Krigets Tid, Ungdom and the gentle Lovsång, despite its unusual use of digital synth textures. Lindberg on Mellotron again (don't know whose this time round), with strings on all highlighted tracks above, except for Benke, which features flutes, making this the most Mellotron-heavy of their albums, if not actually the best.
If anything, 2011's Efter Efter (er, After After) is even better than its immediate predecessor, material of the quality of Barnet (The Child, not a paean to the North London borough, funnily enough), The Dance and the utterly magnificent Glorious War lifting the band to new heights, almost unbelievably, at this late stage in their career. Perhaps with nothing to lose, they've realised they've got everything to win. Or something. Plenty of Mellotron, from Lindberg once more, with flute and string parts on Mannen På Bänken, strings all over Barnet, Tavlan and The Dance, plus flutes on the lengthy title track. Are there any downsides? Well, what's with that horrible digital synth patch on Efter Efter itself? A single complaint; not bad, chaps, not bad...
After (efter?) another several-year gap, 2016's Seaside Air is another 'inventive mainstream rock with a progressive tinge' album, opening well with the melodic The Photograph, while Dreaming Of Vermeer is a beautiful guitar/vocal piece, starting with two minutes of solo guitar and closer Behold The Pilot pulls out all the stops on the vocal front. Lindberg adds Mellotron (sounding real to my ears) on all but one track, with a tricky flute melody and chordal strings on opener The Photograph, flutes and strings on the title track, Forgotten Garden, Billy and Behold The Pilot and strings on Snow, although the strings on Dreaming Of Vermeer are real. Not typical progressive rock and all the better for it.