album list


Kevin Bartlett  (US)

Glow in the Dark  (2008,  77.37)  ***

Kevin Bartlett has been around since the '80s, acting as musician, producer, label boss... A general mover'n'shaker then, it seems. It's difficult to tell how many solo albums he's released over the years, but 2008's Glow in the Dark is around the 30th on which he's worked, which isn't bad going by anyone's standards. I can't tell you anything about its predecessors, but this release falls into the new age/prog category, with drifitng, ambient material (Nothing Really, Stethoscope) shaking hands with tracks in more upbeat, almost AOR territory (The Sorrow, The Fish, And Glastonbury Hill, Moon V. Moon), even a Celtic influence in places. Vocals, such as they are, are confined to wordless male and female voices, while Bartlett's Hackettesque guitar work does that sustained thing as well as anyone. Think: a gutsier Gandalf, maybe and you won't be too far off the mark.

Now, I was told this album contains 'Mellotron', but Bartlett's booklet credit for 'GForce for the killer M-Tron Mellotron' rather gives the game away, as do the sounds; it might be possible to make a real Mellotron sound like this, given enough reverb, but the strings and choirs lack the immediacy of the real thing. His chief sample use is the choirs on choirs on Moon V. Moon, although several other tracks feature it too. So; the symphonic prog fan may not find enough to keep him/herself interested, but for those looking for a more relaxed ride, Glow in the Dark may be exactly what you're looking for.

Karl Bartos  (Germany)

Communication  (2003,  45.49)  ***½

Karl Bartos is one of the two ex-members of Kraftwerk's best-known lineup that you're less likely to be able to name (the other being Wolfgang Flür); Bartos left the band in 1991, frustrated at their glacially-paced workrate, immediately forming Elektric Music to make music in a similar vein.

2003's heavily Kraftwerk-flavoured Communication is Bartos' only fully solo album to date, released some five years after the last known activity of Elektric Music. He opts to sing through a vocoder on most tracks, slightly diluting its still startling effect (it's one of those things, like, er, a Mellotron, that shouldn't be overused), although his occasional uneffected vocals (notably on Life) are perfectly good, making you wonder why he chooses to hide behind it. Despite the odd minor detour into dance-pop, most of the album's material would fit perfectly well onto a later Kraftwerk album; maybe the one they didn't get around to making in the '90s? Stronger tracks include opener The Camera, I'm The Message and instrumental closer Another Reality, but there's little here to upset those of a synth-pop persuasion.

It's hard to tell whether Bartos is actually using any analogue gear at all; some of the synths sound like they could be, but with so many pseudo-analogues and softsynths around, who knows? The occasional 'Mellotron' strings on Cyberspace are very obviously sampled, but it's nice to hear someone working in this area use the sounds at all, to be honest. So; one for Kraftwerk fans who wonder whether they'll ever actually record again.

Basement Apartment  (US)

Pine Tree Hill  (2007,  45.01)  **½

Basement Apartment's second album, Pine Tree Hill, sits in a rather unenviable 'indie country' bracket, at its least dull on Tear Gas and Intact, maybe. Band maniman Vincent Caro's supposed Mellotron consists of sampled chordal flutes all over opener Kicking The Can.

Alain Bashung  (France)

Bleu Pétrole  (2008,  50.31)  ***

2008's Bleu Pétrole was Alain Bashung's last album before his untimely death the following year, from lung cancer (that'll be a lifelong Gallic forty-a-day habit, I expect). Much of it's in a folky vein, although elements of jazz, blues and French chanson are all apparent at different points. Best tracks? Probably opener Je T'Ai Manqué, Comme Un Légo and his take on Leonard Cohen's Suzanne, suitably translated. Mark Plati plays supposed Mellotron on Sur Un Trapèze, with a nicely overt string part, although its last, high note lasts far longer than the Mellotron's eight-second limit, giving the sample game away.

Tywanna Jo Baskette  (US)

Fancy Blue  (2003,  43.53)  ***

At a cursory glance, Fancy Blue is simply a low-key country album, but, upon closer perusal, it sports several brief, autobiographical tracks, featuring Tywanna Jo Baskette's impossibly fragile voice. As a result, the album's strongest (also oddest) material includes The Name Song, 1985-1998 and Everything Is Awful. Neilson Hubbard is credited with Mellotron, but the flutes (mixed with strings?) on several tracks are sampled, while I'm not sure if the various string sounds are actually meant to be Mellotronic or not.

Bat for Lashes  (UK)

The Haunted Man  (2012,  51.45)  ***½

Natasha Khan, a.k.a. Bat for Lashes, appeared in 2006, Fur & Gold providing a welcome antidote to the seemingly bottomless pit of autotuned r'n'b nonsense clogging up the charts and charity shops across the nation. That isn't to say that she's exactly avant-garde, mind, merely more willing to experiment than the average aspiring starlet. Her third release, 2012's The Haunted Man, reminds me (sorry) of Kate Bush on, well, most tracks, really, Khan's voice (admittedly less shrieky than La Bush's) and arrangements reminding this listener of, say, The Sensual World, as much as anything. Highlights? Dreamy opener Lilies (very Bush, frankly), the vocal-heavy Oh Yeah, the folky male voice choir on the title track and the twisted electro of Rest Your Head, although nothing here made me gag. Khan credits herself with Mellotron on Rest Your Head, but the track's strings aren't even the most Mellotronic sounds on the album, so straight into 'samples' this goes.

Bauer  (Argentina)

En Otra Ciudad  (2006,  49.52)  ***½

A chap by the name of Kerry Leimer has written the kind of review of Bauer (Argentinian version)'s En Otra Ciudad on seaoftranquility.org that makes me feel like the amateur I am, wittily comparing them to an elastic-walled triangle, the points of which are made up of Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, Le Orme and Tool, with a lengthy explanation of how this might inform their music. To the rest of us, a description of them as a surf/metal/prog/psych/indie outfit should explain everything. Possibly. The album's actually a far better proposition than that might indicate, better tracks including the psychedelic Un Auto Para Lynn, the heavy-as-fuck El Hombre De Blanco and the almost Crimson-referencing Dios Quiere Mi Chocolate. The band allegedly use Mellotron samples 'taken directly from a friend's machine', although given how few Mellotrons there are in South America, either a) they know an owner abroad, or b) they're probably lying. Anyway, we get male choir on Camino A Oxnard, angular strings on El Valle and smoother ones on Avanza, none of which sound that much like the real thing, frankly.

Baustelle  (Italy)

Fantasma  (2013,  72.55)  **½

Difficult to say for sure without speaking Italian, but Baustelle's Fantasma appears to be some kind of overlong rock opera, complete with male and female vocals, an orchestra and several 'intermezzo' tracks of soundtrack-ish music. Ettore Bianconi's supposed to play Mellotron on La Morte (Non Esiste Più) and Francesco Bianconi on closer Fantasma (Titoli Di Coda), but both, to no-one's particular surprise, sound fake.

Carlos Baute  (Venezuela)

De Mi Puño y Letra  (2009,  40.43)  **

Carlos Baute (Jiménez) is a Venezuelan singer and TV host, apparently, who found a greater level of success after crossing the Atlantic to Spain. His fifth non-compilation, 2009's De Mi Puño y Letra (In My Hand), is pretty much what you'd expect, a string-laden modern pop/rock effort with occasional contemporary production touches, the only track that stands out from the pack in any way being the overtly-Latin Mariana No Quiere Ser Mojigata. Juan Carlos Moguel is credited with Mellotron, but the background choirs on Me Quiero Casar Contigo fail to convince, frankly, although I'm perfectly willing to reverse the decision to quarantine this should I receive any definite information regarding genuine Mellotronic involvement.

Lullaby Baxter  (Canada)

Garden Cities of To-morrow  (2006,  39.43)  ***

Lullaby Baxter's Garden Cities of To-morrow (named for a classic 1902 text laying out Ebenezer Howard's vision for Britain's future, apparently) is a strange album, frequently referencing pre-war music alongside Baxter's fairly straightforward singer-songwriter stylings. No-one's credited with any tape-replay at all, but the intro to Lord, I Won't Fight You Anymore sounds like it could be one of the MkII rhythm tapes, while closer Jet-Pack (one of the album's best songs) also features what sounds like a repeating strings phrase from either the Mellotron or Chamberlin libraries. Fairly certainly sampled, either way.

Jessie Baylin  (US)

Little Spark  (2012,  42.52)  **½

Despite being based in Nashville, Jessie "Baylin" Baldassarre's influences stretch back to the days of Billie Holiday and Judy Garland, so it's no great surprise that her third album, Little Spark, largely consists of pre-psych pseudo-'60s pop, to no particular effect. Richard Swift's supposed Mellotron strings on Star Cannon and Holiday really aren't, however.

Bazooka!  (Sweden)

Wild Life Excursion  (1994,  45.52)  **½

To my ears, Bazooka sound like a '90s version of a long-running trope, the 'locals band', playing a currently-popular style in an out-of-the-way location, in this case, Gothenburg, Sweden. The (then-) 'currently-popular style'? Entirely generic alt.rock, at its least irritating on the vaguely '60s-ish Under Influence. Vocalist/apparent mainman Ebbot Lundberg is also credited with Mellotron, but the strings/flute mix on Backyard Agression [sic.] isn't cutting the mustard.

Beach Patrol  (US)

Riding Dinosaurs  (2008,  34.50)  ***½

I can't say I know much about Wisconsin natives Beach Patrol, although I can tell you that 2008's Riding Dinosaurs is their second album, fully in the powerpop tradition of Big Star et al., stuffed full of material as good as Love Away, One More Cigarette, This Side Of 25 and the witty Shitty Record Store. If I'm going to be brutally honest, it's all slightly generic, but the sheer quality of the material on offer overrides any tedious 'originality' accusations. Anyway, Beach Patrol have a punky edge to their style that differentiates them from many of their more '60s-obsessed peers. Ian Olvera plays a samplotron flute line on Love Away, although it's fairly irrelevant, as the album's strengths don't lie in the instrumentation used (and so they shouldn't), but the material, which is excellent.

Beachwood Sparks  (US)

Make the Cowboy Robots Cry  (2002,  28.43)  ****

Beachwood Sparks' mini-album Make the Cowboy Robots Cry gives the impression of being a stop-gap release between the band's second and third albums, only it seems they disintegrated before recording anything else, leaving this as their (temporary, as it turns out) last will and testament. And a very fine one it is, too, with its oblique songwriting (the climax of Drinkswater is really quite transcendent) and unusual juxtapositions of instruments, notably the plucked banjo and pitchbent synth on Galapagos. Samplotron on three tracks, with occasional background string chords on Hibernation, a distant flute part towards the end of Galapagos and strings on Sing Your Thoughts.

Beady Eye  (UK)

Different Gear, Still Speeding  (2011,  51.42)  ***
Across the Universe  (2011)  ***

Well, I can't quite believe I'm saying this, but Liam Gallagher (who very much assures us he's 'ex-Oasis') seems to've actually put together a decent band in the excellently-named Beady Eye. Essentially Oasis without Noel, their debut album, 2011's Different Gear, Still Speeding, reintroduces the 'F' word into Oasisland: fun. Opener Four Letter Word rocks like a bastard, Beatles And Stones, despite its slightly desperate, "I'm gonna stand the test of time/Like Beatles and Stones" chorus, powers along well enough and Bring The Light is classic, high-octane rock'n'roll. Downsides? It's too long and a couple of tracks drift on for at least two minutes past their bedtimes, but this exceeds all expectations, pretty much proving that Noel's flaccid songwriting has been their parent band's downfall in recent years.

Gem Archer and Andy Bell both play keyboards, so it's anyone's guess who plays the vaguely Mellotronalike Eastern-ish string part on Four Letter Word, the high line from some form of solo string instrument on Kill For A Dream and flutes on The Beat Goes On. Is it real? I really don't think so; Noel owns several models, but my informants have never given the slightest hint that Liam gives a shit, so my guess is M-Tron, or at best, the hardware MemoTron. Well, Oasis fans should be in ecstasies over this; it's sold well enough, given the currently depressed market, but I'm still surprised it hasn't done more. Call it Oasis and watch it sell half a million. Incidentally, there's loads of actually reasonably real-sounding Mellotron strings and choirs on the band's download-only charity single from later in the year, their quite acceptable take on The Beatles' Across The Universe.

Beans & Fatback  (Netherlands)

Beans & Fatback  (2010,  38.45)  ***

Beans & Fatback (presumably named for Link Wray's iconic 1973 release) are a Dutch soul/blues/country (!) combo, whose eponymous debut actually holds together remarkably well, given its stylistic variation. Best tracks? Probably propulsive country opener Downfall, complete with some ripping pedal steel work and the soulful Holding On. Paul Willemsen's credited with Mellotron on closing ballad Billie's Stride, but the track's robotic strings aren't fooling anyone.

Beardfish  (Sweden)

Från en Plats du Ej Kan Se  (2003,  58.58)  ***½
Sleeping in Traffic: Part Two  (2008,  74.20)  ***½
Destined Solitaire  (2009,  76.44)  ***½
Mammoth  (2011,  52.16)  ****

Beardfish formed in 2000, releasing their debut, 2003's Från en Plats du Ej Kan Se, as a quintet. I'd expected either the bastard son of neo-prog or generic 'modern prog' (i.e. sub-somewhere between Spock's Beard and Dream Theater), but we actually get a refreshingly different, inventive (albeit fairly '70s-influenced) version of the genre, sounding like no one other band (to my knowledge, anyway). Touchstones include Zappa and Gentle Giant, but several factors, notably the band's slightly unorthodox (not to mention mostly undistorted) approach to the guitar parts make this stand out from the pack. 'Mellotronically' speaking, we get sampled Mellotron strings on Spegeldans, with a lush chordal part and flutes on Brother, more flutes on Om en Utväg Fanns and a short burst of choir closing the album. No pseudotron on 2006's excellent fully English-language two-disc The Sane Day or the following year's Sleeping in Traffic: Part One (both ****), replaced by what sounds like authentic Solina string synth. 2008's Sleeping... Part Two seems both slightly less cohesive and appealing than its predecessors, possibly due to being that bit too eclectic. I mean, what's going on with the lyrics in South Of The Border? Anyway, a decent effort, particularly the bonkers thirty-five minute title track, if not quite as effective as ... Part One. Samplotron strings on said title track, dipping in and out over its length.

How can one band produce so much quality music? 2009 brings Destined Solitaire, another good effort, though not quite up to those two four-star efforts from a couple of years earlier. Is the quality of Beardfish albums directly related to their non-use of Mellotron samples? Discuss. Anyway, the album's chief fault is its extreme length (although at least this one's only a single disc), which makes for a slightly wearying listen, especially if you tackle several of their releases on the trot. Shan't be doing that again in a hurry, I can tell you... More samplotron than on its predecessor, though less than on their debut; they succeed in using the sounds without over-using, a trick from which many other modern prog outfits could learn. 2011's Mammoth is, if anything, even more eclectic than its predecessors: Green Waves sounds like a proggier version of Deep Purple, as much as anything, Akakabotu has much Canterbury about it, not least in the sax work, although top kudos go to closer Without Saying Anything, which opens with the catchiest, yet uncheesiest riff I've heard all year. Possibly. Plenty of that sampled stuff again, with strings, flutes and choir used throughout, with the kind of subtlety that most real Mellotron owners utilise. Although it isn't.

Beat Circus  (US)

Dreamland  (2008,  45.06)  ****

Beat Circus (originally Beat Science), helmed by multi-instrumentalist Brian Carpenter, are a shifting ensemble of musicians, influenced by a host of unusual styles, including cabaret, circus music (of course) and bluegrass; unsurprisingly, they fall between several stools, which is presumably how they like it. 2008's Dreamland is the band's second release and the first instalment of Carpenter's Weird American Gothic trilogy, a concept album about the legendary Coney Island amusement park that burnt down in 1911. The album evokes the weirdness of the era, much of it sounding like music for a particularly twisted carney freakshow, banjos, tubas and accordions to the fore, both bizarre and strangely normal, if judged by the standards of the early twentieth century. Carpenter plays samplotron on Hell Gate (the ride where the fire started), with a brief string part and rather more choirs, sounding not out of place in the record's unique soundscape.

Beaten By Them  (US)

Invisible Origins  (2011,  42.44)  **

Coalescing in San Francisco, Beaten By Them are a multinational outfit, more Australian than American; their third release, 2011's Invisible Origins, despite their weak protestations, falls firmly into the post-rock bracket, complete with obligatory real cello. While most of its tracks differ, sometimes quite markedly, from each other, the overall effect is of a band who want to create the modern equivalent of 'mood music', but have yet to properly develop the skills to do so. Better tracks include the energetic Final Sun and the piano-led Water, but it's all a bit anodyne, frankly. Keys man Max McCormick plays samplotron, the only obvious use being the flute line on Yo.

The Beatifics  (US)

How I Learned to Stop Worrying  (1996,  37.08)  ***½
The Way We Never Were  (2002,  33.12)  ***

I don't know if The Beatifics' name was chosen to file next to The Beatles, but I wouldn't be surprised; they fit fairly and squarely into the powerpop genre, clearly worshipping at the altar of all the 'B' bands, not to mention later proponents of jangly, melodic-yet-intelligent pop (which makes it sound like melody's for idiots. Sorry). 1996's How I Learned to Stop Worrying was their debut, full of songs of the quality of opener Almost Something There (hey, always open a powerpop album with your best track), This Year's Jessica and Without A Doubt, while Something/Anything? is an obvious Todd quote... Band leader Chris Dorn plays samplotron, amongst other things, with a wash of strings on Without A Doubt, plus full-on cellos, strings on Last Thing On My Mind and Green Day Rising and strings and cellos on Read You Wrong.

The band released an EP in 2001, In the Meantime, with Mellotron credited; three of its five tracks appeared on the following year's The Way We Never Were, but it's impossible to know if there's any 'Mellotron' on the other two without hearing them. Said album appeared in 2002 and the band seem to have taken on a bit of a garage influence (not the hip-hop variant, dumbarse), notably on opener Sorry Yesterdays, although the album as a whole seems rowdier than before. The material's decent enough, but possibly not quite meeting the band's earlier standards, seeming slightly more derivative (that's a cheeky chord at the end of In The Meantime...). Samplotron strings on After All, flutes and phased strings on The Only One, flutes on When It's Whenever and Different Stars.

Bebe  (Spain)

Y  (2009,  57.20)  **½

María Nieves Rebolledo "Bebe" Vila has actually acted in more films than she's made albums; does this make her an actress who also has a music career? Anyway, her second album, 2009's Y, is a pretty typical Latin pop effort, featuring a heavy folk influence amongst the modern production touches. Picking out 'best tracks' is well-nigh impossible for someone really not into the style; suffice to say, it all seems to be done well enough, but is fairly tedious for the non-fan from a different part of the world (yes, Spain and Britain are sufficiently far apart, both geographically and culturally to be considered 'different parts of the world'). Carlos Jean is credited with Mellotron, with a 'typical', sampled flute part on Se Fue.

Matthias Becker  (Germany)

Vintage Synths Volume 1  (1990,  59.53)  ****

German producer and synth enthusiast Matthias Becker recorded Vintage Synths Volume 1, with the help of composer Klaus Stühlen, as an audio companion piece to his book Synthesizer von Gestern. Each of its twenty-two tracks exclusively features a different vintage instrument, ranging from the (relatively) commonplace (MiniMoog, ARP Odyssey, Juno 60) to the slightly more obscure (Yamaha CS-15, Rhodes Chroma, Oberheim SEM). By multi-overdubbing, each instrument's capabilities are displayed at their best, many being used for percussive backdrops, overlaid with chordal washes, melody lines and effects, mostly in an EM-via-techno style. Well, it was 1990...

Highlights? If you love synths, it's all good, but the tracks featuring the Odyssey, the MiniMoog and the Synthi AKS, along with the lesser-known Roland SH-5, probably hit Peak Analogue. Sadly, the Mellotron is sampled, as, according to Becker, his own M400 was unusable at that stage, so he used a friend's Novatron, which also proved too unstable to record, so they ended up sampling single notes and playing them via sequencing software. "But still it sounds like a mellotron, doesn't it?" Um, honestly? Not very, no. The flutes have a very synthetic quality about them, to the point where we could actually be hearing a good synthesized flute patch, the strings faring little better. Good try, guys... Becker produced another two volumes of Vintage Synths..., delving into the further reaches of synthesized obscurity, not least the Gleeman Pentaphonic, Roland's Promars Compuphonic, the French RSF Kobol and RMI's ultra-obscure (not to mention stereo!) Harmonic Synthesizer.

Bedsit Poets  (US)

Rendezvous  (2008,  50.36)  **½

Much of Rendezvous is probably best described as jazz/pop, the remainder veering between indie and more folk-influenced material, at its best on Chemical Day, perhaps. Done Piper plays samplotron flutes on Entourage.

Tom Beek  (Netherlands)

White & Blue  (2005,  64.35)  ***

Tom Beek is a jazz saxophonist, whose White & Blue is... well, it's a jazz album, he says, slightly helplessly. Sorry, but unless you're really immersed in this stuff, what is there to say about it? Jazzy piano? Check. Walking bass? Check. Jazz sax? Check. Best track? The reflective Gnossienne Nr. 4 (incorporating a snippet of Satie, unsurprisingly), no contest, also the one supposed Mellotron track (from Beek), although the vague flutes actually sound less convincing the the ones on the title track and Under The Sun.

Beezewax  (Norway)

South of Boredom  (1999,  39.01)  ***½

Beezewax's second album, South of Boredom, falls into the 'punk end of powerpop' hybrid category, possibly at its best on opener Play It Safe, God Knows Where You Are and Defined Failure. Although The Posies' Ken Stringfellow produces, Kenneth Ishak's 'Mellotron' strings and choirs on In A Run are obviously fake.

Beggars Opera  (UK)  see:

Beggars Opera

Kim Beggs  (Canada)

Blue Bones  (2010,  46.07)  **½

Kim Beggs hails from the Yukon, next door to Alaska, so it shouldn't come as any great surprise to hear that her music is steeped in the North American rural 'tradition', whatever you take that to mean. In other words, she plays country, although as the genre goes, this is pretty old-school stuff, which has to be preferable to slick, modern Nashville 'stadium country'. Beggs varies it a bit, with a handful of more upbeat tracks (Maiden Heart, Firewater Bones) and even a mutated blues (Summertime Lonesome Blues), but the bulk of the record is '50s-style country, even featuring a good ol'-fashioned yodel in the amusing Can't Drive Slow Yodel. Steve Dawson is credited with Mellotron vibes on Mama's Dress, although you wouldn't know if you, er, didn't know, so I think we can safely assume samples. So; trad.country (as against alt.country), anyone? Perfectly good at what it does, but you've really got to be into this stuff...

Belbury Poly  (UK)

From an Ancient Star  (2009,  48.42)  ***½

Belbury Poly are a Jim Jupp nom de plume, 2009's From an Ancient Star being the eleventh release in Ghost Box's Belbury series of very English music, all test cards, late-night OU programmes and primitive electronica. It veers from few-second opener Belbury Poly Logotone through the Kraftwerk-if-they-were-Brits The Hidden Door, the pastoralisms of A Year And A Day and the village green reggae of A Great Day Out to the Jarre-isms of Seed Ships, all interspersed with little snippets of hymns and old English folk tunes. Eclectic, but impeccably constructed. We get samplotron strings, flutes and choppy choirs all over Adventures In A Miniature Landscape, with more choirs on Widdershins, alongside the album's ubiquitous (presumably softsynth-derived) synthscapes. If that peculiar strand of British '70s incidental TV music and early synths appeal, you stand a decent chance of enjoying From an Ancient Star, although I wouldn't bother for the low-level sampled Mellotron.

Joost Belinfante  (Netherlands)

Als een Rivier  (1997,  51.21)  **½

Joost Belinfante was a member of Doe Maar, a turn-of-the-'80s Dutch outfit, kicking his solo career off in 1982. Als een Rivier was his third release, a mildly-irritating-if-diverse, Dutch-language pop/rock album, possibly at its least dull on De Moordenaaraap and Een Oude Man. Belinfante and Gert-Jan Blom play '60s-ish flutes and sweeping strings on Dat Ben Jij, while Blom adds really-not-very-Mellotronic strings to De Moordenaaraap and angular flutes to Een Oude Man, none of it sounding at all authentic.

Bellflur  (US)

Asleep.Asleep.  (2010,  61.13)  **

Going by the irritatingly-titled Asleep.Asleep., Bellflur play a form of post-rock/indie crossover, neither style guaranteed to give them a good review 'round these parts. And, indeed, they're not going to get one. Dull, overlong, meandering... Eamonn Aiken's 'Mellotron'? Distant sampled choirs on We Are On Ghost Ships and background flutes on We Can Build You.

Jake Bellows  (US)

New Ocean  (2013,  37.03)  ***

Jake Bellows' New Ocean sits at the acceptable end of the country spectrum, yet not enough so to be 'alt.', better tracks including All Right Now (not that one), Running From Your Love and closer Frequency. However, Ben Brodin's 'Mellotron' strings on Drinking With Dad (a tale of intergenerational alcoholism?) simply aren't.

Bellwether  (US)

Bellwether  (2000,  36.27)  ***
Home Late  (2001,  36.56)  ***

Bellwether's eponymous second (?) album is one of those 'perfectly decent yet rather unremarkable' Americana records that followed the '90s alt.country boom. Better tracks include South Dakota, the (relatively) rocking Walk It Off and the slightly Neil Young-esque (it's that guitar sound) Takes A Toll, although the overall impression is slightly lacklustre. Amyliz Schaub is credited with Mellotron, but where is it? After waiting almost the entire length of the album, it FINALLY makes its appearance a few seconds before the end of closing track The Call, with a pleasant, if slightly redundant flute part, seemingly sampled, anyway. The following year's Home Late is more of the same, effectively, while Pete Sands' credited Chamberlin is nowhere to be heard.

Beloved Few  (US)

Beloved Few  (1998,  48.00)  **½

The Beloved Few's eponymous album sits at the wetter end of roots rock, at its best on Please Take Care and Unto No One. Someone (Michael Troy?) supposedly plays Mellotron on two tracks, but the flutes on Sister Blue and who-knows-what on Where Angels Fear To Tread most certainly aren't.

Beltline  (US)

Welcome, Nostalgia  (2006,  43.40)  **½

Welcome, Nostalgia sits at the indie end of Americana, at its best on Professional Abddication and Boys Vs. Girls Vs. Boys, maybe. Ryan Matheson plays samplotron flutes on opener Bang/Head/Counter.

Ben + Vesper  (US)

Honors  (2010,  36.34)  **

Despite becoming a married couple some years earlier, it took Ben and Vesper Stamper a while to actually decide to make music together. I haven't heard their earlier releases, but their fourth album, 2010's Honors, is a wispy piece of indie/folk/pop that you will either love or (as the cliché has it) hate. I'm afraid to say that I fall into the latter category. Yes, it's lovely and dreamlike and like listening to fluffy clouds, but I DON'T WANT TO LISTEN TO FUCKING FLUFFY CLOUDS! Er, sorry... Joshua Stamper (Ben's brother?) is credited with Mellotron, but the relatively speedy flute run on All Is Forgiven sounds decidedly inauthentic to these ears, so into samples it goes. As I said, this is fluffy cloud music, which, if you like fluffy clouds, must be wonderful.

Ben's Brother  (UK)

Battling Giants  (2009,  46.54)  *

Jamie Hartman has written pop hits for several currently popular artists, so it's no surprise that his band, Ben's Brother's second album, 2009's Battling Giants, features cameos from the likes of Joss Stone (poor man's Aretha) and the horrible Jason Mraz. The album itself consists of the wettest, most insipid kind of lightweight indie you can imagine; even the vaguest notion of any 'best tracks' is laughable, or would be if this wasn't so appalling. Hartman and Nikolaj Torp play 'Mellotron', with a quiet flute part on closer Letters that can't have taken two people to play, although the album's various string parts sound real. This really is vile; the kind of music that's tailor-made for use in drippy TV programmes involving people feeling bad about nothing in particular. Another thing: what a truly, truly terrible sleeve. OK, we're not quite in the realms of Paul Simon's offensive-to-the-eye Surprise, but it's still complete 'artistic' drivel. An all-round shitter, then.

Didi Benami  (US)

Reverie  (2014,  37.18)  **

Vered "Didi" Benami is known for coming tenth in American Idol (you know, the show that most countries call 'Pop Idol' or similar). Tenth? How many actual winners of this nonsense subsequently disappear without trace? Perhaps Benami has more ambition and/or intelligence. Anyway, her sole album to date, Reverie, is pretty much what you'd expect of a talent show entrant: mainstream pop, albeit without any overt Autotune horrors. Billy Mohler plays rather inauthentic 'Mellotron' strings on Release Me, coincidentally (?) the album's best track.

Bench Connection  (UK)

Around the House in 80 Days  (2007,  50.22)  *½

The Bench Connection are the duo of Matt Deighton (Mother Earth, some other drivel), making him rather older than expected and Chris Sheehan, whose debut, 2007's Around the House in 80 Days, is a slushy, wet-as-water so-called 'folk' effort, horribly reminiscent of the worst West Coast nonsense you can imagine. Think: lots of tambourines. Does it have any 'best tracks'? No, it does not. Mike(y) Rowe is credited with keyboards, including Mellotron, on several tracks, but the only two possible appearances, both on Saint Want, turn out to be real strings and flute. Oh well, there go another fifty minutes of my life, with not even a genuine Mellotron sighting to show for it. Pointless.

Marco Benevento  (US)

Invisible Baby  (2008,  42.05)  ***½
Me Not Me  (2009,  42.57)  ***
TigerFace  (2012,  42.45)  ***

A Berklee graduate, Marco Benevento (who's worked with Bobby Previte, amongst others) is a New York-based experimental jazz keyboard player, although his second solo album, 2008's all-instrumental Invisible Baby, keeps both styles well in check, opting to serve up a cluster of tuneful, mostly piano-led pieces. Highlights include opener Bus Ride and the wonderful Record Book, based on a circular 11/8 piano riff, although the slightly irritating The Real Morning Party (its cheap organ giving it a (very) vague Johnny & the Hurricanes feel) and the more overtly jazzy Ruby let the side down slightly, at least for this listener. The album opens with very obviously (deliberately so?) sampled Mellotron, a probably sequenced repeating string part running through the first minute of Bus Ride, flutes joining in as the strings return, with more strings on closer Are You The Favorite Person Of Anybody?

Benevento followed up with Me Not Me, containing mostly covers, including Beck's Sing It Again, Leonard Cohen's Seems So Long Ago, Nancy and Led Zep's Friends, instantly recognisable, despite its unorthodox setting. Somehow, though, the album seems less joyous than its predecessor, despite its highlights (particularly his thunderous take on Friends). Samplotron all over, with particularly strident strings on Now They're Writing Music and upfront flutes on Call Home. 2012's TigerFace is, essentially, more of the same, opening like Baba O'Reilly on steroids, with 'Mellotron' strings on Do What She Told You and Escape Horse.

Benevento/Russo Duo  (US)

Play Pause Stop  (2006,  47.46)  ***

Keys man Marco Benevento (above) and drummer Joe Russo met at school and started working together in 2001, quickly becoming associated with the jamband scene through their collaborations with members of Phish. 2006's Play Pause Stop is their fifth album, containing nine frequently distorted Wurlitzer-heavy, Phish-like pieces, better tracks including Echo Park and the (reasonably) gentle Powder. Benevento plays a skronky sampled Mellotron string line on Walking, Running, Viking and rather muffled chords on closer Memphis; good to hear, but shame they couldn't have tracked down a real machine. Surely John Medeski could've lent them his? Personally, I think I prefer Benevento's solo work to the duo, but that's only going by one album apiece, so may be an unfair judgement. Anyway, a decent enough effort in its field, but not something that'll appeal to everyone.