Cold Specks is Canadian-born ex-pat Ladan Hussein's stage name (previously Al Spx), named for a line in Joyce's Ulysses, proving her intellectual credentials, I think. Her debut album has been described as 'doom-soul', applying a downbeat approach to soul tropes, the end result coming across as a gloomy (in a good way) singer-songwriter effort. Ben Christophers supposedly plays Mellotron on When The City Lights Dim. What, the obviously real brass? I think not.
I doubt whether Jim Cole's name is actually Jim Cole, but appropriating a generic Anglo-Saxon name probably helps when you're making English-language soul/funk records like Soul in 2. I shan't begin to pretend that this is my bag, but it does it well, highlights including the decent soul riffery on So Am I and rocking closer Do You Remember, while the band fully channel The Funk on Stop! Yannick Fonderie's credited with Mellotron, but all we get is obviously sampled strings on Everything's Gonna Be Alright and Someday Charlotte, although I can't hear anything on I Don't Know, despite a credit.
Marta Collica isn't signed to 4AD, but you feel she should be; her work with John Parish (Eels/P.J. Harvey) partly explains her sound. Her debut album, 2007's Pretty & Unsafe, is a haunted, folk-inspired singer-songwriter effort, several tracks consisting of no more than Collica's voice and piano and/or Parish's guitar; trying to pick out 'best tracks' is slightly futile, as they're pretty much all on a level. Hugo Race and Parish are both credited with Mellotron, Race adding a string part to He's Tellin' Me All that doesn't actually sound particularly Mellotronic, while Parish is credited on the seemingly Mellotron-free F.R.I.E.N.D.S., although there's no mention of the strings on the title track. Samples, says I.
Like a handful of her folk scene contemporaries, Judy Collins is fully deserving of the epithet 'legend in her own lifetime'; singer, musician, songwriter, activist, survivor of several traumatic episodes, not least the tragic suicide of her only son, she remains musically active in her early seventies. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she's never had a purple patch, either, still producing albums every three years or so and still writing. Having previously covered Beatles songs (notably her 1966 take on In My Life), 2007's Sings Lennon & McCartney makes a kind of sense. Collins tackles the material with a certain reverence, rarely straying too far from the original arrangements, although she cheekily changes the last chorus of When I'm Sixty-Four to, "...when I'm eighty-four", in acknowledgement of having already passed that milestone (as, indeed, has its slightly younger author). Not sure about the children's chorus on Hey Jude, mind, but there you go... Christian Lohr plays samplotron, with background strings on Golden Slumbers, although all other strings appear to be real.
Paul Colman is ex-vocalist with crummy Aussies-turned-American-Christians The Newsboys, so it comes as no surprise to discover that 2005's Let it Go is a shockingly limp effort. It opens with the horrible Gloria, a particularly bad take on U2's schtick, appropriately enough, given that they wrote a (vastly superior) song of the same name. Nothing Without You is the least offensive thing here, but that isn't saying much when it's put up against CCM horrors like The One Thing, I'm Coming Home or I Owe It All. Jeff Roach plays samplotron flutes on Symphony Of The Redeemed, which isn't to be taken as any kind of recommendation. Bloody rubbish.
It might say 'UK' above, but Colorama are Welsh, singing in their own language (a million native speakers, in case anyone's in doubt) on most of Llyfr Lliwio/Colouring Book, shifting between folk, indie and occasional electronica, the emphasis thankfully on the 'folk' bit. Highlights? Opener Lisa Lan and the floaty Eleri, probably. Carwyn Ellis is credited with 'Melotron', which must be referring to the fairly obviously sampled strings and flutes on the title track.
I didn't expect Colored Mushroom & the Medicine Rocks to be an EM outfit - they're usually called things like Ursa Minor or Horsehead Nebula - but, aside from a mildly contemporary approach, there's little to distinguish this lot from your common-or-garden Berlin School bunch. Saying that, they do it well on The Gold Manor Eclipse and, crucially, keep it short. John Elliott plays 'Mellotron' strings on Bleak Vista and Gold Manor Hotline, with a solo 'oh what a giveaway' part on Losing Time Never Ends.
The Colors We Knew seem near-indistinguishable from a Christopher Haas solo project; he sings and plays everything except the drums on their 2015 EP, Smooth Plebeian. Hard to know how to describe this: alt.rock? It's kind of alt., kind of indie, not effervescent enough to be powerpop... Not especially interesting or memorable, to be perfectly honest. Haas credits himself with Mellotron on two tracks, but the high strings on The Only Way Is Down and lower ones on It's Awfully Sunny For A Rainy Day are far too smooth for their own good.
Colour Haze are a stoner/psych trio from Munich, whose seventh album, 2008's All, while grungy in places, is a long way from their Sabbath-emulating origins. Admittedly, several tracks sound like Sabbath if they'd taken different drugs, but the album's best tracks are probably the centrepiece title track, a near-quarter hour psych monster, all sitars and swirling, Doors-esque guitar lines and Fall, similar, but with the murky guitar tone of the album's heavier tracks. Keys man Christian Hawellek is credited with Mellotron on four tracks, but there's nothing obvious on Lights, If or All and when a choir part appears near the end of Fall, it becomes obvious that samples (or indeed, generic modern synth sounds) are being employed. Hawellek's Hammond B3 is specifically credited, down to where it was recorded, but given that the rarer Mellotron isn't, I think we can safely assume that it's fake.
Their tenth album, 2012's She Said, justifies, just for once, its considerable length, as the band let rip on no fewer than four out of eight tracks (sometimes well) over ten minutes. The bulk of the album is exactly the kind of downtuned, Sabbath-esque riffage you'd expect, although the brass riffing towards the end of the epic Transformation is something you don't hear too often in this genre, while Grace steps right out on a limb, starting as a lengthy downtuned 12-string/electric guitar/string quartet piece, before slipping into a familiar groove, ending as it began. Although Roman Bichler's credited with Mellotron, the background flutes on Stand In..., er, aren't, I'm afraid. Still, they're hardly one of the album's premier features, to the point of near-irrelevance and should have no bearing on your potential purchasing decision.
Darren David Colvin (nothing to do with Dee Dee Ramone, née Colvin) made Sojourn after a band project foundered, learning to play everything himself. He describes it as a 'very personal album'; are warning bells ringing? It certainly is, 'featuring' several 'oh woe is me' pieces (Feels Like Dying, Christmas Lights) that are, indeed, painfully personal. All power to Colvin for laying his soul bare, but it isn't an easy listen and not in a decent confessional singer-songwriter way, either. Mellotron? Sampled strings on Musical Interlude, Christmas Lights and others.
Shawn Colvin's a bit of a late starter, not releasing her first album until she was in her thirties, turning forty when she finally broke through with 1996's 'divorce album' A Few Small Repairs. It's pretty much as you'd expect from a big-selling mid-'90s female singer-songwriter effort, to be honest; good at what it does, but you've really got to be into this stuff to get much from it. She may be influenced by Joni Mitchell, but that's where the resemblance ends. I suppose I should listen to the lyrics more closely, but when the music's perfectly pleasant but unengaging, I sort of lose interest... Guest woodwind player Rick DePofi plays samplotron, though not a lot, with only a faint flute line on You And The Mona Lisa being at all apparent.
It seems Combo FH started off as a fusion outfit, although (to no-one's surprise) they turned more towards mainstream pop in the '80s. 1981's (or 1977's - opinions vary) Věci was the first of their two, widely-spaced album releases, a decent enough jazz/rock effort, although 1986's Situace na Střeše's third-rate synthpop is rather less listenable these days. This two-disc set gathers together both albums and a slew of single/EP tracks and later demos, including a few bizarre slices of full-on prog (Sedmiosminová, Vojenská) hiding in plain sight amongst the cheeso pop. Mellotron? Daniel Fikejz may well be credited, but there's naught but an occasional burst of string synth to be found here.
How to classify El Pianista del Antifaz? Crazed circus music? Warped jazz? The Death Of Cabaret? A very strange album, intriguing for a few tracks, but tiresome over even a forty-minute haul. Comelade supposedly plays Mellotron on Portrait De L'Artiste Avec Des Lunettes Pour Voir Les Femmes À Poil. Er...
On their second album, 2011's Running From a Gamble, Chicago's Company of Thieves play a particularly irritating form of indie/soul crossover that is every bit as bad as it sounds. Despite being such a new band, they've had their material used on various mainstream US TV shows, which says more about them than I ever could. Gorgeous/Grotesque is probably its least bad track, if only due to its unusual (for them) energy levels, but the bulk of the overlong album's completely horrible. Mike Maimone is credited with Mellotron, but the exceedingly background strings part at the end of Look Both Ways and the flutes on Gorgeous/Grotesque aren't kidding anyone, frankly. What's more, despite its occasional forays into sub-crescendo rock (not exactly a groundbreaking genre itself, these days), this is pretty awful. Avoid.
Concentrick appear to be Tim Green's solo project, Lucid Dreaming being recorded over the period 1993-2001 and released the following year. Its ambient keyboard soundscapes aren't dissimilar to, say, Bohren & der Club of Gore, although everything here is just a little too unsettling to be truly relaxing. Green lists a Mellotron amongst his gear, which presumably refers to the flutish sound on Soft Place. Not a Mellotron.
Conjure One are an off/on so-called 'electronic' project from Rhys Fulber, better known for his membership of both Front Line Assembly and Delerium. I suppose their 2002 debut, Conjure One, is loosely 'electronic', in that it's based around programmed beats and the like; actually, it seems to be a straight mix of Fulber's other two bands, with the electronica from FLA and Delerium's 'world' stuff combining in a commercially potent brew. The Arabic-esque vocals from various mostly female guest vocalists (Sinéad O'Connor, Mel Garside, whom I used to know slightly, for my sins, even The Tea Party's Jeff Martin) work pretty well, I'll admit, but the album loses me when the rhythms kick in. Rick Nowels (Melanie C, Dido, Ronan Keating) allegedly plays Chamberlin on Tears From The Moon, but given that the track also contains other keyboards and a violin, it's pretty hard to tell what it's doing; presumably the string pad in the background. If I hadn't known, I'd have said it was the blocky-sounding strings on Pandora, so what do I know? Fairly certainly sampled, either way.
Around the time I started this site, at the fag end of the last century (OK, let's make it sound even longer ago than it already is), I noted that CAP, or Consorzio Acqua Potabile, were reported to be using a Mellotron on their new album. I was never able to trace a 1999/2000 release, so I rather gave up on the whole business, until, that is, hearing their last album to date, 2003's Il Bianco Regno di Dooah. OK, so it was delayed a bit. But first, a quick bit of history: reports vary, but CAP formed some time in the '70s, possibly as early as '71, but never managed to get an album out. Given how many obscure Italian bands did, that was actually some feat, it seems. Anyway, a reformed CAP appeared in the early '90s, alongside re-recorded versions of some of their old material, '92's Nei Gorghi del Tempo and a genuine archive release the following year, Sala Borsa Live '77. Robin delle Stelle followed in '98, then the album in question after another five years. At this rate, the next one will be due in 2008, though I wouldn't hold your breath.
So, "What's it like?", I hear you cry. Well, they seem to have a proper understanding of Italian prog as it was, as against the horrible, dumbed-down neo- rubbish that most Italian 'progressive' bands were spewing out in the early '90s. Given the band's age, this could be seen as unsurprising, but it didn't work for Il Balletto di Bronzo's reformation, to name but one. I've seen one real pasting for this album, which completely ignored the sense of excitement the band can conjure up at their best, not to mention their feel for their country's illustrious progressive past. About the only real criticism I can level at them is their relative (note: only relative) lack of originality; Ginevra: Regina Senza Regno manages to cop bits of Spock's Beard, Rush and Kansas all in the same song, although I can't say I noticed any other howling rip-offs.
It's hard to tell just how genuine the vintage-sounding keyboards here are, although everything sounds fairly authentic (isn't that a Roland JX-3P in Il Regno?). There's a MiniMoog pictured in the booklet, but as for the Hammond and Mellotron, who knows? No specific credits, but both Romolo Bollea and Maurizio Venegoni play keys. I've actually shifted this from the regular reviews, due to a growing sense of doubt (you can tell I've got too much time on my hands, can't you?) that it's genuine, but what we get is 'Mellotron' on nearly every track (Luna Impigliata Tra I Rami is an acoustic guitar piece), with almost nothing but choirs for the first few, in true '80s prog style; ironic, given that that's the one decade of the last four in which the band haven't recorded... Just when you thought they weren't going to use the strings, however, in they come on La Danza and are then used on and off throughout the rest of the record. It sounds like real flute (from Silvia Carpo) on Intro, but the last seconds of the twenty-two-minute Il Regno definitely have the 'Mellotronic' version and it may crop up elsewhere, too. Incidentally, CAP also crop up on Mellow Records' Harbour of Joy Camel tribute, with what sounds like sampled Mellotron.
New Jerseyite Eric Contractor (real name?) exists in a kind of art-pop singer-songwriter area, baritone vocals to the fore, so fans of rock'n'roll 'authenticity' should consider themselves duly warned. Dan McLoughlin makes quite sure his Mellotron string samples on Kiss Up All The Rain are clearly identifiable by utilising the most hideous, artificial pitchbends possible. No, I don't know why, either.
Control Machete play growly Spanish-language hip-hop, which is probably all you need to know about 1999's Artilleria Pesada, Presenta. Someone who knows a little more about this stuff than me tells me it's wholly unoriginal, although I think I'd already guessed that. There is a little sonic variety on offer, with Danzón having a very distinct Latin flavour about it, but the bulk of it's yer usual generic stuff, albeit in Spanish. A gentleman naming himself 'Toy' is credited with Mellotron, but all I can hear is a repeating string part on Esperanza that sounds most sampled, although, as so often, I could be mistaken.
Going by their second (and last) album, Black Licorice, San Diego's Convoy were a powerpop outfit, featuring a welcome lack of millennial production tricks, so no programmed percussion or alt.metal moves, thankfully. It's probably at its best on Anytime She Wants It, the joyous Wet Cement and Eleventeen, but, sad to say, this could be just about anyone in the field; I'm not hearing anything about Convoy that differentiates them from their contemporaries. Robbie Dodds and Jason Hill are credited with Mellotron, but all I hear is weak samplotron strings on Here's Lookin' At You, Is He In Your Heart Tonight (heard on their own on the intro) and Alice.
Bitch Epic is a pretty typical '90s pop/rock album, Deborah Conway's perfectly ordinary songs coming across as rather Janis Joplin-lite, particularly on the more upbeat stuff like opener Alive And Brilliant or World Of Love. Al Harding's credited with Mellotron on two tracks, although there's nothing obvious on I'm Not Satisfied and some completely non-Mellotronic strings on Now That We're Apart.
Hollie 'daughter of Sex Pistol Paul' Cook's dub remix of her eponymous 2011 debut is a very acceptable release of its type, possibly at its best on Walking In The Sand. Despite no fewer than three credited Mellotron players (Barthélémy Corbelet, Max Gilkes and Omar Lye-Fook) there's not a note of it, even sampled, to be heard.
Kristy Lee Cook released her first album in 2005, although she's best-known for her participation in the 2007 American Idol (why is it that every other country calls it 'Pop Idol', yet America has to get all patriotic on our arses? Again?). She scraped her way through to the top seven, apparently (isn't Wikipedia useful?) before being booted out, despite this notorious horse-lover (so to speak) famously having sold her favourite nag to raise the funds to compete. 2008's Why Wait (a statement? A question?) is exactly the kind of drivelly, half-arsed country nonsense you'd expect from someone with Kristy's obvious lust for fame; faceless, ultra-commercial crud designed solely to sell as many copies as possible, although, amusingly, it only managed sales of 30,000-odd, which for someone with as (fleetingly) high a public profile as hers is pretty dismal. It's difficult to comment on most of its contents, as they glide by on a sheen of glossy production, making little impact on the way (thankfully), although crass opener 15 Minutes Of Shame (surely a resumé of Kristy's career?) is notably horrible, while the shamelessly, fatuously jingoistic flag-waving of God Bless The USA (why?) causes bile to rise in anyone not in thrall to the US cult of patriotism. The nearest this gets to a 'high point' is the mildly witty lyrics on I Think Too Much, but it's too little, too late. Randy Cantor (Alejandra Guzmán, Psycho Realm) supposedly plays Mellotron, with what I take to be strings on God Bless The USA, although they don't really sound that Mellotronic, frankly. This is drivel; playing it may well be injurious to your health. Consider yourself warned.
Second Season is your standard model pop/rock album, at its least dull on Christine or the acoustic Really Miss You. Three credited Mellotron players, Cooper, Michael Carpenter and Michael McGlynn, with sampled string swells and flutes on Love In London, Save Me From Love and Dry Reaching For Grace.
Florida's Copeland specialise in the kind of wet-as-water, overwrought indie that a certain type of 'sensitive' teenager might find emotionally gratifying, assuming they had the sensitivity of a bog-brush. A cynical forty-something reviewer who feels that he's probably been there and done that finds them emotionally empty, in the manner of someone bereft of any natural emotion who has had to learn their responses by rote. Although 'some members of the band are Christians', the group fervently deny they are a 'ministry band' (as against a band who sound like Ministry, presumably), but they could easily be mistaken for one, merely on the all-round limpness of the music on offer (I use the term loosely). Their debut, 2003's Beneath Medicine Tree is, generally speaking, awful, with no obvious plus points apart from its limited 'Mellotron' use from frontman Aaron Marsh, with flutes on California. All in all, then, a pretty horrible album, although its follow-up, 2005's In Motion, despite starting in a slightly more promising way, is possibly even nastier; although I've read that it also 'features' Marsh on 'Mellotron', it doesn't appear to, meaning the time spent listening to it was completely, rather than almost completely wasted.
The Coral are a successful psychedelic indie outfit from the Wirral, across the Mersey from Liverpool. 2010's Butterfly House is their fifth full-length release in eight years, a harmless, yet curiously unengaging album, full of muted '60s references, unfortunately filtered through a modern indie sensibility. Six-minute closer North Parade is probably the best thing here, but it's all a bit anodyne, if truth be told. Someone (there are no obvious instrumental credits) plays Mellotron string samples on Walking In The Winter, although the strings on the title track are probably real. Are you going to buy this to hear one track of samplotron? Thought not.
From Here to Wherever is forty minutes of limp indie, Aussie division. There are no best tracks, also few of any great originality; Spain cuts Cream's White Room exceedingly close. Sam Holloway supposedly plays Mellotron, but the strings and flutes scattered across the record really aren't.
Finn Coren's 1999 release, Lovecloud, is a distinct improvement on its immediate predecessor The Blake Project: Spring, losing many of its cheesy 'contemporary' touches, better tracks including atmospheric opener In The Trenches, the string-led The Countess Cathleen In Paradise, the gloomy Dwarfman and closer Grow Old With Me, although the vocals are still a sticking-point. Coren plays alleged Mellotron on a large chunk of the album, with flutes and cellos on In The Trenches, an upfront flute part opening Tears Of Joy, upfront flutes and strings (plus real ones) on The Smile, more background flutes on Poison Girl, rather screechy strings on Shake Up The World and Jon-Willy Rydningen's (too?) deep flutes opening Dwarfman. Those flutes and an artificially-extended string note on Tears Of Joy, amongst other parts, consign this to the sample dungeon.
Carry on was Chris Cornell's (RIP) second solo album, post-Audioslave and pre-Soundgarden reformation, sounding pretty much as you'd expect: grunge, but with better-than-average riffs, possibly at its best on opener No Such Thing and Your Soul Today. Obviously sampled Mellotron flutes on Silence The Voices, for what it's worth.
Zacardi Cortez is described as a 'gospel [and] Christian R&B artist' on Wikipedia, which sounds about right, going by his second album, 2014's REloaded. In many ways, it sounds like a weird '80s throwback, from the screaming, yet neutered guitar on More Of You and For Me, the dated slap bass that turns up on a couple of tracks and some of the synth sounds. Is there a 'best track'? Possibly the soul/blues of He Brought Me, despite its god-bothering lyrical stance, but that really shouldn't be taken as any kind of a recommendation. Bobby Sparks is credited with Mellotron. Where? The strings on He Laid His Hands On Me? Sorry, really not hearing it, so this is consigned to 'samples' until or if I should find otherwise (most unlikely, frankly). Believe me, if your taste is even remotely akin to mine, you don't want to hear this, anyway.
Named for Italo Svevo's seminal 1923 novel (Zeno's Conscience), La Coscienza di Zeno are a current Italian progressive outfit, operating chiefly at the 'pseudo-'70s' end of the spectrum, which is, believe me, vastly preferable to the slew of European neo-prog bands that appeared during the '90s. Not even any sampled Mellotron on their eponymous debut (***½), but their second release, 2013's Sensitività, is quite a treat, full of unexpected key changes, loads of piano work and a refreshingly un-neo- approach to composition, with no more riffy guitar than you'd get on the average Italian prog album from the mid-'70s. Luca Scherani and Rossano Villa's 'Mellotron' credits are a little optimistic, however. The (unusually rather uninteresting) solo choir chords in La Città Di Dite give the sample game away; too smooth, too lacking in character to be genuine, ditto the strings on Chiusa 1915 and elsewhere.
2015's La Notte Anche di Giorno, despite consisting of just two long pieces, has a very different feel to its predecessor. Because? Because it comes across as an album of relatively short songs, rather in the way that Genesis' The Lamb consists of shorter material in a progressive format. Does it work? yes, actually; what we lose on the 'epic' front, we make up on accessibility and eccentricity, not least on the odd little Impromptu Pour S.Z., while in Come Statua Di Dolore, I spotted a 'borrowing' of a little piece of The Lamia, as if to complete the circle. Samplotron choirs (and occasional strings) are in evidence, though to a lesser degree than on Sensitività.
Cosmic Ground are affiliated to Electric Orange, essentially Dirk Jan Müller's ambient electronic side-project. Their/his eponymous debut is actually a far more interesting album than those of many long-term EM outfits (no, not you, r.m.i.), although I'm having trouble expressing why, exactly. More experimental? Hard to say, but it certainly seems to have more life than many ostensibly similar releases. Samplotron on all tracks bar Deadlock, with a particularly powerful part opening the album, plus choirs and strings elsewhere.
The originally-titled Cosmic Ground 2 is, fairly unsurprisingly, more of the same, with the interesting addition that, in places, you can see Müller's techno roots rear their heads for a few moments before sinking back into the murk. Extraordinarily little samplotron this time round, with naught but drifting choirs on Organia. Cosmic Ground III (at least we've gone Roman numerals this time) repeats the same tricks, admittedly with very pleasing results, although listening to these three albums on the trot has a slightly mind-numbing effect. Perhaps that's the idea. Anyway, plenty of samplotron on opener Ground Control and a major flute part on Crumbling Darkness, although that's yer lot.
The Cosmic Rough Riders seem to be mining a rich seam of Scottish pop dating back at least to the '79/'80 Postcard label explosion (Aztec Camera, Orange Juice et al.), with their West Coast-ish sound, not a million miles away from Teenage Fanclub's Byrds-esque jangle. Too Close to See Far is their third album 'proper', after 1999's Deliverance and 2000's Panorama (ignoring Poptones' Enjoy the Melodic Sunshine compilation), a cornucopia of retro powerpop, referencing all the Bs; Byrds, Beach Boys (the harmonies on Tomorrow May Never Come are pure Our Prayer), Beatles, Big Star, along with their Caledonian predecessors and contemporaries. Unfortunately, there's the odd nod towards Oasis, too, though that's as likely to be a second-hand Beatles lift as anything. Fairly minimal 'Mellotron', to be honest, from guest player Andrew Phillips, with a typical flute part (you know, Strawberry Fields) on Because You, alongside various Hammond, Rhodes and what sound like genuine monosynth parts scattered across the album.
Robin Armstrong, a.k.a. Cosmograf, is a current British progressive multi-instrumentalist, whose speciality seems to be the (sometimes dreaded) concept album. His third, 2013's The Man Left in Space, is hugely ambitious, punching slightly above its weight, to be honest, featuring guest spots from members of Also Eden, Big Big Train and even Spock's Beard. The storyline concerns an astronaut whose mission goes horribly wrong. Sounds familiar? There's actually a little musical nod to Bowie's Space Oddity at one point, so forget that plagiarism suit right now. But is it, y'know, any good? I liked it in parts, but found others to be lacking in imagination, with far too many rather bland, sub-Floyd-esque passages, the music clearly acting more as a backdrop to the story than as something that can stand on its own two feet. Harsh? Sorry, but this isn't original enough to really grab me, despite its plus points. Speaking of which, I like the way Armstrong uses different musicians for different emphases, giving the music some much-needed variety. On the samplotron front, there's a little burst of strings halfway through the title track, although that would seem to be our lot. Not one for anyone wishing to hear even sampled Mellotron, then, but an ambitious (that word again) album that will almost certainly improve with repeated plays.
Blanc is a French-language pop/rock album; to quote Douglas Adams, 'mostly harmless'. Best track? Reissue bonus Que Je T'Aime. The 'Mellotron' flutes (in fairness, uncredited) on Le Rendez-vous are blatantly fake.
Lucciana Costa operates in a quirky, piano-driven, arty pop vein that manages, against all the odds, to sound nothing like Kate Bush. Best tracks? Offbeat opener Devil's Currency, the nutty Prom Song and The Four Ex-Wives, maybe, as much for the lyrics as the music. Costa's credited with Mellotron, but the background strings on Hallmark are not only too smooth for their own good, but they stretch well above the instrument's range. For what it's worth (admittedly, not much), we also get flutes and watery strings on Weather and strings on Everything I Knew.
Daughter of Sinatra arranger Don Costa, Nikka Costa was a child prodigy, releasing her first album at the age of nine, although she was nearly thirty before her first release in her own country (after an early 'second career' in Australia) and fifth overall, 2001's Everybody Got Their Something. I don't know if it's got something to do with being the offspring of a genius arranger, but this really is one of the strangest supposedly mainstream albums I've heard in a long time; it technically lies somewhere in the middle ground between rock, funk and R&B, although it doesn't really sound like anything else at all. Most tracks feature weird instrumental juxtapositions and unusual samples, although the more straightforward tracks (Corners Of My Mind is typical) are relatively commercial, I suppose. It's actually most refreshing to hear such an individual album in a morass of conformity, although we're not exactly talking The Residents here, before you get too excited. Justin Stanley plays various instruments, including Clavinet, MiniMoog and Mellotron, the latter supposedly on Push & Pull, although you'll need sharper ears than mine to hear what he's actually doing with it. The skronky high strings near the end? Don't sound very Mellotronic to me, but I can't imagine what else it might be.
The first version of 2005's Can'tneverdidnothin' is, to my ears, superior to the released one, its best track, I'm Gonna Leave You, conspicuous by its absence on the eventual disc. Said album is generally regarded as a disappointing follow-up, so who am I to disagree? It has its moments (Till I Get To You, Fatherless Child), but is, overall, a poor rehash of her debut, without the things that made that album at least vaguely interesting. Stanley's credited with Mellotron, but the only place it even might be is on the mournful Fatherless Child (apparently an elegy for her father), with a few seconds of high strings in the deep background. To add insult to injury regarding the unreleased version, it sounds like Mellotron strings on another deleted track, The Last Time. 2008's Pebble to a Pearl is a rather less eccentric and rather more mainstream funk/pop album, smothered in über-funky Clavinet work, although towards the end, it displays a tendency to descend into funk/soul by numbers, almost losing it half a star in the process. Stanley on Mellotron again, with background choirs on Keep Wanting More and distant high strings on Without Love, although you really wouldn't notice if they weren't there. I'm pretty sure it's all sampled, anyway. Everybody Got Their Something stands out from the (rat) pack, but the other two are just plain ordinary.
Danielia Cotton doesn't fit the 'black female singer' stereotype in any way, thankfully, so no crummy R&B nonsense, no Autotune, no bling, just a great voice and a rock-orientated approach, evident on her debut, 2005's Small White Town. Sadly, the album's more mainstream than reviews led me to believe, though I don't know why I'm surprised; it's perfectly acceptable, but all too much of it's sub-Bonnie Raitt, although when she switches on the blues, everything improves (and it rhymes). Best tracks? Probably It's Only Life and Today, gutsier than the hopeful radio-fodder surrounding them. Rob Arthur on supposed Mellotron, with clearly sampled strings on It's Only Life and 4 A Ride. 2008's Rare Child is broadly similar to its predecessor, although Cotton's now perfected the technique of sounding like she really means it without going overboard, particularly on closer Bound. Tom Mandel is credited with Mellotron, but the album's occasional string parts all sound real, the one possible exception being the high, held chord right at the end of the album.
Cotton's 2014's release The Real Book is that frequently-reviled thing, a covers album, all too often a way for an artist to mark time, or to show that they've run out of inspiration. Not, however, in this case; the album is Ms. Cotton's way of proving that beating cancer and going through a divorce aren't going to slow her down. Danielia tackles well- and not-so-well-known material with aplomb, not least songs by The Eurythmics, Stones, Radiohead, Aretha, Blind Faith and Simon & Garfunkel. Highlights? Maybe Gimme Shelter and Can't Find My Way Home, although I'm afraid I'm unconvinced by her ukulele version of The Zombies' This Will Be Our Year. Rob Clores and Jack Petruzzelli are both credited with Mellotron, but not only do the 'Mellotron' strings on Gorilla sound little like the real thing, but there's no sign of one in the 'making of' video (although the Hammond's real), while a Nord can be seen, sitting there balefully, like the sample-player that it is. You're not going to bother with this on those grounds, but I urge you to listen to what Danielia's stunning voice does with a range of other people's songs.
The Court Yard Hounds are a female-fronted Americana/mainstream country crossover outfit, competent but unexciting on Amelita, if truth were told. It's at its best on the more upbeat material, but, let's face it, this stuff isn't about innovation, is it? Greg Kurstin's credited with Mellotron, but the flutes on The World Smiles don't cut the mustard, while I'm sure I can hear samplotron strings on Watch Your Step, too.
It seems Covenant were essentially drummer/keyboardist Dave Gryder's solo project, noted progressive guitarist Bill Pohl (of Solid Earth fame) guesting on the first track. Although Echolyn and Magellan were both already in operation when Nature's Divine Reflection was recorded in 1992, it still counts as one of the earliest American entries in the 'new prog' field, although, sadly, it now seems to be largely forgotten. I believe Gryder is first and foremost a drummer, so it's unsurprising that the album is rhythmically complex, although slightly less so melodically and harmonically. Fully instrumental, the online review I saw that compared its sound to that of Wetton/Jobson's UK wasn't too far off, although UK would never have written 'side-long' pieces, let alone ones with titles such as Sunchild's Spiritual Quest Through The Forest Of Introspection.
Gryder uses a range of keyboard equipment, old and new, so you get the bland Korg M1 next to a Hammond, Solina and Prophet, though the newer 'boards aren't intrusive enough to ruin the overall sound (unlike on, say, the Romantic Warriors' album). He's actually a pretty good player, showing off his Hammond chops on the shorter Eschatolic Covenant and what I presume to be a Prophet-on-mono-mode solo near the beginning of the aforementioned Sunchild's Spiritual Quest.... A recent re-listen makes me wonder how I ever mistook the munchkinising 'Mellotron' choirs for the real thing; I've even unearthed a years-old e-mail from the chap who later sold Gryder his M400 confirming that we're not hearing the real thing. His early-in-the-day samples aren't overused, with choir parts on all three lengthy tracks, though Eschatolic Covenant is the only one to feature it to any great extent. Gryder later played with stoner hard rockers Storm at Sunrise, this time with real Mellotron.