American Music Club
Amon Düül II
Round Amen Corner (1968, 38.35/50.11) ***/T
|Bend Me, Shape Me
Judge Rumpel Crassila
Love Me Tender
Our Love (is in the Pocket)
Something You Got
I am an Angel
Expressway to Your Heart
Let the Good Times Roll - Feel So Good
|Can't Get Used to Losing You
Lost and Found
Gin House Blues
Satisnek the Job's Worth
The World of Broken Hearts
I Don't Want to Discuss it - Amen
Amen Corner, from Cardiff, are known for launching Andy Fairweather Low's career, although the band also spawned organist Derek "Blue" Weaver (Strawbs, Bee Gees) and a couple of members of the short-lived Judas Jump. Coming from a dancehall background (unusually for a pop act, they had a brass section), it should come as no surprise that their debut, 1968's Round Amen Corner, is full of spirited soul and R & B numbers, alongside pop (opener and major hit Bend Me, Shape Me), ballads (an iffy version of Love Me Tender) and, er, novelty calypso (Judge Rumpel Crassila). Their first hit, Gin House Blues, is probably the best thing here, at least from the original album, although one of the CD's bonus tracks (italicised above), Nema, isn't bad either.
Weaver doubled on Mellotron on a few tracks (thanks for that, Blue), with strings on Love Me Tender and sustained string notes and something else (flutes?) played rather oddly on I Am An Angel, although that would appear to be it. While not exactly essential, the expanded Round Amen Corner's a good listen for those interested in late '60s British rock and pop, who may've dismissed the band as too lightweight, although its relatively low Mellotron usage makes it not especially worthwhile on that front.
Official 'New Amen Corner' site
Live (1977, 46.23) **½/T
I Need You
Old Man Took
To Each His Own
Sister Golden Hair
A Horse With No Name
There can't be many people of a certain age in the Western world who haven't heard America's A Horse With No Name; CSN-lite, but, in fairness, an evocative song that's stood the test of time. Try to find someone outside their home country who knows anything else by them and you could be on a hiding to nothing, though, probably because, going by the contents of their 1977 live album, er, Live, it's their most appealing song. It's not that the rest of their oeuvre is actually bad, just terribly, borderline-MOR bland, major US hits such as Muskrat Love, Tin Man and Ventura Highway leaving next to no impression.
The trio had just become a duo when the album was recorded, Dan Peek having left for pastures new, leaving songwriters Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell (there, bet you didn't even know their names) to tackle the group's three-part harmonies as well as they could. Unfortunately (and probably because of the live recording), they chose to do a big production number, rather pointlessly getting the whole thing produced by their regular producer, the even-then-legendary George Martin. Some of the material survives the treatment (they actually play several songs just as a duo), but The Hit is mangled by the addition of not only strings, but brass and extraneous backing vocals. Horrible.
Although the strings on a couple of tracks are real, we're definitely hearing a Mellotron on Sergeant Darkness and Amber Cascades; given that they were one man down, it's almost certainly played by sax/extra keys man Jimmy Calire, to reasonable effect. But why use a Mellotron when you have real strings? Alternatively, why use real strings when you have a Mellotron? Mystifying. Anyway, America fans probably have this already and the rest of you don't need it; if you want to hear the original A Horse With No Name, find it on YouTube.
Angel Eyes [a.k.a. American Gypsy] (1974, 39.27) ***½/0
Ooh Why Not
While it's Cold Outside
Stuck on You
|Let Your Life Lead By Love
Tribute to American Gypsy
The multi-racial American Gypsy appear to have been a US band based in the Netherlands, for some reason. Their stock-in-trade was soul/funk and to my untrained ear they seem to do it pretty well, although I'd be the first to admit that this really doesn't float my boat that much. What may possibly be their debut, despite having been together for over a decade, 1974's Angel Eyes, was reissued the following year as American Gypsy. Opening with an orchestral flourish, the album features quite unusual songwriting for the genre, with most un-dancelike changes in tempo and some interesting guitar work; maybe I'm just judging it by modern standards, and not the more 'progressive' ones of the day. Their cover of Lindisfarne's Lady Eleanor is particularly interesting, showing what can be done with source material from another genre, while the African percussion on Angel Eyes combines surprisingly well with the period string arrangement. Most interesting of all, however, is Tribute To American Gypsy, with a synth part and chord changes straight out of contemporaneous Genesis, to the point where I'd put money on American Gypsy using the same synth, an ARP Pro-Soloist.
However... bassist Joe Skeete's credited Mellotron use is basically inaudible. There are several parts scattered throughout the album which may be Mellotronic, especially in Tribute To American Gypsy, but with a regular orchestra and brass section in attendance, it's almost impossible to tell. So; if mid-'70s soul is your bag, this is a good album, with more 'oomph' (and invention) than much of the period's music, although if you're after an unusual Mellotron experience, or indeed, any at all, forget it.
Mercury (1993, 49.43) ****/TT
If I Had a Hammer
I've Been a Mess
What Godzilla Said to God When His
Name Wasn't Found in the Book of Life
Keep Me Around
|Dallas, Airports, Bodybags
Apology for an Accident
Over and Done
Johnny Mathis' Feet
The Hopes and Dreams of Heaven's 10,000 Whores
More Hopes and Dreams
Will You Find Me?
Love Songs for Patriots (2004, 61.09) ****/T½
|Ladies and Gentlemen
Job to Do
Only Love Can Set You Free
Mantovani the Mind Reader
America Loves the Minstrel Show
The Horseshoe Wreath in Bloom
Song of the Rats Leaving the Sinking Ship
The Devil Needs You
American Music Club's sixth release, 1993's Mercury, is one of those albums that crops up every now and again, when a meddling record company tries to find out why the goose lays the golden eggs; they don't say "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" for nothing, and, at least to an extent, this album proves it. Virgin decided to bring in über-producer Mitchell Froom, of recent Crowded House production fame, in the mistaken belief that getting in a 'name' would make superstars of their reluctant signings. What actually happened was that Froom grossly over-produced the record, making a nightmare of the procedure for all involved, not least main man Mark Eitzel. It has to be said that, as someone new to them, it doesn't actually sound that bad, but I'm told that most of their subtlety is lost, to the point where it barely sounds like the same band.
One thing is certain, though; without Froom's involvement, I wouldn't be reviewing this at all. His fascination with the Chamberlin was probably around its peak in the early '90s, although as is so often the case with the instrument (as against the Mellotron), it's difficult to spot when it's being used here, so apologies for any mistakes in the above listing. I think I can hear flutes on I've Been A Mess, but the strings on Johnny Mathis' Feet and Will You Find Me? are quite overt, making me wonder why I couldn't identify them on my initial hearing, a few years ago. So; fans will tell you the songs are great, but the album sounds awful. I find it quite difficult to comment, as I found it a good listen, with a couple of nice Chamby tracks, but that's rather irrelevant to the album's actual quality, of course.
After a final album for Virgin, '94's San Francisco, American Music Club split up, only reforming in 2003, releasing Love Songs for Patriots the following year. Highlights include the wonderfully sardonic Patriot's Heart, mournful acoustic ballad Song Of The Rats Leaving The Sinking Ship and epic closer The Devil Needs You, but there isn't a bad track here, to be honest. One notable musical change in the intervening decade has been the rise in popularity of tape-replay instruments again, so it's not entirely surprising that Marc Capelle plays (real?) Mellotron and Chamberlin on the album, not to mention both Optigan and Orchestron, although there's surprisingly little (obvious) tape-replay on show. Quite a major (Mellotron?) string part on Patriot's Heart, with a more background one on Home, but unless the rhythms on Mantovani The Mind Reader are Chamby (I suspect one of the optical devices myself), that would appear to be it.
So; two good, albeit rather different albums, with the latter possibly improving on the former, at least from an outsider's perspective. Passable Mellotron/Chamby on both albums, but not really worth buying either on that account.
See: Mark Eitzel
Branded Bad (1974, 45.27) ***½/T
Low Down, Need You Badly
Crooked is Quicker
Lock and Chain
Take Me Lord
Louie (I've Been Arrested)
Tear Gas (1975, 40.37/53.01) ****/TTT½
|Back Like Me
Serious Blue Boy (Sail on)
I Saw a Soldier
The War Lover
Franki and the Midget
My Mama Didn't Raise No Fool
Isn't it funny how the same names keep cropping up time and time again? Keyboard player/vocalist Mark Mangold is familiar to me from Touch (not the '60s outfit), his very late-'70s AOR band who, like New England, were probably actually too good for mass acceptance, and after their demise, he formed Drive, She Said, who still appear to be around in one form or another. It appears that his first 'pro' band were American Tears, a guitarless pomp trio who made three 'cult' albums in the mid-'70s, eventually metamorphosing into Touch after the addition of guitarist Craig Brooks for their third album, Powerhouse (***).
Their debut, Branded Bad, is quite an odd album, with its keyboard-led guitar-free material, treading a fine line between (sort of) hard rock and proto-AOR. The material isn't bad, but few of the tracks really leap out at you, to be honest. There's very little audible Mellotron on the album, despite all Mangold's keyboard work, although it's possible that there's some buried in the mix on a couple of tracks. Anyway, all I can hear is a distant blend of M400 strings and brass at the beginning of Lock And Chain, and some upfront strings at the end of Pennywall.
They followed up a year later with Tear Gas, really hitting musical paydirt with a full-on seven-track pomp release. Of side one's three tracks, the two-part Back Like Me and Serious Blue Boy (Sail On) both top the seven-minute mark, while the rest of the album keeps up the pop-prog pressure admirably. After a relatively slow start, Mangold sticks 'Tron onto almost every track this time round, sometimes using a strings/Hammond combination that occasionally deceives the ear, although there's some standout string use on I Saw A Soldier, in particular. All in all, a massive improvement, making the sheer averageness of their last album all the more disappointing. Incidentally, the bonus tracks on the CD sound like they're by a different band, and both have guitar on them. Ignore.
So; Branded Bad is all rather ordinary, but Tear Gas is decidedly worth the effort. I don't think these CDs sold very well, so they're cropping up all over the place at knock-down prices at the moment, so you could do worse than invest in a slice of rather unusual American pomp.
Pyragony X (1976, 38.29) ***/TTFlower of the Orient
Lost in Space
Sally the Seducer
The Only Thing
Almost Alive... (1977, 45.31) ***/T½One Blue Morning
Good Bye My Love
Ain't Today Tomorrow's Yesterday
Live in Jericho
Pyragony, or Pyragony X, was Amon Düül II's tenth album, and with a large '10th' on the sleeve, but no 'X', you could quite feasibly leave the Roman numeral off the title, I suspect. They'd come a long way since their groundbreaking classic 'kraut' albums of the late '60s/early '70s, but not in a direction now considered fashionable, having become a lightweight prog band with boogie tendencies (yes, I'm afraid so). The album opens well enough with the eastern-flavoured Flower Of The Orient, but quickly descends into rock'n'roll hell with, surprisingly, something called Merlin. Nothing else plumbs those particular depths (which aren't really that deep, if truth be told), but there's nothing here that could be considered exceptional, or anywhere near, to be honest.
New keys man Stefan Zauner played Mellotron on the album, unlike earlier Amon mistaken identity cases, with choirs (mixed?) on Merlin and Crystal Hexagram, male voices on Telly Vision, and flutes on Cappucino, although all strings appear to be string synth, as so often with late-'70s albums. So you can hold a note for more than eight seconds. And? Anyway, a passable album, though not one you're likely to be desperate to find, although some of the 'Tron work isn't bad.
The following year's Almost Alive... (a studio album), despite sporting longer tracks all round, isn't really what you'd call a vast improvement musically. It certainly has a progressive feel in places, but keeps flexing its 'pop' muscles for no especially good reason, although I suppose, like most prog bands of the time, they were trying to keep their footing in a rapidly-changing world. Ain't Today Tomorrow's Yesterday goes all orchestral on us, with a nice extended instrumental coda, but Feeling Uneasy is fairly horrible progressive pop, whatever you take that to mean, and lengthy closer Live In Jericho is largely a waste of time, despite some promising synth work. Overall, we're talking 'about on a par with its predecessor', I think. Not much Mellotron to speak of, either, as Zauner uses string synth for most of the string parts, with the exception of Ain't Today Tomorrow's Yesterday, which uses real ones. The same track sports a couple of 'Tron male choir parts, one very upfront, pleasingly, with similar (but more restrained) on Live In Jericho, although that's your lot.
So; two rather average albums, although, oddly, the typical progophile may just find them easier going than the band's 'classic' work, despite their mainstream aspirations. Passable 'Tron choir parts, but nothing that wasn't done far better by a host of other bands, to be honest. Now, all I need to do is find a copy of Stefan Zauner's apparently rare-as-rocking-horse-shit Narziss, from '76, and I've got this whole era of the band covered. Anyone?
See: Samples etc. | Utopia
Silent All These Years (1992, 15.04) ***/TSilent All These Years
Me and a Gun
Under the Pink (1994, 56.52) ***/½
|Pretty Good Year
Bells for Her
Past the Mission
The Wrong Band
Cloud on My Tongue
Scarlet's Walk (2002, 73.39) ***/T
A Sorta Fairytale
Don't Make Me Come to Vegas
I Can't See New York
Another Girl's Paradise
American Doll Posse (2007, 78.42) ***½/T
Bouncing Off Clouds
You Can Bring Your Dog
Mr. Bad Man
Devils and Gods
Body and Soul
|Beauty of Speed
Dark Side of the Sun
The trouble with Tori Amos is that her voice sounds so much like Kate Bush's that it's difficult to take her own material seriously; however, she seems to have a sizeable, mainly female following who couldn't give a toss that she sounds like someone else far more talented. Sorry, but there really isn't much comparison on the songwriting front, although I'm sure there are many who would disagree. Anyway, the first Mellotron use on any of her recordings is an interesting flute part on Upside Down, found on the European Silent All These Years EP, played by John Philip Shenale. I believe the track is also available on her Winter EP.
Under the Pink was her second 'proper' album, excluding the '80s nightmare of Y Kant Tori Read, which is apparently best forgotten. It's typical of her piano-driven singer-songwriter style, as far as I can make out, which means you're either going to love it or be really quite disinterested, I suspect. Most of it's pretty laid-back, with the occasional more energetic track to wake you up, but it's more for bedsits than cramped, sweaty gigs. John Philip Shenale 'arranges' both 'strings' and Chamberlin on Cloud On My Tongue, so it's only my assumption that he actually plays the thing, too. There are definitely real strings on the track, but I'll be damned if I can tell where the Chamby comes in, although some of the strings may emanate from it, though I'm not entirely sure why they bothered.
2002's Scarlet's Walk is a fairly typical Tori album, her songwriting much improved from her early work, highlights including Wednesday, brief, lovely solo vocal Wampum Prayer and I Can't See New York, complete with some great slide guitar work. Shenale plays Chamberlin again, although all I can hear are the flutes (alongside real strings) on Mrs. Jesus.
Tori's ninth album, 2007's American Doll Posse, sees Tori 'playing' five different characters (including herself), who take vocal leads on different songs. The album has more of a rock bent than most of her previous work, which isn't to say there isn't plenty of 'typical' Amos material to be heard. Just the one Mellotron track (played by Tori), with quite real-sounding flutes on closer Dragon, key-click an' all, also the only track here where her historical Kate Bushisms appear. Apparently, the album was only meant to be twenty tracks long, but another three were added as so-called 'bonus' tracks before release, which means they aren't really a 'bonus' at all, are they?
Tori credits 'Mellotron' on '98's From the Choirgirl Hotel (reviewed here), but admitted in an interview that it was actually samples, so I'm not entirely sure we can trust the tape-replay examples reviewed above, either. Anyway, two exceedingly average and only fairly good 'Tron/Chamby tracks, but perfectly good musically, assuming you like her style.
See: Samples etc.
A Vulcanized Mingle (2007, 55.13) ****/TTTTMellow Dramatic
Inside I'm Set
You Don't Surprise Me - I am Dead
We Know You Reaper
Sun Has Turned
To my knowledge, A Vulcanized Mingle (no, I don't know either) was Ampera's sole release, a very Nordic, old-school heavy prog album, not a million miles from, say, a female-fronted Anekdoten. Intense, riffy, psychedelic and progressive, all in one excellent package; if there's a downside, I'm not sure the bulk of their material's that memorable, but perhaps I just need to give it time. They certainly got the sound right, putting them ahead of most of the competition. Reformation time?
Tusmørke's Trond E. Aasen plays clearly real Mellotron, with strings all over punningly-titled opener Mellow Dramatic, choirs and strings on Inside I'm Set, upfront strings and a flute solo on You Don't Surprise Me - I Am Dead, major church organ use on We Know You Reaper, strings and background choirs on Nagoya and Sun Has Turned and strings on Antibody Haven. Mellotron Heaven! Why didn't I discover this ten years ago?
The Analogues (2006, 17.33) **½/TReputation
Going to California
Black Kettle Tea
The Analogues are (were?) the duo of Lydia Doran and Jim Saxa, both your classic 'smalltown kids make it to the big city', meeting up in New York. Their debut, self-titled EP showcases their jazzy singer-songwriterish folk/pop style, although, sad to say, I found it somewhat on the dull side, probably at its best on their slightly jazzed-up cover of Zeppelin's Going To California.
Richard Barone produces and plays what I take to be real Mellotron on Going To California, adding some high octave strings, drifting in and out of the mix. Perhaps surprisingly, I can't actually trace any other releases by the duo, Mellotronic or otherwise, while their domain name's for sale. Did they call it a day?
See: Richard Barone
True Spirit (1994, 50.03) ***/T
Ain't Givin' Up on You
Only One for Me
Let it Last
|Feet Wet Up
Welcome to Changes
Ian Green's Groove Conclusion
Carleen Anderson, daughter of soulstress Vicki Anderson and stepdaughter of James Brown sideman Bobby Byrd, is American, but currently based in the UK. She has a strong Paul Weller connection, having sung backing on both Stanley Road and Heavy Soul, as well as working with the Brand New Heavies. Are you thinking, "I'm probably not going to like her music?" Well, if you're one of this site's regular readers, you're almost certainly right. Her first solo album, the sumptiously-packaged True Spirit, is a decent enough soul/r'n'b effort, as far as I can ascertain, being seriously (and deliberately) unfamiliar with the genre. It does break out of the mould in places, with the dancefloor-pounding James Brown-esque Nervous Breakdown having more of a rock/funk groove about it, although most of the material fits the standard pattern of soul ballads mixed with more uptempo stuff.
And what's it doing here...? Mark Nevin plays 'Mellotron and guitars' on Let It Last, with a string part beginning a couple of minutes into the song. Weller's M400? Seems likely, but no way of knowing. This barely earns the album a full 'T', but a half seems churlish, given that it's a) fully audible and b) not just a few-second part.
From everything she says and does, you get the feeling that Anderson is a thoroughly honest performer; her website unflinchingly owns up to her turning fifty in 2007, and she seems to be as bullshit-free as many of her contemporaries... aren't. She does have a slight built-in advantage from being a genuine Southern soul singer living in a country largely bereft of such things, although that's not to denigrate her talent in any way. True Spirit seems to be a good album of its type, although (possibly Nervous Breakdown aside) I wouldn't actually go as far as to say I enjoyed it, but that's my problem, not hers. Very little Mellotron, too, though more than some efforts I've heard. Good at what it does.
See: Paul Weller
Olias of Sunhillow (1976, 44.08) ****½/T½
Meeting (Garden of Geda)
Sound Out the Galleon
Dance of Ranyart
Olias (to Build the Moorglade)
Qoquag ën Transic
|Flight of the Moorglade
Song of Search
To the Runner
You know, it's really, really easy to take the piss out of ubiquitous Yes vocalist Jon Anderson. Everyone's favourite prog pixie, spaced-out old hippy, off with the fairies... See? Easy peasy. What isn't quite so easy is to say, "Um, actually, he's an extremely talented chap, and Olias of Sunhillow is one of the most original albums to come out of the entire progressive era". I can quite honestly say that this album sounds like nothing else you'll have ever heard, including Yes, although there are points of reference, the chief one being, of course, Jon's unique voice, not to mention his harp work, and I don't mean a bloody harmonica. Anderson admitted that he was 'pretty much a non-musician' when he recorded this album, which makes it all the more astonishing, as it's clearly been put together by someone who knows exactly what they're doing. Jon is the only credited musician, meaning he'd gained some technique on various instruments over the previous few years, although it's fair to say that none of this was that hard to play, as if it mattered.
Describing the material isn't easy, due to its complete uniqueness; think (if you will) of the more 'drifting' parts of the Yes canon, but with multiple Jons, backed by acoustic guitar, harp, occasional drums (though not in a drum kit kind of way) and plenty of monosynth parts, with an almost (sorry) 'tribal' feel in places. The concept (you knew there had to be one, didn't you?) concerns the Olias of the title, who builds a flying ship to leave his doomed world. Hippy nonsense? Yep, and we love it. I mean, the story printed inside the lavish gatefold sleeve is complete drivel, to be brutally honest, especially in 1976, but in JonAndersonWorld I'm sure it makes complete sense, and the music is quite ethereally beautiful, so all is forgiven. Anyway, anything other than a complete fantasy wouldn't fit the music, particularly Jon's later experiments with cheesy love lyrics, which he now seems doomed to repeat for the rest of his career.
Now, I'm taking a bit of a leap of faith by including this, as I'm still not entirely convinced that the choir work on the album is actually Mellotron at all, which is why I've had this down as a 'query' for so long. While some of the voices are clearly Jon multi-overdubbed, some of the others, principally the ones on Meeting (Garden of Geda) sound like Mellotron male voices, and there's even a rumour going round that Jon put his own voice onto a tape frame (thanks, Mark), which would explain their unusual sound, assuming it's true. The choirs on the other three highlighted tracks are less distinct, and it is possible that I'm just making the whole thing up, but I've finally decided to include this until/if I should find out otherwise.
So; if you have any interest in progressive rock whatsoever, and have shied away from this album in the past, buy it immediately. Unfortunately, the CD packaging is crap, with only half the lyrics printed (why?), and a cruelly cut-down version of the original's magnificent artwork, but it's the music that matters (as the sadly-missed Tommy Vance used to say), and this is an entirely unique and wonderful album. As for the Mellotron (assuming it's there at all), it's completely inessential, but that isn't why you're already ordering this online. Buy now.