The Alan Bown!
Bobbi Boyle/Dick Kent
Doyle Bramhall II
Chris Braun Band
David Bowie (UK) see:
Outward Bown (1967, 38.30/49.05) ***/T½
All Along the Watchtower
Penny for Your Thoughts
Love is a Beautiful Thing
You're Not in My Class
My Girl the Month of May
We Can Help You
Technicolour Dream (mono)
The Alan Bown! (originally The Alan Bown Set) were a pretty typical British mid-'60s soul/blues outfit who shifted into psych (see: Zoot Money, Simon Dupree & the Big Sound) as it caught on. Aside from bandleader/trumpeter Bown (later, improbably, a member of second-division proggers Jonesy), this lineup of the band is best known for unleashing undersung vocalist Jess Roden's talents on the world, plus future Supertramp saxophonist John Helliwell, although both Mel Collins (King Crimson, a million others) and Robert Palmer subsequently passed through their ranks.
After a run of singles, they debuted on long-player with 1967's Outward Bown, a strange mixture of newly-fashionable whimsical psych (Toyland, Magic Handkerchief, Story Book), soul flashbacks (Sally Green, Love Is A Beautiful Thing, complete with a painfully out of tune slide guitar/sax duet) and a smattering of 'uncategorisables', including their jazzy version of Dylan's All Along The Watchtower (which presages Hendrix' by a full year), the proto-hard rock of Penny For Your Thoughts and the jaunty pirate romp Mutiny.
Keys man Jeff Bannister adds Mellotron to a few tracks, with what sound like MkII accordion on Mutiny, strings on Sally Green, Violin Shop and (in the background) My Girl The Month Of May. All in all, then, a reasonably decent semi-psych effort, although I get the impression that Bown's best work is probably best compiled from his various releases. Just to confuse matters, the album was released in the States as The Alan Bown!, with a slightly different tracklisting; the version to get is the See for Miles CD, which collects together all fourteen tracks, plus two mono versions.
|7" (1970) ***½/TT½
Lulli Rides Again
Andrew/Andy Bown's first recording came out as early as 1964 and after spells in The Herd and Judas Jump, released Tarot under his own name in 1970. The theme tune to UK children's TV show Ace of Wands (inspiration for Steve Hackett, I believe), it's a short, snappy, upbeat sort of song with a good Mellotron presence (brass and strings). I don't believe it's currently available anywhere, although I'd be more than happy to be proved wrong.
Bown went on to release a clutch of solo albums while playing sessions, ending up becoming Status Quo's permanent keyboard player. Now largely regarded as a joke, Quo were actually a ferocious live act as late as their 'split' in 1984, but I wouldn't bother with the current outfit if I were you. Anyway, if you get a chance to obtain Tarot on whatever format, it's worth the effort.
See: Judas Jump
Hope on the Horizon (2007, 43.29) **½/½
|A Quest for Fire
The Blues and the Bee Sting
Looking for You in Me
Keep That Flame
Tonight I'm Swimming
|Change of Plans
Good Enough for You
The Good Times
Gothenburg's Martin Henrik "Boy Omega" Gustafsson has had optimistic Elliott Smith comparisons thrown at him, though going by 2007's Hope on the Horizon, I'm afraid I have to question certain reviewers' ears; try 'singer-songwriter crossed with rather average US indie' and you might be a little closer. While some of the album's tracks attempt to echo Smith's forlorn approach (notably lengthy closer True Heaven), the bulk of the record tries (and fails) to sound jaunty, leaving it in a musical no-man's-land, unsure of what it's really trying to be.
Gustafsson is credited with Mellotron on three tracks, although there's nothing audible on either The Blues And The Bee Sting or Keep That Flame, while Change Of Plans has naught but some (very) background flutes, making this fairly dispensable on both musical and Mellotronic fronts.
|7" (196?) *½/T½
Bobbi Boyle and Dick Kent are likely to be pseudonyms, oft-used in the murky waters of the '60s and '70s song-poem industry (see: Rodd Keith): lyrics sent in to companies by hopeless hopefuls, set to music by jaded 'composers' and session hacks, all for a fee, of course. This particular obscure 7" (thanks once again to Mark Medley) pairs two 'artists', 'Boyle' (or maybe it's her real name?) singing Barbara Newton's Big Mama, while 'Kent' tackles Stuart Colley's Sleepy Head, two lyrics of stunning mundanity set to music of unutterable mediocrity, as you might expect. Big Mama is mercifully short, coming in at under two minutes, while Sleepy Head's just over two minutes seems to last forever and not in a good way.
The usual anonymous session guy plays Chamberlin strings on both sides of the disc, more overtly on the flip than the 'A', which isn't to say that any of it's any good. Let's face it; even if, for some perverted reason, you actually wanted to hear this, you're not exactly going to pick it up at your local second-hand record emporium, assuming such things exist any more. Actually, if anyone really wants to hear these, let me know and I'll e-mail you the MP3s. You sickos.
Distance Between Us (1972, 86.25) ***½/TTTT½Distance Between Us
Distance Between Us 2
Dance of the Goblins
Don Bradsham-Leather is widely regarded to be a pseudonym of none other than Robert John Godfrey, Barclay James Harvest's ex-orchestral arranger and future Enid leader, although other reports deny this, including Robert himself. It certainly sounds like his piano playing; concert standard, and very eccentric. Distance Between Us is an ambitious double album, relying heavily on avant-garde modern classical compositional techniques, with much musical experimentation, including considerable dissonance in places. Robert is notoriously unkeen on reminiscence, but I'll do my best to find out whether or not this actually was him.
The title track moves from an avant-classical piano part into a lengthy tribal rhythm section, with shedloads of 'Tron strings, doing a fair job of emulating real ones, something Robert's never been able to afford since BJH days, while Autumn Mist relies more on harmonic dissonance on various keyboards, particularly the Mellotron. Sides three and four are just as completely barking mad, making this one of the strangest Mellotron albums it's been my, er, pleasure to hear. The only reason it doesn't get the full five-T treatment is that much of the album is impenetrably weird, and many listeners simply won't be able to cope with it. Not to worry, though, as it's been out of print for thirty years, although there's supposed to be a Japanese CD version floating about, probably dubbed from crackly vinyl (again). But seriously, folks, if you stumble across a copy cheap (highly unlikely, I have to say), it's worth it for the weird 'Tron stuff, but be warned: this is not for the faint-hearted.
Mermaid Avenue Vol.II (2000, 49.55) ***/½
|Airline to Heaven
My Flying Saucer
Feed of Man
Hot Rod Hotel
I Was Born
Secrets of the Sea
Remember the Mountain Bed
|Blood of the Lamb
Aginst th' Law
All You Fascists
Joe DiMaggio Done it Again
Black Wind Blowing
Someday Some Morning Sometime
In the mid-'90s, Woody Guthrie's daughter Nora approached the Bard of Barking himself, Billy Bragg, to ask him to put music to some of her father's unpublished lyrics. Bragg in turn asked Wilco for help, correctly ascertaining that their impeccable credentials would give the project an American edge that could've been lacking had the whole project been left to that very British of artists. '98's Mermaid Avenue is apparently excellent, leaving nearly enough material for another album, which, with a handful of newly-recorded tracks, became Mermaid Avenue Vol.II. To my ears, it's a good, if not outstanding album of semi-Americana, with several high-quality tracks, not least the guitar-heavy raunch of All You Fascists, although it's been unfavourably compared to its predecessor by some critics.
Wilco mainman Jeff Tweedy plays 'Mellotrons' on opener Airline To Heaven, although the only audible evidence is some very background, er, something; brass? Suffice to say, if it wasn't credited, you wouldn't know. So; decent enough album, in an alt.country sort of vein, but forget it on the 'Tron front.
Official Billy Bragg site
Official Wilco site
We Get What We Want (2012, 43.03) ****/T½
|You Could Believe
What She's Done to Him
Trying Hard to Please You
Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long
Steel Derrick 1979
Let the Cruel World Go
She Used to Love Me
I'm in No Mood
|Welcome to Nowhereville
Tyme and Tyde Agree
Everything I Want to Be
Nelson Bragg has been playing percussion and singing professionally since the end of the '70s, notably in Brian Wilson's Smile band in the early 2000s and with California's The Quarter After. 2012's excellent We Get What We Want is his second solo album, an inspired distillation of his years playing with so many 'intelligent pop' outfits, I suspect, highlights including opener You Could Believe (especially its jaw-dropping harmony vocal intro), Steel Derrick 1979, Let The Cruel World Go and mock-Baroque (see what I did there?) closer Everything I Want To Be. Truth be told, there ain't a bad track here; how often can you say that, then?
Bragg plays what I shall affectionately moniker 'underwater strings' and landbound flutes and cellos on Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long, while his Quarter After compatriot, Rob Campanella, adds (presumably his own) upfront Mellotron strings and flutes to Steel Derrick 1979, to unsurprisingly good effect. Powerpop fans need this yesterday, while anyone with an ear for a great tune and even the tiniest sneaking regard for The Beach Boys should at least give it a listen. Well worth the effort.
See: The Quarter After
Too Freud to Rock'n'Roll, Too Jung to Die (2003, 80.20) ***/T
My Pagan Ass
Like a Motherfucker
The Two Towers
Love, Peace & Fuck
Get Back on it
|She Saw Me Coming
Get Off Your Pretty Face
Whole Lotta Loki
Odin's Gift to His Mother
Wasted Fuzz Excessive (2009, 65.39) ***½/T½Gates of Skagerrak
Death Becomes You
Dyslexia Rules K.O.
Emerging/Shadow of My Corpse
Fokkinger Slag/The Hanging
Brain Donor are yet another Julian Cope side-project, this time with Doggen and Kevin "Kevlar" Bales from Spiritualized, specialising in (you guessed it) brain-dead jammed-out metal madness. So far, they've released a slew of singles and three full albums, the first of which, 2001's Love, Peace & Fuck, maybe surprisingly, has no Mellotronic input. Its successor, 2003's double-disc Too Freud to Rock'n'Roll, Too Jung to Die (very good, Saint Jules, very good...), consists of one disc of studio material and one of their set at Cope's two-day event, 2000's Cornucopea. It's pretty much as you'd expect: bonkers 'is it/isn't it' ironic metal and freaked-out jamming, with a little Mellotron on the studio disc, with high strings on Schizadelic K.O., while The Two Towers features some flute and wildly pitchbent strings interjections à propos of nothing at all, and there's a mental strings part on Messages. Best track? Possibly disc 1's Get Down On It, for its sheer verve, or disc 2's stupendous cover of Van Halen's ripping Atomic Punk, almost certainly unfamiliar to most of his indie-schmindie audience, to my (and doubtless his) delight. Downsides? The set goes on a little too long for listening comfort, assuming one is in an unenhanced state of mind, that is.
I've no idea if there's any Mellotron on their various in-between releases, including the fantastically-named Drain'd Boner (ho ho, and ho ho again), but 2009's Wasted Fuzz Excessive gets back to the 'Tron. The album seems better produced than its predecessors, although musically, it's more of the same, and why not? It's Cope's outlet for expressing this particular part of his musical personality; if they suddenly went acoustic, I'd start to worry. Again, not an awful lot of the old M400, with a brief string part entering nearly ten minutes into Gates Of Skagerrak, a full-on part in Frankenstein and some flute on the first part of ultra-lengthy closer Fokkinger Slag/The Hanging.
All in all, then, another bonkers Cope project with surprisingly little Mellotron (see: all the others). If you're a fan of the Drude, you'll almost certainly go a bundle on these, the rest of us should approach with caution.
See: Julian Cope | Black Sheep | L.A.M.F. | Queen Elizabeth
Thought Horizon (1995, 24.45) ****/TTT½Dark Horse
Wood of Thought (2002, recorded 1995, 57.56) ***/TTT½
La Danse des Cons
March of the Elves
A Walk in the Sunlight
The Thought Horizon Sessions (2004, recorded 1995, 65.36) ***½/TT½
|La Danse des Cons
A Girl Like You
Big Whomper Diesel Truck
Brain Forest were formed in 1993 by guitarist Phillip LeFrois and ex-St Elmo's Fire bassist Paul Kollar. After the usual lineup hassles, they held a four-piece together for long enough to record some material, releasing a four-song (as against 4-track) cassette, Thought Horizon, in spring 1995. It features solid, American-style prog, not a million miles away from St Elmo's Fire, but things conspired against the band, and the limited form of success accorded to the likes of Echolyn or Spock's Beard was denied them.
Back to Thought Horizon. Although the original tape is still available from Brain Forest/St Elmo's Fire's label, Sprawling Productions, it remains unfairly obscure, partly, it has to be said, due to Sprawling's failure to promote the thing in any meaningful way. It might not equal The Light for sheer invention, but there's absolutely nothing here to which fans of American symphonic prog would or could object, particularly closer VLQ, a high-energy blast of guitar and Mellotron duelling, underpinned by Kollar's bass and Taurus. Speaking of the Mellotron (as always), it's on every track, used with taste, if not restraint. Kollar and LeFrois both play it, as the band lost their keyboard player before they began recording; strings across the board, and a gorgeous flute part at the end of Dark Horse. For those of you without cassette decks, all four tracks are available on 2004's The Thought Horizon Sessions, which brings its own problems...
Said problems involve Sprawling's website containing conflicting information about Brain Forest's other two releases. The band's main page states that, despite putting in a good bit of work on the tapes in 2001, nothing was ever made commercially available, although the 'order information' page quite clearly lists, as well as the Thought Horizon tape, two CD-R releases, Wood of Thought and The Thought Horizon Sessions. What's a poor prog fan to believe? Since possession is commonly (though almost certainly wrongly) assumed to be 9/10ths of the law, the fact that I own these CDs makes me think that they are available, and the band page is out of date.
Wood of Thought, which apparently leaked out in 2002, is actually a bit of a rag-bag of material, to be honest. It opens with a pair of instrumentals that seem to go nowhere fast, and a couple of tracks (notably Gene's Dilemma) bear all the hallmarks of studio jams, dragging on far longer than their content really allows. There is some decent material here, although two of the best tracks are different versions of Darkhorse/Dark Horse and VLQ from Thought Horizon. Mellotron almost across the board again, mainly strings, plus flutes on possibly the album's best track, the folkish, harmonium-driven A Walk In The Sunlight. The 'oh what a giveaway'-titled Mello features, apart from a few cymbal swishes, nowt but flutes and strings in a pleasing configuration, with a few bursts of choir, finally, in another version of VLQ, making this rather more worth it for the Mellotron than the material.
Two years on, the Thought Horizon Sessions CD-R appeared, in a rather non-appearing kind of way. Unsurprisingly, it's an extended version of Thought Horizon, adding another eight tracks and 40 minutes to the original EP. It must be noted that there's a fair bit of overlap between these various releases, with four tracks appearing in two different versions, ignoring the repetition of the entire EP on this CD-R, which is actually quite welcome, probably adding up to the fact that the band only had a handful of really good pieces. To place this in context, that's a handful more than many 'progressive' bands who have released a whole slew of horrible, derivative, pseudo-commercial albums for two decades or more. Pendragon. Moving swiftly on... This album opens with a Mellotron-free (shame!) version of Wood of Thought's second track, La Danse Des Cons, working really well as an opener. The out-of-tune harmonies on Alias betray the album's origins as a set of demos, and the bulk of the rest of the 'new' material shows why the band chose not to release it first time round, to be honest. For a 'progressive' band, far too much of it falls back on a clichéd hard rock feel, to the point where LeFrois uses an Eddie Van Halen trick on Maybe (from Panama, for what it's worth). Also... Would'ja believe there are NO more 'Tron tracks than on the original tape? A couple of the unheard tracks aren't bad (La Danse Des Cons, Rhino Country), but the only real reason to get this album is to have the original EP tracks on CD, and they're the only reason it gets as high a rating as it does.
So; for $20 (26 outside the States) you can purchase Brain Forest's complete works, carefully sidestepping the 1995 cassette release, made redundant by the second CD-R, not that Sprawling's website actually tells you this. Do you want to? Well, you can compile a pretty good album from the two, taking four or five tracks from each, but neither of them really stands up on its own. In other words, you'll get one good album for $20 and the minimal cost of a blank.
Brain Forest page on the Sprawling site
See: St Elmo's Fire
Stay Free (1996, 46.42) ***/TT
A Proper Education
Here's a Boy
The King of Georgia
In a Box
Lund's Brainpool (linked with Per Gessle and Roxette) are a pretty mainstream bunch, as you'd expect from a band signed to a major (sad but true). 1996's Stay Free was their third album (the last to feature their original vocalist, Jan "Janne" Kask) and is actually better than you might expect, combining powerpop with a kind of post-grunge rockism, best displayed on the likes of Sister C'mon, The King Of Georgia and Smallville, while lengthy closer Low actually borders prog. No, really.
Bassist Christoffer Lundquist plays Mellotron, with strings and flutes on High, high string lines on The King Of Georgia and Free Ride and choirs all over Low, the latter accounting for the bulk of the album's 'T' rating. Given that I'd expected crapulent Scando-pop, Stay Free is a pleasant surprise, mostly at the very least listenable, with one killer track in the form of Low. Not too bad on the 'Tron front either.
Second Smile (1973, 38.10) ***½/THirnwind
There Was a Time...
Brainstorm were led by future Guru Guru saxophonist Roland Schaeffer, only making two studio albums. The second, er, Second Smile, covers quite a bit of ground sonically, from the complex prog of opener Hirnwind through the acoustic whimsy of Herbst to the jazz-prog of My Way or the near-free jazz of There Was A Time... You could never accuse this lot of being boring, although the diversity can sound a little uncohesive at times. Any bad points? Yup: the vocals. As so often with this type of band, they're only used occasionally, and aren't much good when they are, either stylistically or lyrically. I'm not sure what's with the spoken-word stuff, complete with Trapeze quote on closer Marilyn Monroe, either...
Mellotron on Hirnwind, probably from keys man Eddy Von Overheidt, with a great strings part, complete with multiple pitchbends, which can only trigger one question: why just the one track? Well, at least it's a good one... Overall, then, a more interesting than usual Krautrock effort, tipping into both prog and fusion, with one great 'Tron track. Worth it? Only you can decide.
Doyle Bramhall II (1996, 53.50) ***/T
|Song From the Grave
Ain't Goin' Down Slow
What You Gonna Do
Close to Me
Bleeding From a Scratch
|He Stole Our Love Away
The Reason I Live
They Get Together
Stay a While
Doyle Bramhall II has a lot in common with his ex-bandmate Charlie Sexton, being another young guitarist influenced by the blues and soul greats, rather than his previous generation of players. He's a relatively unusual case of a leftie who learnt on a right-handed instrument flipped over, so his strings are upside down, which hasn't stopped him from playing in Eric Clapton's band for several years. His eponymous solo debut mix'n'matches his influences, from the funky Ain't Goin' Down Slow through the more contemporary True Emotion and the Appalachian folk of Time to the jazz/soul of closer Stay A While, making for a diverse showcase for Bramhall's talents.
Lisa Coleman (of Wendy & Lisa fame) plays Mellotron on several tracks, with smooth strings on opener Song From The Grave and choppy ones on Ain't Goin' Down Slow and Part II, although the background strings on The Reason I Live sound like an analogue synth. Overall, Doyle Bramhall II is one of those 'good at what they do' albums that falls down on unmemorable material, although it's a perfectly listenable record, slotting smoothly into Clapton & Co.'s audience dynamic. Not much Mellotron, but a worthy effort.
Foreign Lady (1973, 34.55) ***/TNobody But You (Viktring)
Times Growing Worse
While You Are Thinking
He's Got No Joker
Hard and fast information on the Chris Braun Band is hard to find, although I can report that the Chris in question was female. Her band's second (and last?) album, 1973's Foreign Lady, is a very German mixture of quite mainstream pop/rock and skronky prog, typified by its title track, which veers between mad Moog and guitar work and mid-paced soft rock, which holds true for most of the album's seven tracks. As a result, it's a bit of a mixed bag, highlights including opener Nobody But You (Viktring) and While You Are Thinking, which sounds like a female-fronted Van der Graaf crossed with Yes, would'ja believe.
Klaus Melchers plays Mellotron (as the album was recorded at Dieter Dierks' studio, almost certainly the house M400), credited on three tracks, although, sadly, there's nothing obvious on either the title track or Be Proud, leaving nowt but the nicely upfront strings on While You Are Thinking. An irritatingly inconsistent album, then, with less Mellotron than advertised, but worth a listen for fans of the era.
Rouge on Pockmarked Cheeks (2002, 61.16) ***/T½
Xanax and Three Hours of TV
Late Night Lullaby
Hastings Street (2004, 49.03) **½/½
|Intro (Rollin' Easy)
Love is the Answer
Hong Kong Cafe (it Only Hurts)
Night Train to Moscow
L.A. River Lady
Formed by sometime Beck sideman David Brown in the late '90s, the LA-based Brazzaville have a world-weary air about them, (very) roughly analogous to the UK's St. Etienne, maybe, or Stereolab if you took away the cheap synths. Apparently, Brown is a seasoned traveller, picking up influences from South America, Africa and continental Europe, making for an eclectic stylistic mix, which is probably where the Stereolab comparisons come in.
The excellently-titled Rouge on Pockmarked Cheeks is their third album, sounding like a lounge lizard's dream across most of its length, with the jarring exception of the full-on rock'n'roll of Queenie, a song out of place if ever there was one. One notable criticism I would make of the album is its length; this kind of music really doesn't lend itself to overlong albums, and several tracks are longer (far longer in the case of closer Late Night Lullaby) than their content demands. Mellotron from Brown and pianist Mike Boito, with a lovely flute part on 1980 and more muted (mixed?) strings on Genoa. There are other possible 'Tron parts here, not least the high strings on Motel Room, but they could just as easily be a generic string patch, so the track remains unhighlighted until/if I should find out otherwise.
2004's Hastings Street isn't dissimilar to its predecessor, although it fails to hold this listener's attention, despite being over ten minutes shorter, with few obviously memorable tracks, the exceptions, Interlude and Lagos Slums, being grouped together in the middle of the record. It apparently takes two musicians, Brown and Greg Kurstin (Ben Harper), to add the 'are they/aren't they?' Mellotron strings to Left Out, which could easily be not so much samples as something else entirely.
These are albums for those who enjoy laid-back, faux-lounge music, who aren't frightened by the phrase 'bossa nova'. They're not albums for those who are looking for energy, complexity, or both, which loosely translates as 'progheads stay away'. Some of you may lock into Brown's sleepy vocal style, or the accordion and solo violin used on many tracks, but a lot of you, like me, won't. Three stars for Rouge... seems reasonable for something I don't particularly like which is, however, done perfectly well and isn't actually offensive, I think. One good 'Tron track and one mediocre doesn't really make purchase on that front advisable, though, while I'm not sure Hastings Street should even be here.
The Booze Brothers (1989, recorded 1973, 36.47) **/T
|Where Are You Tonight
You Make Me Feel So Good
My Old Lady
Rock Steady Woman
What's the Time
Brewers Droop were a good-time early '70s Cajun pub-rock band (!) from High Wycombe, near London, with no notable members, although several of them have a good name on the blues scene, apparently. So why the large picture of Mark Knopfler on the sleeve in his mid-'80s pomp (and terrible blouse)? Seems he played guitar on three tracks, before he developed his signature style. The legendary Dave Edmunds produced a few tracks, too (thus his smaller pic), while future Dire Straits (and ex-Spring) drummer Pick Withers also contributed. It seems the band released one album, 1972's Opening Time, then recorded what eventually became The Booze Brothers, with Knopfler, Edmunds and Withers; fast forward 16 years, an unscrupulous record company sticks that big pic of Knopfler on the front, and hey presto, er, a dullsville pub-rock album with no distinguishing features.
Harmonica whizz Steve Darrington doubled on keyboards, mostly piano(s) and blues Hammond, but on Roller Coaster he sat down at the doubtless studio 'Tron, and put down some flutes and strings, although I can't really say they add that much to the album. Unless you're a real nut on this kind of stuff, I have to say: avoid. They only reason I got through it was by judicious use of the 'skip' button, but then, I prefer my blues a bit leaner and meaner than this, to be honest. Dull, although at least the other sleeve has a modicum of wit about it. Incidentally, I'm sure there's no connection, given his limited involvement, but I wonder if Knopfler was giving this lot a nod when he wrote the line, "You've got smoker's cough from smoking, brewer's droop from drinking beer" on Love Over Gold's Industrial Disease? Probably not.