Lisa Bella Donna
Belle & Sebastian
Bedlam (1973, 38.19) ***/T½
|I Believe in You (Fire in My Body)
Sweet Sister Mary
Seven Long Years
Whisky and Wine
Looking Through Love's Eyes
|Putting on the Flesh
Set Me Free
Bedlam Anthology (1968-99/2000, 92.00) ***/T
For Your Love
Ring of Fire
At the Gateway
Candy (Rainbow Over New York)
Share With You
Dave's Ditty for Cozy
I Believe in You (live)
The Beast (live)
The Great Game (live)
|Set Me Free (live)
The Fool (live)
Cozy Powell was already über-session drummer extraordinaire when he put Bedlam together, who, to be quite honest, were a rather average early-'70s hard rock outfit, with few particularly outstanding features. The songwriting was OK, the playing was reasonably good, Francesco Aiello's vocals were fine, but there was nothing about them to set them apart from many other similar bands, unless you count Cozy's name, of course. Actually, I know exactly who they remind me of - Cream, or maybe Mountain. This is obviously no accident, as the album's produced by Felix Pappalardi, who produced the former and played in the latter, but it's got that sort of 'half-arsed hard rock' sound that seemed to be reasonably popular at the time, at least with American audiences.
Pappalardi also plays most of the keys on Bedlam, which would include the Mellotron on two tracks; the balladic Sarah has some muted strings over a rather cheesy chord sequence, as does Looking Through Love's Eyes, although the song's better. Overall, I have to say that I can't really recommend this; for 'rock', it's startlingly middle of the road and I can't think who this might actually appeal to these days. I mean, if I don't think that much of it...
The Bedlam Anthology was released in 2000, containing material recorded between 1968 and 1999. You thought Bedlam only existed for a year or two? Technically, yes, but the Ball brothers, Dave and Denny (and later, Pete) and Cozy worked on and off over a lengthy period in Ideal Milk, Big Bertha and others. The compilation's actually better than their album proper, despite its pot-pourri of styles, highlights including its opener, 1812 Thrashed (Cozy's first stab at his later drum solo tour de force), their inventive rearrangement of Graham Gouldman/The Yardbirds' For Your Love and the live '74 (supporting Cozy's mates and future employers Black Sabbath) version of the album's closer Set Me Free. Other notable tracks are their '68 version of Cream's Swalbr, completely proving my point above, Dave's Ditty For Cozy, Dave Ball's '99 country-blues tribute to his old mate, after Cozy's senseless death the year before and the live disc's twenty-odd minute closer The Fool. Mellotron on one track, Ring Of Fire, from Ed Welch, probably recorded in 1970, with a MkII string part that works well enough without being particularly outstanding.
These are both available through the estimable Zoom Club label, so if you have a yen for strictly third-rate UK hard rock of the era, feel free. I feel rather churlish being so unkind about these, but you really can see why they didn't do better than they did and why Cozy (although he'd already played with Jeff Beck at this point) had to change outfits to realise his potential (Rainbow, The Michael Schenker Group, Whitesnake, Sabbath, a host of others). Neither album's worth it on the Mellotron front, either; all a bit disappointing, really.
Bee Gees (UK) see:
Beggars Opera (UK) see:
I am the Cosmos (1992, recorded 1973-75, 54.18) ****/T½
|I am the Cosmos
Better Save Yourself
Speed of Sound
You and Your Sister
Make a Scene
I Got Kinda Lost
|There Was a Light
Fight at the Table
I Don't Know
Though I Know She Lies
I am the Cosmos (slow version)
You and Your Sister (country version)
You and Your Sister (acoustic version)
Chris Bell left Big Star after their seminal #1 Record and after various false starts, recorded the material that eventually became I am the Cosmos over a period of several years, in various locations worldwide, including Heureville (France), London and Memphis. Most of the songs are every bit as good as you'd expect from a Big Star songwriter, although a couple of the rockier numbers are slightly unnecessary. Highlights include the title track, the fantastic, slow-burning Better Save Yourself and Look Up, though there's very little wrong with most of the tracks.
The Mellotron isn't credited, and I don't know where the relevant tracks were recorded, but it seems likely that bassist/organist Ken Woodley's the guilty party. The original version of You And Your Sister has a brief 'Tron flute melody, although I can't tell whether the cellos are real or tape replay. The 'country version' added to the end of the disc has a major strings presence, while the fabulous Look Up heavily features the flutes again. As with Big Star, the Mellotron use is sparse and uncredited, but it's still well worth hearing.
Tragically, after several attempts to reform Big Star came to nothing, Bell died in a car accident in December 1978. It took his brother David nearly 14 years to compile this album, but it was worth the wait. I wouldn't buy it for the Mellotron, but for Beach Boys/Beatles-style clever, intelligent pop, it's as essential as the first two Big Star albums. Buy.
See: Big Star
Looking Out, Looking on (2016, 41.11) ****/TTT½Julie, Dear
Circle of Candles
While Changing Hands, Turbulent Times
Skylines (2016, 49.21) ***½/T
672 Timberlake Drive
Signs & Rivers
Lisa Bella Donna (formally Adam "Smitty" Smith) is psychonauts Eye's keyboard player/synthesist. Her first solo album, 2016's Looking Out, Looking on, is an eclectic, keyboard-based release, stretching far outside the realms of 'typical' electronic music to incorporate jazz (spot the full-on jazz piano on While Changing Hands, Turbulent Times and the jazzy Rhodes work on Entrance, Dusk), psych and, on lengthy closer Mountains, a form of ambient avant-psychedelia, including percussion and an upright bass solo. Lisa sticks her M400 all over the album, which opens with a solo Mellotron flute piece, Julie, Dear, key-click and all, with strings on Circle of Candles, While Changing Hands, Turbulent Times and Trust/Phantoms, plus flutes and strings on Love, 1967.
The same year's Skylines is far more of a jazz album, several tracks falling into the 'laid-back instrumental jazz with ARP synth solos' style that reminds me of the more relaxed end of the '70s fusionists. Very little Mellotron, this time round, with naught but cellos and strings on the title track. Overall, two excellent, if rather different albums, connected by their differing levels of jazziness and a raft of vintage keyboards. Well worth hearing.
The Boy With the Arab Strap (1998, 45.21) ***/T
|It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career
Sleep the Clock Around
Is it Wicked Not to Care?
Ease Your Feet in the Sea
A Summer Wasting
A Space Boy Dream
Dirty Dream Number Two
|The Boy With the Arab Strap
The Rollercoaster Ride
Legal Man (2000, 9.27) ***/½Legal Man
Judy is a Dick Slap
Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (2000, 40.53) ***½/TT½
|I Fought in a War
Beyond This Sunrise
Waiting for the Moon to Rise
Don't Leave the Light on, Baby
The Wrong Girl
The Chalet Lines
Nice Day for a Sulk
There's Too Much Love
I'm Waking Up to Us (2000, 12.47) **½/½I'm Waking Up to Us
I Love My Car
Marx and Engels
Storytelling (2002, 35.28) ***/½
Dialogue: Conan, Early Letterman
Fuck This Shit
Dialogue: Jersey's Where it's at
Black and White Unite
Dialogue: Class Rank
I Don't Want to Play Football
Dialogue: Mandingo Cliche
Big John Shaft
Belle & Sebastian (named after a French TV cartoon) are possibly the most fey band to come out of Scotland, against pretty strong competition. I'm not sure exactly when they discovered the delights of the Mellotron, but to my knowledge, they first used one on The Boy With the Arab Strap, named in honour of their friends, fellow Scots Arab Strap, in turn named in honour of an obscure sex aid. That's nice, then. I presume it's keyboard player Chris Geddes on the Mellotron, although they don't credit it on any of their albums. All I can hear here is a nice flute part (alongside real strings, by the sound of it) on Chickfactor, but one track doth not a Mellotron album make. Incidentally, online interviews refer to Geddes' 'real Mellotron', so I think we can probably go with these.
Several singles and EPs appeared before their next album, although the only Mellotron track I've been able to trace is Winter Wooskie (aargh!), from their Legal Man EP. A short flute part in a short song; very pleasant, but rather unexceptional. However, it's all over Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (those titles!). It's just a shame it's all so unbearably twee, really; they could be a nice Nick Drake-ish outfit if they chose. As for the Mellotron, apart from the real strings, there are flute melodies on The Model and Waiting For The Moon To Rise, and a chordal strings part on Beyond This Sunrise. Some marvellous chordal flutes enliven the 'how much more fey could they be?' Nice Day For A Sulk, although the solo flute on Family Tree sounds real to my ears.
2001's I'm Waking Up To Us single features a short flute part on Marx And Engels in a similar vein to Winter Wooskie. The following year's Storytelling is a sort-of film soundtrack to Todd Solondz's film of the same name, although many of the tracks never got used in the final cut; it's still recognisably Belle & Sebastian, though, adding a surreal element to the mix by incorporating several short 'dialogue' tracks, presumably from the film. There are a couple of more upbeat numbers, too, although much of the album sticks to their tried and trusted formula. This time, practically no Mellotron, although the strings on Freak have to be, I don't know about the flutes.
So; three extremely fey albums, although if you like the quieter end of UK indie, you may well go for this stuff. Fold Your Hands Child... is the only one that's worth it for the Mellotron, though. More news if I get to hear all their non-album tracks from the period, although there's nothing on 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress.
Mainly Mute (2009, 49.08) **½/TT
|This is Life
Spaceship, Move Slow!
Lost My Way
Swimsuit in May
Sculpt Me a Dream
All That is Beautiful
Norway's Arne Johan "Bellman" Rauan seems to be named in honour of a peculiarly Scandinavian joke-form, akin to various other worldwide forms, not least the Irish/Kerryman/Polack 'harmless idiot' variety. On his debut album, 2009's Mainly Mute, he's opted to combine dreamy, vaguely chamber pop with post-rock, which might possibly turn out not to've been a good idea; I'm sure his intention was to produce an album of transcendental beauty, or somesuch, but the end result is an overlong, dreary effort, suffused with Rauan's strange, high voice that convinced me it was female until I learned otherwise.
Pål-André Rauan plays Mellotron on three tracks, with a melodic flute part, deep in the mix, on Swimsuit In May, while Sculpt Me A Dream opens with upfront, 'wobbly enough to be real' flutes and we get another majorish flute part on All That Is Beautiful. Overall, while not terrible, this is pretty dull fare, unless, I presume, you should be into this particular brand of indie. Fairly decent Mellotron work, but that's about it.
Laughter Tracks (2003, 35.02) ***½/T
The Way it's Going to Be for the
Rest of Our Lives
I Wrote a Song About Sadness
Hey Rock and Roll
|Huge in Heaven
Play Through the Rain
Under the Surface
If I didn't know better, I'd have said that Ben's Diapers were American; I'm sure experts in the genre could probably nail them down to their hometown. Music? Americana. Vocalists' accents? Pure American. Even their name. Saying that, they're really rather good at it, and are probably the best American band in Finland. Stylistically, they seem to cover all bases, from the balladry of The Way It's Going To Be For The Rest Of Our Lives, the country-rock of I Wrote A Song About Sadness or the proper Americana of Happy Man.
Mellotron on one track only, played by Finnish owner Tom Hakava, with a 'classic' flute part (you know, 'Strawberry Fields') on Stockholm Sky, although that's it, it seems. Nothing on their latest release, Little Pilgrims (***½), sadly, but both albums are worth hearing if you're into the genre.
Sexual Roulette (1990, 46.03) ***½/½
|Bound for Vegas
Bar of Pain
The Hospital Song
Swamp Food Thing
|(She) Hit Me
More Blue Shock
Art Bergmann worked his way through several Canadian original punk-era outfits, eventually accidentally finding himself with a solo career on his hands, his second release, 1990's Sexual Roulette, being his commercial breakthrough. I had absolutely no idea what this was going to sound like before I played it: whisky-soaked singer-songwriter confessional? (That one had the best odds). Crummy '80s-hangover production slop? Sub-Springsteen? Although it has elements of my third guess, the bulk of the album consists of a surprisingly pleasing mainstream rock version of my first guess, Bergmann's excellent, clearly-written-from-experience lyrics supported by fairly sympathetic arrangements, largely avoiding the spectre of the about-to-break grunge explosion. Top tracks? Rock'n'roll opener Bound For Vegas, the energetic Bar Of Pain, the grinding Dirge No.1 and acoustic closer Death Watch, although there isn't one song here that could easily be excised from the running order without adversely affecting the album's flow.
Jim Blair (whom I know to be an M400 owner) plays Mellotron, but as the producer clearly buried it in the mix, the only even possible part is the background choirs on Gambol. All in all, then, a good (if slightly stylistically dated) album, but not one for the Mellotron fan.
Unterwegs (1972, 34.09) **½/TJeder Tag Sieht Ganz Anders Aus
Glaub Mir, Susanne
Es Wird Morgen Vorbei Sein
Dafur Lebe ich Nur
Ich Klage An
Dutch-born Jerry Berkers comes with impeccable krautrock/German prog credentials, having sung and played guitar and/or bass on Walter Wegmüller's Tarot and Sergius Golowin's legendary Lord Krishna von Goloka, not to mention being a member of Wallenstein on their first two albums. All of which makes his sole solo album, Unterwegs, all the more of an oddity, as it mixes mainstream pop/rock (the jaunty Glaub Mir, Susanne), Hammond-driven vaguely psych/prog (opener Jeder Tag Sieht Ganz Anders Aus, Gelobtes Land) and Euro-balladry (Ich Klage An, Seltsam) into a rather unappetising stew. It isn't all bad, admittedly, but there's little here to excite the Europhile proghead or krautrocker.
Mellotron on Dafur Lebe Ich Nur, with an unexpected brass part from his Wallenstein colleague Jürgen Dollase, though that seems to be your lot. So; a pretty unexciting album, to be honest, with one fairly unusual 'Tron track, should you feel so disposed.
See: Wallenstein | Walter Wegmüller | Sergius Golowin
New American Language (2001, 60.05) ***½/T½
New American Language
God Said No
Thanksgiving Day Parade
Dan Bern's been known to joke that, "Bob Dylan was the Dan Bern of the '60s"; not arrogance, humorous observation. Bern's songs and style sound a lot like Bahb's, although his voice is a lot more tuneful (despite the great man's influence), but his welcome moratorium on modern equipment and production gives his albums a timeless feel, certainly compared to many of his just-predecessors' '80s shockers.
Bern has a handful of releases under the self-deprecating, ironic name "Dan Bern & the International Jewish Banking Conspiracy", including his fourth full album, 2001's New American Language. The material's reasonable, but as with so many singer-songwriters, the lyrics are probably regarded as being more important than their vehicle, making a couple of casual listens a little unfair. Wil Masisak plays his own Mellotron, amongst other 'boards, with excellently-played flutes, strings and cellos throughout ten-minute closer Thanksgiving Day Parade, giving the album the unusual distinction of one-and-a-half Ts for just the one track.
There are two more Bern 'Tron releases, 2003's Fleeting Days and the following year's explicitly political My Country II EP, which I shall review when I get hold of copies. As far as New American Language is concerned, you may wish to hear it for one top Mellotron track, but it's a pretty decent album of Dylanesque songs for those into the style anyway.
Exil (1982, 35.57) ***½/TTT½Un et Différent
Voir le Soleil
Le Lieu d'où l'on Ne Revient Pas
Les Mendiants d'Amour
Le Véritable Ami
Le Père qui Regarde
Patrick Bernard (he feels the need to say, "previously known as Bernhardt", on his site, for some reason) seems to specialise in 'devotional music', lyrically heavily influenced by his many years' study in India. It seems he was actually born in French colony Algeria and has lived in various places, including France, Britain and Québec, although as he's settled in the latter, that's the nationality I shall list. Amusingly, the discography on his website lists nothing prior to 1989, after what the French Wikipedia describes (in translation) as his 'second mystical crisis'. Hmmm. So, New Age dreck, anyone? Anyway, 1982's Exil (actually his sixth album, it seems) opens with an early 'World'-type piece, Un Et Différent, before shifting into a pleasant, if undemanding kind of fairly straightforward slightly progressive rock, with a largish dose of French chanson thrown in, particularly noticeable on closer Le Père Qui Regarde; not a million miles away from the less proggy stuff Morse Code were doing a few years earlier, I'd say.
Plenty of Mellotron, apparently played by Bernard himself, with high string notes on Voir Le Soleil, making a template for the album's Mellotron use overall; a particularly good example is the opening to Les Mendiants D'Amour ('The Beggars of Love'), with a well-played melodic part before the more 'standard' chordal work later in the song. Cellos, for a change, at the beginning of Le Véritable Ami, alongside the more standard strings, so with only two songs being Mellotron-free, I'd say this is a surprise 'worth getting' album, assuming you can find a copy. Unavailable on CD, as Bernard isn't even acknowledging its existence, the only way I can see anyone putting it out is if the original record company decides there's any sort of demand for it; none of the specialist prog reissue labels will be interested, as it isn't 'progressive' enough. Is there a demand from Mellotron fans? Should I start 'Planet Mellotron Records'? Don't even go there...
Heidi Berry (1993, 46.34) ***/½
The Moon and the Sun
Heart Like a Wheel
For the Rose
American-born but British-raised makes Heidi Berry effectively a Brit (this logic is reversed in other places on this site), although her confessional singer-songwriter style is probably more transatlantic than home-grown, ironically. Her music, at least on her third, eponymous album, fits loosely into 4AD's 'house style' (think: Cocteau Twins), being laid back to the point of drifting, although it seems to have little of their appeal. Don't get me wrong; it's perfectly pleasant, but too undemanding to actually grab the listener's attention, although I'm sure there are plenty who would disagree.
Credited Mellotron on one track, Little Fox, from Robert Lord, but given that the track already features real strings, all I can hear is a faint background flute part that really wasn't worth recording. So; inoffensive but ineffectual, with next to no Mellotron. Not convinced by this one, but, given the release date, letting it stand for the moment.