Cuby + Blizzards
Tweekend (2001, 68.53) **½/T
Wild, Sweet and Cool
Roll it Up
Name of the Game
Ready for Action
Ten Miles Back
|Over the Line
Name of the Game (Reprise)
The Crystal Method (crystal meth - geddit? No?) hail from Las Vegas and seem to be one of the most popular dance/electronica outfits in the States. Their second album, Tweekend (what is it with these guys and puns? It apparently refers to 'tweeking', or taking crystal meth. Yawn), is in some ways a pretty typical effort within its genre, although the analogue synths make a pleasant change from the pseudo- nonsense used by many in the field. Thankfully, it's mostly instrumental, and while very (who said irritatingly?) danceable, it's an awful lot better than most of the drivel produced in this area, despite its ludicrous length.
Jon Brion contributes Chamberlin to one track, with some pretty skronky strings on Over The Line, only really audible towards the end of the track, though once you can hear them, you can really hear them. So; not an awful lot of Chamby, but what there is is worth hearing. While the actual music falls under the broad umbrella of 'dance', even it has its moments.
Sometimes (1972, 35.49) ***/TPawn Broker
Straight, No Chaser
The Way I Feel
I'm Drinking My Whisky
Bluesmen Cuby +/& the Blizzards were (are?) one of the Netherlands' better-known outfits, active since 1964. 1972's Sometimes was their twelfth album in six years, a solid, unpretentious blues effort (unsurprisingly), veering between the barroom blues of opener Pawn Broker, the piano jazz of Straight, No Chaser and The Way I Feel's Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac-isms, amongst other takes on the style. But is it any good? It's certainly highly competent; I think it would take a bigger blues fan than myself to tell you whether or not it has that certain je ne sais quoi, though.
Someone (Helmig van der Vegt?) plays a polyphonic Mellotron cello part on the title track (thanks, Klaus), perhaps surprisingly, adding slightly to its allure while simultaneously being fairly inessential. A decent enough blues effort, then, but you're really not going to bother for the Mellotron. Sadly, band leader Harry "Cuby" Muskee died in 2011, presumably leaving the band's future in some doubt.
Sonic Temple (1989, 57.07) ***½/T
Edie (Ciao Baby)
Sweet Soul Sister
New York City
Wake Up Time for Freedom
Ceremony (1991, 63.20) ***/T
Wild Hearted Son
Heart of Soul
I saw The Cult once. They'd just released their 'rock' album, 1987's Electric and my brother and I thought it'd be a laugh to see just what exactly they were up to. We were right. The several thousand-capacity venue was full of goth kids, obviously expecting an evening of material from their first two Cult (as against Southern Death Cult or Death Cult) albums, Dreamtime and the highly successful Love, so much amusement was had as the band burst onto stage in full rock get-up. Er, it's AC/DC, isn't it? With Jim Morrison on vocals, assuming Jim Morrison had been British and had hair down to his arse? "Toonaaht, Matth-yew, I'm gonna be MISTAH MOJO RISIN'!! Didja see it? Didja see it?"*. The best bit was guitarist Billy Duffy's mid-'70s style solo spot, where he stumbled his way through as many rock clichés as possible, before lurching into the riff from Zeppelin's Bring It On Home (OK, so they didn't really write it, but you know what I mean), to ironic cheers and V-signs (this was before devil horns, of course) from ourselves and the other old rock contingent in the crowd and bemusement to everyone else. Thoroughly ridiculous - we laughed till it hurt.
Electric was actually something of a disappointment, with a weak-as-water production, sounding more like Bad Company than Led Zep, so their next effort, '89's Sonic Temple, had to be good. Maybe surprisingly, this is actually the first time I think I've ever heard the whole thing, and... despite its ludicrous, cliché-ridden lyrics - er, and music, for that matter - I kept finding myself grinning at its sheer audacity, pretending the squeaky-clean '80s never happened, or punk, for that matter. Oh, and the cover. Surely I should love this band? It's not that simple, unfortunately, but I can see them becoming something of a guilty pleasure in years to come. Opener Sun King is a joyous celebration of all things Rock, ditto Soul Asylum (that was a bit cheeky, wasn't it?), ditto, oh fuck it, this album ROCKS! Its Big Ballad, Edie (Ciao Baby), about one of Warhol's hangers-on, does everything that a rock Big Ballad should, while Ian Astbury (once referred to in the press in his early days as 'Dan', which has stuck somewhat around these parts) does his full-on pseudo-American accent and everything's right with the world. The band were actually ahead of the pack in their keyboard use, sticking largely to vintage 'boards, with Hammond and Rhodes cropping up, presumably from either bassist Jamie Stewart or John Webster, not to mention some Mellotron strings on American Horse and Soul Asylum, although neither is the most overt use you'll ever hear, nor the most definite. Is this actually Mellotron at all? Anyone?
Two years on, Ceremony's sleeve pic of a young Native American boy got the band into legal hot water, but musically, the song, er, remained pretty much the same. Saying that, although the album has the same number of tracks as its predecessor, and is only six minutes longer, almost every track drags, which would be a difficult rap to nail on Sonic Temple. Sounds like their Cocaine Album to me. OK, one of them. If the whole thing was trimmed down ten or fifteen mins, it would be a better record, although some of its predecessor's energy seems to've been lost, probably somewhere in the Midwest. Several slowies this time round, one of which, White, features a fairly subdued Mellotron string part from Tom Petty's keys man, Benmont Tench. Best bit of the album? Has to be the title of its third track, Earth Mofo. I mean, what?
So; two albums of ridiculous retro-rock in the era of sad-arse glam metal, making The Cult easily the lesser of two evils. Three 'Tron tracks in total, but none of 'em essential, so pick these up if you're in need of a laugh, with a side helping of Rock. Don't forget, V-signs, not devil horns. And get 'em the right way round.
* UK tribute act TV show 'Stars in Their Eyes' reference, for non-residents.
Aphorisms Insane (1981, 40.33) ***½/TT½After the Selfdisintegration in Time
Pursuing the in Time Disintegrating Reality
Cultural Noise were a turn-of-the-'80s synth trio from Austria, consisting of synthesists Gerhard Lisy and Karl Kronfeld, plus guitarist/synthesist/Mellotronist Walter Henisch (thanks, Wolfgang). Aphorisms Insane is a fairly typical electronic album, with the usual bleeping synths and sequencer work, with the only obvious polyphonic keyboards being a short burst of Hammond on side two and, of course, the Mellotron.
The album opens with some distant choir chords in After The Selfdisintegration In Time, gradually moving to the front of the mix before disappearing, while some similar string chords briefly appear a few minutes later before a full-on phased string part towards the end of the side. Flip the record to Pursuing The In Time Disintegrating Reality, and block choir chords greet you within moments, followed by a flute melody, then a huge string chord... OK, side two's where the 'Tron action is, ladies and gents, although it isn't the album's main keyboard instrument, by any means. More strings later in the piece, and that's your lot. Very pleasant, but a little inessential.
Aphorisms Insane has never been issued on CD, like so many similar works, and it seems you're unlikely to find a vinyl original for below a three-figure sum, in any currency. Is it worth it? Probably not, to be honest, unless you're a fanatical EM collector who's got to have everything. The Mellotron work is very nice, but when you're talking about those sort of sums... It's bound to appear on a small shiny disc at some point (he says, hopefully); hang on, and you'll eventually get it for 15 quid or so, probably with bonus tracks. One day.
Burton Cummings (1976, 36.02) **/T
Your Back Yard
Is it Really Right
Sugartime Flashback Joys
You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet
Woman Love (1980, 49.18) **/½
|Feels All Wrong
One and Only
Mile a Second
Had to Be You
Fine State of Affairs
Where Are You
Wakin' Up Today
Daddy's on the Road
I Do My Vocals on the Boat]
Burton Cummings was, of course, vocalist with Canadian stars The Guess Who for ten years, leaving for a solo career in 1975. His debut, Burton Cummings, is a typical mid-'70s soft-rock album, with few distinguishing features 30 years on (or probably at the time, to be honest). This is so Of Its Time it couldn't, er, be any more so; mid-paced, vaguely singer-songwritery stuff with lots of piano. A budget Van Morrison, if you will. Its only real saving grace is a hysterical, laid-back piano jazz version of former cohort Randy Bachman's (in)famous You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet, stutter intact, which almost (but not quite) adds a half star to its rating. Class. Mellotron from Cummings on two tracks, with an opening flute part and chorus strings (alongside a Solina) on Nothing Rhymed, a Gilbert O'Sullivan song, and slightly more upfront phased strings on Sugartime Flashback Joys, neither of which makes this album even remotely worth the purchase, even for the whole pound I paid for a copy, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet notwithstanding.
Four years and three albums on, 1980's Woman Love is every bit as tedious as its predecessor, Burton's ultra-mainstream compositional style amended with those new-fangled polyphonic synthesizer thingies that were popping up everywhere at the time. The title track, with its strange, slapback echo and vaguely ominous sound, is by far and away the most interesting thing here, which doesn't say much for the rest of the record. James Phillips (almost certainly Jimmy Phillips of fellow Canucks Small Wonder) plays Mellotron, with low-in-the-mix strings on Heavenly Blue, although it's slightly surprising to see anyone use one this late in the game at all.
The Guess Who might've rocked, but solo Cummings didn't. Dullsville.
Wish (1992, 66.20) ***/T
From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea
Doing the Unstuck
Friday I'm in Love
|Letter to Elise
To Wish Impossible Things
Wish was The Cure's tenth studio release, and is (at least to my ears) pretty much Business As Usual, being a mixture of dark, 'difficult' music (Open, End), general sadness (Trust, From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea) and incongruously lightweight jangly pop (the possibly sublimely Byrdsian Friday I'm In Love). Some reviewers have labelled it the 'last great Cure album' or somesuch, with one more perceptive voice noting that it's effectively a summation of their various styles to date, which seems pretty fair. Whether you'll personally like it or not almost entirely depends on whether or not you like The Cure and their rather gothy pop; can't say I'm blown away by it myself, but it does what it does perfectly well, which is more than you can say for an awful lot of records.
Trust has what sounds like Mellotron strings over a generic string patch and a pleasant piano part, but is ultimately slightly inconsequential, ditto the super-faint strings on Wendy Time (thanks, Chris). Since three band members are credited with keyboards, including mainman Robert Smith, it's impossible to tell who may've played what, anyway.
See: Samples etc.
Curly Curve (1973, 35.07) ***/THell & Booze
I'm Getting Better
All Things Clear
Dream of Today
Queen of Spades
Curly Curve had apparently already split and reformed three times by the time the lineup that recorded their sole, eponymous album came together. They're one of those bands who get labelled 'progressive', or, worse still, 'krautrock', when what is actually meant is 'bluesy hard rock with the occasional psych influence'. Despite a good review from UK music inky Sounds, Curly Curve wouldn't have excited much attention playing outside their own country, due to a combination of unoriginality and rather average material. You get the feeling they were probably a blast live, but listening to Curly Curve 35 years on in the comfort of my living room, they just sound like a thousand other wannabee hard rock bands, only these guys were lucky enough to actually get to make an album. Best tracks? Opener Hell & Booze does what it says on the tin, and Bitter Sweet's middle section and Dream Of Today aren't bad, but it's all a bit second-rate, really.
Keys man Chris Axel Klöber adds Mellotron to a couple of tracks, alongside the standard organ and piano, with a smattering of less-expected synth. There's a brief cello line in the quiet part of the otherwise boogie-friendly Bitter Sweet, as it switches gear into 'late-period psych' before lurching back to the boogie, and some more obvious strings on Patricia Reprise, repeating throughout the track, although that's your lot. This is actually available on CD, due to those excellent people at Repertoire, but do you actually need to own it? If you're a die-hard German '70s rock fan, then maybe, as there's definitely worse out there, but the rest of us probably don't need to bother, especially as the 'Tron work is pretty minor.
Air Conditioning (1970, 45.21) ****/TT
|It Happened Today
Hide and Seek
Second Album (1971, 42.10) ***½/TYoung Mother
Back Street Luv
Bright Summer's Day '68
Piece of Mind
Air Cut (1973, 39.08) ****/TTTThe Purple Speed Queen
Airborne (1976, 39.25) ***/T½Desiree
Kids to Blame
Touch of Tequila
Heaven (Never Seemed So Far Away)
Hot & Bothered
Curved Air (named after Terry Riley's avant-garde late-'60s piece A Rainbow in Curved Air) were formed around vocalist Sonja Kristina, fresh from the London production of famed hippy musical 'Hair', other key members being violinist Darryl Way and guitarist/keyboardist Francis Monkman. Their debut, Air Conditioning, starting an intermittent run of crap puns, is excellent, with the band displaying their classical and jazz chops with aplomb. It Happened Today is a dynamic opener, while Vivaldi is as you'd expect, with Way ripping into the maestro's work on electric violin. Monkman plays Mellotron on a couple of tracks; Screw features mucho chordal flute work, while Situations has a flute melody in the verse, then full-on strings over most of the rest of the song. Not the greatest 'Tron album ever, but highly recommended anyway.
Second Album, with its elaborate fold-out sleeve, features rather less obvious 'Tron, and isn't quite the equal of its predecessor musically, either, which isn't to say that it's a bad album by any means. Known for their only UK hit, Back Street Luv (a startling No.4 in August '71), most of the rest of the tracks seem low-key in comparison, with too many rather ordinary songs, such as Jumbo and You Know, although an exception should be made for the piece occupying most of side two, Piece Of Mind, which is nearly as all-out progressive as Curved Air ever got. As far as Monkman's Mellotron's concerned, the only obvious use is the strings on Puppets, although both Young Mother and Piece Of Mind have uncredited brass, which may or may not be real. Interesting to note, incidentally, that side one was written by the Darryl Way axis, and side two entirely by Monkman. Well, I thought so, anyway.
The band's excellent third album, Phantasmagoria (****), is sadly 'Tron-free, but after some lineup changes which saw Monkman and Way's departure, the reconstituted band recorded Air Cut, with a very young Eddie Jobson on violin and keys, later of Roxy Music, UK etc. Opening with The Purple Speed Queen, an attempt to rewrite Back Street Luv, the 'simultaneous guitar and keys' normality of the track hits you, after the oddly schizophrenic Monkman approach. Jobson's first Mellotron injection is also the album's, and possibly the band's finest moment, Metamorphosis, a lengthy track that seems to tie all the band's strengths together, with great songwriting, superb musicianship and, er, some Mellotron. A short flute section in the middle, actually, although it's less overt than the strings in the (unusually) instrumental Armin and similar in U.H.F.. The album has its clunkers (I'd skip World, if I were you), but overall, well worth the effort.
Curved Air lost their way rather badly at this point, recording a deeply substandard album that only appeared twenty years later as Lovechild (**½), before bringing Way back on board and releasing Live (***½) and Midnight Wire (***), before their swansong, Airborne, featuring a pre-Police Stewart Copeland, long hair and all (that's him to the top right of the sleeve). Copeland later married Sonja Kristina, though it wasn't to last. The album falls mainly into the rather unexciting category of 'mid-'70s rock', being neither heavy nor progressive enough to fall into either of those camps, although side two's Moonshine is the one real 'prog' track to be heard, and is actually up there with the best of the band's work. For some reason, they elected to use a Mellotron on the album, although it's completely uncredited. Broken Lady has a flute melody in the verses, while Moonshine features the flutes more extensively, although all the strings on the album are either string synth or Darryl Way's violin.
So; Air Cut's the nearest any Curved Air record gets to being a Mellotron Album, but I'd recommend any of their first four for the music. Airborne isn't too exciting, but with one excellent track, is probably worth it for the committed prog fan. Give Lovechild a wide berth, though.
Planet Voyage (1982, 46.27) **/T
Although I've never previously heard of them, it appears Cusco's career lasted over twenty years and a couple of dozen albums, chiefly in the obscure 'Andean new age' style. You know, there's a reason it's obscure... Their third (or fourth) album, Planet Voyage, possibly originally only released in Japan, is a cheesy new age/synth effort, a very long way from the darker EM of The Tangs or Klaus, sadly. Although its recording (just) predates digital synthesis, many of the sounds used by the ensemble would go on to become '80s staples, which is no recommendation at all. Any better tracks? The overblown ones reduce the cheese factor slightly, so Andromeda and Venus are passable, while the slightly darker Mars is actually not bad, if you (can) ignore the electronic drums.
Guenter-Erik Thoener plays Mellotron, with background choirs on Venus and more upfront ones on Mars; with a real choir also credited, it's hard to know what we're actually hearing, although the choir on closer Pegasus is definitely genuine. Frankly, you're far better off going nowhere near this pile of musical dreck, anyway. Absolute drivel.
When the Night is Through (1998, 50.18) ***/½
She Can't Let Go
Sweet Promise of Love
Tired and Thirty
Miss You #3
Tonight's the Night
Highway 59 (Let it Rain)
|Sad, Sad World
Rollin' and Tumblin'
Two Hard Roads
Goodnight Dark Angel
I'm sure she's sick of hearing it, but if I hadn't known that Mary Cutrufello's When the Night is Through was by a female artist, I'd have assumed it was a bloke. Sorry, but her gruff, Texan vocals sound like the end result of 40-a-day for decades, or maybe she just sings like that? Anyway, her Petty/Springsteenesque style and ripping Telecaster work put her as far away from your typical girly singer-songwriter as you can get, thankfully; there are plenty of decent singers doing that stuff, but we really don't need another one. The album is a long way from 'original', but decent songwriting goes a long way, and Cutrufello's no slouch (listen to Two Hard Roads).
Rami Jaffee plays a background Chamberlin string part on the vaguely Dylan-esque Highway 59 (Let It Rain), although that's it on the tape-replay front. So; a reasonable roots-rock album with next to no Chamby. Your choice, I believe.
|7" (1971) **½/T
Louise (My Little Ship)
Italians Cyan were actually based around a bunch of British ex-pats, including vocalist George Sims and drummer Gordon Fagetter, recording one eponymous LP in '72 (reissued soon after, with extra tracks, as Going Down Mexico) and a clutch of singles. I haven't heard much of their small catalogue, but '71's Misaluba is an odd, vocal-chant-and-Latin-percussion type of number, unsurprisingly unknown outside the band's adopted homeland.
It's the flip, Louise (My Little Ship), that interests us here, however, if not actually for its musical content. A rather dreary, McCartney-esque ballad, it features a brief Mellotron string part towards the end, with what I presume is a Mellotron flute solo on the slightly more upbeat fade. Worth buying? Not even really worth hearing, frankly. I'll try to hear some more of their oeuvre, on the offchance there's any more Mellotron work. [p.s. Thanks for this one, Mauro Degrassi]
Colossus (1979, 41.20) ***½/T½Colossus
Raga in Asia Minor
Cybotron were Australia's answer to Tangerine Dream, although they varied the style with a full-time drummer, while one of the two synthesists played 'processed saxophone', too. The material's actually pretty good, although I couldn't see them making much of a mark in Europe. While not being Mellotron owners, they used one on their second album, Colossus, played by chief synthesist Geoff Green, with some choir chords on Medusa, and a flute melody on the lengthy tabla-heavy Raga In Asia Minor.
So; not a bad album, though only fairly committed EM fans should make the effort, to be honest. Not really worth it on the Mellotron front, but an interesting listen nonetheless. Amusing sleeve, too, with several pics of the band setting up their full rig (sans Mellotron) in front of an industrial complex, with their name written on the ground in several-feet high letters with what looks like LPs.
Incidentally, while researching Cybotron's background on the 'Net, I discovered something that made me chuckle. It seems that the name was subsequently used by an American techno pioneer, and a couple of sites have got the two acts confused. How I'd love to see the face of the techno-head who orders Colossus, thinking he's found a previously-unknown recording from the early days of the dance movement. Who knows? He might even like it!
Czar (1970, 40.13/47.51) ***½/TTTT½
|Tread Softly on My Dreams
Dawning of a New Day
Beyond the Moon
A Day in September
Oh Lord I'm Getting Heavy
Why Don't We Be a Rock'n'Roll Band]
Revered by many as an early 'Mellotron classic', Czar's only LP is another one of those heavyish late-period psych/early prog efforts, only with rather less finesse than many of its contemporaries. Tread Softly On My Dreams isn't a bad track, but should've been at least two minutes shorter, and the same could be said for most of the rest of the album, really. On the positive side, there's loads of Mellotron to be heard, mostly Mark II strings and brass, along with the ubiquitous Hammond. In fact, almost all the relevant tracks listed above are loaded with 'Tron, so if that's your chief criteria, you really can't go too far wrong.
The CD reissue adds two tracks from a single, but they're not really worth the effort, if truth be told; formative blues-rock, bereft of any Mellotron involvement. I'm fairly neutral about this one, as I don't rate the music that highly, preferring Fantasy, Cressida or several other early prog outfits over Czar, but I know Martin Smith from Streetly Electronics (Mellotron UK HQ) loves this album to bits. Don't you, Martin! Martin?