Campo di Marte
Midnight Daydream (1999, 63.17) ***½/TT½
Born to Lose
I Want to Be Late
Forever Rebel Girls
Just Like a Spaceman
|So, Aliens Have Been Here
A Thousand Moons
Raining the Blues
Day After Yesterday
Falling Up a Mountain
She's So Gone
There's not a lot of information about Bruce Cameron on the 'Net, even on his own site, other than that he was born in late 1955 and had been 'honing his songwriting craft and guitar style in his private studio for many years'. Midnight Daydream was not only his debut album, but also his last, as he sadly took his own life soon after its release. Basically, he was an excellent Hendrix-style guitarist/songwriter, who somehow or other managed to pull together a stellar cast to play on his album, including Jack Bruce (Cream), Mitch Mitchell, Buddy Miles and Billy Cox (Hendrix), Michael 'no relation' Bruce and Neal Smith (Alice Cooper) and Ken Hensley (Uriah Heep). I suspect the album was a project he'd been itching to pull off for years, making it all the more tragic that he killed himself before he could even gauge the public's response.
The material is decent, without being classic, though I suspect the better songs will improve with repeated playing; there's a little inconsistency across the album, with no two tracks featuring the same lineup, not to mention five different vocalists, but it's held together by Cameron's playing and songwriting. It's hard to say how well he could've done, given time, but I'm sure he'd have found his niche after a couple of releases. Anyway, as far as the Mellotron's concerned, Cameron played it himself on four tracks and it's quite obviously real, going by the crankiness of his playing. It's strangely inaudible on the drumless So, Aliens Have Been Here, but there are upfront string parts on Mind Gardens, Just Like A Spaceman, along with Ken Hensley's Hammond and the sitar-led Day After Yesterday, with some excellent tape-speed effects on the latter.
Don't let the CD booklet's relentless cheapness put you off buying Midnight Daydream (those photos... that layout...), as it's actually pretty good; I'm sure Cameron would've developed into one of those cult guitarists who bombard us with their instrumental prowess, but better. With three decent 'Tron tracks, it's almost worth it for that alone; it's certainly worth picking up if you see it cheap. Oh, and DON'T visit his old website address, 'brucecameronmusic.com'; sadly it now hosts a hardcore porn site with a download dialer at three bucks a minute. Run away fast.
New official site (same as Brain Cell)
Meanwhile (1991, 66.34) **/T
|Seize Your Day
Heaven (I Want You)
Where the Happy Live
Who the Hell is David Butler?
German trio Camouflage's Meanwhile, from 1991, is a rather overlong and irritating indie/electronica album with hints of a decade earlier's synthpop, notably on Heaven (I Want You). Several tracks begin well (Accordion, Spellbound) but spoil it when the vocals start, or the rest of the band enter; maybe if the album was half its eventual length and they'd mixed the vocals out? Maybe.
Mellotron (the song) doesn't appear to be about Mellotrons, unsurprisingly, although it does contain a fair dollop of 'Tron choirs (from Heiko Maile), although they don't sound particularly gritty. Early 'user's own' Mellotron samples? Hard to say, but they crop up on Mother and possibly Spellbound, too. A dull album anyway, so if I were you, I wouldn't even make the effort to find out. Incidentally, there's a much later Camouflage 'Mellotron' album, 2006's Relocated (reviewed here), but they're almost certainly samples.
Taking the Wheel (1997, 56.53) **/½
Gentle Souls and Tender Hearted Fools
It Will Always Be You
I Honestly Love You
Old Devil Moon
The Nearness of You/Not a Day Goes By
I Got Rhythm
Never Really Mine to Lose
Bridge Over Troubled Water
Taking the Wheel
Just Where They Should Be
It Will Always Be You (Acoustic Version)
Given that David Campbell is the lovechild of Aussie blue-collar star Jimmy Barnes, his chosen milieu is slightly surprising: swing. Well, swing, showtunes, 'adult pop', you name it; if it's smooth, Campbell will give it a stab, it seems. 1997's Taking the Wheel features his interpretations of standards, mostly from the swing era, with a few newer numbers chucked in for good measure, not least a particularly slushy version of Bridge Over Troubled Water. Y'know, I absolutely cannot fault Campbell's voice on a technical level; it sounds about as little like his dad's whisky-soaked rasp as you can imagine, but he's probably reaping the benefits of a non-rock'n'roll lifestyle there. Maybe Barnes could've sung standards if he hadn't started smoking at three months. Paints an amusing picture, doesn't it?
Mike Gubb plays Mellotron, amongst other keys, with a restrained flute part on It Will Always Be You, although that appears to be it. Frankly, listening to this has been a bit of a chore; sometimes it's nice to kick back a bit, but Sinatra-style balladry is not my musical relaxation aid of choice... Next to no 'Tron, either. Maybe not.
Drawn to Dust (2008, 40.41) ***½/T½
The Sweetest Tooth
Beauty in Ruins
Camphor are essentially Max Avery Lichtenstein (Hopewell, Timesbold)'s solo project, releasing an EP, Silver & Gold, in 2001, taking another seven years to get round to an album. Drawn to Dust is, as you might expect from its title, slow and quiet without being laid-back in any meaningful way, although it does branch out here and there, with the more aggressive The Sweetest Tooth and Castaway and the country of Confidences Shattered, top tracks including opener Daybreak, Bones and Sundown.
Lichtenstein plays Mellotron on several tracks, with distant strings on Button Up, Tired Light and Beauty In Ruins and flutes on Bones, although given his connections with the sample-using Mercury Rev crew, there's an odds-on chance it's fake. Overall, however, quietly beautiful and beautifully quiet. Just not much Mellotron.
Campo di Marte (1973, 40.36) ****/TTPrimo Tempo
Another of the many Italian progressive one-offs, Campo di Marte had a heavier sound than some, though not as full-on as, say, the magnificent Museo Rosenbach. With bugger-all Italian, I can't work out whether or not Campo di Marte has a specific concept, although the tracks are (I believe) titled 'First Time' through to 'Seventh Time', and the poem on the back cover has the band's name as its first line, along with lines reading something like 'The indifference, the stupidity, the imbecility', along with a line about agnosticism. So... any Italian speakers out there like to enlighten me?
The music is pretty varied, ranging from quite dissonant, especially the end of Primo Tempo, contrasting sharply with the dreamlike acoustic intro to Secondo Tempo. Two band members are credited with flute, one of them being one of two credited drummers, but I've no idea if they ever used two kits at once. The keyboard player doubles on 'horns', leaving guitarist Enrico Rosa to double on Mellotron. Confused? Anyway, a couple of passages I originally took to be Mellotron flutes I can now hear are real flute duets, but there's a reasonable helping of 'Tron strings on tracks three and five, both well-played, quite evocative parts.
I'm not sure if two tracks make the album a 'Tron essential or not; I'll leave that up to you. Campo di Marte's a damn' good album, whatever, worthy of your attention.
Ciclos (1974, 73.31) ****½/TTTT½Paraiso Remoto
El Eslabon Recobrado
Ciclos appears to be the fourth and last album by Spanish quartet Canarios (no 'Los', thank you), and the only one to count as 'progressive'. It's a double-LP adaptation of Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons', and is widely regarded (amongst those who've heard it, of course) as the best classical adaptation ever, knocking ELP, Tomita et al. into the proverbial cocked hat. The band's interpretation is fairly loose, with their own compositional work scattered throughout, and vocal sections at which Vivaldi would probably have raised a quizzical eyebrow, as indeed he would have at the instrumentation; the standard guitar/keys/bass/drums, with the usual multi-keyboard setup, played most capably by Teddy Bautista. Of course, by tackling a classical piece, the band were at an immediate compositional advantage over their contemporaries, though this isn't to demean them in the slightest; their arrangement skills were exemplary, particularly in the synth department (multi-overdubbed monos, of course), seamlessly merging Vivaldi's work with their own.
I don't know the original work as well as I might, but every now and again a familiar theme rears its head amongst what may or may not be the band's own compositions. There's a sense of humour at work here, too; the closing moments of Ciudad Futura switch from one of those themes to a classic blues ending, which slides into a quick doo-wop section. Bautista's Mellotron work shines throughout the album; while not using it to overkill, he inserts it in all the right places (so to speak), with strings to the fore, while also utilising choirs and flutes, along with a real choir, particularly on Abismo Proximo. Fantastic.
Ciclos really is quite superb; I hope to be able to find the time at some stage to get to know the album really well (yeah, OK, that and about 300 others, too...). There's some quite exceptional Spanish prog out there; this is at the forefront. Buy immediately.
Tiger Flies (2001, 48.51) ***/TT
Talk About Troubles
Light Through Stones
|Head to Toe in White
The Wreck of The Breeze
This is the Way
The Last Days of the War
Nuada (2002, 36.43) ***½/T
|Barrel of Fear
Song of the Oss
Circle of Ash
|Rain on the Roof
Under the Skylon (2004, 41.38) **½/T
|May 4th 1951
Moving an Oil Rig
Nothing Between Us But Sky
|A Lifetime From Now
Another One Down
You Are Loved
Lay Me on the Line
I assumed Candidate were going to be yet another British weak-as-water indie-schmindie outfit, so it's come as a most pleasant surprise to discover that they fall into no known category (hoorah!), although influences clearly include UK folk-rock, the Velvets (again) and that catch-all category, film soundtracks (see below).
2001's Tiger Flies is their second album and while my attention wandered in places, their brave mix'n'match approach to instrumentation enhances several otherwise fairly ordinary songs. All three members are credited with Mellotron, with strings on Hawaiian Police, female choir on Cactus Jack, along with what I take to be Mellotron mandolins and guitar and flutes on Hangman's Waltz. The only definite credit is for 'Mellotron choir' from vocalist Joel Morris, with both guitarist Alex Morris and bassist Ian Painter getting simply 'Mellotron'. Given that the non-choir sounds on Cactus Jack are presumably from a MkII, are we actually hearing a real 'Tron here? Well, chaps?
Subtitled 'Music inspired by the film The Wicker Man', the following year's Nuada shows a folkier Candidate than on its predecessor, unsurprisingly, with much of the writing being done in and around the film's locations. The material appears to be better than on Tiger Flies, but that could simply be because I prefer the album's sound and at only 36 minutes, it doesn't get a chance to outstay its welcome. The legendary Bert Jansch guests, too, on Burrowhead, which is a bit of a coup for the band. Although both Painter and Morris (A.) are credited with 'Tron (just flutes in the latter's case), I can only hear said flute part in Tomorrow's Tomorrow, so I've no idea where Painter gets his bit in.
2004's Under the Skylon is named for the impressive structure built on the south bank of the Thames for 1951's Festival of Britain, demolished soon after, allegedly by Winston Churchill's just-elected Conservative government as a snub to the outgoing Labour administration. Wouldn't surprise me a bit. The album's a bit muted, to be honest, veering gently between post-Britpop, powerpop and the band's usual mid-'60s aesthetic, none of it to any great effect, sadly. Just Painter on Mellotron this time, with strings on Another One Down; there may be one or two other sightings, notably the exceedingly distant strings on A Lifetime From Now, but I wouldn't put money on it, frankly.
So; two unusual albums and one less unusual one, with Nuada in particular being worth hearing. Very listenable Mellotron stuff on all albums; just a shame there isn't more of it. Pick 'em up if you see 'em cheap, like I did.
Candlewick Green (1977) *½/TTT
|Don't Take Away the Music
You Make Me Feel Brand New/
I Can't Give You Anything/
Star on a T.V. Show
Love is Blue
|Killing Me Softly
She Loves You/Yesterday/From Me to You/Please Please Me
Who Do You Think You Are
Goodbye to Love
Good Lord, it's 1977, punk has taken the nation by the scruff of the neck and given it a fucking good kicking and Candlewick Green are still dressing like the Rubettes. Actually, they typify a largely (who said deservedly?) forgotten seam of British light entertainment, which included Bruce Forsyth, It Ain't Half Hot Mum and the completely indefensible Black & White Minstrel Show. I mean, can you believe that a) the BBC still broadcast that stuff in the '70s, and b) people watched it? Shocking. In fairness, I can't hold that against the Candlewick boys, but I can blame them for their peculiar brand of low-budget weak-as-water covers of contemporary hits, so I shall. Candlewick Green is really quite disgraceful, bringing grubby workingmen's clubs and racist 'comedians' to mind, although, in fairness, I'm sure they were only trying to make a living like the rest of us. OK, not like the rest of us, because we wouldn't have gone out and played shite versions of already shite songs like You Make Me Feel Brand New and Feelings to bored parents and screaming kids in crummy regional venues called things like the Steel-Grunters and Taplockers Club or suchlike.
Amusingly, the hapless Dudley Jones plays his Mellotron on most tracks, desperately trying to fill in for the absent orchestra, accidentally creating one of the weirdest 'Tron-stuffed albums I've ever heard in the process and that includes the Small Wonder album. You name it, he plays it: fast runs on several tracks, notably Who Do You Think You Are, a front-of-the-mix part on the dreadful Feelings, and overdubbed strings and cellos on Yesterday, in a vain attempt to recreate the original. At least he doesn't contribute to the awful backing vocals, buttock-clenchingly out of tune on the unlisted She Loves You at the beginning of their Beatles medley on side two. Maybe that's why it's unlisted. It should be unheard.
But you know what? I've got a sneaking sort of respect for Candlewick Green, in a perverse kind of way. They ploughed their own furrow, ignoring current trends (those clothes were well on the way out in '77), even releasing this album on (their own?) independent, Storm Records (based in Blackpool! Yes!), in true punk style. Maybe. Shockingly, although discographical information is unsurprisingly hard to come by, I've discovered that they released at least two other albums, What Kind of Songs in '74 (seemingly on Decca!) and Making it in 1980. 1980? Do you think they still had the same suits? Let's hope so. Anyway, I suspect this is the only time I've given this particular combination of stars and Ts; I actually toyed with an extra half T, but came to my senses just in time. Of course, should I happen to find anything else by this lot, I may just have to buy it, just on the offchance there's as much Mellotron as here... Or maybe not.
Hang on Mike (2010, 41.38) ***/½
|What to Do With Michael
Nice to Know You
Kiss Alive II
Hang on Mike
Not So Bad at All
|Let's Have a Baby
The Candy Butchers (originally Mike Viola & The Candy Butchers; Viola's also involved with L.E.O.) have a revolving-door musician policy, drummer Todd Foulsham being the nearest they get to a second consistent member. Said drummist's return to the fold was marked by the release of 2004's Hang on Mike, an album with something of a Ben Folds (or is it Billy Joel?) thing going on, although I suspect they'd prefer comparisons to Steely Dan. The material's perfectly good within its genre, with witty, observational lyrics throughout ("I gave you Benny And The Jets, you gave me Kiss Alive II"), although anyone with an aversion to mainstream, piano-driven American pop/rock should probably steer well clear.
Viola plays Chamberlin, with strings on the title track alongside real ones, although all other string parts are either real or synthesized. There's even a liner note saying, "Chamberlin & Rocksichord recorded in LA by David Boucher", in case there was any doubt as to its veracity. Those of a more 'rock' disposition are unlikely to get much from this album, but it's good at what it does, albeit with very little Chamby.
Official Mike Viola site
The Candymen Bring You Candy Power (1968, 27.22) ***/T
Blues at Midnight
The Memphis Blues Again
I've Lost My Mind
I'll Never Forget
Alabamans The Candymen apparently began as a mid-'60s rock'n'roll outfit, The Webs, shifting across to a poppier sound after backing Roy Orbison for a while. 1968's The Candymen Bring You Candy Power was their second and last release, veering wildly between styles from faux-Beach Boys opener Ways through the, er, blues of Blues At Midnight, several psych-lite efforts, several more pre-psych things that sound like Orbison outtakes and a Dylan cover, The Memphis Blues Again, played in the style, of, er, Dylan.
Keys man Dean Daughtry plays what has to be Chamberlin on closer I'll Never Forget, with a strident string part, clearly in 'real string section replacement' mode. ...Candy Power is too disparate to find its way onto many (any?) people's 'best of '68' lists, although it has its moments, not least one track of nicely upfront tape-replay.
Balene (2002, 46.48) ***½/TTTT
Ulisse part 2
Ulisse pt 3
Kalevala (2003, 5.46) ***½/TT[Cantina Sociale contribute]
Cantina Sociale's sole album to date, Balene, is an interesting mix of contemporary and 'classic' prog, with some modern influences from completely outside the genre. There's the odd sampled beat here and there and some current synth sounds, although used in a good way on the whole. Apparently, it's a concept album, but my Italian's no better than it ever was, so unless someone out there would like to enlighten me... I admit it may well grow on me with repeated plays (like, when I retire...), but I don't currently feel I can give it a higher star rating, although it's far more inventive than most current Italian acts.
Good old Beppe Crovella turns up on the Mellotron, which accounts for its 'real' sound. Because it's real (see: Arti e Mestieri, Romantic Warriors). It's used quite unconventionally in places, which makes a refreshing change; the flutes on Macina are far higher in the mix than they have any right to be, and some of the 'choppy' choir work is way off the map for 'standard' 'Tron use. Good! All round, quite excellent on the 'Tron front, and while I'm unconvinced by the strings at the beginning of Una Vela, I'm willing to be proved wrong.
So; if you want to hear an off-the-beaten-track modern progressive album, Balene may be just what you're after. The 'Tron work is most fine, too, so cautiously recommended. Incidentally, Cantina Sociale also turn up on Musea's massive Kalevala project, with a pretty decent track, Kantele, replete with clicky 'Tron flute intro and strings.
See: Beppe Crovella | Arti e Mestieri | Romantic Warriors | Secret Cinema | Tower | Colossus Project
Humming By the Flowered Vine (2005, 39.32) ***/T
What You Said
Khaki & Corduroy
Poor Ellen Smith
Laura Cantrell is a Nashville-based singer who avoids all the terrible country clichés that we know and hate, making music more akin to American folk with a country edge, which is more palatable than the Nashville orthodoxy by a factor of infinite to one. Saying that, those of you totally allergic to anything even remotely country aren't going to like her third album, 2005's Humming By the Flowered Vine, although once upon a time, folks, that was me... Best tracks? Probably Letters and slightly rockier six-minute closer Old Downtown, although more upbeat efforts like California Rose and the honky-tonk Wishful Thinking help to knock the album's rating down a notch. Just say no, Laura.
A little Mellotron from Rob Burger, with a nice string part on Letters, but, as with so many albums, nothing you can't do without. Humming By the Flowered Vine is the kind of album to hear if you want to find out where the good country artists are hanging out, but avoid if a Southern twang and/or an occasional pedal steel make you heave.
There's a Forest in the Fire (2005, 60.26) ***/½
How to Make a Song Machine
Like Water From My Eyes
Without a Sound
Honey & Gold
Dead or Dreaming
You can add Canyon Country to the pantheon of 'low-key, low-fi' outfits, although they're more a solo project than a real, flesh'n'blood band, it seems. On 2005's There's a Forest in the Fire, Nick Huntington's vision takes him through post-rock territory and out the other side to a kind of parched, sparse, Americana-influenced music, light on conventional melody and structure and heavy on atmosphere.
Huntington plays Mellotron, with gentle choirs on opener Rusted and closer Battle Axe, although whether or not it's real can only be a matter for conjecture... This is an album to get shoegaze fans salivating, though I can't guarantee it'll do much for the rest of you. Like several I've heard recently, a few tracks are great, but a whole album (let alone an hour-long one) can really drag.
Voice (1974, 38.48) ***½/TI am and So Are You
Sad am I
Keep Death Off the Road (Drive on the Pavement)
Circumstances (in Love, Past, Present, Future Meet)
Capability Brown (named after the famous 18th-century British landscape designer, of course) only released two albums, 1972's apparently extremely average From Scratch, and Voice, two years later. There's also a compilation, Liar, released after the band's demise which sometimes tends to confuse the issue. Side one of Voice consists of four competent but average typical mid-'70s songs, whose main standout feature is the six-piece band's excellent harmony vocal work (all members sang), with track four being named after a particularly irritating joke t-shirt design of the day, although it features the best instrumental interplay so far.
Side two's Circumstances is where the album suddenly comes alive, with a largely successful attempt to fuse their folk and harmony influences with progressive rock, creating an unusual fusion that stills sounds quite startling even now. Moving through several different (unnamed) parts, the piece is a quite breathtakingly adventurous move by a band not previously known for their invention. Dave Nevin's Mellotron work is a little on the sparse side, but a couple of bursts of highly symphonic strings boost the album's appeal, although I doubt if he plays it for more than a minute in total.
So; decidedly worth a listen. I believe Circumstances is also on the Liar compilation, but it's probably easier to find Voice anyway. Incidentally, the entire band provided backing for Risa Potters' 1972 opus, Take Me Away, including Mellotron on a couple of tracks.
See: Risa Potters
Short Cut Draw Blood (1975, 44.06) ***/TGoodbye Love
It's All Up to You
Johnny Too Bad
Short Cut Draw Blood
Living on a Marble
Boy With a Problem
Keep on Trying
Traffic's singing drummer, Jim Capaldi, released his first solo album, Oh How We Danced, in 1972, following it with '74's appallingly-punning Whale Meat Again and the following year's Short Cut Draw Blood. Much like Traffic's later work, these are albums that haven't aged particularly well, finding themselves stuck in the mid-1970s, and not in a good way. Soulful, bluesy rock, anyone? It's perfectly good at what it does, in case you think I'm being unfair, but aside from the funky hard rock of the title track and the insightful Boy With A Problem, it all falls a bit flat, three decades later. Capaldi didn't help himself by tackling so many different styles on the record, and while there's nothing wrong with variety, his jaunty take on the Everlys' Love Hurts (a hit at the time) is still horrible, beaten to a pulp by Nazareth's vastly superior version.
Capaldi's Traffic bandmate, Steve Winwood, played Mellotron on the album's final cut, Seagull, a rather average ballad. His inconsequential string part sounds a lot like regular strings, except where he plays intervals rather than single notes, and doesn't especially enhance either the track or the album. All in all, then, a rather ordinary record, now apparently very hard to find on CD, should you wish to do so. Sadly, Capaldi died in 2005 at the age of 60, just before a major Traffic reformation, now most unlikely to ever happen.
Capitaine Nô (1975, 31.29) **½/TYa Rien Drôle
Merci Mon Public
Personne Ne M'aime
Le Musicien Heavy Raté
La Chanson du Brayard
Capitaine Nô was (and is) an eccentric French-Canadian musician/humorist, although, of course, most of his humour's lost on the non-French speaker. Saying that, some of the humour on his debut album, 1975's Capitaine Nô, still manages to cross the language barrier; Merci Mon Public? You sarcastic sod... The music's actually a mix of acoustic, busking-type stuff (with or without full band arrangements) and mainstream mid-'70s blues/rock, which isn't, frankly, the most exciting combination ever, but probably made sense at the time. Best track? Closing blues ballad La Chanson Du Brayard, although it wouldn't rate a mention on a better album.
Christian Simard (from the fab Morse Code) plays Mellotron, with a brief string part on Merci Mon Public and a far more major one on La Chanson Du Brayard, making this rather inessential for either music or Mellotron. There's another possible Capitaine Nô 'Tron album, the following year's Difficile, but information on the good Capitaine is hard to come by in English, so it remains unconfirmed at the time of writing.