William D Drake
Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger/Trinity
Melancholy World EP (2002, 9.32) ****/TT½Melancholy World
Freedom and Love
William D Drake (Bill to his friends) is one of Cardiacs' more celebrated and prolific ex-members, having been involved in several different projects since he left the band in the early '90s. Strangely, I only recently discovered that his first solo release was 2002's Melancholy World EP, sounding like, well, like Bill Drake, really, with an almost pre-war feel to some of the melodies, Bill's sonorous baritone sounding little like anyone else (in a good way, Bill). The title track's probably the best track here, as you'd expect of an EP, but all three are worth hearing for anyone with even a passing interest in Cardiacs and its offshoots.
Part of the reason it's strange it's taken me so long to learn of this release's existence is that I believe that's my Mellotron providing the major flute, string and choir parts on the title track and the strings on the brief Freedom And Love. Bill asked me if I might be able to bring it down to his place in South London back in 2000 or 2001, which I duly did, although it managed to break down in his front room, leading to a frantic out-of-hours call to Mellotron HQ. Having got it working, Bill recorded some parts using all three sounds on my main tape frame, before several of us went out for a meal in a Polish ex-servicemen's club. As you do. That was the last I heard of it until recently, having assumed he'd never used them. Well, here they are and very nice they sound, too. Cardiacs fan? Buy this.
See: Samples | Cardiacs | Nervous
Drama (1972, 41.34/59.48) ***/½
|Dreamed I Was the President
I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man
Smile or Yell
Tell the World I'm Coming
Brains or Not
Give Up and Go
Hard To Believe
Daddy Won't Let Me
Drama were a Dutch vaguely progressive one-off, whose eponymous 1972 album isn't quite sure what it wants to be when it grows up, mixing straightforward rock (opener Dreamed I Was The President), dodgy blues (I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man) and pleasant, if rather unadventurous prog (No Doctor, Melodrama, Brains Or Not) into an amorphous stew of average early '70s rock. That makes it sound worse than it is; their lack of focus (or desire not to be pigeonholed) makes for an overly-eclectic record, in a mainstream-ish kind of way, if that makes any sense. Dreamed I Was The President is probably the best thing here, Hoochie Coochie Man the worst, until you get onto the CD's bonus tracks, where you'll find the horrible glam-pop of Mary's Mamma, also hated by the band.
Keys man Ulli Grün adds Mellotron cellos and strings to Melodrama, making one of the better tracks on a very ordinary album slightly better. This is available on CD, but you'd have to be a pretty dedicated fan of Euro nearly-prog to want to shell out good money to hear a couple of passable tracks; barely scrapes three stars.
One Two Three Four (2005, 43.31) ***/T
Big Blue Sky
The Broken Muzzle
Seven Black Crows
The Sleeping Giant
One Two Three Four
Linda Draper's fourth album, One Two Three Four (is that an implied Ramones tribute from a fellow New Yorker?), is probably best described as folk, or maybe singer-songwriter, although it seems to lack a certain something that we've come to expect from those areas of music. The songs may be better than they first seem, but giving this the several plays it may need to appreciate it properly is, sadly, beyond the scope of this very busy webmaster. Any single track taken at random sounds reasonably good, but taken as a whole, the album quickly palls, I'm afraid to say.
Nobody seems to be credited, but given that the legendary Kramer (a previous Mellotron user) produces, it seems likely that it's him playing what appear to be polyphonic 'Tron flutes on The Broken Muzzle, although the choirs in Lifeboat sound either real or sample-generated. Overall, a passable album, but despite its sensible length, Draper's voice grows monotonous after a while and the bulk of her songwriting isn't really up to par. Heard worse, but definitely heard better.
Falling Into Infinity (1997, 78.20) ***/T½
You Not Me
Burning My Soul
Lines in the Sand
Take Away My Pain
|Just Let Me Breathe
Trial of Tears
Deep in Heaven
The Making of Falling Into Infinity (1997, 77.04) ***/T
Piano, Acoustic Guitar, Stick and 7-string
You Not Me
Strings, Piano, Vocals and Key Overdubs
Rhodes, Mellotron, Acoustic Guitar and
Acoustic, Edge and Classical Guitar and
Burning My Soul
Guitar, Key, Vocals, Talk Box and Whisper Overdubs
Writing the Finale
|Lines in the Sand
Intro, Key, Piano and String Overdubs
Bass, Guitar, Synth and Vocal Overdubs
Doug Pinnick Vocals
Take Away My Pain
Space Guitar, Hawaiian Keys, Heavy Keys and Vocal Overdubs
Just Let Me Breathe
Feedback and Rhythm Guitars, Lead Guitar and Keys, Vocal Overdubs
Derek Noodling At The Piano
Mellotron, Acoustic and Leslie Guitars, Slide Guitar Overdubs
Trial of Tears
Lead Guitar, Bass, Acoustic Guitar and Piano Overdubs
The End (?)
Dream Theater burst on to the scene at the end of the '80s, inventing modern 'progressive metal' in the process; many bands had mixed the two genres in the past, but DT discovered a particular combination of influences that caught the ears of large numbers of fans from both camps. Somewhere between Yes, Rush, Metallica and anything involving Steve Vai, they sounded, at least for a while, fresh, exciting and contemporary. Their debut, When Dream and Day Unite (***) was rather formless, but they followed up with one of their best albums, Images and Words (****), containing several concert favourites.
Falling Into Infinity, their fourth full studio album, was seen by many to be their attempt to 'go mainstream', although there seems to be little audible evidence to back this up. It was their second keyboard player Derek Sherinian's only full album with the band, and he surprised quite a few people by his fairly retro approach to his sound; loads of Hammond, some analogue-type synth sounds, and Mellotron on a couple of tracks. The music is typical Dream Theater, though; too much double-kick drumming, too much pseudo-Metallica riffing and too many pseudo-Vai solos. Peruvian Skies features a little Mellotron strings, but nothing you couldn't live without, to be honest, while Anna Lee is a bit of a piano ballad if truth be told; this is probably one of the tracks that's given the album its strange 'commercial' reputation. More strings on the track, but it's still a bit inessential, I'm afraid.
The band have gained a reputation for multiple 'fan club' releases, although I believe they're available to anyone who orders them from their website. Alongside rather pointless and doubtless metallified live recreations of famous albums (Dark Side of the Moon, Made in Japan, The Number of the Beast etc.) are a slew of demos, 'making ofs' and the like, including The Making of Falling Into Infinity, made available to fan club members at the end of that year. The full-length disc sounds like snapshots of mixing and overdub sessions, with individual tracks dropping in and out of brief snippets of the album's thirteen songs. No, it isn't a 'regular listen', but yes, it is a fascinating document of the album's genesis for über-fans, highlighting otherwise hard-to-hear highlights like King's X's incomparable Doug Pinnick's guest vocals on Lines In The Sand or, of course, Sherinian's Mellotron work. You can now quite clearly hear string and flute parts in preparation for Peruvian Skies, sounding very real indeed, and a briefer strings part on Anna Lee, which at the very least seem to verify that they used a real machine.
I did have their Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence here, too, but I'm assured that it's all samples, ditto Train of Thought. So, buy? Only if you like the noise they make anyway; OK album, but not a classic, Mellotron or otherwise.
See: Samples | Transatlantic
On Flight to the Light (1980, 38.09) **½/½Ways of Love
Beneath Silence and Storm
b) Between Trees and Oiseaux
c) Un Rêve Se Réalisé
d) Endless Tenderness
Dreamworld were the duo of Klaus and Rolf Fichter, who released the seminal Meditation Mass as Yatha Sidra in 1972. Unfortunately, 1980's On Flight to the Light is rather less seminal, being a rather undistinguished mélange of EM, prog and soft rock, with the latter taking the lion's share of the album's needle-time. It has its moments, not least the piano section in Beneath Silence And Storm, but the bulk of the side-long Dreamworld's Symphony is as dull as ditchwater; as an attempt to recreate their earlier artistic success, it falls flat as a pancake.
Rolf plays Mellotron, but only just, with some distant, reverbed choirs on opener Ways Of Love, so we haven't even got that to cheer us up. Amazingly, this has been available on CD, although I believe the Spalax label disappeared some years ago now. Don't worry; you're not missing much.
Yes, Virginia... (2006, 55.16) ***½/½
My Alcoholic Friends
Shores of California
Mandy Goes to Med School
Me & the Minibar
No, Virginia... (2008, recorded 2003-8, 48.42) ***½/T
The Mouse and the Model
Lonesome Organist Rapes Page-Turner
Pretty in Pink
The Sheep Song
The Dresden Dolls are pretty much Amanda Palmer's solo project, by the looks of it, with Brian Viglione as chief collaborator, playing most of the 'standard' band instruments. Palmer provides the songs, the bats-in-her-belfry vocals and theatrical piano work, not to mention the album's other keyboards. Yes, Virginia... is a fairly startling album; it vaguely reminds me of some awful '60s piano cabaret stuff I've heard, except it's good. Really good. The vocals/piano/bass-drums sound that informs the bulk of the record sounds like a female Brecht on speed, making a sound that I can almost guarantee you haven't heard before. If the album has a fault, it's that 55 minutes is a long time when there's little stylistic divergence, but that's nit-picking, really. Palmer plays Mellotron strings on closer Sing, but if the album's sound wasn't already so sparse, you probably wouldn't hear it at all, so that's not exactly a 'Tron recommendation, then.
Two years later, a companion album appeared, No, Virginia..., consisting of outtakes, b-sides and a handful of older, but newly-recorded tracks. The Gardener, Lonesome Organist Rapes Page-Turner, The Kill and Boston are b-sides, The Mouse And The Model's a demo and Pretty In Pink's a cover of The Psychedelic Furs' classic (it says here), leaving Dear Jenny, Night Reconnaissance, Ultima Esperanza, Sorry Bunch and The Sheep Song as the early '08 recordings. Musically, it's similar to its parent album, unsurprisingly, several of its tracks only being absent from that release due to 'issues with the album's flow', apparently. Best track? Matter of opinion, of course, but Lonesome Organist Rapes Page-Turner tears along at a cracking pace and features a particularly twisted set of lyrics. Sean Slade produces the new tracks and plays Mellotron flutes on Ultima Esperanza, more audibly than Amanda's performance on Yes, Virginia..., but hardly anything to set the world alight.
Musically, these are intriguing albums that almost certainly contains hidden depths; one of these fine days, I intend to find the time to explore them. Worthwhile, though not for the Mellotron.
|7" (1968) ***½/TT½
I am a Lonesome Hobo
A Kind of Love in
|7" (1968) ****/TTT
This Wheel's on Fire
|7" (1968) ***½/TT
Road to Cairo
Shadows of You
Given that Auger was the backbone of The Trinity, I always feel they should file under his name, but this is how they were known, so this is where you find 'em. I Am A Lonesome Hobo is probably fairly typical of their bluesy/jazzy style, although This Wheel's On Fire (Dylan, of course, as is I Am A Lonesome Hobo) and Road To Cairo (David Ackles) have a more mainstream sound, at least by late-'60s standards.
I don't know if Auger used Mellotron on anything else around this period; there certainly wasn't any on the compilation I heard, but that may well not have been definitive, so it's hard to tell. Anyway, I Am A Lonesome Hobo has a 'Tron flute melody and pitchbent string chords, although you can see why it wasn't a hit. This Wheel's On Fire's a fantastic performance (try to forget the Ab Fab connection), starting with 'Tron strings and piano, organ coming in on the chorus, which is where you finally stylistically spot the song's author, while Road To Cairo is more of a ballad featuring Julie Driscoll's great jazz voice and more of those 'Tron strings (MkII, of course). So; three excellent tracks, good 'Tron throughout, worth finding on a compilation.
Official Brian Auger site
See: Brian Auger Trinity/Oblivion Express
A Different Man (1996, 48.50) *½/T
|Road to Jerusalem
Walk With Me Jesus
A Different Man
Everytime I Say Yes
Place in My Heart
The Long and Winding Road
Can God? God Can!
|Love Won't Let Me
The Time of Your Life
The Lights of the City (I See the Lights of the City)
Phil Driscoll's been around approximately forever, although I'd never heard of him before I ran across 1996's A Different Man. Although he made his first album in 1970, in his early twenties, his career didn't take off properly for another decade, probably when the concept of CCM picked up speed. Yup, he's a Christian, and titles like Road To Jerusalem, Walk With Me Jesus and Christ Remains (wouldn't that be a holy relic? Oh, sorry, that's Christ's remains...) leave you in no doubt as to where his loyalties lie. Like most CCM, the music appears to be entirely secondary to the 'message', although said 'message' is exactly the same one peddled by every other Christian album, ever, making me wonder why anyone bothers making any more (he said, hopefully).
Matt Huesmann plays Mellotron on The Time Of Your Life, with an almost interesting flute part in an otherwise utterly insipid song. It is, however, not even remotely enough to save this dreary album. I have heard a handful of Christian albums that don't either send me to sleep or make me want to gag, but this isn't one of them. Very nasty.
The Big To-Do (2010, 53.39) ***½/T
|Daddy Learned to Fly
The Fourth Night of My Drinking
Drag the Lake Charlie
The Wig He Made Her Wear
You Got Another
This Fucking Job
|After the Scene Dies
(It's Gonna Be) I Told You So
The Flying Wallendas
Eyes Like Glue
Drive-By Truckers are a 'Southern Rock' outfit with three guitarists, leading to inevitable comparisons with Lynyrd Skynyrd, exacerbated by their third studio album, 2001's double Southern Rock Opera, a parable based on Skynyrd's rise and (literal) fall. Their style has shifted within the Southern continuum over the years, however, bringing them, by their eighth album, 2010's The Big To-Do, to a place where, although their Southern roots are clearly visible, they sound like neither Skynyrd nor the Allmans. The album flows nicely, different band members singing lead on their own songs, highlights including opener Daddy Learned To Fly, the garagey Birthday Boy and slow-burner The Wig He Made Her Wear, making for a most satisfying listen in these days of pseudo-'retro' nonsense from musicians who've only ever experienced anything pre-'90s third-hand.
The Truckers added a keyboard player, Jay Gonzalez, to their lineup not long before recording the album, who sticks to Hammond for most of the record, while adding Mellotron strings to You Got Another. It's a fairly sparse part, with several pitchbends thrown in, but not something you'd really call essential, not that anyone's complaining, eh? So; a good, if slightly overlong album that's unlikely to offend anyone into the Southern end of things, although anyone expecting a Skynyrd clone is likely to end up disappointed.
Everything I've Got in My Pocket (2004, 46.25) **½/½
|Everything I've Got in My Pocket
Fast as You Can
Seastories (2007, 51.56) **½/T
|Stars & Satellites
Cold Dark River
How to Be Good
King Without a Queen
Coming Back to Life
Love is Love
British actress Amelia "Minnie" Driver kicked off her recording career in her early thirties, producing the laid-back modern singer-songwriter fare of Everything I've Got in My Pocket in 2004. It's one of those fairly inoffensive albums that doesn't actually really say anything much at all, while avoiding the intense irritation of many of its contemporaries; while Driver has a pleasant voice, the whole affair ends up being a little too unassuming. The countryish pedal steel on Fast As You Can, Home and Yellow Eyes is the album's chief instrumental signature, regaining some sort of balance from the sampled beats prevalent on a few too many songs. Both Mellotron (Marc Dauer) and Chamberlin (Rami Jaffee) on the album, with what sounds like solo violin (viola?) on the opening title track and Down, some sort of generalised background string wash on So Well and nothing audible at all on Yellow Eyes, which all adds up to very little, to be honest.
Three years on and Driver's second album, Seastories, isn't dissimilar to her first, although the songs may be a touch better. It's still more a country album than anything else, though done well enough not to offend, with her 'Midatlantic' accent sounding sufficiently far from the Deep South to avoid accusations of Nashvillisms. Just Jaffee on Chamby this time round, with exceedingly background strings on How To Be Good and much more obvious ones on London Skies, but nothing to get too excited about.
You're going to have to really like ballads to like Everything I've Got..., I think; it never really picks up the pace, making it all a little one-dimensional (yes, I know a one-dimensional object is impossible...), while Seastories is a bit more upbeat, though similarly countryfied. Little audible tape-replay on either, so I probably wouldn't bother if I were you.
Star Peace (1978, 32.04) ***½/TT½(Do You Have) the Force - part 1
(Do You Have) the Force - part 2
Be Happy - part 2
Be Happy - part 1
Shanti Dance - part 1
Shanti Dance - part 2
Renaissance de l'Amour
Like several similar (principally French) late '70s synth/space disco acts, Yves Hayet's Droids cashed in heavily on the Star Wars boom, amusingly titling their lone 1978 release (including the previous year's hit (Do You Have) The Force) Star Peace. It's the kind of album that no self-respecting music lover would've been seen dead with at the time, which has, in the way of things, slowly gained a measure of respect for its superb musicianship, memorable instrumentals and for being stuffed to bursting with analogue synths, top tracks including (Do You Have) The Force, both parts of Be Happy and lengthy closer Renaissance De L'Amour.
Although Hayet programmed the sequencers, Richard Lornac played the album's hands-on keyboard parts, including stacks of Clavinet and, of course, Mellotron on several tracks, with what sounds like male choir on part 1 of (Do You Have) The Force, both parts (in reverse order) of Be Happy and Renaissance De L'Amour. Amazingly, this is actually available again, on Cherry Red; I'm not sure I can recommend it for its gloomy Mellotron work, but anyone who loved Space, or even Jean Michel Jarre, stands a good chance of enjoying this, too.
Shadowboxing (1975, 32.44) **/TTThe Writing on the Wall
The Sweetest One
Sleep with One Eye Open
Shadowboxing in the Rain
Hold on to Me Girl
Joe Droukas seems to be one of those musicians who's known more to his peers than the public at large, which is one way of saying, "I know next to nothing about this guy". He's written songs for the great and the good, but it looks like his solo career never really got off the ground, so I don't even know whether or not 1975's Shadowboxing is his debut album. It's pretty typical of its time, I have to say; middling pop/rock with a New York edge, although when you consider that The Ramones were playing CBGBs the same year... The album occasionally picks up a bit - Outlaw is slightly ballsier than most of its songs - but overall, this is bland, mid-'70s singer-songwriter fare, where the 'songs' are presumably supposed to exist outside their arrangements. Guess what: they don't.
Ken Ascher (John Lennon, multiple sessions) plays keyboards, including an unspecified tape-replay instrument, probably a Mellotron, with pseudo-orchestral strings on all the highlighted tracks above, probably at their best on opener The Writing On The Wall (sample lyric: "Oh, Edgar Allan Poe, I never read your books, I never took a look...". Pure poetry). Surprisingly, maybe, this is available on CD, although at under 33 minutes, with no bonuses, never mind a 2-on-1, I'd hardly say it was good value for money, even if you like his style. Decent, if slightly subdued Mellotron use, though, so the album has one saving grace, at least.
Product of a Two Faced World (1998, 50.17) *½/T
|You Never Listened
The Day I Walked Away
1605 (for My Suffering)
Tired of Living Like This
Alone in a Dirty World
My Private War
|Need This Need
The Dirtiest Hand
Two Faced You
Kerosene (1605 All Star Version)
Oh God: nu-metal. Drown formed in the late '80s as Yesterday's Tear (and you thought Drown was bad), going on to a chequered career, being signed, dropped and signed again, never quite breaking through to a wider audience. Their second and last second album, 1998's Product of a Two Faced World, was recorded for Geffen a couple of years earlier, before the label dropped them for being 'too heavy' or somesuch. Personally, I'd have dropped them for being 'too shit'; vocalist/mainman Lauren Boquette (yeah, it's a bloke) desperately wants be James Hetfield, while the band do all the right industrial/nu-metal moves, all to very little effect whatsoever. Enormously angry, yet strangely toothless.
Duke Decter plays Mellotron, with faint strings on Alone In A Dirty World and a more upfront part, plus cellos on Monster, neither of which make this crummy album any more listenable. Tosh and noisy tosh at that.
Toward the Sun (1975, 47.37) ***½/TTTTTVoices
Toward the Sun
Red Carpet for an Autumn
Dawn of Evening
As legend has it, Druid won their two-album deal with EMI in a competition, and funnily enough, recorded precisely that number of records before being dropped. They were also championed by '70s UK music show the Old Grey Whistle Test's 'Whispering' Bob Harris, who also produced their first album. Druid specialised in laid-back melodic progressive rock with a distinct Yes influence (unusual for a British band); extremely pleasant, but they were never really going to be first division.
I'm afraid to say I was under the impression that Toward the Sun was a dullard of an album; I had a vague memory of a fairly up-and-at-it opening track, then a long slow decline to the end. Wrong. Again. The material is good, if not great, but Andrew McCrorie-Shand's Mellotron use on the album is intense. Great swathes of strings layered over everything in sight, completely and gloriously ignoring the 'less is more' maxim. Given how long I've owned a copy of this, I was completely taken aback by just how full-on the Mellotron is. Top marks, chaps.
Now, until recently I've been under the impression that their second album, Fluid Druid (***), also contained 'Tron, but I've just been informed by no lesser a personage than McCrorie-Shand himself that the 'Mellotron' on the album is actually 'real' instruments arranged to sound like a Mellotron! Aaargh! Anyway, the album is generally not as good as their debut, and chances are that you're going to find them on the BGO 2-disc set, so you'll get it whether you want it or not. So, all in all, number one's a must, number two (now irrelevant to this site) isn't. If you find the double CD cheap, buy it anyway.
Amusing note: McCrorie-Shand now works as a composer for the BBC; among his works is the theme music for bizarre druggy cult show 'Teletubbies'. Oh, is it a kids' programme? Sorry, my mistake. Anyway, a far cry from Dawn of Evening, eh?! On a related note, Phil tells me that another kids' programme with which McCrorie-Shand is associated, Rosie & Jim, has been hosted since soon after its inception by Druid's old bassist, Neil Brewer. "Old-school tie, or what?", says Phil.
Druid may be long gone, but here are a couple of Whistle Test performances, sounding gutsier than their studio incarnations.