Grand Funk Railroad
Grand Tone Music
Robby Grant & Jonathan Kirkscey
Grant Lee Buffalo
Shinin' On (1974, 36.20) **½/TShinin' On
To Get Back in
Carry Me Through
Mr. Pretty Boy
Gettin' Over You
Little Johnny Hooker
Caught in the Act (1975, 74.29) ***/T
Rock and Roll Soul
I'm Your Captain/Closer to Home
Some Kind of Wonderful
We're an American Band
Inside Looking Out
The only thing that stops Grand Funk (the 'Railroad' seemed to come and go, possibly dependent on legal action) being the least talented hard rock band ever is the continuing existence of Kiss. I once owned a copy, on some idiot's recommendation, of their first live album, er, Live; it's crap, particularly the side-long instrumental jam T.N.U.C. (go on, reverse it). Risibly sexist and stupid (so what's wrong with being sexy, anyway?), Grand Funk define American party metal, years before its supposed genesis with the emergence of the aforementioned cartoon characters in the mid-'70s. This is music to drop quaaludes to, to throw frisbees and/or firecrackers to, to paaarty to. How this lot were ever mentioned in the same breath as Sabbath or (God help us) Zeppelin is utterly beyond me. OK, they sold a lot of records to disaffected Midwestern teenagers, but they're musical lightweights compared to any of their equally successful contemporaries you might care to name.
Shinin' On was Grand Funk's eighth studio album (count 'em) in five years, and it's immediately evident that they'd mellowed a little since their early bludgeon-athons. Chiefly notable for the inclusion of their hamfisted cover of Little Eva's The Loco-Motion, which was a US No.1 hit, the rest of the album is a mixture of hard rock-lite stuff like the title track, and slower material along the lines of Carry Me Through and Mr. Pretty Boy. The latter is the album's sole Mellotron track, with a fairly ordinary string part running through most of it; hardly world-beating, but nice to hear.
Caught in the Act came out the following year and, in fairness, they'd learnt a little subtlety since that early live tragedy, doubtless partly due to the addition of Craig Frost on keyboards. Frost is a perfectly good player, concentrating largely on organ and clavinet, although he uses his onstage 'Tron on one track, with really nice upfront strings and flutes on the Closer To Home part of the medley on side one, although it rather irritatingly fades out. Actually, for all my ranting above, this isn't that bad an album, with (good singing) good playing throughout, and a few memorable tracks, not least their major US hit, We're An American Band.
So; if you're American and of a certain age, these will almost certainly bring back memories, good or otherwise. For the rest of us, if you were contemplating dipping a toe into the murky waters of The Funk, there are worse places to start than Caught in the Act. Like Live. One decent(-ish) track on each album doesn't make them worth buying, but hear them if you get the chance, particularly Caught in the Act.
New Direction (2000, 49.23) **½/T
|Stop Keep Telling Me Goodbye
I Give it All
Sound in Me
|Where Did My Day Go
Become My Friend
Grand Tone Music are a rather dour Swedish outfit, whose second album, 2000's New Direction (a Spinal Tap quote?), is fine for two or three tracks, but nearly fifty minutes of their rather characterless, downbeat, female-fronted material is at least ten minutes too much. The largely acoustic Where Did My Day Go is probably the best thing here, although closer Become My Friend might just bring all their influences together with the most success.
I can't remember for sure, but I've got a feeling this was recorded at Mattias Olsson (Änglagård, a million others)'s Roth-Händle studio (was it even open then?), although I could be mistaken; if so, it's his Mellotron we're hearing here. Dan Lepp plays it, with strings on Stop Keep Telling Me Goodbye, Height and Sound In Me and a spartan cello part on Become My Friend, although it's all well in the background. Assuming this is a Mattias-related release, I'm afraid to say it's the least appealing I've yet heard, but then, it was a while back. OK in places, but rather dull and little Mellotron work. Incidentally, despite rumours, the band's eponymous 1998 debut is Mellotron-free.
Granicus (1973, 43.38) ***½/TYou're in America
When You're Movin'
Can't say I know an awful lot about Granicus, to be honest. They were from Cleveland, Ohio, they named themselves after Alexander the Great's first major battle, they featured a silver-lunged screamer called Woody Leffel, and they played pure, undiluted hard rock in an early-'70s stylee. Pretty good at it they were, too, although you sometimes find yourself wishing they'd up the energy quotient a little, or at least I do. Since I suspect Granicus will be something of a grower, it's difficult to pick out highlights on a single listen, but the 11-minute plus Prayer builds like a building thing to a ridiculous crescendo. Quite magnificent.
I don't actually know who plays the Mellotron on the instrumental Twilight, but since it was arranged by producer Martin Last, I expect he played it, too. It's an orchestrally-arranged strings part over a gentle (electric) guitar backing; it's only a shame they didn't put any more of it on the album.
So; now that this is easily available, unlike so many similarly obscure but excellent efforts (so is the Chasar album EVER going to come out 'properly'?), I'll give it a cautious thumbs-up for the '70s hard rock aficionado, although only one 'Tron track probably makes it inessential on that front.
Duets for Mellotron (2017, 35.51) ***½/TTT½The Green Sword
Joan Folds Towels
Enemies Til Death
Naked as a Jaybird
Take the Old Bridge
Robby Grant and Jonathan Kirkscey seem to be well-known on the Memphis scene, although I don't know the full story behind their Mellotron Duet project. Suffice to say that the duo wrote seven compositions 'arranged and written for shows at Crosstown Arts - April 16th and 17th, 2016', performed on two of Winston Eggleston's M400s (one of which he may've built himself) and two digital M4000Ds. I can't work out how serious they're being when they call this 'the first Mellotron duet concert'; do they mean 'the first duet for Mellotrons played by us', or 'the first ever concert for two Mellotrons'? If the latter, it's quite sweetly naïve, but may I refer you to Tangerine Dream? Four (or five, depending on how you're counting) Mellotrons on stage at once, late '70s, sometimes played simultaneously, never mind loads of other multiple-Mellotron performances, not least two of my own.
The actual material owes little to the worlds of classical music or progressive rock, coming more from the minimalist and post-rock areas, an obvious reference point being Philip Glass, his 'compositions based around shifting arpeggios' technique being used more than once here. Incidentally, although the compositions were written for performance, we seem to be hearing studio versions on the record. These guys clearly know what they're doing, overcoming the potential tedium (for an audience unacquainted with the oddness of entirely Mellotron-generated music) by keeping it varied. Sound FX-crazy opener The Green Sword reminds me of an album of which I'm quite sure these two are entirely unacquainted: Chuck Minuto, a.k.a. Celluloid's completely mad Neptune, from 1983, while Joan Folds Towels takes that Glass influence and runs with it over its eight-minute length. Moving Strings uses the MkII patch of the same name (via a digital machine, of course), giving it a strange, wartime feel, Naked As A Jaybird touches of Disney territory and Take The Old Bridge is based around the MkII flamenco guitar phrases, albeit not the 'Bungalow Bill' one.
So what's played on what? Film of the live event gives us some idea. I suspect that most of the strings and cellos are real, while the flutes vary from track to track, depending on how they're being used; for example, the arpeggiated, distorted flutes on Joan Folds Towels are real (backed up by video evidence, here), but I'd imagine the fast, clean flute arpeggios on Enemies Til Death are samples. Sound FX, percussion and almost anything rhythmic (or played particularly rhythmically) are samples, as are the vibes and MkII rhythms and musical phrases. So why only TTT½? While every sound used is Mellotron-generated, an awful lot of them are from the digital machines; as regular readers will know, you can slather as much sampled Mellotron onto your records as you like, but it don't count fer shit roun' these parts. In fairness, they were never going to be able to play these pieces as they were written on any number of genuine Mellotrons; Grant and Kirkscey should be (and, as far as I'm concerned, are) applauded for this project; here's hoping they repeat the endeavour, and soon.
Official Jonathan Kirkscey site
Jubilee (1998, 59.10) ***/T½
Change Your Tune
Fine How'd Ya Do
Come to Mama
8 Mile Road
Everybody Needs a Little Sanctuary
My My My
The Shallow End
Grant-Lee Phillips' Grant Lee Buffalo's fourth and last album, '98's Jubilee, is apparently the point at which their disparate influences come together, producing an all-American blend of rock, folk, country, vaudeville etc. etc. It's not my fave kind of stuff, if truth be told, so I'll just concentrate on its tape replay aspects.
Phillips plays Mellotron, while the ubiquitous Jon Brion adds Chamberlin in places, although you feel that a few more tracks may have benefitted from their inclusion. Testimony has some background flutes, while all I can hear in Fine How'd Ya Do are some strings in the middle 'phased' section, and cellos, inaudible until the end. The title track has Chamby brass (very subtle, and unlike anything a Mellotron would do), while The Shallow End sounds like cellos again, though it's pretty hard to tell, to be honest. So; I can't wildly recommend this on either musical or Mellotronic grounds, but there are plenty who would, so maybe you should take their advice instead.
See: Samples etc.
Around Grapefruit (1968, 34.23) ***½/T
Round Going Round
|This Little Man
Ain't it Good
Theme for Twiggy
Grapefruit are another UK psych obscurity, although unlike many of their compatriots, they managed to release not one, but two albums, 1968's Around Grapefruit and the following year's listless Deep Water. Their debut is a good slice (sorry) of contemporaneous pop/psych, almost all of which could've passed muster as singles, and indeed, two tracks were hits, with Dear Delilah actually reaching no.21.
I've no idea who plays the Mellotron on the instrumental Theme For Twiggy, but it's an excellent track, possibly the album's highlight, with a great 'Tron strings part. Very much of its time, but that's no bad thing, unless, of course, your time happens to be any time from the early '80s on... Also mandolins on Elevator (thanks, Chris), though nowt essential. Overall, good album, but don't chuck out your copy of Pet Sounds just yet. One decent 'Tron track, but that's your lot.
Chestnut Loke (1996, recorded 1970-74, 74.29) ***/T
|Starflight Over the Skies
A Dragon's Tale
Dawn (Morning Has Come)
Set it Free
Out in the Rain
|Don't You Think it's Kinda Strange
In Our Country Home
She's Gone Away
I'm Feeling Low
Graphite are another of those 'almost lost forever' bands whose works have been resurrected, this time by the estimable Audio Archives label. Sadly, unlike their long-overdue issue of the second Fantasy album, Chestnut Loke is all a bit ordinary, really. It's difficult to categorise the music, though not in a particularly good way; laid-back rock, but with an English rather than an American approach is the nearest I can get. In other words, this isn't terribly exciting, but doesn't have either the complexity or the melodic strength to really appeal to the prog crowd. It's perfectly pleasant, but that's rather damning it with faint praise, isn't it? The lyrics are of the 'a little too cosmic' variety, too (see: Starflight Over The Skies and A Dragon's Tale, in particular), dating the music almost to the year.
I can't tell for certain, but it looks like this is material that has never been previously released, so it's not an album with bonus tracks, more a new album of various studio recordings. Most of the tracks just drift along pleasantly, with considerable Fender Rhodes input, but both the title track and Freedom feature a bit of the old 'Tron strings, to passable effect, played by Chris Gore. I'm sorry I can't be more positive about this, as I applaud the efforts of labels Like Audio Archives, but it's really not the sort of album that's likely to grab anyone much, I'm afraid. Of its time, really. File under 'play once, then shelve'.
Gratitude (2005, 43.15) **½/T½
All in a Row
The Greatest Wonder
This is the Part
Someone to Love
|Another Division Street
Gratitude were a one-off indie outfit with powerpop tendencies, formed by members of Crumb, Far and The Get Up Kids. Their eponymous 2005 release treads an uneasy line between the two styles, spoiling things with 'big indie' nonsense like The Greatest Wonder and Sadie, that just end up sounding exactly like a million other bands. On the positive side, most of the album's upbeat enough to make for an inoffensive, if undemanding listen, which is so very much better than so much of the dross clogging up landfills worldwide that I can barely begin to describe it. Still only gets **½, though.
Yup, it's Patrick Warren on Chamberlin again, with strings on The Greatest Wonder, Feel Alright, Another Division Street, If Ever, Dream, Again and Begin Again, with the most obvious use being on If Ever, the rest of it sounding like it could come from pretty much any keyboard equipped with a string sound, to be honest. Powerpop fans may go for Gratitude, although it's really only tangentially within the genre's remit, while Mellotron nuts will find it frustratingly light on the tape-replay front, despite a clear half its tracks containing Chamberlin. B-, could do better. Oh, you can't; you've split.
See: Crumb | Far | The Get Up Kids
(A Ballad of) a Peaceful Man (1970, 39.08) ***½/TAlone in Georgia
(A Ballad of) a Peaceful Man
Can Anybody Hear Me
Old Tin Box
Won't Talk About it
Staircase to the Day (1974, 43.59) ***/TStarbright Starlight
Bring My Life on Back to Me
Never Wanted You
Staircase to the Day
Going for a Quick One
The Last Day
Evening of My Life
Busted in Schenectady
Gravy Train were a Manchester-based band whose first album, Gravy Train (****) is an enjoyable blend of early Jethro Tull and, er, slightly later Jethro Tull. Its flute-heavy blues-based style is a little dated now, but it's got loads of energy and the writing's excellent. Sadly, the band never really equalled their debut. By (A Ballad of) a Peaceful Man, later the same year, they were almost unrecognisable as the same outfit; a more mellow sound, replete with (real) string parts on many of the songs. The only Mellotron track here is Messenger, with 'Tron strings, possibly fed through a Leslie, along with the guitar part. The album's no less dated than its predecessor, but hasn't aged as well, I'm afraid, although Messenger is actually a decent enough song.
I don't know why, but after spitting out two albums in such quick succession, there was a three-year gap before Second Birth (***½) (probably due to label hassles), which wasn't dissimilar to their second effort, though with noticeably more keyboards. Gravy Train's last album was Staircase to the Day, and it was business as usual, with the band basically rehashing their previous two albums, although the formula was beginning to wear a little thin by this time. There's a minute or so of 'Tron strings on the title track, but once again, one track and that's yer lot.
So; neither of these are great, but they're not bad, either, and deserved to do better at the time. The Mellotron presence is fairly negligible, though, and neither album is worth it on those grounds alone. Actually, their best effort is most definitely their debut, so I'd go for that one if I were you.
On How Life is (2000, 44.55) **½/TT
|Why Didn't You Call Me
Sex-O-Matic Venus Freak
I Can't Wait to Meetchu
I've Committed Murder
|A Moment to Myself
The Id (2001, 58.25) **½/TTT
|Relating to a Psychopath
Hey Young World Part 2
Gimme All Your Lovin' or I Will Kill You
Don't Come Around
|My Nutmeg Phantasy
Freak Like Me
Blowin' Up Your Speakers
The Trouble With Being Myself (2003, 49.50) ***/T½
|When I See You
It Ain't the Money
She Ain't Right for You
Things That Made Me Change
She Don't Write Songs About You
Jesus for a Day
My Fondest Childhood Memories
Every Now and Then
It's quite possible that some readers of this site may not have run into Macy Gray before, despite her massive popularity. Well, she's a much-fêted so-called 'R&B' singer, i.e. that soul/funk/rap crossover that's so hideously popular at the moment. To be fair to her, Macy's been around for years, finally breaking big well on the wrong side of 30, so kudos to her for persistence. It's just a shame that her chosen oeuvre is so devastatingly dull, although there do actually seem to be some tunes on her albums, which is more than I can say for many of her contemporaries.
So what's she doing here? Well, for whatever reason, she's soaked all her albums in Chamberlin. 2000's On How Life is has Jon Brion, Patrick Warren and Jeremy Ruzumna on the ol' tape replay, two of whom you'll recognise from numerous other projects. To be perfectly honest, although there are fairly obvious strings on Do Something and I Try, I'm at a bit of a loss as to where it might be on, say, Caligula. It's that 'Chamberlin Effect' again, isn't it? Stick it on tape and watch it disappear in the mix! All in all, despite having six tracks'-worth of Chamby, I really wouldn't go too far out of your way for this one. You shouldn't need to anyway; it's pretty difficult to escape Ms Gray at the moment.
Next album up, the following year's The Id, sounds more upbeat than its predecessor, but other than that, it's business as usual. Chamberlin by Zac Rae this time round, with strings, flutes and brass all over the place. Actually, the Chamby's far better produced this time round, being clearly audible on almost every relevant track, with some interesting parts, to boot. Not that I'm actually recommending the album, you understand...
Third time round, The Trouble With Being Myself, opens with a full-on Jackson 5-style '70s funk groove on When I See You, though by second track in, it seems nothing's changed that much, with some tedious hip-hop type rapping over a rather tuneless effort. Or hasn't it? It turns out that most of the album is fairly palatable, given its overall style, to the point where it didn't really offend me at all, certainly compared to some 'melodic rock' rubbish I've just subjected myself to... Chamby (from Rae and Ruzumna) on several tracks. A string part opens She Ain't Right For You, carrying on throughout the song, sounding an awful lot like real strings, which may be part of the instrument's appeal and its problem, unless, that is, it's actually real strings... More strings in Things That Made Me Change and strings and cellos in the lyrically amusing My Fondest Childhood Memories and the other highlighted tracks, although in a rather less interesting manner than on her previous effort.
So; I can't personally stand most of her music, although The Trouble With Being Myself could be a lot worse. Either way, more obvious Chamberlin on The Id than on her other two albums, but I wouldn't actually buy any of them.
See: Samples etc.
Ro Sham Bo (1994, 59.06) ****/TTT
|Very Best Years
Friend of Mine
Is it Now Yet
Oh Well Maybe
Nothing Between Us
Not Long for This World
All You Wanted
No One Can Hurt Me
The short-lived Grays consisted of four multi-instrumentalists, some of whose names will be familiar to you; Jon Brion, Jason Falkner (of the mighty Jellyfish), Buddy Judge and Dan McCarroll. It seems that all concerned were sick of the bands they were in, and formed The Grays as an experiment in leaderless democracy, although, sadly, it only lasted for one album. As you'd expect, Ro Sham Bo is stuffed with intelligent pop tunes, with Very Best Years being a 'radio hit', which presumably means it didn't translate into sales. In fact, there isn't a bad track on the album, which is an achievement in itself.
Brion and Falkner both play Chamberlin, with more flutes than anything, with very obvious use on Is It Now Yet, amongst others. Oh Well Maybe has some pretty upfront strings, but given that we've entered the Wacky World of Chamberlins, there could be all sorts of stuff going on here that I haven't spotted (again). I'm assuming the cellos on a couple of tracks are Chamby; actually, on All You Wanted, there seems to be a polyphonic part that gives the game away. Anyway, much Chamby all round, though subtly.
So; do you need this album? I'd have said so, especially if you're into any of the members' other works, or intelligent powerpop in general. Loads of Chamberlin, albeit sans the massive block chord work you'd get from the prog crowd, adding up to a fairly unequivocal Buy.
See: Jon Brion | Jellyfish | Buddy Judge
Carnival of Rust (2012, 29.29) ***½/TT½
|This Old Ferris Wheel
Dead Man's Car
Fold Me Up
Carnival of Rust
I can't tell you an awful lot about Christopher Green, only that it seems likely (if he is actually Dutch) that it isn't his given name. 2012's self-released Carnival of Rust is an Americana-infused singer-songwriter album, highlights including jaunty opener This Old Ferris Wheel, the haunting 1958 and Dead Man's Car, but little, if anything here will disappoint fans of the style.
Ruud Peeters plays his M400, with upfront flutes and brass on Show Yourself, strings and cellos on Dead Man's Car, tentative at first, before a 'solo spot', two minutes in, strings on Nobody Knows (under real violin) and background choirs on Sophie's Gone. All rather good, actually, for such a low-key release.