Home & Garden
D.R. Hooker Band
Hootie & the Blowfish
Hugh Hopper & Kramer
Confessions of the Mind (1970, 38.53) ***/½
|Survival of the Fittest
Man Without a Heart
Isn't it Nice?
Perfect Lady Housewife
Confessions of a Mind
|Too Young to Be Married
I Wanna Shout
Rarities (1988, recorded 1965-81, 50.41) **½/½
If it Wasn't for the Reason That
I Love You
She Looked My Way
Here in My Dreams
Tomorrow When it Comes
Open Up Your Eyes
The Times They Are a-Changin'
Look Through Any Window (French)
After the Fox
Non Prego per Me
Like Every Time Before
1970 found The Hollies at a crossroads; Graham Nash had hopped off to Califor-ny-ay to be a hippy, play with his famous buddies and shag Joni Mitchell, leaving his bandmates to carry on singing songs about how shit life was in ol' Blighty. Confessions of the Mind finds them doing exactly that, via Little Girl (divorce through the eyes of a child), Confessions Of A Mind (playing away from home) and Too Young To Be Married (kitchen-sink drama), amongst others. Musically, it's all a bit unexciting, frankly, especially after their brief dalliance with psych-lite, but then, this was 1970, wasn't it? Some seriously schizophrenic production decisions don't help the album's cause, although overall, it's a perfectly competent pop/rock album of its type, albeit one lacking any real creative spark. An unknown musician plays MkII strings on Frightened Lady, complete with pitchbend, though not so's you'd particularly notice, to be honest, so unlike some of their contemporaries, you can't even say this is their 'Mellotron album'.
1988's Rarities collection does exactly what it says on the tin, collating a selection of b-sides and other non-album tracks from 1965-81. Unsurprisingly, most of the '70s selections are exactly the kind of MOR pop you'd expect (a.k.a. inferior versions of The Air That I Breathe), while the '60s ones have slightly more life to them, although there's little here that even fans of the band would probably consider essential. Its sole point of interest, for us at least, is its closing number, Wings, originally donated for the semi-legendary World Wildlife Fund charity album (possibly the first of its type), No One's Gonna Change Our World, better known for being the first place anyone heard The Beatles' Across The Universe. It's a passable enough track, in a wussy ballad kind of way, but we're not exactly talking 'classic' here; someone (Graham Nash? Or had he gone by then?) plays tremulous Mellotron strings on the track, though to no great effect.
To my knowledge, The Hollies only ever used a Mellotron on these two tracks, but I've been wrong before... Neither of them's especially worth tracking down unless you're a massive fan of the band in the first place, mostly being fairly minimalistic on the 'Tron front.
See: Allan Clarke
Pause for a Hoarse Horse (1971, 39.14) ***/T
Pause for a Hoarse Horse
Red E Lewis and the Red Caps
In My Time
How Would it Feel?
Welwyn Garden City Blues
You're No Good
The Alchemist (1973, 40.44) ***½/T
The Old Man Dying
Time Passes By
The Old Man Calling
The Sun's Revenge
A Secret to Keep
The Brass Band Played
The Disaster Returns
The Death of the Alchemist
Many years ago, I did a temporary job working for the Census Commission, doing my little bit to help compile the figures for that year's census (not to mention earn a bit of dosh); I met with a good deal of resistance from certain sectors of the public, one of whom subsequently mellowed when he found out I was also a musician. It turns out that he was Mick Cook, once drummer with Home, along with Cliff Williams, later of AC/DC and Laurie Wisefield, subsequently of Wishbone Ash. I was saddened to hear a few years later that he'd died; definitely one of the good guys.
His old band's first album, 1971's Pause for a Hoarse Horse, is perfectly pleasant but undemanding countryish rock, which finally tips over into full-blown country on the last couple of tracks. It's very well done, but hasn't dated terribly well, and I'm not quite sure where this would fit in with modern listening tastes (not that that should necessarily be a problem, of course). The best tracks are probably Moses and the short country hoedown Welwyn Garden City Blues, but it's all a bit tame, really. Clive John plays Mellotron on two tracks, with melodic, largely single-note string parts on Red E Lewis And The Red Caps and Bad Days, but we're not talking a 'buy it now' album, I think.
Home's third (and last) album, The Alchemist, was their only concept piece. The concept's as flaky as most from the era, although it does at least have some sort of narrative structure, concerning, er, an alchemist, although I'm not quite sure how his activities relate to alchemy, but there you go. The first few tracks come across as nothing special, with some of that Wishbone Ash twin-guitar feel in places, and rather ordinary songwriting. Guest keyboardist Jimmy Anderson seems so integral to the band's sound that I can't imagine how they performed live as a four-piece; maybe they didn't - Home are one of those bands about whom very little information seems to have survived.
Anyway, as the band slide into The Disaster, most of the way through side one, they suddenly come alive, producing a quite ferocious piece with excellent keyboard and guitar work, including a smattering of 'Tron strings buried in the mix, with the intensity carried on through The Sun's Revenge. Side two again starts poorly, but picks up towards the end, with The Disaster Returns being a highlight, with another handful of those string chords. The closing title track has a string arrangement that sounds real, rather than 'Tron, but there's no mention on the sleeve of 'orchestral arrangement' or similar, so it could be simply well-arranged keys.
So; although Pause for a Hoarse Horse isn't especially worth the effort, while The Alchemist's a bit of a mixed bag, a few tracks really stand out, with the band having the advantage of a (relatively) original sound, although they let themselves down throughout much of the album by being too unadventurous. It isn't worth it on the Mellotron front, though if you're interested in the lesser-known early-'70s UK progressives, you could do worse than pick up a copy.
History & Geography (1984, 34.06/75.57) ***/T
|Marco Polo: The Voyage
Marco Polo: The City of Kin-Sai
Bells of Ever and Never
From the Life of King John
Marco Polo: The Desert
Does This Belong to You?
|How I Spent My Vacation
(Please) Fix My Horn (My Brakes Don't Work)
Where We Left Off]
Home & Garden formed out of the dissolution of Cleveland's legendary Pere Ubu in 1982, the rhythm section going on to form the new outfit. Like their previous band, they were disinterested in following the well-worn path, finding a vocalist (Jeff Morrison) who tended to read his poetry over the music rather than actually 'sing', which fitted in pretty well with the band's ethos, by the sound of it. Their sole full LP, 1984's History & Geography, is part post-Ubu, part early indie, part avant-rock; you get the feeling this lot were a better live band than studio, although the album never fails to be interesting, at the very least.
Jim Jones plays Mellotron flutes, choir and strings on the fairly avant- Bells Of Ever And Never, probably sounding quite alien to the band's core audience, who may very well not have heard one since they were old enough to know what they were. This is now available in a vastly expanded edition and is heartily recommended to Pere Ubu fans and followers of '80s rock weirdness in general. Just for once, this is truly deserving of that single T, its one Mellotron track being a real killer.
Grown in U.S.A. (1970, 38.47) ***/TTT½Circles in the North
Taking Me Home
In the Beginning
Four Days and Nights Without You
Cyrano in the Park
Texans Homer release just the one album, Grown in U.S.A. It's a slightly mixed bag, to be honest, fusing psych, hard rock and, er, country into a sort-of interesting stew that doesn't always work, if truth be told. After psychedelic hard rock opener Circles In The North, the pedal steel puts in an appearance on the next couple of tracks, particularly on Dawson Creek, almost a straight country rock song. The rest of the album veers between the rock and country sides of the band, often during the same song, with twin guitar leads battling it out with pedal steel balladry in an almost unique mix of styles.
Rob Meurer (misspelled Meuer on the sleeve) plays Mellotron on most of the record, which must make this one of the earliest American 'Tron (as against Chamberlin) albums. Most of his use is nice, upfront strings, although flutes and even brass rear their misshapen heads occasionally. Meurer seems to use practically no other instrument, although the odd synth line puts in an appearance, sounding like an old Moog III. I'd give this a higher star rating if it wasn't for the country influence; OK, it makes for a more unusual album, though not always in a good way. Plenty of Mellotron, though, so worth it for that if you can track a copy down.
Story (1970, 39.55) ***/T½
Black Mourning Band
Fresher Than the Sweetness of Water
He Was Columbus
Ceilings No. 1
Under the Silent Tree
She's Out There
|She Said Yes
I Remember Caroline
Ceilings No. 2
Honeybus were a London-based late '60s outfit, who neatly sidestepped the prevailing psychedelic ethos, preferring to update the mainstream pop of the era just prior to things getting interesting, in the manner of The Hollies or (The) Marmalade, maybe. They're remembered for their sole hit, '68's terrace-style singalong I Can't Let Maggie Go, also used for an iconic early '70s TV ad for slimming bread (no, I'm not making this up).
Despite their one-off success, the band only released one album in their lifetime, 1970's Story, a vaguely baroque pop concoction that has its moments, notably Under The Silent Tree and How Long, although its middle-of-the-road feel scuppers it from a viewpoint four decades ahead. Ray Cane plays Mellotron; Under The Silent Tree features the rarely-heard guitar plus pitchbent flutes, with quite distinct string stabs on She Said Yes in comparison to the track's real strings and another unusual sound, the fast-picking mandolin, taking a solo on I Remember Caroline, making a nice change from the usual strings and flutes hegemony.
Story isn't the most exciting album, although students of the era (are there such things?) will probably find things to like about it. Its main plus point is its unusual Mellotron use; just a shame there isn't more of it.
Here's Luck (2001, 46.27) ***/TTT
Pins in Dolls
Red Dye #40
Hearts and Heads
For the Tears
The Honeydogs have been around since the mid-'90s, releasing their fourth album, Here's Luck, in 2001. Although their earlier work is apparently in an alt.country vein, as various online reviewers have pointed out, this release is slanted in a Beatles/powerpop direction, if you can imagine an alt.country American band trying to be The Fabs. By far from everything here grabs me, but Losing Transmissions and Freakshow are two of the better efforts.
Mellotron and/or Chamberlin on several tracks, probably from keys man Peter J. Sands, although it could be previous 'Tron user, producer Chuck Zwicky; without a specific credit it's hard to say. Anyway, strings and cellos on Stonewall, flutes on Sour Grapes and Wilson Boulevard, strings on For The Tears and Freakshow and finally, flutes and strings on Losing Transmissions, making for a fairly heavy tape-replay record. Assuming, of course, it's all real... So; a powerpop album for alt.country fans? Hard to say, but it's a reasonable record with plenty of tape-replay of one variety or another.
Armageddon (1979, recorded 1974, 39.01) ***½/TTT½Hello
A Tormented Heart
D.R. Hooker's rather limited fame is based on the impeccable late-period psych credentials of his 1972 debut, The Truth, reviewers tending to be a bit sniffy about its follow-up, Armageddon. Although recorded in '74, the album only saw the light of day, in a very different musical climate, in '79, where it must've really sounded like a fish out of water (so what does a fish out of water sound like, anyway?). It's actually a pretty decent prog/hard rock/psych effort, many of the tracks running into each other, highlights including the epic Winter and the closing title track, although, truth be told, there's nothing here that made me reach for the 'skip' button.
Bob Reardon plays Mellotron, This Moment opening with a lovely flute part, with string swells on Free, strings all over the first part of Winter and on A Tormented Heart, strings and very upfront flutes on Kamala, finishing with more strings on Armageddon itself. So; an excellent effort, proof positive that there are almost certainly many more great obscure albums languishing on mouldy old master tapes, just waiting to be hauled, kicking and screaming, back out into the light. Loads of 'Tron, too, unexpectedly. Irritatingly, although this is now available again, it's only on 180gm vinyl (blah blah blah), so much as I applaud any labels' efforts to keep the old black stuff alive, it'd be quite nice to be able to get this on CD...
Dan Andersson på Vårt Sätt (1973, 38.49) **/T
|Per Ols Per Erik
Till Min Syster
Avskedssång till Finnmarksskalden
Julvisa i Finnmarken
Heldagskvåll in Timmerkojan
Omkring Tiggarn Från Luossa
The Hootenanny Singers were a Swedish 'folk-schlager' group, chiefly known for Abba's Björn Ulvaeus' youthful membership, active from the early '60s to mid-'70s. Their penultimate album, 1973's Dan Andersson på Vårt Sätt, saw the band setting the late Swedish poet's work to music; sadly, the end result is the kind of cheesy 'folk' that you can hear in German beerhalls to this day, should you ever be tempted. Highlights? Er, not really, no, although the less jaunty likes of Till Min Syster and Julvisa I Finnmarken are slightly less offensive than their neighbours.
Although the bulk of the album features real strings, those are definitely the Mellotronic variety on closer Omkring Tiggarn Från Luossa, uncredited, but more than likely played by Benny Andersson, he and Ulvaeus having worked together for years. Of course, Abba's first album, Ring Ring, appeared the same year, so the writing was on the wall for the Hootenanny Singers. They shall not be mourned.
Musical Chairs (1998, 48.31) **½/½
|I Will Wait
Las Vegas Nights
|One By One
Desert Mountain Showdown
What's Going on Here
What Do You Want From Me Now
Closet Full of Fear
I'd never actually heard Hootie & the Blowfish (named for two old college friends) before encountering 1998's Musical Chairs, and while I can't say I'm particularly blown away, they're less offensive than I'd expected. They sound like... I dunno. College rock? Springsteen? Less unpleasant Bon Jovi? Mainstream pop/rock by any other name? Purpose-built for arena shows, lightweight 'rock' with all the rock removed, I suppose. Standout tracks? None.
Only Lonely has Chamberlin strings and cellos from the ubiquitous Patrick Warren, but they're almost indistinguishable from real strings, to be honest, which seems slightly pointless to me. Plenty of Hammond spread across the album, but that's it on the tape-replay front.
See: Samples etc.
The President of the L.S.D. Golf Club (2007, 41.20) ***/TTT½
The Eclipse Song
Black Marble Tiles
|Strictly Out of Phase
Belgian indie/trip-hop outfit Hooverphonic's sixth studio album, the marvellously-named The President of the L.S.D. Golf Club, is best described as a cross between indie and trip-hop, not necessarily within songs. The overall mood is 'down' rather than 'up', although the band do pick up the pace here and there, notably on Expedition Impossible and Circles, although you'd hardly call them cheerful. Er, is this a problem?
Cédric Murrath plays keys, including a real Mellotron (thanks for the confirmation, Dieter), with strings on 50 Watt, background flutes on Expedition Impossible, major string and flute parts on Gentle Storm (the album's 'Tron classic), more flutes and strings on The Eclipse Song... Basically, this album is smothered in Mellotron strings and flutes, which is a serious bonus. So; passable gloomy record, plenty of great Mellotron.
See: Samples etc.
A Remark Hugh Made (1994, 44.17) ***½/TT
|Free Will & Testament
A Streetcar Named Desire
We Can Work it Out
The Twelve Chairs
This Island Earth
John Milton is Dead
All in My Head
His Wife for a Hat
Lenny Bruce Sings
His Hat for a Wife
Our Final Remark
Hugh Hopper was, of course, one of the Canterbury Scene's most fêted alumni, playing on the first six Soft Machine LPs before going on to work with almost everyone of note from the scene and a myriad others before his untimely death in 2009. One of his more unexpected collaborations came in 1994 with American alt.god (Mark) Kramer, the end result being an album with that most Canterburyesque of titles, A Remark Hugh Made. In many ways, it has a most Canterburyesque sound, too, comprising a bewildering variety of styles, many, but not all, jazz-related, all squashed into forty-four minutes, shifting between suitably whimsical opener Free Will & Testament, the duo's wonderfully Indian take on The Beatles' We Can Work It Out, the heavily psychedelic The Twelve Chairs and Hopper's outrageous fuzz/wah bass work on Sliding Dogs, to name but four examples.
Kramer plays Mellotron, with strings all over We Can Work It Out and Sliding Dogs, plus chordal flutes and strings on His Hat For A Wife (although not on His Wife For A Hat - spot the Oliver Sacks reference). Fans of straight-down-the-line, 'normal' music are fairly unlikely to like A Remark Hugh Made, but anyone who ever cocked an ear when the needle hit the vinyl on a copy of Soft Machine's Third, or even realised that listening to music some distance from the mainstream frequently brings unexpected results may very well get something out of this, its Mellotron usage merely a bonus.
See: Kramer | Glass
Calypso (2012, 43.49) ***/TTFront Forming
Nearly Broke Your Heart
Keep Coming Over
Young and Sweet
Going by their third album, 2012's Calypso, The Horse Company are a superior Dutch indie/Americana outfit (their debut was apparently more in a transatlantic direction), with a detailed, quite intricate sound, only lost on its rockier tracks (notably One Wheel). Highlights? Opener Front Forming (one of the album's least 'indie' sounding tracks), Young And Sweet and 'epic country/indie' closer Calypso itself, while Aeons is possibly the most successful of the 'mainstream indie' material, although I have trouble with the more laid-back tracks, particularly Keep Coming Over and Older Speeder.
Matthijs Herder (Black Atlantic, Oceana Company) plays all keys, including his own Mellotron, with a flute melody and string chords on Nearly Broke Your Heart, exceedingly background choirs on One Wheel, far more upfront ones on Aeons and major flute and string parts on the lengthy title track. Parts of this album will appeal to fans of the more psychedelic end of things (although parts of it won't); get to hear the title track, at least.