Charlie Hunter & Bobby Previte
Cause & Effect (2002, 62.13) **½/TT½
|I am Not Here
Look at Me Now
Madame Hate's Mad Search for Love
Bang the Drum Slowly
Dance Me to the End of Love
Although they've been releasing albums since the late '80s, I've somehow contrived never to've heard of L.A.'s Human Drama (originally The Models, from New Orleans). 2002's Cause & Effect is their eighth studio album, fitting the 'sort of goth' description that's usually levelled at them, mid-paced efforts occasionally giving way to piano numbers (no, not ballads) like Lonely or The Battle, while vocalist/mainman Johnny Indovina does his best Bowie impression.
Mellotron from Richard Ochoa and David R. Zimmerman, plus Chamberlin from the latter, with strings on opener I Am Not Here and Bang The Drum Slowly, strings and flutes on Imitation Of..., flutes and background strings on Madame Hate's Mad Search For Love, an upfront, chirpy flute part and cellos on The Mystery, background flutes on Cynthia's Journal and something not immediately identifiable on About Michelle, making for a surprisingly decent album on that front. Overall, a bit of a goth-lite effort, though, only really enlivened by some decent tape-replay work.
Peg Leg (2002, recorded 1975, 50.11) ***½/TTTT½
All Time Loser
Find Your Heart
For a Friend Pt.I
For a Friend Pt.II
|Tight Rope Lover
Human Instinct were one of the best known 'underground' bands in New Zealand in the '70s, releasing five albums across their career, including 1971's highly-rated Pins in it. Peg Leg was recorded in late '75, but by the time the band were presented with a rough mix, their style had changed, and the decision was made the shelve the album. Vocalist/drummer Maurice Greer kickstarted the process of resurrecting it by approaching their old record company armed with a cassette of that rough mix, triggering a search for the original multitrack which, amazingly, was found in a warehouse. After a full remix, it appeared in 2002 on the Rajon label, letting the Kiwi buying public know what they'd been missing.
Unsurprisingly, like most NZ music of the time, Peg Leg now sounds a little dated, but stands up surprisingly well, in a prog-lite kind of way. I'm not sure that opening with a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd's inimitable Freebird was the best idea the band ever had, although it has to be said, they have a fair crack at it, duelling guitars and all, although their own slightly pedestrian material pales a little in comparison. Saying that, the two parts of For A Friend are pretty good, and it's not as if there are any real stinkers, although the title track is probably slightly unnecessary.
Steve McDonald's Mellotron work is quite exemplary; and to think I was worried this one might be a dud... His string part on Freebird shits on the original's, which is, admittedly, notorious as one of the worst-recorded 'Tron parts ever. McDonald actually writes a completely different, and vastly superior part, then carries on in a similar vein on most tracks, slapping strings all over the place, with choirs here and there (notably on For A Friend Pt.I), too, not to mention a high cello part on Fallen Star. Given how unexpected it is, this is a real Mellotron monster, although, typically, I believe there are only a few copies left unsold at the time of writing, probably spread out across North and South Island. There's bound to be a few online, if you search hard enough, and although the music is only slightly above average, the Mellotron work is excellent. Recommended.
See: Steve McDonald
Back on the Hunt (1980, 37.39/75.09) ***½/TT (TTT)
|Standing in the Road
She Flew Freely
Little Bit of Love
If Only We Had Tried
Ain't Got You
It's All Too Much
What Good is Love
|Back on the Hunt
Tell Me Why
She Opens My Eyes
Gimme Some Loving
|Love is a Happy Song
I've Been Waiting for So Long
It's My Life
Take a Piece of My Life]
The Hunt formed from the ashes of Canadians proggers Dillinger, recording an apparently excellent debut in The Hunt in 1977. After multiple lineup changes, vocalist/bassist Brian Gagnon regrouped the band as a power trio for 1980's Back on the Hunt, bringing in guitarist Paul Dickinson and their old drummer, ex-Max Webster man Paul Kersey. To be brutally honest, the album isn't that exciting, being mainly typical hard rock of the period, rather too plodding in rather too many places to be afforded any kind of 'classic' tag; it's by no means bad, but there are better albums from the era you'd be advised to sample first.
Gagnon also plays all the keyboards on the album, including Mellotron on three tracks. A string part on She Flew Freely and strings and choir on Little Bit Of Love are quite overshadowed by the full-on, upfront choir on What Good Is Love, along with real strings. Closing ballad Tell Me Why seems like it should have been a perfect 'Tronnish ending to the album, but Gagnon resisted the temptation and stuck the string section on again.
The CD reissue adds a whopping ten bonus tracks, doubling its length, while irritatingly completely changing the track order of the original album. They're a slightly mixed bag, although the first few are excellent (if shortish) progressive tracks, making me wonder if that's how their first album sounds. It all goes a bit downhill after their workaday cover of Spencer Davis' Gimme Some Loving [sic], although nothing really stinks, I'm glad to say. Three extra 'Tron tracks: She Opens My Eyes has a fair helping of (quietish) choirs, while I've Been Waiting For So Long's 'are they/aren't they?' strings are completely overshadowed by the definite 'Tron on It's My Life.
So; not bad, not great, passable 'Tron. More news if/when I get to hear either of the band's other albums.
Van Hunt (2004, 54.53) **½/T
Seconds of Pleasure
Down Here in Hell (With You)
What Can I Say (for Millicent)
Anything (to Get Your Attention)
Hold My Hand
Who Will Love Me in Winter
Out of the Sky
Randy Jackson's Music Club, Volume 1 (2008)[Van contributes]
Something to Believe in
Van Hunt has had a varied musical career, working with rock bands, producing hip-hop artists and recording his own, slightly skewed R&B, unbelievably covering The Stooges on his second album and working with Cree Summer, amongst others. It's his first, eponymous effort that concerns us here, though. Van Hunt was apparently largely recorded in 2000, but didn't see the light until 2004, which must have been torture for the man. Although more inventive than most of the bland nonsense this deservedly-maligned genre puts out, I wouldn't say it's exactly groundbreaking, in the grand scheme of things. Tracks like What Can I Say (For Millicent) and Who Will Love Me In Winter help to keep things uninteresting, although I'm sure they helped sell the album.
Unusually for him, Patrick Warren plays Mellotron, rather than Chamberlin, on the album, with an orchestrated string part on Seconds Of Pleasure that makes a welcome change from the standard string section. However, it's the record's chief point of interest for most of us and hardly makes it worth buying for that alone. Slightly quirky R&B, sir? I don't think so, no.
See: Randy Jackson's Music Club
Altitude (2007, 97.46) ***/TT
Pyramid of Giza
Warsaw Radio Mast
Sea Floor Spreading Hypothesis
Altitude is apparently the final instalment in a trilogy by Charlie Hunter and Bobby Previte, recording as Groundtruther. Both musicians are generally thought of as 'jazz', although this album slides between styles like a greased pig, falling, more often than not, into that specifically NYC avant-garde scene defined by Medeski Martin & Wood. Fittingly, since John Medeski is a guest player here, to the point where he actually gets a 'special guest' mention on the cover. It's (obviously) a two-CD set, disc one being electric and two acoustic, the mostly lengthy tracks on the electric disc being named after some of the world's tallest structures, while many of the mostly very short acoustic ones have something to do with underwater goings-on. There's no getting away from the fact that most of the set is highly experimental, some of the acoustic disc crossing over into modern atonal classical, which you will either like or... you won't. It's difficult to fault the concept and impossible to fault the playing, but I'd be lying if I said this was an album for everyman.
On the Mellotron front, Medeski only uses it on disc one (well, is a Mellotron acoustic? No), with a string part on Pyramid Of Giza, bassoon and strings on Everest and more bassoon on the lengthy Empire State, with flutes (?) and wildly pitchbent strings later on. Good to hear such an under-used sound, actually, although whether Medeski had to change frames to use it or he has it alongside strings and flute on one frame is unknown. So; a fairly out-there release, delving into the further reaches of modern jazz, but a nice bit of Medeskitron for those who can't get enough of his uniquely skronky style.
Official Charlie Hunter site
Official Bobby Previte site
See: Medeski Martin & Wood | Bobby Previte
Ian Hunter (1975, 40.38) ***/T½Once Bitten Twice Shy
Who Do You Love
3,000 Miles From Here
The Truth, the Whole Truth, Nuthin' But the Truth
It Ain't Easy When You Fall
I Get So Excited
All-American Alien Boy (1976, 41.20) ***½/TLetter to Brittania From the Union Jack
All American Alien Boy
You Nearly Did Me in
God (Take 1)
Rant (2001, 56.58) ***½/T
Death of a Nation
Dead Man Walkin' (Eastenders)
Wash Us Away
Knees of My Heart
Still Love Rock and Roll
Man Overboard (2009, 47.22) ***½/½
|The Great Escape
Arms & Legs
Up and Running
The Girl From the Office
|Win it All
Way With Words
The River of Tears
Ian 'Unter's something of a long-term fixture on the UK scene and good luck to him; he joined Mott the Hoople around 1969, and is still touring and recording over four decades later, although I've no idea what his recent output's like. Probably a lot like these two albums, I suspect. Ian Hunter was his solid solo debut after leaving Mott, and it features the same mixture of, er, 'rockers and ballads' as his alma mater, with plenty of his signature-type songs thrown in, particularly hit single Once Bitten Twice Shy, covered by a whole slew of rock acts since. The 'Tron only gets used on one track (played by Mick Ronson), but there's a fair bit of strings on the lengthy Boy, which is a typical Hunter-style power ballad building to a crescendo of wailing guitars, etc.
His follow-up, All-American Alien Boy, is more of the same, with standout tracks including Irene Wild and Rape, with its bleak refrain of "And justice was seen to be done". Chris Stainton on 'Tron this time round, with flutes on the misspelt Letter To Brittania From The Union Jack, making this even less of a 'Tron album than its predecessor, but if you're into Hunter's skewed take on the world, it's worth hearing whatever.
Twenty-five years on... 2001's Rant answers the question at the top of these reviews: yes, his new stuff sounds just like his old stuff and why not? Not one duffer here; top tracks include opener Ripoff, the acoustic Death Of A Nation, the superb Morons and statement-of-intent closer Still Love Rock And Roll. Andy York on Chamberlin, with background string stabs on Dead Man Walkin' (Eastenders), that suddenly swell into an in-your-face chord and a regular chordal part, plus a less-obviously Chamberlinic part on No One.
2009's Man Overboard is another damn' good album of well-crafted, memorable songs of the kind that no-one under forty (fifty? Sixty?) seems to be writing any more. You know, great tunes, great lyrics, a bit of humour... Best tracks? Opener The Great Escape and (particularly) The Girl From The Office ("Everybody says/What's she like/What's she like/What's she like/What's she like in bed?"), although it all gets a little countryish towards the end. Listen, Hunter's over seventy now; how many other artists of his age are doing anything worthwhile, or, for that matter, anything at all? York plays Chamberlin on the title track, with a faint string part that doesn't especially enhance the track, to be honest, as the sound could've come from almost anything, but it's hardly central to the album's considerable appeal.
I wouldn't say 'rush out and buy these for the tape-replay', but they're all good albums, transcending their 'mid-'70s middling rock' feel, later albums included. I can't be 100% sure the Chamby's real on the two later releases, either, but samples are notoriously hard to spot, so here they stay until/if I should find out otherwise.
See: Samples etc.
Hurricane #1 (1997, 47.53) ***/T½
|Just Another Illusion
Faces in a Dream
Step Into My World
Let Go of the Dream
Stand in Line
Only the Strongest Will Survive (1999, 71.47) **½/½
The Greatest High
The Price That We Pay
Only the Strongest Will Survive
|Long Way Down
What Do I Know?
Hurricane #1 were effectively Britpop Johnny-come-latelys, formed by Andy Bell, after the Oxford-based Ride bit the dust. Although they took Oasis as their rather unfortunate collective muse, they couldn't stoop that far, partly because Bell's voice is considerably better than the estimable (?) Mr. Gallagher's. In fact, the music on their eponymous debut is better all round, with some fairly inventive riffs (Step Into My World, Stand In Line) and a less whiny vibe about the whole thing, which has to be good.
The Mellotron, played by Bell, is mostly in the background, to the point where I'm not 100% sure it's there at all on some tracks, with vague flutes and strings on Just Another Illusion, Faces In A Dream and Mother Superior, the only upfront use being on closer Stand In Line, with some Beatles-esque flutes and maybe a little strings. As a result I really couldn't recommend this as a Mellotron Album, although if you're into that UK indie sound, you could do an awful lot worse. Like Oasis. Talking of which, in a supreme irony, after Hurricane #1's split, Andy Bell has joined Oasis as a full partner, apparently. Good luck, mate...
Before said split, Hurricane #1 managed one more long player, '99's Only the Strongest Will Survive, which is near-as-dammit identical to their debut, only even less good, not to mention horrendously overlong. And they did a bunch of otherwise unreleased b-side tracks... No outstanding tracks in any area and only one with any Mellotron, with some faint flutes on Afterhours, although I believe the phased strings are just regular samples. They've used that grotesquely clichéd 'gap with a hidden track' technique, too, said track being an interminable instrumental jam loaded with synth bleeps, but it only knocks three or so minutes off the album's ridiculous length.
A Parallax I (2009, 37.38) ***/T½
A Grave in the Gravel
Take the Train!
No No Baby
While the Boys Went Down Under
|Waiting on Rayne
The Great-Grandghosts of Buena Vista, GA
James "Husband" Huggins III used to play with Mellotron sample users Of Montreal, which hasn't stopped me from putting his fourth album, 2009's A Parallax I into the main part of the site. It's a pretty mainstream, indie pop/rock kind of record, albeit one with fairly decent songs, which makes a nice change, which isn't to say I'm going to want to hear it again for a while. Possibly ever.
Co-producer Tom(as) Hakava (Ben's Diapers, Witchcraft, loads of others) adds (presumably his own) Mellotron to a couple of tracks, with a flute line and a major string part on Waiting On Rayne and flute and cello parts on The Great-Grandghosts of Buena Vista, GA. More would've been nice, but it'd be churlish to complain, wouldn't it? Overall, something of an indie pop effort, but better than most of the competition, with one great 'Tron track.
A Lifetime (2004, 45.18) **½/T
|If You Go Breaking My Heart
Say a Little Prayer
That Don't Make it Right
Come to My Rescue
To a Better Place
|For How Long
Why You Fly
If I Was
Hush are the Danish duo of Dorthe Gerlach (vocals) and Michael Hartmann (guitars/programming), and going by the evidence on their debut album, A Lifetime, are heavily committed to producing rather dull, maudlin ballads, making the occasional more upbeat track (Why You Fly, If I Was) sound good in comparison. Is this stuff popular? They've on Universal, so I'd imagine someone thinks so. Not round here, though.
String arranger Ole Hansen also plays Mellotron, with flutes on Come To My Rescue and strings, as against the ubiquitous real ones, on closer Drown, with an interesting 'choke-off' at the end, as the tape runs out. You know, you really don't need to own this album or, for that matter, even hear it. There's good maudlin and bad maudlin, and this is the latter. Avoid.
Yankee Reality (2009, 40.41) ***/T
So They Say
One Way Ticket
Take it Easy
|For While You Slept
Devil Made You High
Hush Arbors are effectively Keith Wood's solo project; Wood is also a member of Current 93, which probably gives you some idea where he's coming from. Yankee Reality features elements of 'wyrd folk', current indie and that early '70s brand of fuzz-guitar psych that never really quite broke into the mainstream at the time. For all that, there's a fair bit of stylistic variety across the album's forty minutes, from the almost Byrdsian So They Say through the twisted country of Coming Home and Take It Easy to the full-on psych guitar-fest of closer Devil Made You High.
Producer J. Mascis plays (presumably his own) Mellotron on Coming Home, with a string part than enhances the song nicely without being intrusive, making it a shame it wasn't used slightly more. Yankee Reality is irritatingly inconsistent, which is why it doesn't get a higher rating, although its good bits are very good indeed. Lysergonauts should probably give this a go for its best bits.
Goodbye Blues (2008, 40.04) ***/TT½
The Boys Are Too Refined
As You Cry
Not Your Concern
Love You Much Better
Hospital Bed Crawl
Break the Sky
The Hush Sound play a kind of jaunty-yet-melancholic, early '60s-influenced indie, at least on their third album, 2008's Goodbye Blues. It's not so much the kind of album where you can pick out 'best tracks' (although I rather like The Boys Are Too Refined, in its own way), as the kind which should be listened to as a whole, its strength being in its cohesion rather than in individual highlights.
Zac Rae plays Chamberlin, nicely audible for once, with strings on Honey, Medicine Man, Six and Molasses, with strings and flutes on Break The Sky. This certainly isn't going to appeal to everyone, but it sit well above your 'typical' indie album in both concept and execution, with some decent Chamberlin use as a bonus.
Hydravion (1977, 31.13) ***½/T½Metro
Étude en Do
I Don't Have the Time
Stratos Airlines (1979, 35.11) ***/T½Passadena Airport
Hydravion (named for a famous French seaplane) were essentially the duo of guitarist Cooky Rhinoceros and our old friend Philippe Besombes, allegedly having a stab at doing something at least vaguely commercial. I wouldn't actually call 1977's Hydravion commercial, as it resembles a cross between the more obtuse end of the Jean Michel Jarre canon and Heldon, to pick two better-known French synthesists, although it has an infectious energy missing from M. Jarre's work and an innate tuneful missing from Heldon's. Best track? Maybe Étude En Do, though nothing here makes you reach for the 'next' button. Besombes plays Mellotron, with heavily-reverbed choirs on Metro and Sad Ending and church organ on Silver Seaplane and Étude En Do, though barely on the former.
The duo followed up with their second and last album in 1979, Stratos Airlines, which turns out to be no more poptastic than their debut, although opener Passadena Airport has a certain Jarre-ness about it and Ligne Équateur is bouncy enough, in an odd kind of way. Besombes gets some phased 'Tron strings on opener Passadena Airport and choirs on Carolyn Sud, though that would appear to be it.
I don't think either of these has ever been available on CD individually, although they can both be found on Purple Pyramid's Besombes 4-disc set Anthology 1975-1979 (2016). If you just can't get enough of that French electronic avant/pop crossover, you'll probably want to add these to your other various Besombes releases, but they're not essential listening for the rest of us. Hydravion's probably better than its successor, but both albums' Mellotronic input seems to be on a (low) par. Not bad, heard better.
See: Philippe Besombes | Besombes-Rizet
Stockholm (2014, 37.51) ***/T
|You or No One
Like in the Movies
Down the Wrong Way
You're the One
A Plan Too Far
In a Miracle
House of Cards
|Tourniquet (Cynthia Ann)
Adding the Blue
I can't imagine Chrissie Hynde needs much introduction: moved to the UK from her native Akron, Ohio, in the early '70s, formed The Pretenders a few years later, became deservedly rich and famous. I presume she's spent over thirty years working pretty much exclusively with her band, as 2014's Stockholm (guess where it was recorded?) is her first solo album. Does it sound like The Pretenders? Not especially, no, although her distinctive voice makes comparisons unavoidable. Amongst a cast of (mostly Swedish) thousands, Neil Young and John McEnroe (yes, that one) play guitar; Neil's contributions to Down The Wrong Way are completely unmistakable. Top tracks? Dark Sunglasses, the rolling Down The Wrong Way, the acoustic Tourniquet and Sweet Nuthin', maybe.
Hynde's go-to man on the session, Björn Yttling, gets a Mellotron credit. A quote from an online interview: "We also used a Mellotron, both the analog and digital models." So what are we hearing and where? I'll put my neck on the line and say that, despite it being an unusual sound, I think the muted brass (French horns?) on In A Miracle is genuine, ditto the high strings on closer Adding The Blue, with at least one other track featuring the sampled strings. Not a Pretenders album, then, this is Chrissie Hynde letting herself off the leash and doing exactly what she wants.
The Intrige of Perception (2004, 48.22) ***½/TTThe Endless Void
Good Sinner - Bad Saint
Twisting the Knife
The Intrigue of Perception
I Islands in the Sun
II The Next Level
III A Castle in the Sky
IV Islands (Reprise)
Hypnos 69 grew out of an earlier, '70s-inspired outfit, Starfall. Although they changed their name in 1995, their first release (an EP) was in 2000 and their first album in 2002. The Intrigue of Perception is their third full-lengther, sounding almost exactly like the kind of band who'd be on about mid-afternoon at one of those early-'70s festivals, just when you'd given in and joined the three-hour queue for an overpriced, half-cooked dogburger. But better. There's something to be said from having the ability to learn from your predecessors' mistakes, you know... It's a pretty varied effort - you can't fault the band for their eclecticism; opener The Endless Void is mad psych/prog, while Good Sinner - Bad Saint is an electric blues jam, the title track falls halfway between CSN&Y and Earthbound-era King Crimson, maybe and closer Absent Friends is all '68-era Floyd.
Steven Marx is credited with Mellotron and we get pretty authentic-sounding strings on The Endless Void, with flutes on parts I and III of the title track and background strings on part IV. Not the most jaw-dropping use ever, but the strings sound wobbly enough to be real. This album beats a lot of the competition by dint of its variation and overall sound, even if the material isn't that outstanding. Worth hearing. Incidentally, there's supposed to be more 'Tron on their follow-up, 2006's The Eclectic Measure (reviewed here), but it sounds seriously sampled to my ears.
See: Samples etc.
Apple 13 (2003, 43.48) ***/T
Boat Keep Sailing
In a Silver Room
Do You Love
The World Spits Out a Lover
|Hush Little Children
Over and Over
Find Another Clown
Hypnosis coalesced in the late '90s, releasing their debut, Medicine Works Like Magic, in 2000 (review to follow when I track a copy down). Three years on, Apple 13 appeared, sounding precisely like a recently-unearthed late-period psych album from 1969, round about the time the brown acid kicked in. While not a bad record, I've found it difficult to engage with this; I think I prefer my psych either short and poppy or drawn-out and jamming, and this is short but jamming, which is almost as bad as long and poppy. Opener Stargazer's pretty good, ditto Shivering Sands, but most of the rest just drifts along in a fog of third-rate Pretty Things copyist accusations and badly-recorded Farfisa.
Produced by Sundial's Gary Ramon and recorded at his studio, I presume keys man Darren McFerran played Ramon's Mellotron, although it's possible Ramon did the honours himself, I suppose. Anyway, we get spitty brass on In A Silver Room and solo trumpet (same sound?) on closer Find Another Clown; oh well, I suppose at least they aren't the usual Mellotron clichés... I'm sorry to be so down on this; UK psych's pretty thin on the ground, and I'd love to be able to be more positive about it, but... I can't. Has its moments, but they're not Mellotronic ones.