John the Revelator
The Stranger (1977, 42.02) ***/½Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)
Just the Way You Are
Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
Only the Good Die Young
She's Always a Woman
Get it Right the First Time
Everybody Has a Dream
It's funny to think that once upon a time, Billy Joel wasn't actually a byword for appallingly cheesy pop/AOR along the lines of the horrid Uptown Girl or the truly offensive We Didn't Start The Fire; no, Billy - just gleefully fanned the flames. The Stranger was his fifth album and is, by and large, well-crafted singer-songwriter stuff; Joel certainly knows how to put a song together, even the rather cringeworthy Just The Way You Are has better lyrics than I'd remembered. I've surprised myself by not loathing his early work, although I can't exactly see myself playing it on a regular basis.
On what appears to be the only Mellotron track of his career, Joel (presumably) plays a Mellotron flute melody on She's Always A Woman, but it's fair to say that it doesn't especially make the track; I suspect a studio machine that he used on a whim. So; don't go out of your way (big surprise there, then), but a lot less nasty than his later work. Incidentally, extra special low marks for rhyming 'Garden of Eden' with 'bleedin''. Or is it a joke?
Discus Ursi (1998, 65.17) ***/TTT
|Discus Ursi's Prelude
King of Gold
The Goddess and the Gold
The Goddess and the Queen
The Queens Father
The Last Minstrel of Marble
Discus Ursi's Rhapsody
Guitarist Björn Johansson is a compatriot of Swedish progster Pär Lindh, the pair having recorded a couple of couple of co-credited albums together, while Johansson played on the Pär Lindh Project's first album. 1998's Discus Ursi is credited to Johansson alone, although Lindh's stamp is all over the record in the form of his lush keyboard contributions, although Johansson's compositional style is a long way from Lindh's frequently Emersonian excesses. Saying that, chunks of Discus Ursi are distinctly neo-proggish, though without the pseudo-'commercial' edge that ruins so much second- and third-wave prog. The album's chief problem is a lack of truly memorable material, with several lengthy tracks padded out with guitar solos or noodling, failing to sound like the scored symphonic prog that it aims for. There are no end of good moments, but few, if any, really good whole pieces.
Lindh plays his ex-Anekdoten MkV Mellotron on the album, with strings and choir scattered across all but the album's brief intro piece, plus a flute melody on Pegasus. Unfortunately, although two of the longer (although not the longest) tracks are split into several parts, I've no way of knowing where one part ends and another begins, so the tracklisting above makes it look like there's rather less Mellotron on the album than is actually the case. I have to say, too, it really hasn't been recorded very well; the strings don't exactly leap out at you, while the choirs are very murky indeed, rather lessening their effect. As on Lindh's own albums, the Mellotron use here is rarely jaw-dropping, while the recording quality spoils it when it does appear, although it's still good to hear it used this much.
All in all, then, a passable progressive release, several notches above yer typical neo- effort, but several below the best that the genre's had to offer in the last couple of decades. It would've got a higher 'T' rating if the Mellotron had actually been recorded in the same building as the rest of the instruments, too. I'm sorry I can't be more positive about this album, but the good bits are, if not outweighed, then certainly held back by the mediocre ones.
See: Pär Lindh Project | Pär Lindh & Björn Johansson
The Machine Stops (1972, 37.53) ***/T
|The Only Friend I Own
When I Wake Up
Old Compton Street Blues
Time Has Told Me
Famous Blue Raincoat
Her Father Didn't Like Me
|The Great Kansas Hymn
Why Not Admit
It wouldn't be strictly accurate to refer to Andrew John (Huddleston) as a 'singer/songwriter', as all but one of the songs on his sole album, 1972's The Machine Stops, are his interpretations of other people's material. No shame there; plenty of more familiar names have done the same. Once upon a time, hardly anyone wrote their own material; that's how Tin Pan Alley started, with professional songwriters servicing musicians (so to speak). Enough history that you already know; John delivers some very listenable versions of songs by Nick Drake (Time Has Told Me; at this point, Drake was far from a household name), Leonard Cohen (Famous Blue Raincoat, rather lacking the gravitas of the original), Al Stewart (the excellent Old Compton Street Blues) and Roy Harper (Another Day), amongst others. His one original, Why Not Admit, is a perfectly good song with a slight country feel, certainly no worse than many similar.
John plays Mellotron himself, with cello lines on Tony Bolton's When I Wake Up (that could almost be real) and Gerry Rafferty's Her Father Didn't Like Me, although I do wonder whether he couldn't find/afford a cellist, so just substituted the studio Mellotron. This isn't on CD and may never be, but a download has appeared on someone's site and no, it isn't immoral when something's commercially unavailable. Worth hearing for fans of early '70s Brit-folk, but not for Mellotron nuts. Incidentally, John is married to Danish artist/musician Lissa Sørensen, with whom he still plays and releases the occasional album.
Official Andrew/Lissa site
Elton John (UK) see:
Wild Blues (1971, 33.20/57.10) ***½/0 (½)
|John the Revelator
I Can't Stop Lovin' You
Charlie's Drive Inn
Talk to Me, Baby
One Track Mind
I Can't Stop Loviní You (live)
Little Red Rooster (demo)
Worried Dreams (instr. demo)]
John the Revelator (named for the Son House track) were a Dutch blues outfit from the late '60s, led by bassist/vocalist Tom Huissen, heavily inspired by Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac. Their first album (and last for a decade), 1971's Wild Blues, is pretty much a carbon-copy of Green's mob over the North Sea, although the band's two-piece brass section gives them a level of sonic individuality.
Good though the album is, the only recordings of relevance to this site date from May '71, when the band went into the studio (Phonogram's famed facility at Hilversum) to record a single, strangely electing to label the sides 'B' and 'C', for reasons known best to themselves. Rockin' Squirrel is pretty much what you'd expect, while the flip, One Track Mind, is an excellent slow blues, but for reasons now lost in the mists of time, the label elected not to release it. Their regular producer, Tony Vos, not being available, they were assigned Hans van Hemert, who normally worked at the commercial coalface and didn't understand where the Revelator chaps were coming from at all. As a result, he attempted to 'commercialise' the tracks with some up-to-the-minute technology, viz an ARP (probably a 2600) on Rockin' Squirrel (and real flute from one of the saxophonists) and what must've been the studio's notorious M300 Mellotron on One Track Mind, with a background string part that, frankly, adds little to the track, although it's preferable to the real strings that the Mac would probably have used.
The band split in '73, Huissen going on to play in Hellhound for several years before reforming John the Revelator towards the end of the decade, still playing today. The album, by now a serious collector's item, was finally reissued in 2003, adding a raft of bonus tracks, including, of course, the aborted single, giving us the opportunity to hear one of the era's lesser Mellotron tracks.
Clairvoyance (2000, 49.29) ***/T½
|Blue Plastic Bag
Hard to Care
One Foot Slips
Figure it Out
|Don't Die on Me
At the Top of the Charts
Help Me Down
I haven't heard NYC's Johnny Society's first two Mellotron albums, but, going by this, they're an indie-end-of-powerpop outfit, with links to several other Mellotron-using acts, not least The Hand and Blueberry and Chris Whitley. 2000's Clairvoyance is possibly at its best on One Foot Slips, the sitar-driven Mexican Sunset and Angel, but too many of its tracks err on the indie side, dragging the album down somewhat.
Brian Geltner and Kenny Siegal play Mellotron, with fragile string and cello lines on Hard To Care, chordal flutes on Leaves and flutes and strings on Juggling Monkeys. There's nothing Mellotronic on their follow-up, 2003's Life Behind The 21st Century Wall, while the credited Mellotron on 2005's Coming to Get You turns out to be sampled.
See: Samples etc. | Blueberry
If Not Now Then When? (2012, 36.26) ***½/½
Red Rooster Blue
Don't Reach Too Far
Whip Poor Will
The Long Way Round
Ethan Johns, son of legendary producer Glyn, is a rated producer (Ryan Adams, Kaiser Chiefs, Crosby, Stills & Nash) and musician in his own right, with a credits list as long as your arm. 2012's If Not Now Then When? is his solo debut, released initially only on vinyl, an Americana-infused album with an utterly timeless feel about it; this could just as easily have been made in 1973. Top tracks? It's more about the overall effect than individual highlights, but Morning Blues, the raucous Don't Reach Too Far and Whip Poor Will (ho ho) stand out.
Johns is credited with Chamberlin on The Turning, although the only possibility is the scratchy background noise on the sparse piano ballad, which could just possibly be the sound of someone messing about with the machine's tape-heads. Not exactly 'standard' use, then, assuming I'm right. Anyway, the album's dubious tape-replay content isn't why you should make the effort to hear this; not perfect, but well worth hearing.
See: Paul McCartney
Year of Mondays (1996, 51.43) ***½/T
|Where am I?
One Way Out
Way it Will Be/Too Far
Left in the Dark
Hold the Reins
|Say It's So
Mike Johnson replaced Lou Barlow (later of Sebadoh) in Dinosaur Jr and has been making concurrent solo albums since 1994. '96's Year of Mondays is his second, mixing a careworn Americana with bursts of Neil Youngesque electric fury, notably on Say It's So and the lengthy, jammed-out Overdrive, although it's safe to say there are no bad tracks on the album, which makes a nice change.
Johnson plays Mellotron (Mascis'?) on Circle, with a string part running throughout the song, although that's it on the 'Tron front. Year of Mondays is a good, if not great album, likely to appeal to Americana and dinosaur Jr fans, although I wouldn't go too far out of your way for its Mellotron use.
See: Dinosaur Jr
"Guigui" (1978, 39.04) **/½
|My Woman is Gone
En V'la du Slow en V'la
Chanson pour les Gens Qui Sont Loin
Un Chausson Aux Pommes
La Drogue M'a Mis la Main d'ssus,
La Porte de Vanves
C'est une Idée en l'Air
Michel Jonasz (French, of Hungarian parentage) began his career in the '60s, but only became successful in his own right in the mid-'70s. 1978's "Guigui" starts off as if it's going to be a typical soul/pop album (Gallic division), quickly shifting into other styles, including chanson (En V'La Du Slow En V'La, the title track) and La Drogue M'a Mis La Main D'ssus, J'Suis Foutu's good old-fashioned rock'n'roll. It's slightly unfair to judge this album by modern, non-French standards; it was made to order, after a fashion and does the job it set out to do perfectly well.
Georges Rodi and Michel Coeuriot both play Mellotron, with a striking flute part on La Famille and background, er, something Mellotronic (string section? Brass?) on En V'La Du Slow En V'La; hardly anything you can't live without, to be honest. To reiterate, while it might be unfair to judge this album by my standards, it's difficult not to and my standards say it's a bit of a dud, with one so-so Mellotron track. Maybe not, then.
Not Too Late (2007, 45.23) ***/T
|Wish I Could
The Sun Doesn't Like You
Until the End
Not My Friend
Thinking About You
My Dear Country
|Wake Me Up
Be My Somebody
Not Too Late
There can't be (m)any readers of this site who haven't run into (Geethali) Norah Jones (Shankar) somewhere along the line; she's become pretty ubiquitous the last few years, hardly ever off the telly, it seems. You'll all know that she's the illegitimate (what an appalling concept) daughter of Ravi Shankar, from his '70s wild years, so it's hardly surprising that she's so prodigiously talented, whether or not you actually like what she does. Personally, I find her music well on the wrong side of the 'bland/not bland' divide, which is probably why it's so popular, but what do I know? Most of my favourite artists struggle to sell any records at all, apart from, er, Led Zeppelin and, er, a few others. Anyway, the album combines various facets of her style, with mainstream balladry (Wish I Could, the title track), the jazz that she's known for (Sinkin' Soon) and even country (Wake Me Up).
On the tape-replay front, Paul Bryan plays a nice Chamberlin string line on The Sun Doesn't Like You, complete with woozy pitchbend, while Norah provides Mellotron strings on the title track, subdued enough that you're not quite sure whether they're 'Tron or not. Overall, this is only going to appeal to those with fairly mainstream tastes, I'd say, although if you appreciate great voices, regardless of musical style, you may well go for it. Passable tape-replay, but nothing outstanding.
Praise & Blame (2010, 38.07) ****/½
|What Good am I?
Did Trouble Me
If I Give My Soul
Nobody's Fault But Mine
|Didn't it Rain
Ain't No Grave
Spirit in the Room (2012, 37.31/50.39) ***½/T
|Tower of Song
(I Want to) Come Home
Hit or Miss
Love and Blessings
Soul of a Man
Bad as Me
Dimming of the Day
|All Blues Hail Mary
Just Dropped in
When the Deal Goes Down]
Betcha never expected to see me review anything by 'Jones the voice', eh? Nor me, friends, nor me... Tom Jones has spent so long as a parody of himself, it's easy to forget that he's a brilliant singer, earning him his 'British Elvis' sobriquet, unfortunately including his decades in the Light Entertainment graveyard, despite occasional forays into contemporary pop (notably his 1988 duet on Prince's Kiss with The Art of Noise). After 2008's 24 Hours, Jones completes his rehabilitation with 2010's Praise & Blame, where he 'does a Johnny', tackling carefully-chosen material with the verve of the fabulous Rick Rubin-helmed Johnny Cash American Recordings series.
So what do we get? A haunted, ethereal take on a late-period Dylan number from Oh Mercy, What Good Am I? and a blistering version of Jessie Mae Hemphill's Lord Help, while John Lee Hooker's Burning Hell just rocks. Nobody's Fault But Mine goes back to its 'trad.arr.' origins, neatly bypassing Led Zep's 'Page/Plant' version, the rest of the material largely going either the 'ethereal' or the 'rockabilly' routes. Producer Ethan Johns plays Mellotron on Did Trouble Me, although the only thing it even might be is oboes, double-tracking the credited harmonium. I originally thought it might be the background strings on Ain't No Grave (a second Zeppelin quote, using the same source as their In My Time Of Dying), although those could, frankly, have been produced by almost anything.
Two years on, Jones continues to 'do a Johnny' on 2012's Spirit in the Room, although the end result, while still very good, doesn't seem to quite match its predecessor. Shock value worn off? Too one-paced? Dunno, but it didn't grab me in quite the same way. Saying that, top tracks include the mutant rockabilly of Love And Blessings, the unsettling Soul Of A Man and excellent bonus track Just Dropped In (as in Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)), although all pale in comparison with his take on the incomparable Richard Thompson's beautiful Dimming Of The Day. Producer Ethan Johns plays Chamberlin on Bad As Me, with what sound like sleazy brass and woodwind parts, but we're hardly talking essential use here.
All in all, if you have any interest in rock's roots, you stand a decent chance of enjoying both Praise & Blame and Spirit in the Room, possibly helped by their short vinyl length (look! Under forty minutes!), giving them no chance to wear out their welcomes. I've always had a sneaking respect for Jones, despite the knicker-throwing years, so I'm extremely happy to hear him produce something of genuine worth, even if its tape-replay input is low-to-nonexistent. Hey, at least they're credited, giving me the opportunity to review these excellent albums.
No Alternative (1972, 43.21) ***½/TTTTNo Alternative
Mind of the Century
Keeping Up... (1973, 40.13) ****/TTTTMasquerade
Sunset and Evening Star
Questions and Answers
Critique (With Exceptions)
Growing (1973, 39.03) ***½/T½Can You Get That Together
Waltz for Yesterday
Know Who Your Friends Are
Sudden Prayers Make God Jump... (2003, recorded 1974, 35.47) ****/TTTDark Room
The Lights Have Changed
Old Gentleman's Relief
Dark Matter (Inner Space) (2011, recorded 19?-20?, 38.01) ***/½Parallel Universes
a. The Void
b. There's Someone in Here!
a. To Sleep... Perchance to Dream?
b. The Nightmare - Welcome to the Land of the Lizard
Maybe We're All Madmen?
The Bown Supremacy
Jonesy were put together by John (Evan-) Jones after he released a solo singer/songwriter-type album for German label BASF with keyboard player Jamie Kaleth. No Alternative is a little dated for '72, being a bluesy prog album, nearer to the 'proto-prog' of Gracious! or Cressida than the market leaders of the day. It's by no means a bad album, but is very much of its time, failing to transcend the decades the way their best contemporaries have. Kaleth only plays pianos and Mellotron, so there's a good bit of it to be heard; all six tracks, in fact. Plenty of brass and strings; I'm told they had an M400, but I'm sure I can hear the Mark II brass/strings mix. Maybe not. Anyway, 'Tronnic highlights include the occasional strings pitchbend/swells on Mind Of The Century and the string work on Pollution. Keep an ear out for Kaleth's 'choppy' chords, where he tries to play the thing more like a organ. Key-click warning, key-click warning...
After some lineup changes, they quickly followed-up with Keeping Up..., with veteran hornsman Alan Bown firmly ensconced as a full member. It's an immediate improvement on its predecessor, with considerably more adventurous material, although a vastly improved production may have helped. There's an excellent string arrangement alongside 'Tron strings and flutes on Masquerade, with more of the same on Sunset And Evening Star and a killer string part on Questions And Answers. I keep finding myself thinking 'King Crimson' as I listen to this album; several tracks have some of that Islands weirdness, or Poseidon 'Tron-epic feel to them, particularly the imaginatively-titled Song. Children finishes the album off in grand style, with more Crimsonisms and 'Tron brass alongside the real thing. Recommended.
Growing was more of a group-written album, which shows in its relative lack of direction, and it's often regarded as the weakest of the three. More Crimsonesque stuff, particularly the jazzy dissonance on their, er, 'theme song', Jonesy. Not that much of Kaleth's Mellotron this time round, with just regular strings on Can You Get That Together, and the rarely-heard Mellotron Hammond on Know Who Your Friends Are, but all the rest of the strings seem to be real ones, ditto the brass.
A fourth album was recorded in 1974, but the tapes were stolen and never recovered. When an Italian fan got in contact with Evan-Jones recently, after hearing a copy dubbed from a surviving cassette, he offered to release it. Sudden Prayers Make God Jump... (now, is that a modern Crimson title or what?) saw the light of day in 2003, and although Kaleth had left, Ken Elliott of Second Hand/Seventh Wave fame stepped in on 'Tron duties. The album's an immediate improvement on Growing, making it even more tragic that the masters were lost, although the mastering job that's been done here is excellent, all things considered. Elliott gets plenty of that 'Tron in, with major use in lengthy opener Dark Room and some upfront flutes and strings in Bad Dreams, amongst others.
It's difficult to tell exactly what's going on with 2011's Dark Matter (Inner Space): in some ways, it seems to be an album of new recordings, although the band's site uses the phrase 'includes recordings spanning 3 decades, all previously un-released'. New album or not new album? Either way, it's a most fragmented and eccentric release, seemingly a concept album that's at least as much 'concept' as 'album'. Better tracks include part b of Coldblood, The Nightmare - Welcome To The Land Of The Lizard, but this is clearly meant to be listened to as a whole. Kaleth on (real?) Mellotron, with flutes on part b of opener Parallel Universes, There's Someone In Here!, with little string swells later in the track and occasional choirs and pitchbent strings on 'bonus track' The Bown Supremacy (ho ho), although I'm not at all sure how genuine the latter might be.
So; what to recommend? Keeping Up... is definitely their best, but the other three are worth hearing (particularly Sudden Prayers), if not of quite the same quality, with No Alternative being the most straightforward, and Growing the weirdest. The first two are obviously the better 'Tron albums, so I think I have to say, start with Keeping Up..., then maybe move onto the others. Although it's by far the easiest way to find these albums, be careful of the Australian 'Progressive Line' issues. There's two CDs, No Alternative and Keeping Up..., with the first half of Growing after their second album and the second half on the first... The mastering is pretty awful, with all three albums varying in volume, a minuscule silent gap on Keeping Up..., and worse, what sounds like a few seconds missing at the beginning of Growing, and two listed tracks indexing as one. Sloppy. The Korean Si-Wan releases will be more expensive, but are probably better.