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Daniel Johnston
Joker's Daughter
Michel Jonasz
Joyce Jonathan
Norah Jones
Tom Jones
Jonesy


Billy Joel  (US)

Billy Joel, 'The Stranger'

The Stranger  (1977,  42.02)  ***/½

Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)
The Stranger
Just the Way You Are
Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
Vienna
Only the Good Die Young
She's Always a Woman
Get it Right the First Time
Everybody Has a Dream

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

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?

Official site

Björn Johansson  (Sweden)

Björn Johansson, 'Discus Ursi'

Discus Ursi  (1998,  65.17)  ***/TTT

Discus Ursi's Prelude
King of Gold
  Golden Discharge
  The Wish
  The Transmutation
  The Oracle
  The Dive
  Golden Riverbank

Time Fracture
Pegasus
  The Goddess and the Gold
  The Desert
  The Goddess and the Queen
  The Queens Father
  The Desert

The Last Minstrel of Marble
Discus Ursi's Rhapsody

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

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

Andrew John  (UK)

Andrew John, 'The Machine Stops'

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
Flying South
Her Father Didn't Like Me
Seasons Change
The Great Kansas Hymn
Why Not Admit
Another Day

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

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:

Elton John

John the Revelator  (Netherlands)

John the Revelator, 'Wild Blues'

Wild Blues  (1971,  33.20/57.10)  ***½/0 (½)

John the Revelator
I Can't Stop Lovin' You
Worried Dreams
Charlie's Drive Inn
Talk to Me, Baby
Personal Manager
Wild Blues
Bleeding Heart
No Woman
Homework
[CD adds:
Yeah
Rockin' Squirrel
One Track Mind
I Can't Stop Loviní You (live)
Little Red Rooster (demo)
Worried Dreams (instr. demo)]

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

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.

Official site

Ethan Johns  (UK)

Ethan Johns, 'If Not Now Then When?'

If Not Now Then When?  (2012,  36.26)  ***½/½

Hello Sunshine
Morning Blues
Eden
Red Rooster Blue
The Turning
Rally
Don't Reach Too Far
Whip Poor Will
Willow
The Long Way Round

Current availability:

Chamberlin used:

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.

Official site

See: Paul McCartney

Jack Johnson  (US)

Jack Johnson, 'To the Sea'

To the Sea  (2010,  41.28)  **/½

You and Your Heart
To the Sea
No Good With Faces
At or With Me
When I Look Up
From the Clouds
My Little Girl
Turn Your Love
The Upsetter
Red Wine, Mistakes, Mythology
Pictures of People Taking Pictures
Anything But the Truth
Only the Ocean

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Hawaiian Jack Johnson's career gained a leg-up from Philadelphian 'alternative hip-hop' crew G. Love & Special Sauce and Ben Harper, breaking through with 2006's Sing-a-Longs & Lullabies for the Film Curious George soundtrack. His style is probably best described as acoustic pop, incorporating elements from indie, folk and classic singer-songwriter areas, which probably means he isn't going to appeal too strongly to most of you reading this. 2010's To the Sea is his fifth album, not (as far as I can ascertain) especially different to its four predecessors, which should make for another million-seller, if he's lucky. As the late lamented Douglas Adams once wrote, "Mostly harmless". But only mostly. Worst track? Probably From The Clouds, which made me feel violent.

Johnson plays the Mellotron himself, with a really quite real-sounding string line on Pictures Of People Taking Pictures, although whether that's flutes on No Good With Faces remains uncertain.

Official site

Mike Johnson  (US)

Mike Johnson, 'Year of Mondays'

Year of Mondays  (1996,  51.43)  ***½/T

Where am I?
One Way Out
Way it Will Be/Too Far
Another Side
Circle
Eclipse
Left in the Dark
Hold the Reins
Say It's So
Overdrive

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Mellotron used:

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

Will Johnson  (US)

Will Johnson, 'Murder of Tides'

Murder of Tides  (2002,  36.48)  ***/T½

Murder of Tides (Westerlies)
Commonly Linked
The Riot Jack
Phico Manitoba
Karcher's Contacts
Re-Run Pills
River Koltolwash
In a Motionless Way
Tent of Total Mystery
The Yellow Signals

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Will Johnson is frontman of Centro-matic and South San Gabriel, not to mention a recent joinee of Monsters of Folk and collaborator with several other bands. 2002's Murder of Tides is his first solo album, a sparse, acoustic record, haunted by Johnson's melancholy songs, which are good, if not exactly Nick Drake (but then, who is?).

Scott Danborn plays Mellotron, with what sounds like an unholy combination of church organ, male choir and mandolins (!) on opener Murder Of Tides (Westerlies), a flute line on The Riot Jack and vibes on Re-Run Pills, although I'm not 100% sure how genuine it might be. Did he really find a machine with mandolin tapes? Not bad, then, but not classic, either, with a couple of decent 'Tron tracks.

See: South San Gabriel

Daniel Johnston  (US)

Daniel Johnston, 'Fear Yourself'

Fear Yourself  (2003,  46.17)  ***½/TT

Now
Syrup of Tears

Mountain Top
Love Enchanted
Must

Fish
The Power of Love
Forever Your Love
Love Not Dead
You Hurt Me
Wish
Living it for The Moment

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Mellotron/Chamberlin used:

If you're of an even remotely 'alt.' persuasion, you'll know Daniel Johnston; diagnosed as bipolar, he's spent time in mental hospitals, which doesn't seem to have harmed his slightly skewed career ambitions. He's been recording his strange, naïve little songs since his late teens, initially giving cassettes to people he met, eventually being signed to Atlantic, although they only actually released one of his albums. His career has had its highs and lows since (Kurt Cobain wearing one of his T-shirts didn't hurt), but his devoted following devours his sporadic releases and he has a coterie of high-profile fans and collaborators.

2003's Fear Yourself is something like his 17th studio album in 20-odd years. I get the impression it's a pretty Johnston release; sad songs, mostly dealing with love forsaken, sung in his cracked, heartfelt voice. He actually has a way with a melody; Syrup Of Tears is marvellous, although the quieter tracks featuring Johnston on school piano tend to work better than the more upbeat ones. This isn't for everyone, by any means, but the faithful will understand. As a newcomer to Johnston's work, I find it strangely affecting, although I can't see myself playing it that often.

Y'know, if I didn't have track-by-track credits, I might well be sitting here typing 'can't hear the Mellotron anywhere', it's so low in the mix. Alan Weatherhead plays Mellotron and/or Chamberlin on all highlighted tracks, with Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous on Mellotron here and there. Opener Now has Weatherhead on Chamberlin strings, although I've no idea what the Mellotron's doing, while the only possible Chamby sound on Syrup Of Tears is the cellos, with Mellotron cello on Love Enchanted and strings ('Tron or Chamby?) on Must. Finally, there's some properly audible strings (and reverbed-to-hell choir) on The Power Of Love, one of two tracks where Mark Linkous contributes 'Tron, although Weatherhead plays both 'Tron and Chamby, too. I don't know if the low-fi church bells at the beginning of Forever Your Love are Mellotron FX tapes or Linkous' Optigan, but the flutes and cellos are definitely 'Tron, again, from Linkous and Weatherhead.

So; an odd little album, but it's Daniel Johnston. What did you expect? Despite a half-dozen 'Tron/Chamby tracks, it isn't that apparent on most of them, but it's probably worth hearing anyway, if only to get a handle on where Johnston's coming from. Cautiously recommended.

Official site

See: Sparklehorse | The Late Great Daniel Johnston

Joker's Daughter  (UK)

Joker's Daughter, 'The Last Laugh'

The Last Laugh  (2009,  40.35)  ***/T½

Worm's Head
Jessie The Goat
Go Walking
Lucid
JD Folk Blues
The Last Laugh
Under the Influence of Jaffa Cakes
Jelly Belly
Cake and July
Chasing Ticking Crocodile

Nothing is Ever as it Seems
The Running Goblin
The Bull Bites Back
Yellow Teapot

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Mellotron used:

Joker's Daughter are the duo of the Anglo/Greek Helena Costas and notorious US producer Danger Mouse (The Grey Album, Gnarls Barkley, millions of productions), making for an odd singer-songwriter/electronica mash-up that stands a good chance of falling between the cracks, being neither one thing nor the other. Actually, it's more a modern singer-songwriter album than an electronica one, with a refreshingly British bent (do they sell Jaffa Cakes anywhere else?), although most of its track are a little too similar to each other to really stand out.

Danger Mouse and Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) both play Mellotron, although how authentic it might be is another matter; I get the impression that some of Linkous' credits are actually samples. Anyway, we get background strings and a choppy choir part on Lucid, high choirs on Cake And July and a high-in-the-mix flute part, backed by strings, on Chasing Ticking Crocodile, the flutes, in particular, sounding real. So; seems to be good at what it does, so let's hope Danger Mouse's name helps to sell an album competing in an already overcrowded market. Passable 'Tron use, too, for what it's worth.

Official site

Michel Jonasz  (France)

Michel Jonasz, '"Guigui"'

"Guigui"  (1978,  39.04)  **/½

My Woman is Gone
La Famille
Paty Paty
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,
  J'Suis Foutu
Guigui
Rose
La Porte de Vanves
Clodo Clodo
Golden Gate
C'est une Idée en l'Air

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Mellotron used:

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 'Tron track. Maybe not, then.

Official site

Joyce Jonathan  (France)

Joyce Jonathan, 'Sur Mes Gardes'

Sur Mes Gardes  (2010,  39.09)  **½/½

L'Heure Avait Sonné
Pas Besoin de Toi
Je Ne Sais Pas
Ma Musique
Au Bar
Prends Ton Temps
Un Peu d'Espoir
Bien Trop Simple
Sur Mes Gardes
Tant Pis
Les Souvenirs
Le Piège

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Mellotron used:

French singer-songwriter Joyce Jonathan is so young that, a year after the release of her debut, 2010's Sur Mes Gardes, she is still studying. The album is a pleasant, if slightly ineffectual collection of songs, probably about all the usual subject [sic], better tracks including acoustic ballads Au Bar and closer Le Piège.

Producer Louis Bertignac (Carla Bruni) plays Mellotron, with a melodic flute part on the single, Je Ne Sais Pas, although that would seem to be it. So; completely harmless, but rather unengaging if you don't speak the language (or even if you do).

MySpace

Norah Jones  (US)

Norah Jones, 'Not Too Late'

Not Too Late  (2007,  45.23)  ***/T

Wish I Could
Sinkin' Soon
The Sun Doesn't Like You
Until the End
Not My Friend
Thinking About You
Broken
My Dear Country
Wake Me Up
Be My Somebody
Little Room
Rosie's Lullaby
Not Too Late

Current availability:

Mellotron/Chamberlin used:

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, 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.

Official site

Tom Jones  (UK)

Tom Jones, 'Praise & Blame'

Praise & Blame  (2010,  38.07)  ****/½

What Good am I?
Lord Help
Did Trouble Me
Strange Things
Burning Hell
If I Give My Soul
Don't Knock
Nobody's Fault But Mine
Didn't it Rain
Ain't No Grave
Run on
Tom Jones, 'Spirit in the Room'

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
Traveling Shoes
All Blues Hail Mary
Charlie Darwin
[Bonus tracks:
Just Dropped in
Lone Pilgrim
When the Deal Goes Down]

Current availability:

Mellotron/Chamberlin used:

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. OK, not a clavinet.

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.

Official site

Jonesy  (UK)

Jonesy, 'No Alternative'

No Alternative  (1972,  43.21)  ***½/TTTT

No Alternative
Heaven
Mind of the Century
1958
Pollution
Ricochet
Jonesy, 'Keeping Up'

Keeping Up...  (1973,  40.13)  ****/TTTT

Masquerade
Sunset and Evening Star

Preview
Questions and Answers
Critique (With Exceptions)
Duet
Song
Children
Jonesy, 'Growing'

Growing  (1973,  39.03)  ***½/T½

Can You Get That Together
Waltz for Yesterday
Know Who Your Friends Are
Growing
Hard Road
Jonesy
Jonesy, 'Sudden Prayers Make God Jump...'

Sudden Prayers Make God Jump...  (2003, recorded 1974,  35.47)  ****/TTT

Dark Room
Running
Bad Dreams
The Lights Have Changed
Old Gentleman's Relief

Anthem
Jonesy, 'Dark Matter (Inner Space)'

Dark Matter (Inner Space)  (2011, recorded 19?-20?,  38.01)  ***/½

Parallel Universes
  a. The Void
  b. There's Someone in Here!

Silently Screaming
Coldblood
  a. To Sleep... Perchance to Dream?
  b. The Nightmare - Welcome to the Land of the Lizard

Maybe We're All Madmen?
Dark Matter
The Bown Supremacy

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

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.

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