Kantner, Slick & Freiberg
Sada Sat Kaur
Book of the Dead (2005, 46.46) ***/TTChapter 1: Infinite Voyage
Chapter 2: Mirror to the Spirits
Chapter 3: The Edge of Light
Chapter 4: Aten (Window of Appearances)
Chapter 5: Cloak of Antiquity
Black Garden (2010, 55.42) ***½/TTT½Black Garden
Passage to the Deep
Encounter or Absence
Storm at Sunset
Path of the Warrior
The LA-based K2 (to spell their name correctly) are bassist Ken Jaquess' prog project, including not only Spock's Beard's Ryo Okumoto, but also legendary Brit fusion guitarist Allan Holdsworth, amusingly referred to as 'ex-UK' on prog reviews sites, although they were really only a blip in his lengthy career.
2005's Book of the Dead is, in some ways, a typical modern progressive release, although it has elements of fusion (mostly from Holdsworth) and thankfully lacks the heaviosity of many current bands. However, it also lacks much compositional complexity, clearly written by someone whose chief listening is other progressive bands, so interesting key modulations are notable only by their absence and the material often plods. For those who love prog epics, opener Chapter 1: Infinite Voyage is 23 minutes of, well, prog, although to call it 'a Supper's Ready' of the new millennium', as their wildly over-enthusiastic biographer at ProgArchives has, is a little optimistic. Yes, the band utilise elements of Genesis and Yes, particularly in Jaquess' slightly unwelcome bass solos, but the song structures are more '80s neo-prog than classic-era, although Yvette Devereaux's violin makes a welcome change from the usual instrumentation. Jaquess plays Ryo's M400, with strings and/or choir present and correct on all but Chapter 4: Aten (Window Of Appearances), effectively a bass solo over drifting synths. I won't try to claim that the Mellotron use is the heaviest I've ever heard, but sometimes, subtle is best. Not a bad album, then, but, as with so many others, few real chances are taken (you know, what made the first couple of Spock's albums so exciting) and even though it's not overlong, it drags in places and finishes fairly abruptly, lacking any kind of musical closure.
Five years on, Black Garden is a distinct improvement on its predecessor, its fusion-inflected material showcasing a more original, very American sound, at least within the confines of the genre. Highlights include the epic Storm At Sunset, the solo-Mellotron-and-vocal Summer's Fall and closer Path Of The Warrior, although nothing here should upset fans of modern US prog. Much more Mellotron this time round, from both Jaquess and Okumoto, playing one or more of the M400s at Gene Stopp's studio, more notable use including the upfront strings on the opening title track, string swells throughout Widows Watch and the solo strings that underpin Summer's Fall, with string and/or choir parts on everything else.
So; in some ways, a band to watch, although album releases are clearly going to be few and far between. Of these two, Black Garden is definitely your better bet, possibly pointing the way to an even more fusion-drenched future direction.
See: Ryo Okumoto
Kaipa (Sweden) see:
March Forth (2008, 38.29) ***/TT
Free Will Zone
The Brooklyn-based duo of Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel's debut, 2008's March Forth, is something of a naïf of an album, switching between dark, mournful, folk-inspired material like opener Oh No or Good Ones and cheerful, childlike songs along the lines of Season Song or Favorite Song in roughly equal measures. This would appear to be a tactic that could all too easily split their audience between bedsit-dwellers and small children. Maybe that's the point?
Both members play Chamberlin, with distant string notes on Traveling Feet, distant string chords on Good Ones and Blue Sky, nicely upfront flutes on Okay and quite overwhelming strings on Dog Stars, although the cello on a few tracks is real. A somewhat schizophrenic release, then, that might not appeal to anyone much in its entirety. I can't entirely vouch for three of its possible Chamby tracks, either, but two in-yer-face examples is more than we usually get.
Messages in Ether (1989, 39.31) ***½/TTTTInvocations of the Undead
The Third Coming
Under the Double Moon
Kangaroo Kourt are an early Ventricle band, appearing alongside Mauve Sideshow, in other words, weird darkwave, full of atonal synths, creaking Mellotrons and banshee wails. Every Ventricle project is different, concentrating on a different aspect of their vision. In this case, it's arhythmic drones and dissonance, with a good deal of accomplished harp playing on Under The Double Moon that I haven't heard on any of the collective's releases before. The album as a whole is dark and mystical, quite certainly the effect the musicians were after. Job done.
Mellotrons-a-plenty here, which is pretty good going when you think that any meaningful third-party maintenance of their machine must have been of historical interest only, although Dave Kean's Audities Foundation was probably setting up shop around the same time, on the right side of the Atlantic for them. All four parts of Invocations Of The Undead are stuffed with the thing, with cellos and warbling choirs on The Stirring, string section and church organ on The Vows, and are those 'Tron sounds effects I can hear? The Third Coming features what sounds like an on/off mix of the string section and organ, assuming they're next to each other on the relevant tape frame. Dusty Lee seems to care not that the M400 wobbles around like a seasick orchestra; there are those who have it that it sounds better that way (hi, Tim), and who am I to argue? OK, I could, but in this case, its inherent unmaintained instabilities merely add to the overall effect, which could well be lost with a fully-functional machine.
Wow - what a rollercoaster ride. Messages in Ether is definitely at the more listenable end of the Ventricle spectrum, certainly compared to the highly dissonant Steeple of Fyre, which isn't to say that they're exactly easy listening, unless you're of the opinion that Coil have wussed out in recent years. It wouldn't be true to say this album was recorded on nothing but Mellotron, but side one can't be far off it, giving the album four Ts overall and making this well worth a purchase, assuming you can actually find a copy.
See: Mauve Sideshow | Angel Provocateur | Steeple of Fyre | Torn Curtain
Baron von Tollbooth & the Chrome Nun (1973, 40.25) ***/TTTT
|Ballad of the Chrome Nun
Flowers of the Night
Your Mind Has Left Your Body
Across the Board
Harp Tree Lament
White Boy (Transcaucasian Airmachine Blues)
Sketches of China
Apparently named for David Crosby's nicknames for Kantner and Slick, Baron von Tollbooth & the Chrome Nun is a decidedly watered-down version of Jefferson Airplane, then in the last throes of dissolution, just before the dodgy Jefferson Starship rose from the ashes like a rather slick phoenix (pun intended). The material's a bit anodyne, to be honest, although it's immeasurably better than later Starship stuff, particularly from the '80s.
David Freiberg's Mellotron is used fairly extensively, with background strings on Fat, and a much more upfront part on Flowers Of The Night, ditto Across The Board, while Harp Tree Lament adds flutes to the ubiquitous strings. Six out of ten tracks is pretty heavy usage, and it's rarely hidden away in the mix, so top marks on the 'Tron front and recommended for that, at least.
See: Jefferson Airplane | Jefferson Starship
Nightbird (1974, 41.21) **/TTT½Ode to Life
Vodka and Caviare
Listen to the Falling Rain
Life and Me
Love is Life
The Kaplan Brothers were apparently a Chicago-based lounge act, effectively, who freaked out completely and recorded this bizarre attempt at a concept album. I'm, well... really quite lost for words over Nightbird; cheesy easy listening music shoehorned into a pseudo-progressive format just makes it sound like the progenitors of this piece of lunacy ingested far too much brown acid at Woodstock, and never quite got over it. The weirdest part of the album is track three. Yes, it's that Epitaph; if you've ever had a yearning to hear King Crimson played in a lounge stylee, well, here's your chance. Listen To The Falling Rain mixes nursery-rhyme lyrics with a brief burst of Grieg's Hall Of The Mountain King, although the rest of the album is outstanding only in its mediocrity.
I've no idea who played the Mellotron on the album, but he/she deserves a medal; it's splattered all over the place, played expertly and frequently at speed. Opener Ode To Life features strings, oboe (?) and female choir, with more strings, including a relatively speedy arpeggiated part on Vodka And Caviare, with one of the quickest 'Tron parts I've ever heard on their bizarre take on Epitaph. Most of the rest of the use is strings, although those choirs rear their ugly heads again on a couple of tracks.
I'm torn between giving this album one star for being complete rubbish, or the full five for its sheer chutzpah, so I've compromised on a rather measly two. This is possibly the weirdest album I've sat through over the last few years, although as listening experiences go, I've encountered an awful lot worse. At least Nightbird made me laugh in places, which is more than I can say for a few things I've run into... I can't honestly recommend this on musical grounds, but should you run into a copy cheap, it's probably worth it for the laugh and for its well over the top Mellotron.
Schwanenkönig (1980, 45.16/54.55) ***/T
|Tanz Mit der Sphinx
Le Doyen I
Le Doyen II
So 'Ne Kleine
Eh, Dieser Sommer
1980's Schwanenkönig was Karat's third album, although second outside East Germany, as the West German Albatros (which I own) is apparently compiled from their first two LPs. Schwanenkönig (The Swan King) is a rather bitty effort, but then, the band were almost certainly constrained by their state-owned record company, the end result being rather middling rock with occasional proggy touches. Unsurprisingly, these constitute the album's highlights: the brief, instrumental string synth piece Le Doyen I, Tiefsee and Le Doyen II, other passable tracks including opener Tanz Mit Der Sphinx and cheesy synth ballad Magisches Licht.
Keys man Ulrich Ed Swillms plays Mellotron on Das Narrenschiff, with distant choirs during the all-keyboard instrumental section, followed by extremely upfront choirs, as if for contrast. This just scrapes three stars, frankly; for better East German prog, try Lift.
Rococochet (2017, 33.23) ****/TT½Let Your Body
Ro Coco Shay
My Cumulus Veil
Australian-born, British-based Leah Kardos is a classical pianist, I believe, whose third album, 2017's Rococochet, borders ambient for most of its length, gentle piano chiefly interspersed with saxophones, mallet percussion and her own Mellotron and synth parts, the only jarring note being Paul Glover's drums on opener Let Your Body and Open. Highlights are difficult to isolate, although perhaps My Cumulus Veil's subtle key changes feature her style at its apogee.
Leah plays Tony Visconti's new M4000, with distant string and choir parts on Let Your Body, Mellotron piano (!) doubling something and cello on Ro Coco Shay, along with a more 'standard' string part and clicky sax (?), distinct from Lara James' real saxes on several tracks, and flute on Cat's Eye. Strangely, the album's Mellotron work seems to be clustered in its first third, unless I'm missing some particularly obscure sounds later on, or are those choir and string parts in the distant background on Open and Little Phase? Either way, a fine album.
Titles (1982, 34.39) ***½/½Tribal Dawn
Lost Affections in a Room
Passion in Moisture
Weather the Windmill
Saviour, Are You With Me?
Mick Karn (née Andonis Michaelides) released his first solo album a year after Japan's final gasp, Tin Drum (****), and effectively carried on in a similar vein, with sparse instrumental textures overlaid with his ever-present hiccupping fretless bass. Although this is technically 'relaxed' music, Karn's bass work gives it a weird sense of edgy urgency, although the juxtaposition seems to work well enough. Difficult to pick out 'best' pieces, as despite the gaps between tracks, the album works better as a unified whole, or rather, two unified wholes (?). Side one is instrumental, while side two is more 'song' based, featuring Karn's quite acceptable singing, although he lacks David Sylvian's Bowie-esque tones. Probably a good thing.
Very little Mellotron on the album; Karn puts some female choirs (?) onto Trust Me, but they almost have that 'Fairlight' sound about them, to be honest. As a result, avoid on the 'Tron front. If, however, you're a fan of Japan's quite unique thing, but you've never run into this before, give it a go. Oh, and one bonus track on the CD, but I haven't heard it. Tragically, Karn died on January 4th, 2011, finally putting to rest any more 'Japan to reform' rumours.
Kasabian (2004, 53.22) **/TTT
Reason is Treason
L.S.F. (Lost Souls Forever)
Reason is Treason (Jacknife Lee Version)
Leicester-based Kasabian (named for Manson Family member Linda Kasabian; tasteful, guys) appear to be one of UK indie's biggest successes of the 2000s, so it comes as no great surprise to find that their eponymous debut is, by and large, pretty awful. Low points? Most of it, particularly the pseudo-'baggy' (remember that?) drumming and sub-Oasisisms all over the place, although I.D.'s electronica isn't too terrible and I actually quite like the acoustic-ish U Boat.
Although I'm sure a friend who knows the band has told me they used Mellotron samples, it actually sounds pretty convincing on much of the album, although the grossly extended flute chord opening Club Foot isn't a good start. I presume Sergio Pizzorno (credited with 'synths') plays it, with more strings and flutes on Club Foot, while the solo string part a minute or so into I.D. not only wobbles convincingly, but has one note running flat, which is quite a trick when using samples. String swells in L.S.F. (Lost Souls Forever) and Running Battle, phased strings on Test Transmission, more string swells in the provocatively-title Pinch Roller (a mechanical part of a Mellotron, for the uninitiated), flutes, strings (and vibes?) on Cutt Off (another Mellotron-related joke?) and an odd little flute part at the beginning of Butcher Blues, with strings later on, seem to complete the run-through, which isn't to say that I haven't missed something in the mix. Real? Although much of it's generic enough to be sampled, the odd parts I've commented on seem to indicate it's genuine. Still don't like the album, though.
See: Samples etc.
The Game of Monogamy (2010, 37.58) ***/T½
A Grown Man
I'm Afraid I'm Gonna Die Here
There Must Be Something I've Lost
Bad, Bad Dreams
The Prodigal Husband
Tim Kasher (also of Cursive and The Good Life) is an indie artist of some repute, apparently, his solo debut, 2010's The Game of Monogamy, being a passable enough effort within the genre. Strongest point? The lyrics, chiefly, although I've certainly heard far worse music in this field, better tracks including the gentle Strays and The Prodigal Husband.
Patrick Newbery plays Mellotron, with very wobbly and clicky choirs on I'm Afraid I'm Gonna Die Here, distant choirs on No Fireworks and a flute melody riding over more distant choirs on The Prodigal Husband. This is pretty much an 'indie fans only need apply' release, but it could be a great deal worse, while the Mellotron sounds like it might even be real.
See: Cursive | The Good Life
Cruzential (1996/97, 44.04/52.43) **½/½ (T½)
|Vote 4 Dick Taid
Bring Back Superman
Could We Kill Fred?
Star in My Movie
Bag of Flash & Thyme
The Good Life (1999, 49.45) ***/TTT
|Mom in Love, Daddy in Space
Make it Grand
It's OK Now
New Year's Eve
Kiss Me Goodbye
Home Dead (2001, 34.15) **/TUndisturbed
The Ghost of No One
Miss You (Slight Return)
Just a Phase
Mom in Love, Daddy in Space (opiate version)
Gorgeous (opiate version)
Kashmir had the misfortune to call themselves Nirvana when they formed in 1991, clearly not having heard of the British band of the same name, never mind (ho ho) Seattle's finest, already one album into their brief but meteoric career. They entered a Danish 'battle of the bands'-style contest, DM i Rock, in '93, having the bad luck to find themselves up against Tim Christensen's mighty Dizzy Mizz Lizzy, although they still secured a contract with the local branch of Sony, releasing their debut, Travelogue, a year later.
They followed up with '96's Cruzential, a slightly unfocussed effort, veering between the 'alt.rock' of much of the album, the DML-alike Bring Back Superman, alt./psych crossover Dring and mournful acoustic closer Bag Of Flash & Thyme. The album certainly has its moments, but far too much of it's lost in a Seattle-wannabee haze of quiet/loud. Just to confuse the issue, it was reissued the following year with two extra tracks, both singles from that year, italicised in the tracklisting above. Mads Tunebjerg plays Mellotron on the original release, with background strings on Travelogue, another entrant in the 'title track to the previous album' stakes (see: Zeppelin's Houses Of The Holy on Physical Graffiti, or Queen's Sheer Heart Attack from News of the World, which bucks the trend by using the title from three albums earlier), but nothing obvious on Dring, despite a credit, while Kasper Eistrup adds it to both of the 'new' tracks, with background strings on Stand and nicely upfront flutes and strings on Gloom.
Three years later, Kashmir became one of the slew of Danish pop/rock acts to be produced by Tim Christensen, post-DML. 1999's The Good Life, is a perfectly respectable and fairly cheese-free collection of songs, although few of them are especially memorable and even fewer have even a hint of the power of Zeppelin's namesake epic. Saying that, closers Gorgeous and Kiss Me Goodbye both have their epic moments and little here makes you wish they'd left it in the can. Christensen also plays keys (along with Floyd's old live keys man Jon Carin), including Mellotron, with strings all over opener Mom In Love, Daddy In Space, Gorgeous and Kiss Me Goodbye, background choirs on the actually-rather-good It's OK Now and both on New Year's Eve, making for a nicely 'Tron-heavy effort, as you'd expect when Tim gets his teeth between the bit.
Despite being the length of a short '70s album, 2001's Home Dead is classed as an EP, containing remixes of three tracks from The Good Life and four new tracks of post-rockish intent, none of which really stand out in any way. Henrik Lindstrand plays Mellotron, with cellos and some of the best-recorded 'Tron vibes I've ever heard on Miss You (Slight Return), although Christensen's Mellotron parts on the original versions of Mom In Love, Daddy In Space and Gorgeous are missing.
So; The Good Life isn't bad as the style goes; certainly better than most of the guff thrown out (up?) by similar British and American bands, with plenty of definitely real 'Tron to boot, although Cruzential is rather less so and Home Dead really isn't worth the effort. Sort-of worth hearing.
See: Tim Christensen
Le Pop (2008, 40.27) ***/T
A Bar in Amsterdam
Tea With Cinnamon
Hey Ho on The Devil's Back
Wading in Deeper
|Play My Darling, Play
To the Sea
Ain't No Thang
A Kiss Before You Go (2011, 40.55) ***/½
|A Kiss Before You Go
I Will Dance (When I Walk Away)
Land of Confusion
Cocktails and Ruby Slippers
God's Great Dust Storm
Katzenjammer are an all-female Norwegian quartet, whose music reflects its members' interests in various folk forms, including Balkan and French chanson, amongst other styles. They win extra Planet Mellotron brownie points for using a contrabass balalaika onstage, which really has to be seen to be believed. Their debut album, 2008's Le Pop, sounds like the above, with a noticeable sea-shanty influence thrown in, making for a raucous, fun album that I can imagine going down well at, oh, a pirate party, maybe? I shall inform the Pirate Party UK, or possibly Mad Cap'n Tom. The Mellotron's played by Anne Marit Bergheim and our old friend Kåre Christoffer Vestrheim, with strings on Virginia Clemm and Der Kapitän, although nothing that overt, sadly.
2011's A Kiss Before You Go isn't dissimilar to its predecessor, to the point where fans of that album are almost certain to go for this one, too, top tracks including the upbeat I Will Dance (When I Walk Away), the mildly deranged Cocktails And Ruby Slippers and the largely-a capella closer God's Great Dust Storm. Despite three credited Mellotron tracks (from Bergheim again, Marianne Sveen and Solveig Heilo), the only obvious use is the strings on Soviet Trumpeter, complete with extremely authentic wobble, leaving nothing audible on either the opening title track or Lady Marlene.
These are actually well worth hearing, especially Le Pop - I almost gave it ***½ - although not for their (real?) Mellotron use.
'I' (2014, 47.22) ****/TT½The Ending of the Open Sky
Lift the Memory
In the Stillness of Time
The Skies Give Meaning
Kaukasus are a Norwegian/Swedish trio featuring both Rhys Marsh and Mattias Olsson (Änglagård, a hundred others), whose debut, 'I', reminds me of No-Man and other Tim Bowness projects; think: 'Scott Walker goes art-prog' and you won't be a million miles off the mark. The album shifts between the heavy-duty prog of its opening tracks, The Ending Of The Open Sky and Lift The Memory, the artier likes of In The Stillness Of Time and the flute-driven Starlit Motion and the superior 'crescendo rock' of closer The Skies Give Meaning, other stylistic pointers including Japan (albeit only slightly) and Talk Talk.
Marsh and Olsson both play Mellotron, with strings on The Ending Of The Open Sky and In The Stillness Of Time, raucous brass on Lift The Memory, overt strings and wobbly flutes on Reptilian and background strings on The Skies Give Meaning, often using it with considerable subtlety, in direct comparison with some of their contemporaries. A common feature of albums labelled I, 1, First or similar is how often they end up being a band's sole testament; let's hope the member of Kaukasus, busy though they are, make the time to work together again.
See: Rhys Marsh | Änglagård
Angels' Waltz (2003, 68.31) **½/TAngels' Waltz
Guru Guru Wahe Guru
Ra Ma Da Sa
Bhaja Man Mere
Sada Sat Kaur is American, although her original name seems to be lost in the mists of time. Born in the late '40s, a brief scene in Woodstock caught her attention, leading to her becoming a convert to Sikhism, although it took a chance meeting with producer Jeremy Toback for her to consider actually recording her take on that culture's sacred chants at the relatively advanced age of fifty-six. Said debut, 2003's Angels' Waltz, bears vague comparison with many Christian albums, in that it's more about a form of worship than the actual music per se; thankfully, it's far better than said tragic excuses for albums, which isn't to say that it's necessarily a wonderful listen.
Each track on the album seems to be based around a different instrument (bottleneck guitar on Adi Shakti, piano on Guru Guru Wahe Guru, pedal steel on Ra Ma Da Sa and Bhaja Man Mere), the opening title track heavily featuring Zac Rae (Macy Gray, Lisa Marie Presley, many others)'s Chamberlin, with a string part running right through the twelve-minute piece. Generally speaking, if long-format, repetitive, trance-inducing Indian music with a Western bent floats your boat, you may well love this, although the rest of us should probably approach with caution. Kaur has made one more tape-replay record, 2005's Shashara, which I'll review when I get to hear a copy.
Poogy in a Pita (1974, 33.06/42.33) **/T
|Natati La Cha'yay
Moshe Ken, Moshe Loh
L'amour et la Vie
Ha'Balada Al Ari Veh'Derchi
Im Haya Li Lev Zahav
For some utterly unknown reason the perfectly well-named Kaveret ('beehive') opted to ridiculously rename themselves Poogy when they played abroad, clearly in the mistaken belief that it would travel better. 1974's Poogy in a Pita was their second album (of three), containing (as with many Israeli albums of the period) folk-influenced pop, with a slightly unwelcome 'comedy' edge that was only ever going to work for Hebrew speakers.
Vocalist Danny Sanderson and keyboard player Yonatan (Yoni) Rechter play Mellotron, with flutes and background strings on Ha'Balada Al Ari Veh'Derchi (The Ballad Of Arivederchi), although that would appear to be your lot, with nothing extra on the CD's bonus tracks. I think you'd have to be seriously into Israeli pop to really get anything out of this album; I'm sure it does what it does well, but from a Western European viewpoint, it's almost impossible to tell. One decent 'Tron track, anyway.
My Sportin' Life (1973, 37.27) **½/TMoonshine (Friend of Mine)
Nobody Lives Here Anymore
Heroes and Devils
My Sportin' Life
Giles of the River
Dance to My Song
Sing With the Children
Mellotron (or Chamberlin) used:
Born in Germany, Joachim Fritz "John Kay" Krauledat moved to Canada in his teens, becoming vocalist with the future Steppenwolf in 1965, playing with them, on and off, up to the present day. After the original band's dissolution in 1972, Kay began a solo career, releasing two albums before the band reformed for 1974's truly appalling Slow Flux. The second of these, 1973's My Sportin' Life, must've horrified Steppenwolf fans, being essentially a country album, the only recognisable track being his version of Dobie Gray's soft rock classic Drift Away (believe me, you know it when you hear it), while the one sop here for Steppenwolf fans is lengthy blues-rock closer Sing With The Children.
Someone, possibly famed 'Wrecking Crew' member Larry Knechtel, plays a tape-replay instrument on Giles Of The River, with a pseudo-orchestral string part that may or may not be the result of a relatively limited budget. Generally speaking, unless you're a fan of that soft rock/country crossover thing, you really aren't going to like this very much, although it's perfectly well done, so with a sole Mellotron/Chamberlin track, I'd have to advise you against.
Official Steppenwolf site
See See the Sun (1973, 48.10/52.56) ****/TTT½
|Reason for it All
Hope for a Life
Ballet of the Cripple
Forever is a Lonely Thought
|See See the Sun
Still Try to Write a Book
Give it a Name]
Kayak [a.k.a. Kayak II] (1974, 36.29) ****/TTT½Alibi
Mountain Too Rough
They Get to Know Me
Woe and Alas
Trust in the Machine
His Master's Noise
Royal Bed Bouncer (1975, 38.16) ****/TT½
|Royal Bed Bouncer
Life of Gold
(You're So) Bizarre
Bury the World
Chance for a Lifetime
If This is Your Welcome
Moments of Joy
|Said No Word
My Heart Never Changed
The Last Encore (1976, 41.35) ***½/T½
|Back to the Front
Love of a Victim
Land on the Water
The Last Encore
Do You Care
Still My Heart Cries for You
Relics From a Distant Age
|Love Me Tonight/Get on Board
Raid Your Own House
Starlight Dancer (1977, 42.37) ***/T½
|Daughter or Son
Want You to Be Mine
Turn the Tide
|Dead Bird Flies Forever
Where Do We Go From Here?
Along with Earth & Fire, Kayak were the Netherlands' chief exponents of progressive pop, or maybe song-based progressive rock; no real epics, but mostly interesting song structures. Like all such, they shifted further towards the mainstream by the late '70s, but their first few albums are definitely worth hearing. See See the Sun is classic Kayak, with proggier material like Mouldy Wood rubbing shoulders with more mainstream fare such as Lyrics (a hit in the Netherlands, I believe). Incidentally, this particular song leads to some confusion, with some copies of the album stating 'includes Lyrics' on the sleeve, only for you to find out it both doesn't and does, all at the same time.
Although most of the keys were played by Ton Scherpenzeel, when the band bought their Mellotron, it was decided that vocalist Max Werner (nicknamed 'Werlerofzoiets', meaning 'something like Werner') would play it most of the time, in between his vocal duties. I think I'm right in saying that Werner actually started life as a drummer, then shifted across to the mic when they realised he had the best voice in the band. Anyway, in an interview I saw with Scherpenzeel a few years ago, he said that they'd hoped their 'Tron would make it sound like they were being backed by an orchestra; of course, it 'just' sounded like they were being backed by a Mellotron, and once they got their heads round that fact, they ran with it. See See the Sun has track-by-track credits, although you don't need them to hear Werner's upfront 'Tron strings on six of the nine tracks. None of them stand out particularly from the others, but the 'Tron use is good all round, making this well worth it on the Mellotron front.
Confusingly, Kayak is actually their second LP, and is every bit as good as their debut, with more classically-influenced songwriting, particularly Wintertime. Mountain Too Rough reminds me of their countrymen Trace, in places, although their first LP only came out the same year. It's actually a more 'progressive' album than its predecessor, with two of the band's longest tracks in They Get To Know Me and Trust In The Machine, so this may be a good place to start for the confirmed proghead. There's a bit of change on the 'Tron front, with a solo flute part in the lengthy-ish They Get To Know Me, which is also the album's Mellotronic highlight, with some superb strings closing the song. Woe And Alas also has a great string part, with the other 'Tron tracks still having quite overt use.
Royal Bed Bouncer's opening title track is probably the catchiest thing the band (or rather, Scherpenzeel) ever wrote, not to mention one of their wittiest lyrics, particularly as they were writing in their second language. Nothing much over the five-minute mark here, but the songwriting's still well up to scratch, if possibly just a touch more mainstream. Werner's Mellotron is noticeably further in the background, though, although it's still present on half the tracks, with the most overt use on Said No Word; watch for the real strings on a couple of tracks, though.
The Last Encore carries on the work of its predecessors, although things are definitely more mainstream this time round; more, and shorter songs, although there's still some interesting tracks here and there, notably Nothingness, with its excellent vocal arrangements, and Relics From A Distant Age. Even less Mellotron (this time played by both Werner and Scherpenzeel), although Do You Care features choir, and there's what must be 'Tron brass on Get On Board, both for the first time on a Kayak album, but once again, some of the strings are real.
Starlight Dancer still has its moments, though Kayak's onward march to mainstream acceptance continued apace. In other words, although their style hadn't changed that radically since See See the Sun, most of the 'progressiveness' seems to have been knocked out of them somewhere along the line. About the best track is the instrumental, Irene, leaving the bulk of the material merely average, although there's nothing as hopeless as The Last Encore's Love Me Tonight/Get On Board, which is a blessing of sorts. Very little Mellotron this time, although Irene has a symphonic strings part, and Dead Bird Flies Forever has a decent enough strings intro, leaving the album's 'Tron highlight as closer Where Do We Go From Here?, with a solid strings backdrop.
So; if you like the sound of their style (there are hints of Yes, amongst other influences), I'd unreservedly recommend Kayak's first three albums, both for music and 'Tron, but tread carefully after that. By the way, beware of rogue sleeve art; I'm sure I've seen copies of Starlight Dancer with the same sleeve design as The Last Encore. Or is it the other way round? Either way, take care you don't buy the wrong album, as the US version of Starlight Dancer is almost completely different to the European edition.
Kayak playing Wintertime in 1975; note the unusual stage setup, with Werner playing the Mellotron while singing lead.
See: Ton Scherpenzeel | Max Werner
Saint or Fool (1997, 53.40) **½/T
Through the Eye of a Dragonfly
Driving to the Airport
Garden of Fascination
Nothing at All
While I Sleep
The Washing Tide
|Day Like Today
Not a Fever
The Wednesday Song
Tom Kazas is probably best known as leader of '80s Aussie psychonauts The Moffs, although he's run a subsequent solo career for over twenty years at the time of writing. 1997's Saint or Fool is his fourth such release, sadly something of a curate's egg, better material including opener Something Sacred, the 'very psychedelic' Through The Eye Of A Dragonfly, Garden Of Fascination and Not A Fever, although several tracks fall into the 'dreary and overlong' category, I'm sad to say, not least the faux-Britpop of Day Like Today.
Kazas adds background Mellotron strings to While I Sleep; while it's possible it's on another track or two, this is the only one for which I'm actually prepared to put my (essentially non-existent) reputation on the line. I really wanted to like this album and ended up liking about a third of it. Some very good tracks, but too many that... aren't. There are at least another three Kazas Mellotron albums, which I shall review when I get to hear them.
Crimson & Blue (1993, 69.40) **/T
|Shouts of Joy
World of Mine
Everywhere I Look
Reunion of Friends
All There is to Know
When Will I Ever Learn to
Live With God
I Will Be There
Don't Pass Me By
John the Revelator
Nothing But the Blood
Even more CCM from Nick Hewitt.
This threatened to be terrible. Phil Keaggy, as well as issuing his own albums, also appears as a session musician/singer on innumerable other albums by a wide variety of other artists. These, in turn, are of quite variable quality, ranging from average down to toe-curling, knuckle-chewing, gut-stirring, vomit-inducing crap. This, however, is tending towards the average, but with an additional dose of plagiarism.
I don't think Mr Keaggy knows WHAT he is, if you have to attach titles of genre to an individual musician. Listening to this, you can quite clearly hear a number of styles that makes you think, "Hey, that's Cream", on Don't Pass Me By, John The Revelator and Doin' Nothin. It gets worse on Love Divine as it's so like The Beatles' All My Lovin', and the fact that Reunion Of Friends has also got both We Can Work It Out AND Hello Goodbye in it must also be pointed out. It is possible that Keaggy simply re-worked that style of music into the CCM canon and hoped that no one noticed. WRONG!
To be fair, Phil Keaggy IS trying to be different from other CCM artists. The trouble is, on the strength of this opus, he's doing it by copying other people's/bands' styles. This probably only works if no one spots it, but if you get reviewed by a confirmed train-spotter like me, then you're heading for a bit of a mauling. But I'm not going to do that. Well, not much! He does make a genuine attempt to 'do his own thing' and to be a bit inventive, which is where Keaggy gets most of the asterisks in his rating. Applying the Beatles and Cream styles to CCM is new to me, but I don't profess to listen to a great deal of CCM. I only hear what my wife puts on the stereo (which is where this review copy came from). He, and whatever musicians he has around him at the time, performs competently, if not spectacularly. As well as 'copying' the styles noted above, the rest of the material is mid-paced 'rock', if I must apply some sort of comparison. He makes an attempt at something a little 'harder' on Shouts Of Joy, but it quickly loses any doominess and reverts to something a little happier, which seems a little self-contradictory. One nice experiment is a large chunk of Hendrix-esque solo rhythm guitar on Nothing But The Blood, which surprisingly works. You, however, may regard this as sacrilege. Fair Do's!
Mellotron, on the tracks noted above, is supplied by John Painter, a.k.a. John Mark Painter, who has played 'Tron under the latter appellation. (See Susan Ashton's eponymous album) It is used so sparingly on World Of Mine you can barely hear it. It's a different kettle of fish on I Will Be There, where it's part of the background rhythm. It's subtle and, in my view, effective, considering the slight C&W tinge present in the song.
It's CCM, so don't touch it. Similarly, there's not enough 'Tron in it, so please leave it alone!