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Letters to Cleo
Claude Léveillé
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Donna Lewis
Leona Lewis
Shaznay Lewis
Sylvie Lewis
Lykke Li
Libra
Jamie Lidell
Annbjørg Lien
Life & Times
Lifehouse
Lift (US)
Lift (DDR)
Light
Toby Lightman
Lily

Lescop  (France)  see: Samples

Letters to Cleo  (US)

Letters to Cleo, 'Go!'

Go!  (1997,  35.11)  ***/T

I Got Time
Because of You
Anchor
Find You Dead
Veda Very Shining
Co-Pilot
Go!
Sparklegirl
Alouette & Me
I'm a Fool
Disappear

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Letters to Cleo are another in a seemingly endless list of American female/female-fronted pop/punk bands, this time from Boston. Going by their third album, 1997's Go!, they don't do anything especially original, although the bitter Alouette & Me impresses both musically and lyrically in comparison to the rest of the album. Anchor is probably the best of their punkier material, but little of it's anything to really write home about.

Guitarist Michael Eisenstein doubles on keys, with Farfisa on a few tracks and Mellotron on Sparklegirl, with upfront strings in a couple of places. So; perfectly ordinary pop/punk with only one track that stands out in any way. Maybe not.

Official site

Claude Léveillé  (Québec)

Claude Léveillé, 'Black Sun'

Black Sun  (1978,  38.24)  ***½/T

Nuit Lunaire
Requiem pour un Astronaute
Soleil Noir
Adagio pour un Poète
Les Plaines de Feu
Fleur de Lit
Le "Blue Bar..."
La Chasse
Romance de Garnison
Dernier Bal
Les Géographes
Un Homme dans la Nuit

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

If this Claude Léveillé is the one to whom I keep finding Internet references, he was born in 1932 and has released over 30 albums, though I can't actually find any cross-reference to 1978's Black Sun. A really rather good all-instrumental progressive album, it doesn't fit fully into any of the usual convenient categories, although loosely 'symphonic' isn't a million miles off the mark. While keyboard-led, Léveillé was quite happy to throw other instruments into the mix, with both violin and sitar on the 'title track', Soleil Noir, and a decidedly funky guitar part on Le "Blue Bar...". Overall, the composition is good, if not outstanding, with plenty of strong melodies to hold the interest over repeated playings, especially in the 'awkward' instrumental field.

By the last track, Un Homme Dans La Nuit, I was firmly convinced this was another Mellotron non-starter, when suddenly that unmistakeable 'Tron string sound surged up through the mix. The bulk of the album's strings are clearly string synth, but that obvious 'Tron part made me reappraise the rest of the album, finding more of the same on Le "Blue Bar...". So; the handful of copies I've found listed on the Web are all expensive, though you may find one cheaper, especially if you're in the Québec region. It's definitely worth hearing for the prog fan who thinks he has it all, though not for the Mellotron.

Oshik Levi  (Israel)

Oshik Levi, 'Oshik Levi'

Oshik Levi  (1974,  35.16)  **/T½

Haiti Gever
Ze Mikvar
Shir Eres Ganuv
Agadat Deshe
Yesh Li Shir
Raglaim
Yonatan Sa HaBaita
Ishmael
Lo Hikarti Otha
Nigun Atik

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Mellotron used:

Other than that he is/was a mainstream Israeli pop singer, I can't really tell you much about Oshik Levi/Levy, other than that his eponymous 1974 album contains Israeli folk-influenced pop. While not completely horrible, it's so tied into its time and place of conception that it's difficult to reassess it well over thirty years on; it sounds like exactly what it is, for better or (probably) worse.

Matti Caspi plays Mellotron, with orchestralish strings on Ze Mikvar, Agadat Deshe and Lo Hikarti Otha and flutes on closer Nigun Atik. An inability to read Hebrew (funnily enough) means that I can't even tell whether or not this is on CD; I can't imagine you really want to hear it, anyway, unless you're an obsessive collector of Israeli pop. A little Mellotron improves things slightly, but nowhere near enough to make this worth tracking down.

Leviathan  (US)

Leviathan, 'Leviathan'

Leviathan  (1974)  ***½/TTTT½

Arabesque
Angela
Endless Dream
Seagull
Angel of Death
Always Need You
Quicksilver Clay
7"  ( 1974)  ***½/T½

Why Must I Be Like You
I'll Get Lost Out There

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Mellotrons used:

Leviathan were actually less a full-on prog outfit than a progressive hard rock act, and while none of the material on Leviathan particularly stands out, it's a good album of its type. Like so many US prog(-ish) outfits, they had a hard time getting signed by anyone, never mind a major, so it's fortunate for us that this album's actually available at all. Leviathan opens with some heavy-duty 'Tron strings, getting the album off to a good start, then, well, doesn't let up for the next forty minutes. This is a serious Mellotron Album, with John Sadler's 'Tron all over everything; mostly strings, but a couple of affecting flute melodies, too. It's difficult to pinpoint highlights, but the flutes on Always Need You are especially good; in fact, the only thing that stops it getting the full five Ts is a lack of 'Mellotron Moments' comparable to, well, all the classics.

It turns out (thanks, Mark) that Leviathan also released a non-LP single the same year, Why Must I Be Like You c/w I'll Get Lost Out There. The A-side's an average hard rocker, but the flip is more of a slow-burner, with plenty of those 'Tron strings, including an outrageous pitchbending section towards the end. Shame these tracks weren't added to the CD of the album, really...

So; good but not great, but if you like huge dollops of Mellotron splattered all over everything (hi, Gary), this album's yer man. The single's not bad, too, but you're not exactly going to find it easily.

Mark Levy  (US)

Mark Levy, 'Leviathan: In the Heart of the Beast'

Leviathan: In the Heart of the Beast  (1980,  44.24)  ***½/TT

Sunpower
San Andreas Rag
Room at the Top
Blues for Us
Leakin' Like a Sieve
Mourning Dove
Pre-War Blues
Shenachie Hill
Ma Tovu
Log Rhythms on Isaiah's Grave
Mark Levy, 'Risin' Wind'

Risin' Wind  (1981,  36.37)  ***½/TT

Eternal Return
Re-Run Ron
I Can't Think
Pre-War Blues Phase II
Blind Leading Blind
Risin' Wind
Celtic Phantasy
Save the Black Hills
Mark Levy, 'Live & Nuclear-Free!'

Live & Nuclear-Free!  (1984,  45.37)  ***/½

Talkin' Raw Deal
The Fema Side-Step
Livermore or Less
Who Builds the H-Bomb?
Arms Race or Human Race
Blond Sleil
Fast for Life
The Ghost of Arthur McDuffie
Casitas
Only Remembered

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Chamberlins used:

Mark Levy is a folk musician and political satirist, active since the late '70s, his first album (to my knowledge) being 1980's Leviathan: In the Heart of the Beast, an excellent folk/singer-songwriter effort, covering several bases musically, while lyrically tackling various liberal causes of the day (mostly still relevant now). Highlights include solar energy plea Sunpower, witty earthquake warning San Andreas Rag, Shenachie Hill and Log Rhythms On Isaiah's Grave, with no clunkers amongst the rest of the material. Two musicians on Chamberlin: Paul Smith adds background strings to opener Sunpower, while Harriet Jacoff adds 'chorus' (sounds like mixed Chamby male and female vocals) to Shenachie Hill and strings, 'chorus' and church organ to Log Rhythms On Isaiah's Grave. Now, I didn't know there was a church organ sound in the Chamby library, so if nothing else, consider this an excellent demo, as it comes through the mix loud'n'clear.

He followed up in '81 with Risin' Wind, a good, if slightly lesser album than Leviathan. Its highpoint has to be its twelve-minute title track, rising (sorry) like a leviathan (even more sorry) over the rest of the record, a folk/rock epic, no less, other top tracks including opener Eternal Return, acoustic instrumental Celtic Phantasy and closer Save The Black Hills. Although there's only one credited Chamby track, it's all over opener Eternal Return, too, with strings and church organ, presumably from Levy, as are the credited strings, choirs and church organ on the title track.

1984's Live & Nuclear-Free! features one side of solo acoustic live satire and one of largely-unadorned studio material; the live side is good for what it is, although Levy's concentration on the nuclear issue is a little outdated these days, while the nine-minute Fast For Life is the studio highlight. Chamberlin (on the studio side, of course) from Justin Mayer, later to receive (admittedly rather minor) acclaim as inventor and builder of the J-Tron, his own, one-off Mellotron/Chamberlin hybrid and a thing of beauty. He adds a brief string part towards the end of Fast For Life, but that's your lot.

Levy is still recording and performing today, he concentrates on his faith these days, his more recent albums reflecting aspects of Jewish history and as such, probably (doubtless unintentionally) rather excluding fans of his early work. Sadly, none of his early titles are on CD, although Levy's website mentions that he still has a few LPs for sale, although he doesn't say which. Drop him a line and see if he can sell you any of these. Incidentally, major thanks to regular contributor Mark Medley for supplying these hard-to-find titles.

Official site

Donna Lewis  (UK)

Donna Lewis, 'Now in a Minute'

Now in a Minute  (1996,  45.46)  *½/0

Without Love
Mother
I Love You Always Forever
Nothing Ever Changes
Simone
Love & Affection
Agenais
Fools Paradise
Lights of Life
Silent World
I Love You Always Forever (Philly Remix)

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Mellotron used:

Donna Lewis is what Kate Bush just might've been like had she been really, really shit. I'm sure she's a lovely lady an' all that, and I know full well she's very talented, but her debut album, 1996's Now in a Minute, is barfworthy drivel. How can I describe this? Why bother? OK, here goes anyway: soul-lite crossed with appalling balladry and the aforementioned Kate B's worst moments. There are no best tracks.

Although Harvey Jones is credited with 'Mellotron flutes', I suspect you'll need sharper ears than mine to hear them. Maybe they pitchbent them up until they were out of the range of human hearing. Maybe they're just really low in the mix. Maybe you could think about not even attempting to hear this album if you know what's good for you.

Official site

Leona Lewis  (UK)

Leona Lewis, 'Echo (US version)'

Echo  [U.S. Version]  (2009,  58.31)  **/T

Happy
I Got You
Love Letter
Can't Breathe
You Don't Care
Outta My Head
Brave
My Hands
Alive
Don't Let Me Down
Fly Here Now
Broken
Lost Then Found
Stone Hearts & Hand Grenades

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For those of you who've been hiding in a cave in Tora Bora for the last few years, Leona Lewis won the 2006 British X Factor, by dint of being a fairly decent singer; given that most of the voters are teenage girls, she did doubly well to win against the hordes of useless-but-pretty boys that seem to clog up the show. Like I give a shit. The whole media circus is a horrible feeding frenzy of fake dramatics (though very real emotion, at least on the part of the contestants) and pure, capitalist-to-the-core money-making from that vampire of the music biz... OK, I'll shut up now.

Lewis has actually lasted to a second album, 2009's Echo, making it look like a distinct possibility her career may have some longevity, and good luck to her. She hasn't got the greatest soul voice in the world, but I've heard a damn' sight worse, although the album's pretty anodyne, possibly excepting the electro of Can't Breathe, although it's not exactly Front 242. For some strange, no doubt income-generation-related reason, the album's been heavily re-jigged for the American market, including two songs not on the UK version. One of these is You Don't Care, with apparently real Mellotron flutes all over the thing (played by track producer Ryan Tedder and recorded at Abbey Road, fact fans), to passable effect, but hardly something to make the 'Tron fetishist splash out, to be honest.

Official site

Shaznay Lewis  (UK)

Shaznay Lewis, 'Open'

Open  (2004,  40.34)  *½/T

Intro/Open
Dance
I Never Felt Like This Before
Mr. Dawg
Heart Made Me a Fool
You
Mr. Weatherman
Butterflies
Nasty Boy
Radio
Now You're Gone

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Mellotron used:

I'd never heard of Shaznay Lewis before I stumbled across a Mellotronic reference to her sole solo album to date, 2004's Open, although she was apparently regarded as 'the talented one' in Brit girly-group All Saints, which perturbs me as to the collective talents of the other members. Basically, the album consists of typical mid-'00s dance-pop with no redeeming features, which tells you everything you need to know about it.

Noted pop producer Rick Nowels (Mel C/Dido/Ronan Keating) adds Mellotron flutes to Mr. Weatherman and distant choirs to Nasty Boy (complete with its River Deep, Mountain High chorus rip-off), so we're not exactly talking essential usage here (big surprise). I imagine Miss Lewis still has a career; good luck to her, but I doubt if she's going to pick up any sales from this site.

Official site

Sylvie Lewis  (UK)

Sylvie Lewis, 'Tangos & Tantrums'

Tangos & Tantrums  (2005,  39.58)  ***½/T

By Heart
All His Exes
Rockwell's Blues
Movies
Promises of Paris
If Love Songs
When I Drink
New York
Conversation Piece
Valentine's Day
My Rival
Old Friends
Sylvie Lewis, 'Translations'

Translations  (2007,  36.55)  ***/T

Starsong
Happy Like That
If it Don't Come Easy
Say in Touch
Just You
Isobel
Cheap Ain't Free
Something to Dream to
Old Queens, Monet and Me
Death By Beauty
Your Voice Carries

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Ex-pat Brit Sylvie Lewis has connections with Sondre Lerche and Richard Swift, amongst others, the latter producing her first two albums. The first, 2005's Tangos & Tantrums, is a decent singer-songwriter album, replete with jazzy touches, highlights including All His Exes, the faux-Arabic strings on Conversation Piece and, above all, My Rival, featuring Lewis sounding particularly British. Frank Lenz plays Mellotron, with a smooth string part on When I Drink, possibly underlaid with vibes, although the album's other string parts are real.

The follow-up, 2007's Translations, is another perfectly acceptable slightly jazzy singer-songwriter effort, albeit with fewer standout tracks; those of you/us not into the style probably aren't going to get much from it. Richard Swift plays Mellotron, with strings on opener Starsong, what sounds like Chamberlin solo male voice (I thought this was a Mellotron?) on Just You and (and I'm pushing the boat out with this one) vibes on closer Your Voice Carries; really dirty with what sounds like key-click.

Not albums you're all going to like, but perfectly good ones in their oeuvre, unlike so many I've encountered. Not sure about that Mellotron, but none of it's enough to get excited about, anyway.

Official site

Lykke Li  (Sweden)

Lykke Li, 'Youth Novels'

Youth Novels  (2008,  44.48)  ***/½

Melodies & Desires
Dance, Dance, Dance
I'm Good, I'm Gone
Let it Fall
My Love
Little Bit
Hanging High
This Trumpet in My Head
Complaint Department
Breaking it Up
Time Flies
Window Blues

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Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson's first album, 2008's Youth Novels, is a quiet, slightly haunted album that probably loosely fits under the 'indie' umbrella, while being nowhere near that simple or derivative. Various influences are displayed, including that catch-all 'alt.rock', electronica and folk, amongst others. Best tracks? This Trumpet In My Head stands out for me, but nothing here actually offends.

John Eriksson plays Mellotron on Time Flies, with background cellos that may or may not have had anything to do with a real Mellotron. Probably not one for regular Planet Mellotron readers, then, but far from repellent and well-constructed, if somewhat light on the 'Tron front.

Official site

Libra  (Italy)

Libra, 'Schock'

Schock (Transfert-Suspence-Hypnos)  (1976,  30.42)  ***½/TT½

The Shock
L'Altalena Rossa
Transfert/Hypnos/Transfert
La Baia
La Cantina/The Shock
Tema di Marco/Tema di Marco 2
L'Incubo

Transfert 3
Il Fantasma Suona il Piano
Transfert 4/Tema Di Marco 2

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Mellotron used:

Given that the misspelled Schock (Transfert-Suspence-Hypnos) (it should be Shock) is a mid-'70s Italian horror film soundtrack, it should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone to hear that Libra had a Goblin connection, although they were a long way from being the same band. You'd be forgiven for thinking they were, mind you, as their dark, frequently near-atonal music parallels Goblin's quite eerily, involving inventive synth patches and dissonant Mellotron choirs, amongst other musical pointers. Allesandro "Sandro" Centofanti's innovative keyboard work is probably the album's most outstanding quality, although the musicianship is excellent throughout; opener The Shock is a killer bass/drums/Hammond/synth workout, while guitarist Carlo Pennisi contributes some excellent acoustic playing on L'Altalena Rossa.

Centofanti's 'Tron strings open the album, with some of the loudest choirs I've ever heard within the first minute, clearly mixed way up from the part that precedes them. Transfert/Hypnos/Transfert features church organ tapes, although it's hard to tell whether the strings on the track are 'Tron or, er, something else. More choirs on Tema Di Marco, with choirs and cellos on L'Incubo, along with more of those 'are they or aren't they?' strings, although that seems to be it, sadly.

So; another excellent Cinevox release, unleashing more Italian horror onto the outside world. Libra were a good little unit, going by the evidence here, although their first two albums, recorded for Motown, of all labels, are apparently best avoided if you don't like The Funk. Can't comment on them, but Schock is quite essential for Goblin fans and horror film buffs generally.

See: Goblin

Jamie Lidell  (UK)

Jamie Lidell, 'Compass'

Compass  (2010,  50.23)  **/T½

Completely Exposed
Your Sweet Boom
She Needs Me
I Wanna Be Your Telephone
Enough's Enough
The Ring
You Are Waking
I Can Love Again
It's a Kiss
Compass
Gypsy Blood
Coma Chameleon
Big Drift
You See My Light

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Mellotron used:

Jamie Lidell is a British ex-pat New Yorker, specialising in layering his own beatboxing to his vocals, a trick he apparently performs onstage; proficient technically, if not necessarily musically. 2010's Compass (produced by Beck) is his fifth long-player, less 'soul vocal over beatboxing' than I'd expected; the clue's probably in his label: Warp. That isn't to say that I consider the album a milepost in the evolution of music, but parts of it are far less terrible than I'd (teeth-grittingly) expected.

Pat Sansone plays Mellotron, with flutes on opener Completely Exposed, She Needs Me, You Are Waking and Big Drift; it's possible it provides various other sounds on the album, but these are the only definites. Overall, while clever, Compass isn't necessarily interesting, unless 'progressive dance' (or somesuch) floats your boat. Two stars for experimentation, but please don't take that as an even partial recommendation.

Official site

Annbjørg Lien  (Norway)

Annbjørg Lien, 'Baba Yaga'

Baba Yaga  (1999,  49.32)  ****/T½

Loki
Iriandia
Astra
Aja
Baba Yaga
Old Larry

January
Ritual
Inoque
Wackidoo
W

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Annbjørg Lien released her first record in 1983, at the age of twelve (!), but was in her late teens when her first album appeared. Lien sings and plays the Hardanger fiddle, the hardingfele, so it's no great surprise that her music is heavily informed by Nordic folk, although it has many contemporary touches, both instrumentally and in the arrangements. Baba Yaga is only her second album under her own name, and is an appealing combination of folk melodies and rock instrumentation, without doing that 'folk metal' thing that seems to have taken off in the region recently. It's difficult to pinpoint standout tracks, although Wackidoo may appeal to progheads, with its blatant ELP homage, on top of the album title's Pictures at an Exhibition reference.

Bjørd Ole Rasch plays Mellotron, with background strings on the title track, a polyphonic flute part at the end of Old Larry and choirs on Ritual, although all sound a little murky. Real? Who knows? Anyway, an excellent little album, though not especially on the Mellotron front. Worthwhile.

Official site

Life & Times  (US)

Life & Times, 'Suburban Hymns'

Suburban Hymns  (2005,  41.39)  **/T

My Last Hostage
Coat of Arms
Charlotte St.
Muscle Cars
Skateland
Thrill Ride
Running Redlights
Shift Your Gaze
Mea Culpa
A Chorus of Crickets

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Mellotron used:

The Life & Times play a particularly empty, vacant variety of indie; as they describe themselves on their site: "...moody, spacey, sonically overwhelming, symphonic and always grandiose". What's not to hate? Like U2 but worse, they are the living embodiment of the old saw about empty vessels making the most noise; they make a lot of noise, it seems and are certainly completely empty.

Although J. Robbins is credited with Mellotron on Thrill Ride, he actually plays it on the lengthyish Mea Culpa, helping to make it possibly the least bad track on the album. I wouldn't take that as any kid of recommendation, though; this is unworthy of your time.

Official site

Lifehouse  (US)

Lifehouse, 'No Name Face'

No Name Face  (2001,  55.23)  **/½

Hanging By a Moment
Sick Cycle Carousel
Unknown
Somebody Else's Song
Trying
Only One
Simon
Cling and Clatter
Breathing
Quasimodo
Somewhere in Between
Everything
Lifehouse, 'Hanging By a Moment' CDS  (2001)  **/½

Hanging By a Moment
Fairy Tales
What's Wrong With That
Fool
Lifehouse, 'Lifehouse'

Lifehouse  (2005,  47.50/54.52)  */½

Come Back Down
You and Me
Blind
All in All
Better Luck Next Time
Days Go By
Into the Sun
Undone
We'll Never Know
Walking Away
Chapter One
The End Has Only Begun
[Bonus tracks:
Today
Along the Way]

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Chamberlins used:

I've seen Lifehouse compared to Crowded House and even, God help us, Nirvana. Er, huh? The former write transcendent pop, the latter transcendent rock. Lifehouse write third-rate indie drivel, held together by Jason Wade's annoying voice and clichéd vocal melodies. Transcendent nothing. Their debut, 2001's No Name Face, starts (almost) promisingly with their first hit, Hanging By A Moment, although the song becomes an irritant after a couple of plays. The album takes a serious dip after this, rapidly becoming bogged down in mid-paced pop/rock pointlessness, guaranteed to appeal to a certain type of teenager and equally guaranteed to piss off anyone who's heard any music made before 1998. Session bloke Marcus Barone plays Chamberlin on Trying, with some strings alongside real ones, and maybe some flutes hidden in the mix, but as usual with this type of album, it's not exactly major use. One of Hanging By A Moment's b-sides, Fairy Tales, features a short Chamby flute part from Aaron Embry, but you're not going to track it down for that, I can assure you.

2005's Lifehouse is actually considerably worse, full of the kind of empty, pompous rubbish listened to (or more likely, merely heard) by dullards without the imagination to think for themselves. Absolutely terrible. There are no best tracks. Producer John Alagia plays Chamberlin, with a distant flute part on Chapter One (and The End Has Only Begun?), although all of the album's (credited) strings seem to be real.

So; avoid. Clichéd, self-important rubbish with very little tape-replay.

Official site

Lift  (US)

Lift [US], 'Caverns of Your Brain'

Caverns of Your Brain  (1990, recorded 1974,  36.56)  ****½/TTTT

Simplicity
Caverns
Buttercup Boogie
Trippin' Over the Rainbow

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Mellotron used:

Louisiana-based Lift (not to be confused with the East German crew [see below]) recorded their sole LP in 1974; it was bootlegged soon after as Caverns of Your Brain, although the band had planned to title it Simplicity. It finally received a proper release on Greg Walker's Syn-Phonic label in 1990, but with side one divided into two tracks, although it was originally conceived as one. Although the original title would've been better, the album was already known by its bootleg title, so that's how it remains. Keyboard player Chip Gremillion (thanks for all the info, Chip) played an M400 on the album sessions (over three days!), with 'mixed strings', choir and brass; a similar setup to Tony Banks, fact fans.

The music is firmly in the Yes/Genesis mould, with upfront Ricky bass, and tons of organ and Mellotron. All four tracks are excellent, but Caverns is maybe a fraction better than the rest, with some seriously epic 'Tron work towards the end. Buttercup Boogie is, essentially, a prog boogie number (!), with a smattering of 'Tron brass, and Trippin' Over The Rainbow is outrageously close to Genesis' Apocalypse In 9/8, but in 6/4, and done well, so Marillion comparisons are invalid. Think of it more as a cheeky homage than a rip-off. Chip's Mellotron work is superb throughout, so top marks on all fronts, really.

Lift recorded more material over the '75/'76 period, this time using Chip's Chamberlin and Orchestron. One track, Perspectives, came out on the Syn-Phonic sampler Past, Present and Future, but all four tracks are now available, along with the original album material, as Moments of Hearing (review forthcoming). Chip sold his M400 in 1979, but has recently reclaimed his Chamberlin and Mellotron M300 for future use. Hooray! So; buy Moments of Hearing immediately. Excellent stuff.

Official site

Lift  (E.Germany)

Lift [DDR], 'Lift'

Lift  (1977)  ***½/TTTT

Wasser und Wein
...Fällt der Erste Reif
Und es Schuf der Mensch die Erde
Jeden Abend
Früh am Morgen
Ballade vom Stein
Du Falsche Schöne
Komm Her
Abendstunde, Stille Stunde
Lift, 'Meeresfahrt'

Meeresfahrt  (1978,  38.24)  ***/½

Wir Fahrn Übers Meer
Nach Süden
Scherbenglas
Tagesreise
Meeresfahrt
Sommernacht

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Mellotrons used:

Lift were one of the few East German progressive bands to emerge during the Communist era; unlike some of their contemporaries, they don't appear to have been straightjacketed into applying their country's politics to their music, so to speak. Lift isn't a 'bit of everything so nobody's left out' album like Karat's Albatross, say; I'm not saying it's a symphonic prog classic, and it certainly has its more commercial moments, but there's no reggae or mainstream pop. Which is nice.

After a slow start, there's quite a bit of Mellotron to be heard, particularly on Und Es Schuf Der Mensch Die Erde, with some great string textures from Wolfgang Scheffler, one of the band's two keyboard players. Lift's overall sound is keyboard-heavy, with, despite the six-piece lineup, one member covering both guitar and bass. As a result, there's very little guitar to be heard, although the album's far less of a 'keyboard classic' than other similar outfits like Epidaurus. There's actually one bona fide prog epic on Lift, Ballade Vom Stein, taking up half of side two, with plenty of Mellotron scattered throughout. Actually, apart from the album's opener, there's Mellotron to be heard on every track; almost exclusively strings, though I think I heard some flutes warbling away under the real thing at one point. I relistened to this expecting a bit of a clunker, but I was pleasantly surprised. Not a classic, but a pretty good album, with some great 'Tron work. Buy if you like that German prog sound.

Lift's second album, Meeresfahrt, shoots my argument in the foot slightly by starting off as a 'something for everyone' record. The bluesy chug of clavinet-driven opener Wir Fahrn Übers Meer is pretty awful, Nach Süden merely average, and while a lot more listenable, the string quartet on Scherbenglas sounds oddly out of place. Tagesreise is a decent enough, Hammond-heavy ballad, Sommernacht rather less so, which leaves the title track. To my astonishment, Meeresfahrt is a truly wonderful piece, uplifting in the same way as, say, Gryphon's coincidentally German-titled (Ein Klein) Heldenleben, with a repeating melody to die for, in a vaguely medieval style, before lurching into a fusionesque middle section. Oddly, it's also the only Mellotron track, opening with phased strings and finishing, some 14 minutes later, with some muted choir, although the flute on the track is presumably real.

So; one reasonable album with loads of Mellotron but few real musical highlights, and one so-so record with next to no 'Tron, but containing one of the best prog tracks I've heard all year. Choices, choices... These are actually available on a twofer from German label Buschfunk, which seems to be going pretty cheaply, saving you a potentially agonising decision.

Light  (Netherlands)

Light, 'The Story of Moses'

The Story of Moses  (1972,  39.54)  ***/T½

The Water
The Blackberry Bushes
White Turns Into Black
The Nuisances
The Desert
The Red Sea

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Light (originally Light Formation) were a one-off Dutch progressive band, unsurprisingly influenced by Ekseption, only without the cheese (well, they were from Gouda - geddit? Oh, never mind) and, of course, Focus. The album is exactly what it says on the tin, being a rather dodgy Biblical concept effort, although thankfully, there isn't too much singing, and very little narration (chiefly on The Desert). It's not bad, musically, although the jazzy Hammond workout complete with walking bass on White Turns Into Black is rather unnecessary. The rest of the album is essentially sub-Focus; heard worse, heard better.

It's difficult to tell what's producing the string sound on The Water, though considering the album was recorded at Phonogram's studios in Hilversum, chances are it was the strangely-popular-in-the-Netherlands M300 'Tron the studio obviously owned, used by several other bands at the time including Ekseption. Anyway, flutes on the track, too, from Adrie Vergeer, and more strings on The Nuisances, though that appears to be it. So; as I said, heard worse, heard better, not that much 'Tron. Passable.

Toby Lightman  (US)

Toby Lightman, 'Bird on a Wire'

Bird on a Wire  (2006,  50.50)  **/½

Don't Wake Me
Don't Let Go
Better
Slippin'
Round & Round
My Sweet Song
Alone
One Sure Thing
Overflowing
Weight of the World
Holding Me Down
I'd Be Lost
Good Find

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

2006's Bird on a Wire is Toby Lightman's second album, to which I can only say, I do hope her debut's better, although I rather doubt it. This is an unappealing mash-up of modern singer-songwriter stylings and R'n'B, with country tinges here and there, all of which adds up to a tediously mainstream record with few redeeming features. In fact, the only ones I can think of are Lightman's pleasant (if undemanding) voice and the use of vintage keyboards, including Hammond, Wurlitzer and, of course, Mellotron.

Bill Bottrell plays it, but barely, with nothing obvious apart from a brief string part on closer Good Find. It may be hidden away on Don't Let Go, too, but without a positive credit, it's almost impossible to say. All in all, then, a dull, insipid album for people who only see music as something to play in the background while they do more important things. Avoid.

Official site

Like Wendy  (Netherlands)  see: Samples

Lily  (Germany)

Lily, 'VCU'

VCU (We See You)  (1973,  40.23/79.09)  ***½/½

In Those Times
Which is This
Pinky Pigs
Doctor Martin
I'm Lying on My Belly (including
  Tango Atonale)

Eyes Look From the Mount of Flash
[CD adds:
Chemical New York
Adlerbar
Catch Me
The Wanderer]

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Going by the 'Net reviews/biogs I've found, Lily formed in the late '60s as Monsun, being persuaded to change their name (and image) by their record company boss, who seemed to have some sort of hang-up about the emergent early '70s glam scene. The music on their sole release, VCU (We See You) is actually blues-influenced prog, with that instantly recognisable 'German' sound (NOT Krautrock), and may very well not appeal to all progressive fans, despite their extended compositional techniques. It's not actually a bad album, but a penchant for blues-based music would certainly help in appreciating it. It's difficult to pick standout tracks; they're pretty much of a muchness, to be honest, but they all seem to do the job they were designed for, which is more than you can say for many bands' output.

Dieter Dierks (again!) guests on Mellotron, but unless my ears deceive me, his entire input is limited to a few chords at the beginning of I'm Lying On My Belly, hardly making this a Mellotron Classic. Incidentally, the four bonus tracks almost double the album's length; there's nothing in the sleevenotes to denote when they date from, but they seem to be a reasonable addition to the album. So; not a bad album of its type, but don't bother for the 'Tron.


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