Murder By Death
Murder City Devils
J.F. Murphy & Salt
The Movies (1976, 35.25) **½/T
|Dancin' on Ice
American Beauty Rose
Better Wages, Better Days
If I Can Just Get Through Tonight
You Think You're Too Good to Be True
Would You Believe?
The Movies unintentionally confused matters greatly with their name and sole album title, as an identically-monikered British outfit also released an eponymous debut the previous year. The American Movies slot firmly into that now-deeply unfashionable 'piano-led late '70s pop/rock' bracket, like a cross between, say, Supertramp and Billy Joel. The album has its moments, not least cheery opener Dancin' On Ice and the swing-era references in Sugarloo, but overall, it's all a bit bland, I'm afraid.
Michael Morgan plays Mellotron, with a cello line and a string part on Better Wages, Better Days, although the strings on If I Can Just Get Through Tonight and Would You Believe? are real. To absolutely no-one's surprise, this isn't available on CD, or even official download; does this style have any fans these days? Harmless enough, then, with one decent Mellotron track, but not exactly what you'd call exciting.
Wood (1995, 51.21) ***/T
|Down From Above
The Present Tense Tureen
Poor Mary Lane
On Her Doorstep
It's Too Cold
|Bed and Breakfast
Nuits de Rêve
Nothing to do with Canadian second-division hard rock crew Moxy, Moxy Früvous have been known to say that they picked the name because it was neither memorable, nor meant anything, which is quite admirable in itself. Forming in 1989, partially as an a capella political outfit, they broke through at around the same time as Barenaked Ladies, while being considerably less irritating. 1995's Wood was their second album, largely falling (loosely) into the folk area, the band's massed vocal arrangements bearing comparison with CSN&Y. Better tracks include opener Down From Above, Horseshoes, the jokey, banjo-fuelled The Present Tense Tureen and the very Gallic Nuits De Rêve, but nothing here offends in the way of some of their wackier countrymen.
David Matheson plays Mellotron on Sad Today, with a full, solo flute arrangement at the end of the track, closing the album 'proper', before ridiculous bonus track Organ Grinder. All in all, a very listenable album, providing you're not allergic to acoustic guitars and on/off acerbic lyrics, with one nice Mellotron track, or rather, section.
Mudcrutch 2 (2016, 43.16) ***½/T½
Dreams of Flying
I Forgive it All
The Other Side of the Mountain
Welcome to Hell
|Save Your Water
Victim of Circumstance
Hungry No More
Mudcrutch? For those of you who know little of Tom Petty's pre-fame existence, they were his Florida-based band that moved to California in '74, eventually morphing into The Heartbreakers after a few lineup changes, Petty assuming bandleader status. I don't know what brought about their on/off 2000s reformation, but the end results appear to justify his faith in his old muckers, certainly going by 2016's Mudcrutch 2, a pleasant, if undemanding album of Pettyesque country rock tailor-made to appeal to his sizeable fanbase. Top tracks? Probably the Farfisa-driven The Other Side Of The Mountain, the country rock thrash of Victim Of Circumstance and semi-epic closer Hungry No More, although 'best lyric moment' goes to Benmont Tench's lead vocal on the rock'n'roll-ish Welcome To Hell: "Welcome to hell/population: me."
Tench (present and correct in Pettyland since original Mudcrutch days) plays rather muted Mellotron on a handful of tracks, with strings on opener Trailer, Beautiful World and Hungry No More, plus what sounds like combined flute and strings on I Forgive It All. Incidentally, top marks to Petty for his loyalty to his old bandmates, doubtless providing them with a decent retirement fund, should it be needed; a rarity in 'the biz', given how many successful artists drop the people who made them like a stone as soon as they outlive their usefulness. Yes, David Bowie, I'm looking at you. And you, Marc Bolan. I'm not sure why I single those two out, mind, given the practice's prevalence...
See: Tom Petty
Alert Today Alive Tomorrow (1999, 34.05) ***/½
|I Wish I Could Be You
Another Ugly Face
Prettier Than Me
I'm Not Around
|Blow Your Mind
Room With No View
Dear Liar Love Me
The Muffs are a California-based punk/pop outfit, originally all female, though the rougher sex slowly infiltrated, until by their fourth album, 1999's Alert Today Alive Tomorrow, two of the trio were male, including Redd Kross drummer Roy McDonald, leaving frontwoman Kim Shattuck as the sole original member. The album appears to have been released in at least two different versions, making reviewing it a tad confusing, but I think it's safe to say that whichever version you get, it's going to be stuffed full of decent pop/punk tunes that predate the likes of the tedious Green Day by quite some way, avoiding their sense of 'humour' in the process.
Brian Kehew of Moog Cookbook plays Mellotron, although it only crops up on Dear Liar Love Me, with a rather muted, though nicely played strings intro. Why is it here? Who knows, but don't look a gift-horse in the mouth, eh? So; pop crossed with punk, or vice versa; The Buzzcocks did it over twenty year earlier, as did The Ramones, I suppose, but that doesn't make this less valid. No classic, but decent enough at what it does, with a short but sweet 'Tron part to boot.
See: Redd Kross
Sinfonia Della Luna (1984, 46.05/52.09) ***½/TTSinfonia Della Luna
A Parade of the Wonderland
Ballo Della Luna
Léda et le Cygne (1986, 44.31) ***½/TTT½Léda et le Cygne
Edmond's Old Mirror
Pavane pour une Infante Défunte
The Princess of Kingdom Gone (1988, 43.59) ***/T½The Princess of Kingdom Gone
The Lady of Shalott
Legend of the Forest
Mugen are yet another Japanese prog band from the '80s (by no means necessarily a bad thing), with Sinfonia Della Luna being the first of their three releases. I'm afraid I find it a little cheesy in places, with overly 'sweet' synth leads, although no worse than many of their contemporaries, and better than many. There are occasional Genesis comparisons on their debut, like the synth/organ break in Dance... Romantic, or the 12-string work in Leonardo, but most of the album doesn't sound too like anybody else. Ballo Della Luna is excellent, with a lengthy acoustic part kicking things off (so to speak), although the side-long title track is probably overlong, and is one of the worst offenders on the cheese front. Katsuhiko Hayashi uses (presumably) analogue string synth on most tracks, with a rather insipid choir sound, generated from an unknown keyboard, but he gets some 'Tron in on a few tracks. Sinfonia Della Luna itself has a short flute part, well into the song, as does Leonardo, added to the CD release. Venezia goes for a full-on strings part, as does Ballo Della Luna, with a beautiful unaccompanied 'Tron section, bumping its T rating up slightly.
Léda et le Cygne is better than its predecessor, if not quite a four-star effort, although several tracks still manage some of those cheesy synth brass parts beloved of '80s Japanese outfits. The Genesis influence is less obvious this time round, although a few seconds in Salomé are straight out of The Return Of The Giant Hogweed, and a synth arpeggio later on could easily have come from the pen of Mr Banks. Hayashi sticks Mellotron all over the place, with the first sound on the album being a faint 'Tron strings part leading into the title track, with strings and flutes scattered across most of the rest of the album. The choirs on Salomé are distinctly un-'Tronlike, so whatever their tapeframe's third sound is doesn't appear to get used, but there's enough string work to get your Mellotron Aficionado all hot under the collar. Which is nice.
Mugen's third and final album, the frequently-misspelled The Princess of Kingdom Gone, gets a bad rap from many online reviewers, but is near-as-dammit the match of their debut, if not quite as good as its predecessor. OK, it may sound in places like they're running out of ideas, but I've heard an awful lot worse albums, not least a good few from the contemporaneous Japanese scene. Not an awful lot of 'Tron this time round, with merely strings on the title track and strings and flutes on Trident Rock, while all other string parts appear to be generic samples.
So; Sinfonia Della Luna and The Princess of Kingdom Gone are not bad, not brilliant, some decent 'Tron work in places, while Léda et le Cygne is better both musically and for the 'Tron. You know what you have to do.
|7" (1973) **/T
Santa Doesn't Cop Out On Dope
Normal (1974, 35.39) **/T
Dialling for Dollars
Rome and Bored
|The Blacks Are Giving Me the Blues
Jesus Christ Football Star
You Play Rhythm
"Does humour belong in music?", Frank Zappa once asked, except he spelt 'humour', 'humor', being a Yank. There's a long and (dis)honourable tradition of musical humorists, from the brilliantly acerbic (Tom Lehrer), through to the low-brow, low-budget ("Weird Al" Yankovic, whose quality is summed up by his need to point out his 'weirdness'). Martin Mull is an actor who discovered a yen for stand-up comedy, and has pursued parallel careers in straight acting, comedy and musical parody, although the latter seems largely confined to the '70s, which may well be a good thing.
Santa Doesn't Cop Out On Dope was his rib-tickling Christmas single from 1973 and is... awful. It's not even funny, certainly by today's standards, with tedious lyrics about why Santa doesn't do heroin ('dope' in the States). Unfunny. The strings are real, but Keith Spring's polyphonic Mellotron flute part is pretty cool, although I wouldn't go as far as to call it a saving grace. If you really must hear it, it's apparently anthologised not only on a Mull CD compilation, Mulling it Over: A Musical Oeuvre-View of Martin Mull, but also a generic Christmas effort, Have a Nice Christmas: Holiday Hits of the 70s.
Normal was Mull's third album, and while it may well've been side-splittingly hilarious in its day, I'm afraid to say, over thirty years on, it raised nary a titter here. The music is largely swing-era parody, which was probably a legitimate means of humorous expression in '70s America, rather as Music Hall was in the UK, but now just sounds horrendously dated, as do many of Mull's targets. The Blacks Are Giving Me The Blues (a vaguely disco-ish effort) is presumably meant to be funny, but just comes across as mildly racist, while Drunkard's Waltz sounds like no-budget Lehrer; nothing else stands out sufficiently for me to remember anything about it, minutes after the album's end. The album contain's Mull's other 'Tron track, Woodstock Samba. Its short lyric appears to take a poke at the dullness of life in Woodstock (told you he was funny), set to the usual swing-era accompaniment, until Spring comes in on 'Tron flutes, playing the most beautiful solo part at the end of the song. No, really. By the way, it was Yoko Ono's M400; she was recording in an adjoining studio and it was sitting in the corridor, so Spring rattled out a quick take on it while no-one was looking.
I wouldn't actually advise you to buy this album for its Mellotron content, but if you get a chance to hear this one track, it's actually worth a few minutes of your time. Please don't buy anything else by Martin Mull, though, as he's neither interesting nor funny. Of his time. Incidentally, thanks to Keith Spring for confirming various details.
Rather fawning fan page
David Mullen (1994, 47.24) **/T
|Change Has Gotta Come
The Beauty of it
All God Has
A Slice of Heaven
|The Prodigal (One More Try)
It Ain't Easy
Ex-(American) footballer David Mullen got God and became a CCM artist in the eighties, 1994's David Mullen being his third and (to date) last album. Rather than the usual litest-of-lite folk/pop, it takes '60s soul and r'n'b as its chief template, better efforts including the Tom Petty-esque All God Has and the blues-rock of It Ain't Easy, although the bulk of the album is teeth-grindingly bad, particularly on the lyric front.
John (Mark) Painter, Mellotron player to the Christian community, adds Mellotron strings to The Beauty Of It and flutes (and cellos?) to closer He Comes, although the strings on a couple of other tracks sound real. Why would you bother with this? I've no idea. Let's be thankful Mullen seems to have stopped making records.
East/West (1985, 39.21) *½/TTEast/West
Ahead of Your Time
I remember Multi-Story (named for an allegedly fortuitous meeting in a car park) as a bit of a joke on the mid-'80s prog scene; signed to Heavy Metal Records' offshoot FM, they (fittingly) had a sound closer to AOR than prog, even of the neo- variety. And would'ja believe it? Time hasn't softened my attitude in the slightest; if anything, East/West sounds even worse now than it did then. Songs of the 'quality' of the horrible Breaking Ground (originally, and more sensibly entitled 'Breaking New Ground', which at least makes some grammatical sense) make the likes of Marillion sound good. Well, almost. OK, so the playing's alright, but since when did that make an album any good? The songs are cheesy, the synths are worse, and as for the wishy-washy vocals...
You may've gathered by now that I don't like this album very much. Correct. It encapsulates everything that's bad about '80s UK prog, with barely any redeeming features whatsoever, although the lengthyish Ahead Of Your Time is a little less painful than the rest of this sorry LP. Actually, if you're looking for a comparison, the awful Pendragon are about the closest I can come up with, and believe me, that is NO recommendation... In fact, about the only nice thing I can think of to say about it is (you've guessed it) Rob Wilsher's Mellotron use, which sounds bizarrely out of place across much of the record, the aforementioned Ahead Of Your Time possibly excepted. The title track only appears to contain one brief string swell, but Traveller and Ahead Of Your Time are quite laden down with some halfway decent choir work, with a little more in closer Heroes.
So; I don't think a review summary is particularly necessary, is it? Despite two OK 'Tron tracks, this is shite, and should be avoided at all costs, unless you're either a) a serious neo-progger, or b) a serious masochist (surely the same thing?). Incidentally, the cover scan above is from the CD reissue; the original LP sleeve was completely different, and very poor indeed, reflecting its contents, or is that another album entirely? Fucked if I can remember. Also incidentally, the band appear to have reformed. Run for the hills! Also also incidentally, I'm reliably informed that there's a link between this lot and late-'90s indie types Feeder, although none of the names match up. Apparently, Wilsher's 'Tron is being made far better use of these days in the very capable hands of the mighty Julian Cope. Hurrah!
Good Morning, Magpie (2010, 37.31) ***½/T½
As Long as There is Whiskey in the World
On the Dark Streets Below
King of the Gutters, Prince of the Dogs
Piece By Piece
Good Morning, Magpie
You Don't Miss Twice (When You're Shavin'
With a Knife)
Although I've seen Murder By Death described as 'indie', they're nearer to 'cello-fuelled Americana', at least going by 2010's Good Morning, Magpie, a dark, leprous album of suitably deathlike songs such as As Long As There Is Whiskey In The World and King Of The Gutters, Prince Of The Dogs. Top tracks? Maybe the raucous Piece By Piece and super-intense closer The Day, but there's little, if any filler here.
Either cellist Sarah Balliet or guitarist Adam Turla plays Mellotron (both are credited with keyboards), with a nice little flute part on Foxglove and haunted strings on White Noise!, complete with authentic wobble. Do you bother? Depends on how much you like indie-tinged Americana, I suppose. Not really worth it for the Mellotron, but a sensibly-lengthed album of well-crafted songs.
In Name & Blood (2000, 37.05) ***/T½
I Drink the Wine
Rum to Whiskey
I'll Come Running
|Somebody Else's Baby
In This Town
No Grave But the Sea
Fields of Fire
The Seattle-based Murder City Devils are an American garage punk band in the grand tradition, their eponymous 1997 debut rattling through ten ferocious tracks in a mere 22 minutes. Despite a couple of keyboard interjections, though, its alleged Mellotron use would appear to be a chimera. Two albums on, 2000's In Name & Blood sees a slightly tamed band, less breakneck than before, many of its songs being quite mid-paced. However, they're no less intense than before, I Drink The Wine and Idle Hands, amongst others, keeping the energy levels up.
Dann Gallucci plays Mellotron, with a string line on opener Press Gang, choir on I Drink The Wine and another string line on I'll Come Running, complete with a note choking off at the end of the song, so despite its murky sound, it would appear it's a real machine. One for garage nuts and Farfisa fans, I think, although its Mellotron use actually isn't bad.
The Last Illusion (1973, 41.56) **½/T½Sweet Byrd
Touched By Love
New York City
The Man Who is Alone
The Last Illusion
Now all-but forgotten, J.F. Murphy & Salt's piano-driven psych/country/blues/jazz was apparently quite a draw on the early '70s New York scene; a bit of a hippy-era hangover, they haven't dated particularly well, although Elton John and fellow New Yorker Billy Joel would find success with a more contemporary version of the same sound. Their third album, 1973's The Last Illusion, throws all those influences into the pot, Ron Allard's prevailing sax work to the fore, although their true colours as a proto-jamband are finally revealed on the ten-minute New York City/Home segue. Other better tracks include Bell Toll and the lengthy closing title track, but it's all a bit 'of its time', I'm afraid.
Murphy plays Mellotron, along with his lead vocal/guitar/piano role, with a pseudo-string section part on Touched By Love and cellos and strings on The Man Who Is Alone. Those of you who delight in obscure '70s jazz/blues/rock will be delighted by this, although the rest of us, despite a couple of reasonable Mellotron tracks, may wish to walk on by.