Swaddling Songs (1972, 43.13) ****½/T
The Poet and the Witch
Dan the Wing
Break Your Token
|Buy or Beware
Boulders on My Grave
Mellow Candle's sole album is, in its original vinyl form, one of the rarest LPs reviewed on this site; released to apparently zero acclaim in 1972 on Decca (actually Deram), it unbelievably sank without trace, only to become a collector's item in the '90s. Despite hailing from Ireland, the band had a classic female-fronted English folk rock sound, comparable to the harder end of Fairport Convention, or, more aptly, Trees, only slightly better-known than themselves. The material on Swaddling Songs is absolutely fantastic; more electric than acoustic, it compares well with the best the genre has to offer, making its relative obscurity all the more puzzling. I doubt if the album's bizarre sleeve, not to mention sleevenotes to match endeared it to the general public; the extraordinarily fey descriptions of the band members would have read badly in 1967, never mind by the early '70s. However, the music is utterly superb; Silver Song is a truly beautiful ballad, both Heaven Heath and The Poet And The Witch display the band's rockier side to good effect, while Buy Or Beware is particularly recommended.
Vocalist Clodagh Simonds played Mellotron on the title track of labelmates Thin Lizzy's Shades of a Blue Orphanage and, despite only being credited with vocals and piano here, there's a lovely Mellotron flute part on Sheep Season, although I wouldn't buy the album for that alone. However, you shouldn't need to; any folk rock or early '70s progressive fan should own a copy of Swaddling Songs. Absolutely superb. Incidentally, I originally thought the cellos on Silver Song were Mellotronic, but despite a lack of any suitable credit, I now suspect it's real cello.
See: Head South By Weaving
The Music We Make (1999, 48.53) **/T½
|See the Sounds
A Day After Christmas
All the Jens in the World
Wishing and Waiting
|This is Our Year
I've seen Melochrome described as 'shoegazer'; is this what 'shoegazer' sounds like? Remind me not to listen to any more (sorry, My Bloody Valentine - I'm sure you're better than this). I've also seen the term 'dream-pop' used, but if that's an efficient way of describing this wishy-washy mélange of poorly harmonised male and female vocals, limp instrumental work and repetitive material, then please, please allow me a deep, dreamless sleep. Honestly, post-punk never sounded so dreary.
Vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Pramod Tummala is credited with Mellotron and Chamberlin, with brass (?) and background Chamby strings (maybe) towards the end of All The Jens In The World and on Becoming Brighter and a nicely upfront (Mellotron?) flute line in Lift, none of which make this dreadful album worth the effort. Please don't buy this. It'll upset me.
Captain Thunder (1978, 42.11) ***/TTTT
Gone to Another
Wake Up My Son
Tell Me You Love Me
The Latest Thunder
|7" (1980) *½/TT½
You're the Music (in My Life)
Mellotrons/Birotron (?) used:
I can't tell you much about (Kurt) Memo; the only album I can trace is 1978's Captain Thunder, whose title and sleeve make it look like it might be slightly more interesting than it actually is. What we get is a truly solo album of English-language German soft rock with a progressive edge, not unlike contemporaneous BJH, diversions including Window Games, Happy Song and closer The Latest Thunder, all cheesy pieces of Clavinet-and-Moog funk. Although much of this album is ridiculous and despite Memo's thin, wispy vocals, I can't help smiling at some of it, its musical conceits way ahead of Memo's actual writing ability. Memo plays 'Mellotrome' (there's a new one) himself, with strings on all highlighted tracks above, plus flutes on the title track and Tell Me You Love Me, background choirs on opener Cosmic Lady and flutes and well-arranged choirs on Gone To Another and The Latest Thunder.
To be perfectly honest, I haven't heard Memo's 1980 single, You're The Music (In My Life), but its flip, Piano Bar, is a fantastically cheesy effort, not entirely unlike 10cc's I'm Not In Love, although not even remotely as good. The effect is exacerbated by the track's tape-replay work, with a Mellotron flute line and what are rumoured to be Birotron choirs, sounding a lot like 10cc's multitrack flummery from a few years earlier. Is it any good? No, it's awful, but interesting to hear the rare-as-rocking-horse-shit Birotron, assuming we actually are.
Captain Thunder is easily available on download blogs, although I can't imagine whom, exactly, might reissue this in the near future (or at all), as it falls between too many stools. The Garden of Delights will surely turn their collective noses up at its cheesy, soft-progness and Musea certainly won't be interested. So; a German Barclay James clone with loads of Mellotron. Yes, I have actually heard much, much worse. Unbelievably, in its own way, worth hearing.
Motherland (2001, 57.38) **/T½
|This House is on Fire
Put the Law on You
Build a Levee
The Worst Thing
Just Can't Last
Not in This Life
I'm Not Gonna Beg
Since Natalie Merchant left 10,000 Maniacs in 1993, she's released four solo albums, 2001's Motherland being the third. I can't comment on the others, but Motherland is a rather faceless effort, to be honest; a typical professional couple's dinner party album, if you like (which I don't). It's harmless enough, I suppose, but isn't going to appeal to anyone who likes a bit of grit in their music, and the material isn't good enough to grab lovers of great songs, although I believe the album did well enough upon its release. If you're after a best track, opener This House Is On Fire's Middle Eastern strings life it above the rest of the album. Always open with your best track, they say... Incidentally, don't blame the sleeve on Merchant; she wanted something slightly controversial involving children and gasmasks, then September 11th happened, giving her record company carte blanche to change it to something boring, none of which excuses that awful orange.
Elizabeth Steen plays Mellotron, amongst other keyboards, while Patrick Warren does his usual Chamberlin thing. It's hard to say for sure, but I suspect it's Warren's Chamby string surges on Build A Levee and Not In This Life, with Steen's Mellotron flutes on Golden Boy, and while it's all welcome, none of it really lifts the material in any meaningful way. So; bland, slightly rootsy singer-songwriter fare. Whoopee. This album's only real strong points are its opening track and tape-replay use, neither of which makes it worth a purchase to my regular readers (I believe I have some). Tedious.
Bramble Rose (2002, 52.37) ***/½
|Trouble Over Me
Virginia, No One Can Warn You
Bird of Freedom
I Know Him Too
Supposed to Make You Happy
Are You Still in Love With Me?
When I Cross Over
Tambourine (2004, 46.00) ***/T½
Wait it Out
Good Hearted Man
Ain't Looking Closely
Write My Ticket
Your Love Made a U Turn
|Late Night Pilgrim
I Am Your Tambourine
Laid a Highway
Shadow in the Way
Another Country (2008, 41.57) **½/T
|Something to Me
Hopes Too High
Morning is My Destination
Keep You Happy
I Know What I'm Looking for Now
|Tell Me Something True
My Heart is Free
Tift Merritt's career began in the late '90s, her first album, Bramble Rose, appearing in 2002. It's at the 'country' end of 'alt.country', with a little too much pedal steel for comfort, although the songwriting's good, steering clear of many of the genre's clichés. Opener Trouble Over Me and closer When I Cross Over might just be the album's best tracks, especially the occasional Neil Youngisms on the latter, although Supposed To Make You Happy probably beats them on the lyrical front. Unfortunately, fifty minutes of this is more than the non-country fan is likely to be able to bear; it's a shame there isn't a little more stylistic variety on the record, but most of its tracks, taken in isolation, are fine. Credited Chamberlin from Ethan Johns on two songs, with low strings on Neighborhood, but nothing especially audible on the title track, despite its sparse arrangement.
Two years later, Merritt followed-up with Tambourine, an album on the other side of the rock/country balance, making it rather more listenable for those allergic to pedal steels, with a somewhat Stones-ish vibe about some of the rockier tracks. Again, album opener Stray Paper is one of its best songs (always a good sequencing move, that), although nothing else particularly stand out, to be honest. Chamberlin from good old Patrick Warren, with background strings on Stray Paper and more upfront ones on Ain't Looking Closely, Still Pretending and Write My Ticket, assuming none of the strings are real.
There was a four-year gap before Merritt's next record, 2008's Another Country (presumably not a pun); unfortunately, her schtick has become a little tired, most of its material falling into the 'generic country' trap, although better tracks include opener Something To Me and the '60s soul-esque Tell Me Something True. Warren on Chamby again, with flutes and strings on the title track and Keep You Happy, so despite the instrument's legendary ability to hide in a mix, that would appear to be it.
See: Samples etc.
Space Rangers (1974, 43.04) ***/TTTTT
Step in the Right Direction
Eight Miles High
King of Mars
Road to Hades
High Altitude Hide'n'Seek
Kryptonite (1975, 37.11/67.34) ***/TTT½
Always Be You
Give it Everything We Got
Real Life Love
You Know Where I'd Rather Be
Let Us Be the Dawn
Aren't You Glad That You Know
Dust My Blues
You Must Live it
Your Real Good Thing
Local 149/Are You Ready]
I believe Neil Merryweather was a Canadian who migrated to Chicago fairly early on, hanging around for a decade or more, releasing several albums in the process, but never really breaking through. After a two-album detour into Mama Lion in the early '70s (Mellotron/Chamberlin use unknown), Merryweather went back to his solo career with Space Rangers in 1974. Now this is what I call a Mellotron album! Except that it's a Chamberlin. For those not in the know, the Chamberlin was the Mellotron's direct precursor, and was still in production in one form or another up to around 1980. Merryweather got a guy known enigmatically as 'Edgemont' (which I've seen written as 'Ed Gemont'...) to play one on every track on it bar their cover of the Byrds' drug anthem Eight Miles High, mostly to great effect. For some strange reason, Chamberlins tend to 'disappear in the mix' far more than Mellotrons, and are often hard to discern. Not this one; for most of the album it's really 'in your face', to the point where I'd recommend this as a Chamberlin demonstration record. Not just the expected strings (apparently identical to the Mellotron's), but choirs, sound effects etc. Sole Survivor even ends with a lonely trumpet melody (which I should probably recognise, but don't), complete with pitch-bend.
So, er, what about the music, anyway? Well, it's sort of mid-'70s transatlantic hard rock with bits of prog, funk and other stuff thrown in. Bit of a mish-mash, to be honest, but not a bad listen, more for the Chamberlin overkill than anything else, really. On the cover version front, there's also their take on Donovan's seminal (it says here) Sunshine Superman, although it's almost unrecognisable. Overall, the vocals are a bit rough, but there's some decent enough guitar playing; er, bit of a three-star effort, basically. Saying that, if you want full-on Chamberlin, buy now.
A year or two back, I stated: "Interestingly, the music for Road To Hades appears to have been ripped off hook, line and sinker by Canadian band Symphonic Slam on their sole self-titled album from two years later, retitled Universe, unless there's an untold story here? There doesn't appear to be any connection between the two outfits, unless you know better (thanks to the estimable Joe Ellis for spotting that one - hi, Joe)." There certainly is an untold story... I've just been written to by Symphonic Slam's Timo Laine himself, who tells me that he didn't rip off Merryweather - Merryweather ripped him off, and the rest of his band. Laine wrote nearly all the material on the album, but had his writing credits stolen, making him feel more than justified in re-recording his own work! Apologies to all concerned for my inadvertent faux pas, but the story's hardly common currency... Let's hope this mention (and the one I've added to the Symphonic Slam review) help to set the record straight. Oh, and all the names on the album were changed: 'Michael "Jeep" Willis' is Laine, and the mysterious 'Edgemont' is actually keyboard player Bob Silvert.
Merryweather followed-up with Kryptonite, with a similar comic-art sleeve, and a more straightforward hard rock agenda, losing most of Space Rangers' disparate influences. More Chamberlin, from James Herndon this time; Star Rider has one of the most upfront parts on the album, along with the proggiest track, closer Let Us Be The Dawn, which is swamped in Chamby strings. I've highlighted the opening title track, although it sounds more like synth strings to me; very hard to tell, to be honest. The album's probably less appealing than its predecessor, but still worth hearing for its string-replay work. The CD adds the entire contents of Merryweather's Neil Merryweather, John Richardson & Boers album from around '69, although I'm not sure they should've bothered. It's a pretty tedious blues/rock workout, although, paradoxically, the best track on this otherwise dull set is the near-eleven minute jammed-out closer Local 149/Are You Ready, which at least has some energy about it, despite the lengthy and unnecessary drum solo.
So; two so-so albums, but loads of Chamberlin all round. Your choice.
See: Symphonic Slam
The Dawn Anew is Comin' (1972, 34.00) ***½/T½Changes
The Dawn Anew is Coming
Evil Faith and Charity
When I'm Home
From Books & Dreams (1973, 41.11) ***½/½Sleep!
Dreams and Nightmares (Dreams)
Dreams and Nightmares (Nightmares) Introducing the Myth (including) The Unpleasant Spell
Despite the broken English of Message's first album title, the band were actually three-fifths British, with only the rhythm section being German. They've been compared with Nektar in some quarters, although the latter group were all English ex-pats, never having a German member pass through their ranks. Message were less 'prog' than Nektar, never having a keyboard player, although both bands had similar psychedelic/hard rock roots.
Apart from the vocals, The Dawn Anew is Comin' sounds pretty Germanic to my ears, like a Teutonic Uriah Heep, maybe; the material's reasonably good, but you can see why they never broke out of their adopted country, lacking the originality that the international scene demanded. By 1972, British and American hard rock had completely moved on from its psych roots, leaving many bands in both countries adrift without a rudder, although it seems that bands in other territories survived by being the best the local scenes had to offer. This sounds like I'm slating the album and/or the German rock scene; I'm not. It's just rather apparent that this would have sold very few copies indeed in the more aggressive UK/US markets. Anyway, Nektar's "Taff" Freeman played Mellotron strings on the two longer numbers on side two, Heaven Knows and When I'm Home, although his use is somewhat less than overt.
The following year's From Books and Dreams appears to be some sort of concept album on the subject of sleep, with the tracks running into each other (excepting the 'side gap', of course, with the amusing Turn Over being an exhortation to do precisely that). After the brief Sleep!, we're off and running with the lengthy Dreams And Nightmares (Dreams) and it's immediately obvious that Message had tightened their act up considerably since recording their debut. The jamming is more focussed, even if the songs are no more memorable, making for a slightly better album than its predecessor. Mellotron from vocalist/saxophonist Tommy McGuigan this time round, although all I can hear is a couple of chords (literally) in the first part of the Dreams And Nightmares (Nightmares) sequence that ends the album.
The band took two years to come up with their eponymous third album (***), having switched to a more straightforward sound in the interim, although '76's Synapse (***½) was more interesting, as they took a sideways step into jazzier territory. From '77's Using the Head (**½) (toilet humour - who needs it?) on, though, they sunk into a form of tedious mainstream pop/rock, of little interest to all but the most obsessive collector. So; both the above albums are worth hearing if you're into that German jamming thing, but neither is exactly a Mellotron Classic, to be honest. File under 'reasonable'.
Illusory Blues (2014, 45.30) ***½/T½The Return
Perpetual Glow of a Setting Sun
Let the Light in
Messenger are the London-based trio of Barnaby Maddick, Khaled Lowe and my old pal Jaime Gomez Arellano, owner of Orgone Studios, current keepers of the Planet Mellotron Hammond. Their debut, 2014's Illusory Blues, has been lazily labelled 'prog', although a better description might be along the lines of 'psychedelic indie folk rock', not least due to the dreamy atmosphere conjured up on several tracks. Highlights? The lengthy Midnight moulds their disparate influences into a more cohesive whole than most of the album's contents, not to mention the interesting production tricks used on the track, while Somniloquist (the single) rocks out, at least lightly, although Dear Departure (for example) veers too close to that post-rock/indie crossover thing for its own good.
The band hired my M400 (my Hammond is, unsurprisingly, all over the record), using the Mellotron on a definite pair of tracks, with mournful flute swells on opener The Return and a strident string part and chordal flutes in the second half of Midnight, although the strings on Somniloquist sound real. So; a confident debut, of the kind that will most likely grow on the discerning listener given enough plays, although probably not quite enough Mellotron to be worth it for that alone.
Method (1976, 29.56) **/½
Someone to Love
Don't Leave Me Baby
Run Run Run
|Sometimes You Win
Ask No Questions
After 'discovering' 10cc, who were quite capable of 'discovering' themselves, to be honest, the oily Jonathan King and his third-rate UK label were unstoppable, releasing a stream of tedium in the hope of breaking through with the 'next big thing'. As soon as you see a sleevenote on the back of an album written by some third-party exec, you know you're in for a rough ride, with the glaring exception of the first Boston album (no, really). Method is no exception to the rule, with King's hyperbolic rant including such phrases as 'a remarkable bunch of musicians', 'incredible professionalism', 'rekindling the tang of jaded taste buds' (?!) and worst of all, 'combination of heavy sounds and sweet melody'. HEAVY SOUNDS?? For fuck's sake, King, is that the best you could come up with? To be fair to the band, I'm sure they were a decent enough bunch of blokes, but their music was anodyne, faceless '70s pop/rock with little genuine hit potential, although they weren't quite as bad (or commercial) as, say, Liverpool Express.
Guitarist John Hughes doubled on piano and Mellotron, with one credited track, Don't Leave Me Baby (which, to be fair, features a nice little guitar hook). To be honest, it doesn't sound an awful lot like a Mellotron, though it's so far down in the mix, it's rather hard to tell. Is it a Mellotron? Is it a string synth? Dunno, but it's a pretty dull part, whatever it is. So; pretty awful album, no obvious Mellotron. Avoid.