Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band
Orange Humble Band
Orion the Hunter
Omega (1973, 34.24) ***½/T½Everytime She Steps in
After a Hard Year
The Lying Girl
White Magic Stone
200 Years After the Last War (1974, 35.57) ***½/TTSuite
Help to Find Me
200 Years After the Last War
You Don't Know
Omega III (1974, 32.36) ***/T½Stormy Fire
Go on the Spree
Everytime She Steps in
Live as Long as
Just a Bloom
I Go Away
Omega 8: Csillagok Útján (1978, 36.12) ***/TNyitány
Gammapolis/Omega 9 (1979, 41.32) ***½/TDawn in the City (Hajnal a Város Felett)
Lady of the Summer Night (Nyári Éjek Asszonya)
Rush Hour (Őrültek Órája)
Return of the Outcast (A Száműzőtt)
Gammapolis (Gammapolis 1)
The Man Without a Face (Arcnélküli Ember)
Silver Rain (Ezüst Eső)
Omega's origins, like so many of their Western contemporaries, go back to their days as a beat group in the early/mid-'60s, eventually catching up with their British and American mentors in the early '70s, becoming a bit of a catch-all heavy/progressive outfit. It must have been incredibly difficult to operate behind the Iron Curtain at that time; I would guess that they were at least partially state-sanctioned - allowed to exist as 'proof' that the Hungarian regime was hip and 'with it, man', and didn't really torture dissidents to death in underground cells. This is no slur on the band; in fact, all respect to them for having the courage to follow their muse under such harsh conditions. They certainly managed several things denied to most other East European outfits, not least owning decent equipment, the chance to sing in English and record and release albums in the West.
There was immense confusion (at least in this household) over their catalogue; their domestic and foreign releases frequently bore little relation to each other, with tracks from several different Hungarian LPs being grouped together randomly on each Western album, until the two halves of their career reunited (musically, at least) with 1976's Time Robber/Omega 7: Időrabló. However, the excellent discography to be found at Gammapolis.de, a fan site better than many official ones, has helped set things straight. Just to add to the confusion, the musician credits on Omega reverse all the names, though I think I've sorted this one out. Also (groan), a 1975 album also called Omega, also released on their German label, Bacillus (along with Nektar) is actually a compilation of tracks from the previous three English-language releases. I think. Aaargh!
Anyway, Omega was their first Western album, based around their fourth and fifth Hungarian releases (as was the following year's Omega III). It's actually a damn' good album, if a little derivative, with more than a hint of Uriah Heep to their sound, especially in the Hammond department; in fact, Parting Song finishes with a circular riff that has more than a touch of Heep's July Morning about it. Maybe they thought no-one would notice. The album opens with a solid rocker, Everytime She Steps In, but swiftly moves into proggish territory, with some nice Mellotron strings from keyboard man László Benkő enhancing After A Hard Year. After some more undistinguished hard rock on side two, the album ends with minor epic White Magic Stone, with some slightly shrieky 'Tron strings (quick! Down an octave!) and another circular riff. Without meaning to sound patronising (although I expect I do), Omega's a good album given the various restrictions that must've been placed on the band.
They followed up with 200 Years After the Last War, a mixture of re-recorded English-language versions of tracks from Omega 5 (a.k.a. Szvit) and Omega 6: Nem Tudom a Neved. It's one of the proggiest efforts in their canon, although the blues section in the otherwise excellent side-long Suite is possibly slightly unnecessary, while the three shorter tracks on side two are all good, but fall short of 'excellent'. Bassist Tamás Mihály plays 'Tron this time round, with strings on Suite (there's a particularly nice solo part about twelve minutes in, after the aforementioned blues section) with more of the same on the title track, making this the band's best 'Tron album, although that isn't really saying that much.
Omega III is, unsurprisingly, the band's third English-language album, sadly rather more straightforward than its immediate predecessors. Spanish Guitar and Remembering are the two relevant 'Tron tracks, both more reflective pieces with extra added Mellotron strings, from Mihály again, but there's nothing here in the epic vein of Suite or White Magic Stone; in fact, only one track tops the four-minute mark and, for reasons best known to themselves, they reprise the rather average Everytime She Steps In from Omega. The only other particularly worthwhile track is the short proggy effort, I Go Away; as you might expect, Fancy Jeep is somewhat less progressive...
'75's The Hall Of Floaters In The Sky (stop laughing) and the following year's Time Robber/Omega 7: Idõrabló (***) are bereft of anything at all 'Tronlike. '78's Skyrover/Omega 8: Csillagok Útján has one credited, but it's pretty well back in the mix. Not that it's exactly the first thing you notice about the album; I mean, have had a proper look at that sleeve? Have you?? Oh. My. God. It's... I don't know what to say, actually; it's been known to reduce grown men to tears of laughter (not least myself). I know Communist Eastern Europe was behind the times, but had they no idea of the concept of camp? This sleeve is camper than Freddie Mercury and Boy George having a bitch-slapping contest. Camper than the Village People's dance routines. Camper than... oh, you get the picture. Musically, it's averagely proggy, without being outstanding in any way, with the odd track thrown in from a different genre (the hard rock of Metamorfózis I being an example), but it isn't really their finest hour. None of the Mellotron use is particularly obvious, although it presumably provides the high strings on Légy Erős! and Bíbor Hölgy.
Now, due to the Hungarian/rest of world situation I mentioned earlier, I managed to purchase both versions of their 1979 opus, Gammapolis/Omega 9 on the same European record-buying trip, which was a little excessive, if unintentional (see sleeves above to understand confusion). Interestingly, the tracklisting in the Hungarian version (in a different order, fact fans) translates the titles into both English and Russian, so I presume their sales in the then USSR were quite reasonable. The Hungarian track order seems to make far more sense, beginning the album with the Start/Gammapolis 1 pairing, and ending with Gammapolis 2, nicely bookending the record, so I've no idea why they had to mess with it for Western consumption by swapping each side's opening numbers. Anyway, in the intervening years, it seems Omega had learnt to vary their material a little more, though not necessarily for the better, with much of side 1 being too mainstream for its own good, with an unfortunate sub-disco beat on Return Of The Outcast. Saying that, Dawn In The City is a decent enough longer, proggy opener, with more of their ubiquitous 'Tron strings (did they use any other Mellotron sounds?) and both parts of the title track and Silver Rain are quite excellent. Gammapolis 2 still reminds me of Uriah Heep, and I think we should draw a discreet veil over The Man Without A Face... Incidentally, I think the paintings of the band in their full stage splendour should have been quietly dropped, as they make them look like rejects from a gay night at New York's Studio 54 (assuming there was any other sort). I'm all for a bit of a stage show, but please, chaps... [You might've guessed that I got these before Omega 8, or I may not've been quite as shocked...]
Omega are still in existence today, though they must be getting on a bit; the picture in Omega shows what looks like a bunch of guys in their thirties, though I suspect trends in early-'70s facial hair didn't help. I remember reading a live review from the mid-'80s, by an amazed British journalist who couldn't believe how much of a phenomenon Omega were in their own country. He remarked that they seemed to cover all bases, playing hard rock, progressive, pop, disco, you name it, with the audience going wild whatever they played, but I saw a similar response in Belgium watching the reformed Machiavel a few years ago; maybe European audiences have more 'loyalty' to their favourite bands, whatever you take that to mean. Who knows. Anyway, while Omega and Gammapolis are actually pretty good, if a tad patchy, 200 Years... is the nearest any of these comes to being a Mellotron album. Borrow them from a mate (assuming you have a mate who owns several Omega albums) and make a compilation.
Top fan site
Gospel Truth (1977, 43.08) *½/T
Worship the King
Way Up High
Once Not So Long Ago
Double Minded Man
One Day at a Time
|Reprise (Once Not So Long Ago)
One Truth were a '70s US CCM outfit with a difference: instead of the standard soft-rock-to-MOR flavourings, this bunch played spot-on soul-lite, musically indistinguishable (at least to my ears) from many similar, secular bands of the era. Does that make them any better than the competition? Marginally, but it's akin to the difference in smell between two turds, so don't go thinking this might actually be any good. At their most convincing when they get (ever so slightly) funky, their attempts at 'rock' are pretty laughable, but the likes of opener Gospel Truth and the balladic Double Minded Man remind me of the more acceptable r'n'b to be heard at the time. Lyrically, of course, it's the usual combo of bullying, passive-aggressive 'join us or burn forever' bullshit and piss-yourself-laughing nonsense such as "We're going to be together for that meeting in the sky/Christians don't ever have to say goodbye" (Way Up High), which, essentially, redefines the word 'banal', at least in my book (which isn't, of course 'The Book').
Unusually for such efforts, this features track-by-track credits, letting us know that keys man George Smitty Price plays Chamberlin on closer Prodigal Clay, with massed, multitracked voices, sounding more like a Mellotron, as their weird, solo vibrato is subsumed into a full choir effect. Does anyone really need to hear this? Of course not; there's vastly better genuine soul out there, much of it religiously inspired, but without this crew's sledgehammer approach, while only sad God-botherers are going to gain anything from the ludicrous lyrics. Is it even funny? Way Up High made me LOL, as they say, but the rest of it's the usual teeth-gritting stuff. Another Mark Medley contribution, folks. I'll publish his address for you one day.
Marykate O'Neil (2002, 41.02) **½/T
Getting Out of Bed
8th & 14th
Wikipedia describe Marykate O'Neil as an 'indiepop singer-songwriter', which sounds about right, going by the contents of her eponymous debut. Much of the album ploughs the same old indie furrow, wafting along on a cloud of rather twee vocals and lightweight instrumentation, better tracks including the jangly Another Saturday, Still Waiting and the propulsive, '60s-esque Prime Time.
Brad Jones (Marshall Crenshaw, Over the Rhine) plays Chamberlin, with those very distinctive strings murmuring in the background on U-Haul, although other possible use probably isn't. There's one more Marykate tape-replay record, 2006's 1-800 Bankrupt, which I'll review when etc. etc.
Funny Old Business (1997, 55.58) ***½/T½
Dirty Old Town
The Green Fields of France
Dennis Murphy's/John Ryan's
The Curragh of Kildare
The Oak and the Ash
Mist Covered Mountain/Out on the Ocean
Change at Thorpe-le-Soken
|The Ballad of Cursed Anna
The Old Armchair
The Rights of Man
The Warlike Lads of Russia
King of the Swingers
Down Where the Drunkards Roll
The Blackbird and the Thrush
The (Celebrated) Onion Band have been around since the mid-'80s, playing folk gigs in Essex and Suffolk pubs, and seem perfectly happy with staying at that level, as far as I can work out. Funny Old Business is their fifth, and to date, latest release, though without writing credits, I'm not sure how many (if any) of the songs are band originals. Dirty Old Town is Euan McColl, Down Where The Drunkards Roll is Richard Thompson, King Of The Swingers is from 'The Jungle Book', while several of the others are by that most prolific of songsmiths, 'Trad. Arr.', but I really wouldn't like to say for many of them. Will you like this album? Do you like English folk? Then you'll like it. Apart from the occasional keyboard interjection, it's endearingly authentic, right down to Pug Rayner's 'oo-arrr' vocals.
Speaking of keyboards, bizarrely, the band own an M400, with eight tape frames, and have used it on two previous albums, 1988's Now There's a Thing...! and '90's Entirely Made of Wood. I'm told that Funny Old Business's producer, John Robert Peel, was rather unkeen on the Mellotron, for his own, twisted reasons, and as a result it's not only used sparingly, but buried so far down in the mix that the first point at which I realised there was some on High Germany was on the final chord, with some faint strings. Change At Thorpe-le-Soken (which sounds like their own composition) opens with some 'Tron sound FX, which leaves the quite audible strings and flutes of The Ballad Of Cursed Anna and some more faint strings on the jig, The Rights Of Man.
I hear dark rumours that the band have a stash of tapes made over the years, many featuring their 'Tron rather prominently. So, where are they, chaps? For that matter, it's now six years since you've released anything, according to your own site. Activity, please! Anyway, as I said above, if you like English folk of the more raucous variety, you'll probably like this lot, although it's pretty low on Mellotronic input.
Feeling the Space (1973, 45.28/55.58) ***/T½
Yellow Girl (Stand By for Life)
Woman of Salem
Run, Run, Run
A Thousand Times Yes
|Angry Young Woman
She Hits Back
Men, Men, Men
I Learned to Stutter/Coffin Car (live)
A Story (1997, recorded 1974, 37.21/43.46) ***/T½
Will You Touch Me
Tomorrow May Never Come
Yes, I'm a Witch
She Gets Down on Her Knees
Hard Times Are Over
Anatano Te (demo)
Extension 33 (demo)
Now or Never (live a cappella)]
Yoko Ono needs no introduction, I hope; Feeling the Space was her fourth solo album proper (i.e. without John), a smack in the face for those who claim that she can neither write nor sing, as she tackles both disciplines with aplomb. It's an album of radical feminism, in an age when lower wages for women, constant sexist remarks and rape within marriage were actually considered acceptable, as against now, when they still happen, but are slightly more frowned-upon. Angry Young Woman and Women Power are the album's apotheoses, referencing abortion and other fundamental feminist issues in a way few (any?) other artists did at the time. Musically, it's all pretty much as you'd expect; middling early '70s rock with few outstanding features, although closer Men, Men, Men is an amusing jazz pastiche, featuring John's ironic two-word cameo as the album's last moment. John's keyboard player, Ken(ny) Ascher, plays Mellotron, with strings and cellos on opener Growing Pain (although the flute's real) and Coffin Car, although that would seem to be your lot. Incidentally, I believe it was during the recording of this album that the (hired-in?) M400 was unofficially borrowed by Martin Mull's keyboard player, Keith Spring, who used it to surprising effect on one track on Mull's otherwise below-par Normal.
A Story was recorded in 1974, but not released, for reasons unknown, possibly connected with John's 'legendary' 'lost weekend', a.k.a. how famous men leave their wives for younger women. Much of its material, re-recorded, appeared on later albums, while the original recordings first appeared on 1992's Onobox, the complete album only gaining a full release in 1997, complete with three 'bonuses', although there doesn't appear to be a version of the album available without them. To be honest, it's not dissimilar to Feeling the Space in the 'middling rock' stakes, probably at its best on She Gets Down On Her Knees; while not a great track, given the circumstances, how could that Georgian guitar line on Hard Times Are Over not be deliberate? Ascher on Mellotron again, with pseudo-orchestral string and flute parts on the opening title track and background flutes and strings on Tomorrow May Never Come. Two albums that are probably more 'interesting' than 'must-haves', then, although they're a very long way from Yoko's primal scream stuff of a few years earlier.
See: John Lennon
Opeth (Sweden) see:
Night Blooms (2009, 47.43) ***½/TTHeavenman
Better Days Ahead
By This River
The Last Rose of Summer
Ardor (2013, 51.20) ***½/T½
When We Dream
The Waiting Ground
|Then Came the Last Days of May
Mariner, Come in
Fair Light E.P. (2014, 15.04) ***/T½Clear Days
Fair Light (demo)
When We Dream (single mix)
The Opium Cartel are effectively a White Willow side-project, led by mainman Jacob Holm-Lupo, more in the indie/wyrd folk crossover field than his main band's progressive area. Their 2009 debut, Night Blooms, is a fascinating, if slightly inconsistent album, with male and female vocals on various tracks, the latter probably working better overall. While most of the material sits most comfortably within the above description, the eight-minute Beach House is a jammed-out psych/prog classic that could have lasted much longer without outstaying its welcome, while opener Heavenman and closer The Last Rose Of Summer are probably the most successful takes on the band's main style.
The album is practically a Scandinavian Mellotron Gods sampler (excuse the phrase), with not only Holm-Lupo, but current White Willow, Wobbler and others keys man Lars Fredrik Frøislie and celebrated Änglagård/AK-Momo/Pineforest Crunch etc. etc. dude Mattias Olsson all on various 'Trons in various studios across the region. While it's impossible to say who actually plays what, opener Heavenman is thick with tape-replay, with a rather stark cello line morphing into flute chords and back again, while Three Sleepers sounds like 'Tron cellos, despite the presence of a real one on the album, with possible faint strings in there somewhere, although they're more likely to be Mattias' Optigan or Orchestron. More of those unidentified strings on Beach House, along with some background choir (Orchestron again, or maybe Roland Vocoder?) Definite 'Tron flutes and strings on Flicker Girl, although it's more than possible that various odd sounds have been inserted here and there, flying under by 'Tron radar. I'm sure the participants will gleefully correct me once this review's on the site...
Four years on, the project follow up with 2013's Ardor, highlights including the haunting Silence Instead, White Wolf, tense with pent-up energy, the swooning The Waiting Ground, lengthy psychedelic closer Mariner, Come In (the closest either of these albums get to 'prog') and an inspired version of The Blue Öyster Cult's desert-blasted tale of a drug deal gone tragically wrong, Then Came The Last Days Of May, even more haunting than the original, if that's possible. An obvious reference point this time round is No-Man; hardly surprising, as vocalist Tim Bowness guests on one track, while live lineup member Stephen Bennett (Henry Fool) plays a wide range of mostly vintage keyboards. Mellotronically speaking, I really can't tell whether we're hearing choirs on opener Kissing Moon and Mariner, Come In, or whether they emanate from something else, but we get a couple of definite sightings, with occasional strings from Mattias Olsson on Revenant and more upfront ones, plus flutes on The Waiting Ground, presumably Bennett's credited Novatron, although Frøislie sticks to synths and Rhodes piano.
2014's Fair Light E.P. appears to be a free download, which is generous of the band. As a result, it's hard to tell whether this is the intended track order, or Soundcloud simply lists them alphabetically, as the sequencing seems somewhat eccentric. Anyway, their cover of Yes' Clear Day (from Time & a Word, in case you're as bemused as me) is nice, if inessential, ditto the Fair Light demo (is that actually a Fairlight on there?), leaving the synth-stuffed Modular Love as the best thing here, also the only Mellotron track, with a skronky string line possibly played by Mr. Olsson.
Despite lower Mellotron contents than expected, these are very good albums within their genre (whatever you might take that to be), although many fans of the various contributors may be slightly disappointed at their lack of progness, which is really rather missing the point, to be honest. Worth hearing.
See: White Willow | Änglagård | Wobbler | Tim Bowness
Humblin' Across America (2001, 52.40) ***½/TT
What's Your Crime?
On Our Way Back Home
Any Way You Want it
One Hour's Lonely Play
Better Just Fake it
Annie Run Run Run
|The Ballad of Gospel Sam
Can You Imagine
Crescent City Ball Park Theme
The Way She Moves
Come Try This
The Orange Humble Band seem to be some vague kind of 'powerpop supergroup', if you can imagine such a thing, at least on their second (and last to date) album, 2001's Humblin' Across America. Aussie band leader Darryl Mather played with the Lime Spiders, Ken Stringfellow is chiefly known as top Posie, while guitar/keys man Mitch Easter, despite having played with many bands, is best known for his production work with R.E.M. Not to be outdone, Big Star drummer Jody Stephens was a band member, while their sometime producer (and Mellotron player), Jim Dickinson, plays piano on one track.
So; does it sound like an amalgam of The Posies, Big Star and Jellyfish? Of course it does; do you have a problem with that? The album is split into three 'mini-suites', with tracks 1-5 subtitled Humblin' (Across America), 6-9, A Southern American Small Music Revue, and the remainder End Revue. The three parts all have different musical emphases; music biz legend Spooner Oldham plays various keyboards on most of the album, so it's hardly surprising that the second 'suite' takes a more countryish turn than the other two, although I'm still not sure what it's all about. As far as the album's tape-replay goes, Easter plays Chamberlin on several tracks, with a beautifully arranged string part on opener Vineyard Blues and a much shorter one on One Hour's Lonely Play. Almost inaudible strings on Can You Imagine, a sustained string note (studio trickery, I suspect) on the short instrumental Crescent City Ball Park Theme, and a 'proper' string part in closer Come Try This to finish things off nicely.
So; an intriguing record, in some respects. I'm sure there's a lot more going on here than would appear on the surface; the dreaded 'concept' album? My personal preference would've been for less of the country-influenced stuff, but they didn't ask me, funnily enough, so there it is. Passable Chamby work, though little that really stands out, to be honest. If you're into the powerpop/alt.country crossover area, though, you could do an awful lot worse than pick this up.
See: Posies | Big Star
Circling the Sun (2005, 34.07) ***½/TTT
|Something in You
Circling the Sun
I Don't Wanna Shine
Long Cold Summer
What's it Like Mary Jo?
Tonight Changes Everything
|Boy in Space
How Green the Grass
California's The Orange Peels seamlessly cross the (admittedly rather narrow) divide between pseudo-late '60s psych and 'sunshine pop', coming across as the bastard offspring of Jellyfish, if I may use such a coarse adjective to describe a band with such a sunny musical disposition. Their third album, Circling the Sun, wins on several fronts, being short enough not to outstay its welcome (hurrah! At last!), with no compositional fluff and excellent performances from all concerned. Best track(s)? Hard to say on a first listen, but opener Something In You is one of the strongest on the album, setting the listener up nicely for the rest of the record.
Mellotron on most tracks from Allen Clapp and Bryan Hanna, opening the album with strings and flutes on Something In You, with faint flutes on California Blue and (semi-)orchestral strings on the rest of the highlighted tracks, making this a surprise Mellotronic treat, assuming it's real, of course... So; a cheerful, summery modern psych album that's well worth hearing, with plenty of Mellotron work to boot. Recommended.
See: Incredible Vickers Brothers
No One Left But Me (1974, 34.21) ***½/TTS.P.
No One Left But Me
Whisky and Gin
There seems to be a little confusion over Orange Wedge (who were, confusingly, also known as Wedge)'s catalogue; one source quotes an eponymous album in 1972, followed by '74's No One Left But Me, and there's a Japanese vinyl-only 2-LP set that covers what appears to be all the tracks from both albums. Much of No One Left But Me is rather average hard rock, although it definitely has its moments, not least opener S.P., Dream and The Gate.
Three Mellotron tracks, from OHO's Mark O'Connor, with brief string parts on S.P. and Dream (although the male voices here sound real), leaving the nearest the album gets to major 'Tron use being the strings on lengthy closer The Gate, well in the background, although the initial rather minor part is expanded into quite major orchestration later in the song. This seems to be more one for the collector than the dedicated obscure hard rock fan, although maybe subsequent listens will reveal the album's charms to me. Not bad, not great, some passable 'Tron.
The Oranj Album (1998, 49.26) ***½/½
|Call Me Mister Tibbs
The Magnificent Seven
A Man and a Woman
After the Fox
Up, Up and Away
Valley of the Dolls
Oranj Symphonette are/were a San Francisco-based five-piece, including legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck's son Matt, whose remit seems to be to tackle film themes in their own inimitable style. Since the whole band are session musos, the playing is immaculate, as are the arrangements, done with no little humour. I believe The Oranj Album is their second effort, although I can find no trace of any subsequent releases, so they may well have decided it was all too much trouble. A shame, as this is a witty, urbane album, without being at all up itself, taking on Bernstein's The Magnificent Seven, or John Barry's classic Midnight Cowboy without coming unstuck once.
Keys man Rob Burger plays both Mellotron and Chamberlin on Duke Ellington's Satin Doll, with some wobbly flutes from one and, er, something from the other, though it's hard to tell what, as the possibles (sax, banjo, piano) are all covered by the real things. Anyway, I enjoyed this vastly more than expected, to the extent that I'd say it's a definite buy for film theme fans, though I'd urge considerable caution on the tape-replay front.
See: Lullaby Baxter
Valonielu (2013, 46.18) ***½/T½Vino Verso
Olen Aukaissut Uuden Silmän
Ympyrä on Viiva Tomussa
Finnish black metallers Oranssi Pazuzu opted to record their third album, 2013's Valonielu, at my friend Jaime Gomez Arellano's North London studio, Orgone, hiring my M400, presumably at his urging. For non-scenesters (that'll be me, then), this is possibly best described as 'atmospheric metal', the genre's standard sludgy guitars and growled vocals augmented by keyboards, heavily-effected six-strings and an open-minded approach to song structures, highlights including the quiet-yet-ominous Reikä Maisemassa, the gothy Olen Aukaissut Uuden Silmän (guitar tone straight out of The Banshees' back catalogue) and (relatively) experimental, fifteen-minute closer Ympyrä On Viiva Tomussa.
'Evill' (real name unknown) plays Mellotron strings on Reikä Maisemassa and Ympyrä On Viiva Tomussa and are those murky, pitchbent strings hidden in the mix on Uraanisula more of the same? Unconfirmed. All in all, a good, forward-looking album that will hopefully keep the less hidebound members of the black metal community happy, while possibly even finding the band new fans amongst those who would usually shun the style. Worth hearing.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (UK) see:
Tim O'Reagan (2006, 38.41) ***½/T
Black & Blue
That's the Game
Just Like You
Drummer/songwriter Tim O'Reagan joined The Jayhawks in 1995, remaining with the band through their various hiatuses (hiatii?). His only (to my knowledge) solo album to date, an eponymous 2006 release, is a solid alt.country set with the occasional ripping guitar solo to remind us of the man's roots, highlights including Highway Flowers, Anybody's Only and closer Plaything. My only criticism is that a couple of tracks fail to sustain the momentum, but cutting them out would take the album down to around half an hour...
Pete Sands plays Chamberlin strings on Ivy and flutes on Plaything; nothing startling, but always nice to hear. Tim O'Reagan is pretty much an essential purchase for Jayhawks fans, or indeed, anyone into the alt. end of country, featuring good, memorable songwriting and a sound to die for.
Sometimes Words Just Get in the Way (1975, 42.33) **½/½Mandy
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Sometimes Words Just Get in the Way
I Shot the Sheriff
Orion? Although Allmusic give 1975's Sometimes Words Just Get in the Way (their sole album?) a good review, I can't say I'm blown away. Instrumental versions of hits of the day plus a couple of originals, mostly blandly arranged, doth not an especially interesting listen make. Opening with Barry Manilow's Mandy (originally Brandy, by Scott English, fact fans) wasn't their best move, while their flute-led take on Marley's I Shot The Sheriff manages to be duller than Clapton's version. Any better tracks? Closer Gimme Shelter is easily the best thing here, transforming The Stones' urgent original into a laid-back psych jam.
Dominic Francese plays Mellotron, if only just, with background choirs on I Shot The Sheriff and Gimme Shelter. This turns up on download blogs, but I'd be hard-pushed to particularly recommend it.
Orion the Hunter (1984, 42.25) ***/½All Those Years
So You Ran
Dark and Stormy
Too Much in Love
I Call it Love
Orion the Hunter were formed by ex-Boston guitarist Barry Goudreau, apparently frustrated by his former bandleader's refusal/inability to finish their stupendously delayed sequel to 1978's Don't Look Back (the album, Third Stage, finally appeared in '86, and wasn't worth the wait). The rest of the band consisted of ex-Heart drummer Michael Derosier, Bruce Smith on bass and the silver-larynxed Fran Cosmo on vocals, who had also sung on Goudreau's 1980 self-titled solo effort, and ended up in (surprise surprise) Boston (thanks to Greg for that snippet of info). Orion the Hunter straddles the pomp/AOR divide slightly uncomfortably, leaning more towards the latter style, with the former somewhat out of favour by the mid-'80s (too clever). As a result, despite a strong opener in All Those Years, much of the album slips into commercial tedium, although still a very long way ahead of the new breed of AOR acts coming up at the time, including the execrable Bon Jovi, and Britain's 'once good' Def Leppard.
Without a permanent keyboard player, the band used three different musicians, including John Schuller on 'Oberheim organ' (presumably the pseudo-Hammond sound heard here and there) and Mellotron. Not that he overuses it, mind; background choirs on So You Ran and what I think are a couple of choir chords, either doubled with polysynth or heavily effected, at the beginning of Stand Up. So; not a 'Tron album, but if you go for that pomp thing, chances are you'll like some of this.
Official Barry Goudreau site
Uomo di Pezza (1972, 31.46) ****½/TT½Una Dolcezza Nuova
Gioco di Bimba
La Porta Chiusa
Figure di Cartone
In Concerto (1974, 45.53) ***½/TTTruck of Fire (parte I)
Truck of Fire (parte II)
Sguardo Verso il Cielo
Preludio a Era Inverno
Rittorno al Nulla
Contrappunti (1974, 33.33) ****/TContrappunti
La Fabbricante d'Angeli
Smogmagica (1975, 36.05) ***/TLos Angeles
Amico di Ieri
Ora o Mai Più
Amanti di Città
L'Uomo del Pianino
Verità Nascoste (1976, 41.20) ***½/TInsieme al Concerto
Regina al Troubadour
Il Gradino Più Stretto del Cielo
Like several other Italian prog outfits, Le Orme ('The Footprint', I believe) had been around since the '60s, starting as a beat group. Their early albums, Ad Gloriam and L'Aurora Delle Orme, are apparently more psych than progressive, and 1971's Collage has been compared to ELP (same lineup, too), but by '72's Uomo di Pezza, they'd discovered their own voice. It's a wonderful album, with folk-influenced material rubbing shoulders with full-on symphonic prog, sounding not totally dissimilar to PFM at times, although I realise that's a rather lazy comparison for an Italian band. It's inescapable, though, when you hear songs of the sheer quality of Gioco Di Bimba or Aspettando L'Alba. Toni Pagliuca is known more as a Hammond player, but his inventive synth and Mellotron work stand out here, with particularly good Moog parts on Figure Di Cartone and La Porta Chiusa. This last has what I take to be Mellotron brass chords, but they're completely overshadowed by the strings on Breve Immagine, not to mention the gorgeous polyphonic flute part on Aspettando l'Alba. A stunning album, with some great 'Tron to boot. You need to own this record.
Le Orme followed Uomo di Pezza with their finest hour, the superb Felona e Sorona (****½), which was also released in an English-language version as, er, Felona and Sorona, with lyrics by Peter Hammill. However, when it came to sticking out a live album, In Concerto, the band chose to go back to their earlier style, playing no less than three tracks from Collage, one brief snippet of Felona and a side-long largely improvisational piece. Pagliuca had his 'Tron on stage with him, and the first (and by far the longest) part of Truck Of Fire has some brass under a swooping Moog, although most of the track consists of a rather regrettable drum solo. Part 2 has more of the same, as does Sguardo Verso Il Cielo, while Era Inferno (I think) has another bloody drum solo! Strings at last on Collage, so there's actually quite a bit of 'Tron, though most of it's rather inessential, to be honest.
Contrappunti is generally regarded to be their last great album, and while not quite up to its two studio predecessors, yes, it's pretty good, although no one track really stands out. One 'Tron track only, too, with strings on the balladic Frutto Acerbo, plus plenty of the string synth that's also splattered all over Felona. By the following year's Smogmagica, Le Orme were beginning to lose the plot (Ora O Mai Più, most of side two), heading towards pseudo-commercial territory, although it's possible that some of the dodgier music pokes fun at consumerist America, though this is a complete guess. The only Mellotron here is a string arpeggio and monophonic melody, plus distant choir chords on Los Angeles, so given that the album overall fails to excite, I really wouldn't bother.
After I'd carefully listened to Verità Nascoste for 'Tronnic evidence, I opened the album's gatefold, to find track-by-track credits. Oh well, at least it proves my ears still work (just). The album's a definite improvement over its predecessor, but they'd moved on from their classic early-'70s days, so the songs are shorter and more conventionally structured, not to mention that there are no instrumentals. The sole 'Tron track this time round is Regina Al Troubadour, with an upfront string melody, although I wouldn't say it was the album's best track.
So; The only Le Orme album I'd really recommend on the Mellotron front is Uomo di Pezza, but both Felona e Sorona and Contrappunti are near-essential (especially the former), while In Concerto and Verità Nascoste are worth hearing. Even Storia o Leggenda, from '77, is OK, but I'm told you shouldn't bother with anything later. Oh, and while most of Smogmagica is a real dog, it has a few OK tracks, but don't pay too much for a copy. I found the later three listed above in a New Jersey second-hand shop for $3.00 each while on holiday a few years ago, which probably balanced out quality-wise.