Legendary Marvin Pontiac
Pop Five Music Inc
Popol Vuh (Norway)
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
Volume 2 (2010, 73.27) ***½/TTTHampshire 1
3 (2010, 77.29) ***½/TTTEindhoven I
4 (2010, 74.09) ***½/TTTAlpha Primitives
In 2009, Brendan Pollard combined his talents with those of Michael Daniel and Phil Booth for a series of limited-edition releases in the expected Berlin School EM style. I haven't heard '09's Pollard/Daniel/Booth, but the following year's Volume 2 archives the previous year's set at the 8th Hampshire Jam, featuring three special guests in the forms of Jerome Ramsey, Ruud Heij and Marcel Engels. Pollard's addition of two new faces, as with his Free System Projekt/Hashtronaut releases, pulls him out of his comfort zone, the album's most startling piece being closer Hampshire 5, featuring heavily-delayed guitar underlaid with the mellow end of the Mellotron string spectrum. Mellotron (both of Pollard's machines are pictured inside the disc insert) on every track, unsurprisingly, from Pollard and Ramsey, other notable parts being the flute and male choir sections early on and brass about ten minutes into Hampshire 1 and a major string presence on Hampshire 3.
3 was recorded at 2009's E-Live, at Eindhoven, although since their main set was almost eighty minutes, their encore has been left off to avoid 'expensive two-disc set' syndrome. As with so much EM, the differences between one set and another are relatively small, in the grand scheme of things, making this a perfectly acceptable release that does nothing to startle the listener. Just Pollard on Mellotron this time, with what sounds like string section and a major choir part on Eindhoven I, with flutes, brass and regular strings elsewhere, making me think that Brendan had both of his M400s there.
4's forty-minute opening track, Alpha Primitives, is probably the most adventurous track on this whole series of albums, heading into darker ambient and proto-world music territories, although it levels off into more standard EM about half-way through, the other two tracks being more 'normal', or what passes for it in the closeted world of the Berlin School. We're some minutes into opener Alpha Primitives before the Mellotron(s) appear, with male choir and brass, other album highlights being the major flute parts and the string section to be heard on Streams. Unusually, closer Hashra Simpel (ho ho) features next to no Mellotron at all, with nowt but some muted, phased choir towards the end.
Overall, these are essentially typical EM releases, making it difficult to recommend them to anyone not already immersed in the style. However, if this is your chief listening pleasure, all three of these will definitely float your boat, loaded with genuine analogue textures, rather than the 'yeah, samples will do' approach utilised by so many practitioners. Incidentally, 4 is also available as a DVD; review forthcoming.
Here they are at E-Live:
See: Brendan Pollard
Polnareff's (1971, 37.27) **/½
Né dans un Ice-cream
Le Désert N'est Plus en Afrique
Nos Mots d'Amour
|Qui a Tué Grand'maman?
Hey You Woman
À Minuit, à Midi
Michel Polnareff has had a somewhat erratic career, shifting between periods of fame at home and exile abroad, making releases rather on the sporadic side. 1971's Polnareff's is his third album, an outrageous concoction of psychedelic soul/pop, guaranteed to irritate anyone not into overblown French pop, typified by brassy opener Voyages and closer À Minuit, À Midi, Qui A Tué Grand'maman? being about the best thing here.
Polnareff plays Mellotron himself, with flute chords on Le Désert N'est Plus En Afrique and À Minuit, À Midi, as far as I can ascertain. Not something for the prog lover in your life, then, more the Stereolab fan who's adventurous enough to want to find out where they got it from. Next to no Mellotron either way.
Il Diario di Lola (2008, 54.58/63.13) **/T
|Colpo di Fulmine
Devorame Otra Vez
Put Your Arms Around Me
|No Matta What
The Car You Wanna Drive
It Goes Down
Come With Me
Use Your Imagination
La Historia de un Amor
El Dia Que Me Quieras]
Lola Ponce (pronounced 'Pon-che') is an Argentinian singer/actress type who broke through internationally in Italy (her website has a '.it' suffix); 2008's Il Diario di Lola is her fourth album, combining Italian, Spanish and English lyrics in a probably successful attempt to appeal to the widest possible audience. It's pretty much as you'd expect; pop of various hues, from the glossy AOR of opener Colpo Di Fulmine through the balladry of Mi Heroe to the dance-pop of Devorame Otra Vez, making for the kind of album that you, dear reader, are unlikely to go for.
Rick Nowels (Dido, Ronan Keating, a host of other mainstream pop acts) plays Mellotron, amongst other things, with little repeating string stabs on It Goes Down and flutes on Use Your Imagination. So; not something you're probably going to go too far out of your way to hear (spot the understatement), but far less offensive than expected, with two minor 'Tron tracks.
Greatest Hits (2000, 51.37) ***/T
|I'm a Doggy
Now I'm Happy
Bring Me Rocks
Sleep at Night
Arms & Legs
She Ain't Going Home
'The Legendary' Marvin Pontiac was a previously-unknown Chicagoan bluesman of Malian and Jewish parentage, born 1932, died 1977, who began recording in the early '50s, although his descent into mental illness a few years prior to his death stymied any attempts at later work. OK, he wasn't and he didn't. 'Legendary' is spot-on, as Marvin Pontiac never existed. He's the invention of New York avant-gardist John Lurie, aided and abetted by his friends, including the genuinely legendary John Medeski; it's an amusing project, although no-one with the slightest musical knowledge will be taken in for a second, despite the (relatively) authentic blues harp playing. Opener I'm A Doggy was supposedly recorded in 1952, but sounds like exactly what it is: a late-'90s spoof. Actually, most of the album's contents have little to do with either the blues or Malian music, despite the occasional Africanesque rhythms and chanting, which doesn't detract from their enjoyment factor one iota.
Medeski plays Mellotron, along with Hammond and Clavinet, although only on one track, Power opening with a few choir notes, with a flute part later on. Overall, this is a Medeski-style album of NYC avant-er, something, done with plenty of attention to detail, though ultimately unable to keep up the pretence. Definitely amusing, actually not bad, but quite certainly not by a long-dead one-man cultural melting-pot.
See: Medeski Martin & Wood
(I) Pooh (Italy) see:
Place of the Sun (1978, 31.45) ***/TTime
The Ax of Good-By
One Two Three Four
As I Walk
Vietnam vet 'Poor' Richard Smyrnios' sole LP, 1978's privately-pressed Place of the Sun is sometimes listed as being from seven years earlier, which makes sense when you hear it; a psych/folk effort that could easily date from the turn of the '70s, typified by tracks such as The Gulls or The Ax Of Good-By. It's not bad at what it does, if rather dated for the time, although when it tries to rock out on the duff Funky Honky, it works nowhere near as well.
Producer Bryce "Uncle Dirty" Roberson (why doesn't anyone give themselves that kind of nickname any more?) plays Mellotron on the album's epic (and best track), the twelve-minute Series, with string and flute parts that enhance the song's eerie anti-war message. You're not going to find an original of this for anything you're prepared to pay, but it's, er, 'available' on the 'Net and who knows, may even gain an official re-release at some point.
|7" (1979) ***/T
Five Foot One
The Ig on Planet Mellotron? You're no-one if you're not here, baby... Iggy Pop's 1979 album, New Values, was his first post-David Bowie collaboration release, involving two other Stooges, with James Williamson in the producer's chair and Scott Thurston playing guitar and keys. One of its better tracks, the self-deprecating Five Foot One, appeared as a picture-disc single, backed, bizarrely, with Iggy's version of Manfred Mann's 1966 hit, Pretty Flamingo. Is it any good? Hmmm. Given the Ig's style at the time, it's probably not atypical, but it's not really something you're going to go out of your way to hear.
Someone (surely not Bowie??) plays what sounds like Chamberlin on the flip, with low-end strings and female voices (and brass and/or vibes?) scattered across the track (thanks, Mattias). This is available on the expanded edition of New Values, but it's neither the most exciting Iggy or Chamby track you're likely to hear.
See: David Bowie
|7" (1971) ****/TT½
I can't tell you an awful lot about Pop Five Music Inc(orporated), although they released loads of singles and a couple (?) of albums in their native Portugal between the late '60s and early '70s. 1970's Page One is a little dull, although its flip, Aria, is an excellent, Procol-esque take on Bach. The following year's Orange is a great, late-period psych piece, backed with a killer, brass-driven take on the Mission Impossible theme. Sadly, none of these tracks appear to be officially available, which is why unofficial channels exist.
Someone (David Ferreira?) slaps loads of Mellotron string stabs and unfeasibly fast arpeggios all over the 'A', with flutes on the intro, making this a minor Mellotron classic, especially due to its obscurity. If you're hellbent on finding an original, this seems to crop up on eBay every now and again, but if I were you, I'd go for the (cough) download.
Popol Vuh (1972, 34.19) ***½/TTT½Hunchback
Joy & Pleasure
All We Have is the Past
Quiché Maya (1973, 39.31) ***½/TT½Queen of All Queens
Milk-White Satin-Dressed Departure
Between You and Me
Stolen From Time [as Popol Ace] (1975, 49.20) ***½/TT½Bury Me Dead
Today Another Day
Soft Shoe Dancer
I Can See Tears
Named for the Mayan creation myth, Norway's Popol Vuh released two albums before deciding on a name-change to the less atmospheric Popol Ace to avoid clashing with Florian Fricke's better-known project. After seeing the song titles on Popol Vuh, I expected them to be quite in-your-face, but much of the album is quiet, reflective progressive rock, although Leavin' Chicago is, unsurprisingly, a bad blues. When the band played to their strengths, they were a pretty good proto-prog outfit, with accentless English-language vocals, although I'd be lying if I said the music was especially complex. The way to get the best out of the album is, basically, to play the 'Tron tracks, although the first half of Medicine is a bit suspect, until it suddenly turns into the proggiest track on the album. Pete Knutsen does a good job on the 'Tron, mainly strings, but cellos and flutes on a track apiece, alongside Pjokken Eide's real flute.
Their follow-up, Quiché Maya, reinforces the Mayan connection, although it's pretty much 'no change' on the musical front, although the titles made me think that maybe they'd dropped the bad blues-rock stuff. To be fair, there's probably less of that, and a (slightly) more experimental progressive air to the album, though it doesn't open particularly well. There's a block of 'Tron tracks in the middle of the record, largely strings, with some fucked-up pitchbend work on closer Get Up, too, but there's probably less 'Tron work than on its predecessor overall.
Two years on, Stolen From Time was their first release as Popol Ace, and seems, maybe surprisingly, to be nearly as progressive as its predecessors, with Sweet Tune reminding the listener of Focus, and several other tracks having a distinctly progressive bent to them. Knutsen was still using his Mellotron, though largely for choirs by this point. Background ones can be heard on opener Bury Me Dead, with more of the same and some heavily-effected strings, which may actually not be tape-generated, on Today Another Day. A heavy flute part on Soft Shoe Dancer proves to be the only use of the sound on the album, with more of those background choirs on Sweet Tune and Sleepwalker, plus what have to actually be 'Tron strings on the latter.
So; three decent enough, if formative albums, with reasonable helpings of Mellotron, particularly on their debut. Despite rumours, there's nothing on the last Popol Ace album, '78's Curly Sounds (**), which sounds exactly like what happens when a Norwegian band attempts to sound like Steely Dan; the influence of vocalist Jahn Teigen's blooming solo career is overwhelming.
See: Jahn Teigen
Piccolo et Saxo à Music City (1972, 37.55) ****/T½
Arrivée de Jimmy et des Guitares
Duo de la Guitare Classique et de la Guitare Électrique
Duo de la Basse à Cordes et de la Guitare Basse
Guitare Wahwah, Distorsion, Improvisation Pop Music
Guitare 12 Cordes
Banjo, Guimbarde, Guitare Steel, Dobro Tutti
Harmonica, Musique Western
Les Orgues de Cristal
Les Ondes Martenot
Noted French orchestral composer and arranger André Popp has been making albums since the late '50s, including several volumes of his Aventures de Piccolo Saxo series, designed to introduce the orchestra to children, not dissimilar in concept to Prokofiev's Peter & the Wolf or Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. Titles include 1958's Piccolo Saxo et Compagnie and Passeport pour Piccolo, Saxo et Compagnie, but it's his 1972 release, Piccolo et Saxo à Music City (originally a 10" LP), that interests us here.
As its cover amply demonstrates, unlike many of his contemporaries, Popp had moved with the times, combining traditional instruments with modern ones, often juxtaposing them within the same piece (the self-explanatory Duo De La Guitare Classique Et De La Guitare Électrique or Duo De La Basse À Cordes Et De La Guitare Basse). Although my French isn't good enough to follow the story (understatement), French actor François Périer's narration clearly concerns the meeting of instruments from two very different backgrounds and (presumably) their new-found friendship. Well, it is a kids' record... As you'd expect, the composition and playing are superb, with excellent Hammond, sitar and synth (ARP 2600?) parts sitting cheek-by-jowl with harmonica, ondes martenot, accordion and classical guitar parts, not to mention the orchestra.
Fred Farrugia plays Mellotron on (you guessed it) Le Mellotron, demonstrating its ability to replicate string section, flute and brass parts against real ones, eventually combining them in a way you'll be lucky to find anywhere else (well, I haven't and I must've heard more 'Mellotron albums' than most...) Although difficult to recommend as a 'regular' listen, this (now available on Universal's Les Aventures de Piccolo Saxo, Vol.2, above) is quite superb in its own way, worth hearing for more than just its Mellotronic contributions.
Porcupine Tree (UK) see:
Amazing Disgrace (1996, 53.28) ****/T½
Please Return it
Fight it (if You Want)
Everybody is a Fucking Liar
¿Will You Ever Ease Your Mind?
|CDS (1996) ***½/T
Please Return it
Sad to Be Aware
Every Kind of Light (2005, 49.54) ***½/TT½
|It's Great to Be Here Again!
All in a Day's Work
I Guess You're Right
Anything and Everything
Second Time Around
Could He Treat You Better?
I Finally Found a Jungle I Like!!!
That Don't Fly
Sweethearts of Rodeo Drive
From Washington State, the Posies specialise(d) in high-energy powerpop, falling somewhere between Big Star and Hüsker Dü. Despite supposedly splitting in 1998, I believe there's still activity somewhere in their camp; in fact, I met them around 2001, when they used my brother's studio for a quick pre-gig rehearsal while in London. Ken Stringfellow (I think) confirmed for me that they'd actually owned a rare Mark V Mellotron in the late '90s, but had since sold it; he told me it was 'all over' '96's Amazing Disgrace, though I have to say that the audio evidence somewhat contradicts him.
It's a really good album, actually, with plenty of wit (Everybody Is A Fucking Liar, Grant Hart, referencing Hüsker Dü's drummer) and stacks of great songs, although they're not quite up to Big Star standards, to be honest. Ironically, Stringfellow and fellow guitarist Jon Auer played guitar and bass in the sporadically-reformed version of that band, backing Alex Chilton. Anyway, on the 'Tron front (played by both guitarists, apparently), Precious Moments opens with cellos before the strings kick in, still running under the heavier guitar parts, World has a reasonable string part, but The Certainty is top 'Tron moment here; a slower number with dirty great slabs of pitchbent strings all over it. It's possible that there's other bits of Mellotron dotted around, buried in the mix, but I wouldn't like to say for sure. For those of you lucky enough to own a copy of the Australian issue's bonus EP, none of the extra four songs (three of which are late '60s covers, including The Zombies' Leave Me Be and The Hollies' King Midas In Reverse) contain Mellotron, even their take on The Bee Gees' Every Christian Lionhearted Man Will Show You.
Incidentally, although Please Return It is Mellotron-free, it can be heard on both its b-sides, Sad to Be Aware and Terrorized, with a background string melody on the former and a few seconds of flute at the end of the latter (also available as a bonus track on some versions of the album and on 2000's four-disc At Least, at Last).
After various splits, reformations and nebulous, in-between states, the band released Every Kind of Light in 2005. Yes, it's a Posies album, but something's changed: their innocence? A ridiculous statement, maybe, but the music sounds slightly wearier this time round, slightly less joyous. Don't get me wrong, it's a great album, but Amazing Disgrace's joie de vivre seems to be missing in action. Presumably either Stringfellow or Auer plays fairly real-sounding Mellotron (their MkV having long since been sold, I believe), with strings on opener It's Great To Be Here Again! and Second Time Around, a near-solo string melody on Conversations and a pitchbent part on I Guess You're Right, making this actually a more Mellotronic release than Amazing Disgrace, maybe surprisingly.
There's supposed to be some 'Tron on compilation giveaway Limitless Expressions, but I have to say I can't hear it, while their (supposed) swansong, Success (***½) sounds 'Tron-free, too, which isn't to say that there aren't any more relevant tracks scattered around their discography. So; I haven't heard their earlier material, but '93's Frosting on the Beater is supposed to be excellent and I can heartily recommend Amazing Disgrace and Every Kind of Light, though more for the music than the 'Tron. But then, isn't that how it should be?
See: Jon Auer | Orange Humble Band
Star Maps (1996, 42.25) **½/½
In Her Disc
Emergency's About to End
Crashing Your Planet
Possum Dixon were an L.A.-based 'alt.rock' outfit, revered by their fans for their Farfisa-driven indie stance and apparent ear for a hook. Can't say I hear it myself, at least going by their second album (of three), 1996's Star Maps. OK, it's a passable slightly '60s-ish record, but I've heard so much better in this area; the only track that stands out in any way is lengthy closer Apartment Song, and then only because it isn't a rapid-fire burst of Standells-esque speed-freakery.
Robert O'Sullivan plays Mellotron on Reds, with a brief string part that was hardly worth the effort of hauling what sounds like a real M400 into the studio. Not that exciting, then, unless you're an aficionado of Possum Dixon's brand of pop, with one so-so 'Tron track.
This is Somewhere (2007, 48.27) ***/½
Stop the Bus
Ain't No Time
You May See Me
Lose Some Time
|Here's to the Meantime
Falling or Flying
Big White Gate
The Lion the Beast the Beat (2012, 45.42/61.04) ***/T
|The Lion the Beast the Beat
Never Go Back
One Heart Missing
All Over You
Grace Potter and her inimitable Nocturnals are a classic case of genre-blending, mixing soul, blues, country and a smidgeon of arena rock into a radio-friendly stew that should appeal to, say, Dave Matthews fans (Potter & Co. supported Matthews in 2008). Her/their third studio album, 2007's This is Somewhere, efficiently blends their various influences without actually coming up with anything particularly memorable, although better moments include the mildly raunchy blues-rock of Stop The Bus and Grace's Plant-esque wails on Here's To The Meantime, sitting happily alongside some Page-esque slide, the whole thing just scraping three stars. Potter plays the Mellotron herself, while Mike Daly adds Chamberlin, with a muted flute line on You May See Me and background strings on Falling Or Flying, which doesn't seem to cover two people playing two instruments, really.
Although 2012's The Lion the Beast the Beat (with or without punctuation) is a better album, I'm not sure it's better enough to garner an extra half star. Better tracks include the ripping opening title track, the catchy Turntable and the slow-burn of The Divide, while One Heart Missing is about the best of several slow numbers. Potter plays (apparently genuine) Mellotron flutes, with a nicely pitchbent line on Never Go Back and an echoed part on Runaway plus credited and clearly real strings on four tracks.
This is Somewhere is passable enough, if pretty unexciting, while The Lion the Beast the Beat is something of an improvement, with little tape-replay work on either.
Take Me Away (1972, 50.07) **½/T½
|Take Me Away
Too Many People
It Must Have Been Hard
|I Think I Always Knew
If I Could Sing
Risa Potters' debut, 1970's Half Woman/Half Child, was a rather twee singer-songwriter effort, very much of its time, but her follow-up, '72's surprisingly lengthy Take Me Away, saw her backed by Brit prog-lite crew Capability Brown, who managed to inject a little energy into the proceedings. Saying that, it's still a fairly bland proposition, rather insipid efforts such as Second Choice and Love Song letting the side down a little, better tracks including the moving, er, Moving and Traveling Man (why the American spelling?).
Tony Cox plays Mellotron, with a pseudo-orchestral string part on Too Many People and My Mistake, with flutes, in a counterpart to the piano, on the latter, although the strings on Second Choice, I Think I Always Knew and Traveling Man are real. This has never been issued on CD, but I couldn't, in all honesty, really recommend it anyway; harmless enough, but with too many mournful ballads and too little Mellotron.
See: Capability Brown
Daniel Powter (2005, 40.26) *½/TTT½
Lie to Me
Jimmy Gets High
|Lost on the Stoop
Give Me Life
Stupid Like This]
Under the Radar (2008, 45.02) **/TT
|Best of Me
Not Coming Back
Whole World Around
Next Plane Home
Am I Still the One?
Don't Give Up on Me
My So Called Life
Love You Lately (remix)
Bad Day (live)
Mellotrons/Chamberlin (?) used:
Late starter Daniel Powter (born 1971) is a Canadian singer-songwriter who had the commercial good fortune to find his way onto the US version of the UK's Pop Idol, irritatingly renamed American Idol (why does everything have to be 'American'? Why?), although he's, er, Canadian. Admittedly, he wasn't a contestant; they used his horrible song Bad Day (non-partisan? Moi?) in the series, for some unknown, doubtless nefarious purpose. He released his eponymous debut in 2005, featuring that vile cheesefest and some other vaguely similar stuff, none of it quite as offensive, largely due to being less catchy. There's no such thing as a 'best track' here, although Hollywood is possibly the least nasty; the only spot of light on the horizon is that it's only 'vinyl length'. God, this is loathsome. To my great surprise, the album's laden with Mellotron and possibly Chamberlin. Powter and Chamby hero Mitchell Froom both play unspecified keys, so my guess is it's the latter who splatters tape-replay instruments all over the place here, with strings on the first six tracks, plus choir on the filthy Bad Day, making for this site's first (ta da!) *½/TTT½ rating.
Powter released his follow-up, Under the Radar, in 2008, and it's fair to say that he hasn't noticeably developed his style in the intervening three years. Nothing here's as all-out infuriating as Bad Day, which actually gives the album an extra half star. Linda Perry (4 Non Blondes, many others) produces and plays Mellotron, with strings and flutes on Best Of Me, flutes on Negative Fashion and strings on Don't Give Up On Me, plus a choir part on the remixed version of his hit, Love You Lately. This is also available on some versions of Daniel Powter, as its opening track, so whether Perry plays the 'Tron, or Froom, or someone else entirely is unknown. Amusing to note that Warners presumably didn't have quite enough faith in the album's abilities to sell under its own steam, so a live version of bloody Bad Day is stuck on the end.
Well, if you want to hear loads of well-played Mellotron, you might just go for Daniel Powter, although Under the Radar is rather less in that department. However, unless your cheesometer's been completely disabled, you're going to have more than a little trouble with the horrible music on offer here. You have been warned.