Eli "Paperboy" Reed
Release Music Orchestra
Phaseshifter (1993, 44.05) ****/T
Lady in the Front Row
Pay for Love
|Ms. Lady Evans
Only a Girl
After School Special
Show World (1997, 44.08) ***½/T
|Pretty Please Me
You Lied Again
One Chord Progression
Follow the Leader
Get Out of Myself
Kiss the Goat
Redd Kross have been peddling their Cheap Trick-ish cartoon punk/pop/rock for about as long as anyone can remember, the McDonald brothers (Jeff and Steve) forming their first band while barely into adolescence. Their music is immaculately-crafted hook-laden stuff, with more than a hint of Jellyfish about it (although these guys were there first), being the kind of stuff that makes you want to leap around the room making a fool of yourself (especially if you're my age), which is no bad thing.
It's difficult to work out exactly how many albums they've recorded, as name-changes and side-projects confuse the issue heavily, but 1993's Phaseshifter seems to be essentially their fifth full-length release. Their long-running obsession with American popular culture is present and correct (spot the Monkees-esque "Hey hey hey!"s in Pay For Love), as is their vast knowledge of rock history; Huge Wonder follows many other bands in ripping off one of those briefly-heard Black Sabbath riffs that crop up between their better-known ones, in this case from War Pigs. Keyswoman Gere Fennelly adds a bit of Mellotron to the mix, with Monolith (which shamelessly quotes The Hollies' The Air That I Breathe) featuring an, er, monolithic closing section, Mellotron strings and real voices gradually building to a crescendo, although that would appear to be it on the Mellotron front; the deliberately 'munchkinised' sampled voices on After School Special are nothing to do with Mellotrons, before you get all argumentative.
It took the band four years to follow-up with 1997's Show World, after which they took a break for the better part of a decade. Difficult to pick out highlights, but there ain't a duff track here, my only criticism being a slight case of sameyness about some of the material; sensibly, they keep the album to 'vinyl length', resisting the temptation to cram the CD full of b-sides or worse. Fennelly's on keys again (although not as a full-time member this time round), not that there's that much to be heard, although there's a cool Hammond part on Vanity Mirror. The Mellotron strings on Secret Life were arranged by the legendary Brian Kehew (Moog Cookbook etc.) and have a semi-orchestral feel to them, rather than just the usual block chord thing that so many players do. Not enough to recommend the album on the Mellotron front, but if you're looking for some good driving music, you could do a hell of a lot worse. Incidentally, final track Kiss The Goat is an ironic look at '60s Californian devil-worship, finishing with a musical quote from Zeppelin's When The Levee Breaks. Smart.
Top fan site
See: Steven McDonald Group
Roll With You (2008, 37.58) ***/T
|Stake Your Claim
Am I Wasting My Time
Take My Love With You
I'll Roll With You
I'm Gonna Getcha Back
|Won't Give Up Without a Fight
(Am I Just) Fooling Myself
(Doin' the) Boom Boom
Eli "Paperboy" Reed (a.k.a. Husock) is the kind of artist over which Mojo mag and Jools Holland masturbate furiously, probably nightly. Although born in the '80s, he's a living, breathing throwback to the Chicago soul/blues of the late '60s, having clearly perfected every nuance in sweaty nightclubs across New England, assuming New England actually has sweaty nightclubs. His second album, 2008's Roll With You, could so easily be from 1969, although, like many other 'retro'-styled albums, the modern production gives it away. I feel slightly churlish giving it a measly three stars when I'm so generous to similarly reconstructive efforts in other genres, but, at least to my ears, there's a spark of authenticity missing here, for obvious reasons, although I know full well that Reed's growing fanbase would (and maybe will) disagree with me vociferously.
Reed plays Mellotron strings on I'll Roll With You, with a perfectly decent part that enhances the track nicely. Given the man's credentials, I heavily doubt that it's sampled, although I don't know where he sourced a real machine. So; almost spot-on perfect, brass-heavy soul/blues of a kind that's almost vanished from this Earth, except in, er, Blues Brothers tribute bands. Recommended if that sounds like your bag.
Berlin (1973, 49.32) ***½/T
Men of Good Fortune
Caroline Says I
How Do You Think it Feels
Caroline Says II
Sally Can't Dance (1974, 32.58/39.22) **½/½
|Ride Sally Ride
Kill Your Sons
Sally Can't Dance
Sally Can't Dance (single)]
Berlin was Lou's third post-VU solo album, produced by Bob Ezrin (Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd et al.), resulting in a rather more 'stadium' sound than its infamous predecessor, Transformer. It's also a darker record, although probably slightly less confessional, though still recognisably Lou Reed.
Ezrin's credited with playing Mellotron, although there doesn't seem to be much of it; I think it's 'Tron on Lady Day, but with real strings on the track as well, it's rather hard to tell. However, that's definitely 'Tron on Caroline Says II, with a well-orchestrated string part, though not enough to make the album worth purchasing for that alone. The flutes on The Kids and Sad Song are just possibly 'Tron, though they're not clear enough for me to say one way or the other. So; if you don't get where Lou's coming from, don't bother. It's a well-crafted album, though, with most of his usual lyrical and musical tricks, just rather less of a Mellotron Album than I'd been led to believe.
Bizarrely, 1974's now barely-remembered Sally Can't Dance was apparently Lou's highest-charting album, at least in the States. Musically, it's a very mainstream mid-'70s effort, although it's as lyrically barbed as the rest of Lou's contemporaneous work; probable best track Kill Your Sons is based on Lou's experience of ECT in his teens in response to his 'homosexual behaviour'. Nice. Mellotron on Ennui (from the album's keys man Michael Fonfara?), with some background flutes that don't make a great deal of difference to the track one way or the other, really.
So; one fairly decent record, one fairly dull one, only one halfway decent Mellotron track. Well, what did you expect?
Always Tomorrow (2013, 45.15) ***/½
It'll Never Be Now Again
Ms Dessie Bell
Girl on the Bus
Down the Earthy Lane
My Lovely Little Linda
I'm Already Feeling Stronger
So Much Time for Rosemary
The Reform Club (named in honour of the London gentlemen's club historically regarded as home to progressive politicians) feature ex-Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker (sorry, non-Brits, you'll just have to run with this), active in music since the '80s. Their debut, 2013's Always Tomorrow, is loosely comparable to, say, The Kinks, in its very British, observational songwriting, although the album's slightly let down by Baker's rather characterless and underproduced voice (whither reverb?). Stylistically, the band sit somewhere between '60s-esque pop/rock (all clean, strummed electrics) and a folkier feel, highlights including opener Piccadilly Circus, Dessie Bell, Down The Earthy Lane and closer Pretty Charlotte.
I performed on stage with Norman, briefly, in 2011, the link being our mutual friend Nick Awde, so it was slightly less of a surprise than it might have been to get a call from Norman a few years back, asking whether he could hire my Mellotron. Sadly, that was scuppered by logistical issues, so he ended up having Nick play his shiny new M4000 on Strange Days, with a haunting flute part opening the song, although that would seem to be our lot. Not bad, then, although (and it's not often you'll hear me say this) a little more production might've been nice.
See: Nick Awde
Refugee (1974, 49.47) ****/TTT½
1st Movement: The Source
2nd Movement: Theme for the Canyon
3rd Movement: The Journey
4th Movement: Rapids
5th Movement: The Mighty Colorado
1st Movement: Prelude
2nd Movement: I Believe
3rd Movement: Theme
4th Movement: The Lost Cause
5th Movement: Agitato
6th Movement: I Believe (Part II)
7th Movement: Variation
8th Movement: Main Theme Finale
Live in Concert - Newcastle City Hall 1974 (2007, 64.21) ***/TT
|Outro - Ritt Mickley
One Left Handed Peter Pan
The Diamond Hard Blue Apples
of the Moon
She Belongs to Me
|Grand Canyon Suite
Theme for the Canyon
The Mighty Colorado
Refugee were always something of an oddity; an attempt to sort-of reform The Nice, though without keyboard whizz Keith Emerson, of course. To replace him, the band's management found Swiss wunderkind Patrick Moraz, fresh from a stint with Mainhorse, joining singer/bassist/guitarist Lee Jackson and drummer Brian Davison. The music is vastly better than it had any real right to be; such 'manufactured' bands usually smell like it. Refugee were excellent, if a tad overblown; Moraz doesn't really 'do an Emerson' (well, not much, anyway...), mostly sticking to his own busy style, with multiple keyboard parts running concurrently. I'm reliably informed that the band did tour this material, playing the whole album plus a couple of Nice songs, including that band's only Mellotronic Moment, Diamond-Hard Blue Apples Of The Moon.
The album doesn't open brilliantly, with neither of the first two tracks being particularly great, but the lengthy Grand Canyon Suite makes up for it by being totally bombastic and quite wonderful. The vocal section in the middle doesn't look promising, but turns out to have a hymnal quality to it; think ELP, but better. Credo is Refugee's other major piece; good, though not as good as Grand Canyon. Plenty of decent Mellotron all round, though probably not a classic of the genre. But is it classic prog? The jury's still out on that one, I suspect. Of course, with Moraz's defection to Yes later the same year, Refugee's career was pretty much over before it had begun; shame, really, especially as Moraz only lasted one album with the affirmative ones.
Fast-forward a few decades, and Live in Concert - Newcastle City Hall 1974 appears. Is this the only Refugee live recording in existence? If so, its low quality is excusable, as it's a unique document; conversely, if it's not... I've heard a lot worse, but only in the bootleg realm, to be honest; this sounds like a dodgy desk recording, with levels flying about all over the place and an overall muddiness that makes it a difficult listen. Things aren't improved by Jackson's terrible vocals; he not so much sings the words as barks them, in the manner of a wounded dog, while Moraz seems to be doing his level best to sound like Keith Emerson, with synth patches copied direct from Pictures at an Exhibition. It's not all bad, of course, as much of the music stands up well, although a jammed-out version of Bob Dylan's She Belongs To Me does go on a bit. An abbreviated Grand Canyon Suite is excellent (if you ignore the vocals), but Refugee Jam is just pointless. One for completists, I think.
Moraz toured his Mellotron, along with what sounds like a Hammond, a Rhodes and several synths. Interestingly, most of his 'Tron use is quite subtle, with a brief flute line on One Left Handed Peter Pan and a few string chords on The Diamond Hard Blue Apples of the Moon, as on the original (Emerson's only Mellotronic experimentation, as it happens). Papillon features a surprisingly fast, high-end strings 'widdle' absent on the studio version, with an almost-distorted flute line later in the song, while the one 'epic' they tackle here, Grand Canyon Suite, has what sounds like brass and flute melodies in the intro, although the cello line later on disproves this, unless... was he using two 'Trons onstage? Doesn't seem likely, so chances are the brass was one of his Moogs (it's a monophonic line). n.b. Max Bolch tells me it's none other than a Swiss alphorn! One 'Tron, then... This track also reveals an on-stage grand piano, so there really wouldn't be room for a second Mellotron. Overall, OK 'Tron, but given that the man only has two hands, it isn't featured nearly as much as you might like/expect.
So; Refugee? Buy, particularly if overblown keyboard prog is your bag. Great playing, decent composition and some nice 'Tron. Can't go wrong really, can you? As far as Live in Concert goes, though, you'll have to weigh up how badly you want to hear a badly-recorded version of a slightly ramshackle stage show, just to hear how they managed to play this stuff live as a trio. Incidentally, Ritt Mickley is allegedly named for Moraz' pronunciation of 'rhythmically'! Also incidentally, although I already owned a copy, I found a pristine, still shrinkwrapped copy in an otherwise cruddy chart shop in Auckland for $1NZ; about 30p sterling at the time. How could I resist?
Official Patrick Moraz site
See: Patrick Moraz | The Nice | Yes
Use & Ornament (2013, 60.52) ****½/TTTT
Cherish That Rubber Rodent
The Mardi Gras Turned Ugly in Seconds
Confession From a Deep and Warm Hibernaculum
i. Running, Hopping, Leaping
iii. Sword Blades
iv. Time and Circumstance (One Second Either Way)
|6:17PM - The Aunt Turns Into an Ant
i. Crunch Time. Tea Waste. Flagstone Desert.
ii. Narration #1
iii. Six Feet and Under the Table. Approaching Terror.
iv. Beset By Centipedes. The Well-Timed Rescue.
v. Narration #2
vi. Acceptance Into the Colony, on Condition That Eighteen Score and Ten Aphids
Are Ritually Sacrificed. Refusal and Escape.
vii. Flagstone Dessert (With Cake Crumbs). Ant Alone.
viii. Narration #3
ix. My Name is Silvius. Ant Elopes. From Ants to Blackbirds and Beyond.
x. Each its Hour
Klara Till Slutet (Main Title Theme)
Neither Use Nor Ornament (2014, 46.31) ****/TTTT
|Odilon Escapes From the Charcoal Oblivion, But
Endeavours to Return and Rescue the Cactus Men
i. Another Forlorn Morn
ii. You Know What? I'm Getting Out of Here
iii. Arrival of Sorts
iv. Paradise is Twice as Nice
v. End of Level Baddie
vi. Prism Prison
Sovereign of the Skies
The King of Sleep (parts 1 to 5)
Regal Worm are the latest project from Jarrod Gosling (I Monster, Skywatchers), more consciously 'progressive' than his other work. 2013's Use & Ornament could be loosely categorised as Canterbury-influenced, echoes of Soft Machine and Caravan (not to mention the non-Canterbury, but ubiquitous King Crimson) leaking through the mix everywhere you look, angular riffery and squalling, jazzy sax runs the order of the day, although a more contemporary prog influence can also be detected in places. Picking out any kind of 'best track' is fairly superfluous, frankly, although progheads may be keenest on the two longest pieces here, the multi-part Confession From A Deep And Warm Hibernaculum and even more multi-part 6:17PM - The Aunt Turns Into An Ant, the lyrics of which are, unsurprisingly, as utterly bonkers as you might expect. Speaking of which, vocals aren't really what this record's about; apart from the two featured female vocalists (Lucy Hope and Rebecca Allen), most vocal parts are of the 'harmonies designed to mask diffident male singers' variety (see: Camel), quite possibly deliberately, but then, Use & Ornament is clearly primarily about the music.
Jarrod tells me he uses all nine of his Mellotron sounds here, although a good half of them are difficult to detect. Oboe? Recorder? I know they're all here, but I'm hard-pushed to tell you where. What we can hear is the 'standard' strings/flutes/choir trio, with the odd burst of MkII brass in places, although that could be (but probably isn't) the Mellotron 12-string in 6:17PM. Top use includes a near-solo flute/strings section five-and-something minutes into Confession... and a brass/strings part fifteen minutes into 6:17PM, but, frankly, it's all over the thing in highly pleasing fashion. In fact, the only obvious non-Mellotron piece is the relatively brief Mud, although I'm not 100% sure about some of those sub-sections in the longer tracks.
2014 brings Neither Use Nor Ornament, if anything, an even more Canterburyesque release, with three shorter tracks bookended by two multi-part epics. My personal favourite is opener (deep breath) Odilon Escapes From The Charcoal Oblivion, But Endeavours To Return And Rescue The Cactus Men, runner-up, the brief, atmospheric Tombland Guerrilla, which isn't to disparage the other three, particularly The King Of Sleep; I can definitely see Canterbury fans going more for this one. Mellotron on every track, although, named example excepted, I hear nothing but the 'big three': strings, choirs and flutes. All three sounds all over Odilon Escapes..., strings on Animal Attic, what must be a new pipe organ recording (nothing like the good old St. John's Wood steamroller version) on Tombland Guerrilla and flutes and strings on Sovereign Of The Skies and The King Of Sleep. So; another fine effort from Jarrod; can he keep this annual Regal Worm workrate up? We can only hope.
If these albums have a problem, it's that they're so eclectic that it'll take many plays to delve into their intricacies properly. And this is a problem? Not once upon a time, perhaps, when one would buy an album (quite possibly the only one you could afford that week, or even month), sit down, play it, play it again and inwardly digest, but in today's high-speed world, finding the time to give them the effort they deserve is easier said than done. In which case, I suggest that you make the effort. Buy.
See: I Monster | Skywatchers
Sing the Glory Down (197?, 28.39) *½/TT
|What a Lovely Name
The Church Triumphant
Love Will Roll the Clouds Away
I Never Shall Forget
Sing the Glory Down
I Should Have Been Crucified
That's Just Like Jesus
Yet more Mark Medley Christian crud, folks... The Regals were yet another in a long, long line of American church hall-style godly groupings who, unwisely, elected to record their oeuvre at some unspecified point in the mid-'70s. The undated, yet mercifully brief Sing the Glory Down is every bit as bad as you'd expect, shifting between the aforementioned church hall singalong style (opener What A Lovely Name, Love Will Roll The Clouds Away) and more upbeat, vaguely gospelly material (The Church Triumphant, the title track). The three male/one female group tackle the material with more enthusiasm than talent, one of the male singers bordering hysteria in places, to my delight; well, when you listen to stuff like this for a non-living, you have to get your laughs where you can...
Now, someone called Jay Petach is credited on the album. Sounds familiar? I've traced a few references to the name, but I really can't say whether or not it's the same guy. Anyway, this Petach plays Mellotron on a few tracks, with 'orchestral replacement' strings on Promises, the title track, Gone and the cringe-inducing Hallelujah Square (did they write this bilge?), although, sadly, it's always kept in the background. The rear sleeve features, for some extraordinary reason, a fisheye lens shot of the studio control room, complete with an M400 topped with a beautiful ARP 2600 (pictured right). Where are they now? And can I have them?
Autovision (1974, 41.42) ***½/TTEisenpferde
Tanz der Vögel in den Winden
Drei in Eins
Jay Guru Dev
Kopf in den Wolken - Beine auf der Erde
Klabautermann (1977, 35.27) ***/T
Wir Lieben die Stürme
Sophie, Mein Henkersmädel
Mit den Taschen Voller Gold
Halla Ballu Ballay
|Der Fliegende Holländer
Abends an Deck
Achim Reichel (originally of The Rattles) went solo in 1971, recording several albums in various krautrock-related styles before releasing a run of records which attempted to render traditional German folk musics in a modern idiom. 1974's Autovision is the last of his 'pre-folk' efforts, an appealing album of instrumental, jazz-influenced jams (yes, you read that correctly), highlights including opener Eisenpferde and Turbulenzen, effectively ten minutes of reflective, echo-laded clean guitar, sounding not unlike the near-future Robert Fripp. Interesting, thirty-second closer Abends An Deck is a nautical-sounding accordion solo, presaging the direction in which Reichel was moving. Mellotronically speaking, Claus-Robert Kruse adds flutes to part A) of Drei In Eins, while Reichel sticks plenty of flutes and strings on Turbulenzen, enhancing an already very listenable album.
Klabautermann is the kind of album that was still being released in 1977, though not for much longer, seeming to be some kind of concept effort involving the Baltic legend of a largely benign seafaring sprite, typified by opener Piratentanz and Halla Ballu Ballay, sea-shanties both. Musically, the album swims about (enough nautical analogies (Ed.)) in a rather wet (That's enough! (Ed.)) kind of mainstream slightly folkish rock, perfectly listenable and completely inoffensive, if a little unexciting. To its credit, it's quite unique in its mixture of nautical folk and late '70s pop/rock, but that doesn't necessarily make it that desirable these days. Novalis' Lutz Rahn plays Mellotron, though not a lot, with naught but some wavery, pitchbent strings and more straightforward choirs on Der Fliegende Holländer.
Ironically, Klabautermann is on CD, while Autovision isn't. I really wouldn't go too far out of your way to hear the later album, although, in fairness, it's vastly better than the drivel with which the likes of the supposedly 'progressive' Novalis and Wallenstein were about to assail their listening public's ears. What a difference a year makes, eh? Hopefully, Autovision will make it to CD at some point, as by far the better of these two releases.
Sub (1999, 74.14) ***½/½
You Ought to Treat a Stranger Right
Min Død er Meg Tilgode
God Don't Never Change
Big Little Me
Weakness is a Thing Called Man
The Barbers Pulse
Willie and the Handjive
|Doing the Dishes
Hit Me With Your Fingerpicks
Blues Power Part I
Let Me Turn You on
I Don't Feel Noways Tired
Knut Reiersrud is a Norwegian blues guitarist who refuses to be constrained by the style, branching out into other musical realms at will. His fifth album, 1999's Sub, on top of several regular blues workouts, veers between the folky The Barbers Pulse, Iver Kleive's full-on church organ under the guitar on Himmelskip, sounding not dissimilar to something by Uli Jon Roth and oddly-titled closer I Don't Feel Noways Tired, a case-study in how to play gospel/blues on a (coral) sitar.
Reiersrud plays Mellotron on the slightly jazzy Big Little Me, with a nice flute part opening the track, reiterating later on. It's actually one of the lesser reasons you might make the effort to hear this unusual album, the chief ones being its eclecticism and originality, two traits rarely visible in the hidebound blues scene. Worth hearing.
Knock Out (1975, 40.04) ***½/TKnock Out
What is it with Germans and fusion? The Release Music Orchestra, To Be, the granddaddies of them all, Passport... Since, unlike prog but like hard rock, fusion rarely displays any cultural identifiers (ignoring ethno-fusion, of course), 'regular' fusion outfits from across the world all essentially sound American, although I wouldn't necessarily say the same thing for other jazz sub-genres. Whatever, organ whizz Dieter Reith's Knock Out is a good album of its type, never really sinking into tedium, despite only containing four long tracks, although if your patience for endless jazz soloing is anywhere near mine, you'll be running into trouble by the middle of side two.
Reith himself plays (uncredited) Mellotron, with string and flute parts on the opening title track and occasional string swells on Orita, though nowhere near enough to make this a worthwhile Mellotronic purchase. Mind you, unlike several of his other earlier works (he released his first album as far back as 1966), Knock Out is out of print, so you're restricted to second-hand vinyl or a download anyway. Worth the effort for fusion fans, maybe not for the rest of us. Incidentally, Reith is credited with Mellotron on his 1978 co-credit with American singer Bill Ramsey, On the Spot, but it's not so much completely inaudible as 'almost certainly a string aynth'.
Life (1974, 43.02) ***½/T½Eröffnung - Tippa Tibana
Der Traum des Herrn P.
Get the Ball (1976, 36.11) ***½/½Mestaloggo
Get the Ball
Germany's Release Music Orchestra rose from the ashes of freakout band turned jazz-rockers Tomorrow's Gift, eventually recording five albums. They're usually described as fusion, and compared to Passport, but to my ears, there's as much progressive- as jazz-rock in their sound, certainly going by their debut, Life, that unusual, though not unique thing, a live debut album (recorded in Amsterdam and Hamburg, with studio overdubs). Unlike their later work, the album is instrumental, and has some fiery playing from all concerned; OK, maybe it is fusion. Fusion-prog. OK? The composition (such as it is) is less impressive, but this is music designed to showcase musicianship, rather than songwriting. OK, it's jazz.
Manfred Rürup plays Rhodes, synth and Mellotron, by the sound of it, although he keeps his 'Tron use well reined-in, with mostly short string parts designed to lift the sound at appropriate moments. Saying that, there's a lengthy organ (?) passage on Zemäs Rutan that almost sounds like a Mellotron (sort of high and wheezy), so is there actually any 'Tron at all? Without a credit, who knows, although it doesn't half sound like one most of the time.
Their first studio album, the following year's Garuda (**½), is Mellotron-free, although there is some minor use on '76's Get the Ball. Overall, the album isn't dissimilar to their debut, mixing fusion and prog in a pretty unique way, concentrating more on composition than lengthy, tedious soloing, although there's a fair bit of that to be heard, too. True to form, Rürup barely uses his 'Tron at all, with merely a faint string pitchbend and a couple of high, sustained notes in the title track and similar in Atlantis. I've never seen anything alluding to any 'Tron use on '78's Beyond the Limit, and while their last album, '79's News, has an odd, phased choir sound on one track, it's more likely to be a Roland Vocoder than anything Mellotronic. Musically, the album's a return to fusion-by-numbers, with the addition of polysynths (sounds like a Prophet), and rather dull brass riffs that go on for ever.
So; Life is a reasonably good album, far better than the dull fusion of Garuda, but don't go expecting a Mellotron Monster, while Get the Ball is even lighter on the tape-replay front. An archive live release, Bremen 1978, came out on Garden of Delights in 2004, but I've no idea whether or not there may be any Mellotronic input. As far as these albums are concerned, don't bother for the minimal 'Tron, but fusion fans might apply.
Reminder (EP) (1999, 19.23) ****/TT½Can't Do Anything About it
Talk it Out
Silhouette on the Wall
The Trouble With Tommy
Half Empty (EP) (2000, 17.48) ***½/TTT½So Gently
Creativity (EP) [a.k.a. Scared] (2000, 16.46) ****/T½Scared
All Contrast Gone
Broken Tone (2001, 48.39) ****/TTTT
Can't Do Anything About it
Talk it Out
|All Contrast Gone
Reminder are another of Änglagård drummer Mattias Olsson's 'intelligent pop' projects he's been involved in over the last few years (see: Pineforest Crunch, Geller); their catalogue effectively consists of three EPs and an album containing tracks from all the EPs and a couple of new recordings. Unlike Pineforest, Reminder have a melancholy aspect to their music, which I find refreshing in these days of 'everybody be bright and cheerful because it sells records' and suchlike. As a result, I don't believe they've set the world on fire saleswise, but they've produced some beautiful, understated music that stands out from the crowd like, er, a Mellotron at a Korg convention.
Talking of which, Mattias' 'Tron is well in evidence on all the above, played by none other than Änglagård keys man Tomas Jonsson (now spelled Thomas Johnson, it seems), who also plays Hammond, piano etc., on the first two EPs, and by bassist Tobias Ljungkvist on the third. Mattias has provided me with a track-by-track rundown of the album, but I've had to work out the few tracks that didn't make it for myself. On Reminder, there appear to be three 'Tron tracks, with strings, flutes and cellos splashed all over, sometimes treated, sometimes not. So Gently from Half Empty mixes Mellotron and real strings, while Too Late features a really upfront flute part, plus strings. I'm not so sure about the more upbeat title track, but Sad Attempt is back on form, with some excellent 'Tron cello, strings, choir, brass and pipe organ. Unsurprisingly, it has a largish sound...
Creativity was apparently reissued as 'Scared' after the release of the album, and is the one inessential here, as all four tracks made it to Broken Tone. The album gathers together most of their best material, although another three tracks would have mopped up everything. Anyway, their music works really well in the longer format, with the odd faster track to break up the melancholy; it's well-sequenced, too, giving no idea that it's a bit of a mish-mash of tracks. On the 'Tron front, two of the Creativity tracks feature it in a minor way, while of the two new songs, Lost Sincerity is 'Tronless, but Neversong has flutes, cellos and strings.
Y'know, Broken Tone's a bloody good album, 'Tron or not, but I'm not going to try to claim it doesn't improve it, at least to my ears. I'm not sure what the band are doing at the moment, but I'm hoping that this won't be the last we hear of them. Anyway, buy the album, then the first EP, if you can find it.
See: Änglagård | AK-Momo | Geller | Molesome | Nanook of the North | Pineforest Crunch
A Song for All Seasons (1978, 44.42) ****/TOpening Out
Day of the Dreamer
Closer Than Yesterday
Kindness (at the End)
Back Home Once Again
She is Love
A Song for All Seasons
Azure d'Or (1979, 43.16) ***½/T
|Jekyll and Hyde
The Winter Tree
Only Angels Have Wings
The Flood at Lyons
Day of the Dreamer (2000, recorded 1978, 73.48) ****/TCan You Hear Me
Carpet of the Sun
Day of the Dreamer
Back Home Once Again
Can You Understand/The Vultures Fly High
A Song for All Seasons
By 1978, Renaissance had already notched up many plaudits, though more in the States than their home country, where they are now largely forgotten. Always at the gentler end of the progressive spectrum, with Michael Dunford's acoustic guitar and Annie Haslam's pure soprano voice, they are often mistaken for a folk-rock group, though nothing could be further from the truth. Forming in the late '60s as a Yardbirds offshoot, the original lineup split after their second album, bizarrely being completely replaced by another set of musicians, with most of the originals ending up in Illusion around the same time as their usurpers released A Song for All Seasons.
Typically for its time, the album is a step or two away from Renaissance's earlier full-on symphonic style, with mostly shorter, more accessible material (although there are still two excellent longer tracks, notably Day Of The Dreamer), although unlike many of their contemporaries, they managed not to bland out completely, possibly helped by the fact that they were never the most 'in your face' outfit in the first place. Many of the songs feature a string section (the band often played live with a full orchestra) and although you'd think they were prime candidates for Mellotron usage, it seems keyboard man John Tout never touched one until this relatively late stage in their career. I can actually only hear it on two tracks; Closer Than Yesterday has a little (uncredited) 'Tron flute part, while Kindness (At The End) has instantly recognisable Mellotron strings and church organ. Incidentally, don't think that shorter tracks and a pretty terrible sleeve design equals 'drivel'; A Song for All Seasons is a damn' good album in the Renaissance tradition, er, so to speak. They completely sold out in the '80s, but that's another story...
Next album up, 1979's Azure d'Or, keeps up the band's quality control, although this time round there really aren't any epics, although there are, for the first time, full equipment listings for each track (hurrah!). By this stage, Tout was mainly using grand piano, Yamaha CS80 and CS30, ARP Solina and Pro-Soloist, plus a Mellotron on the last two tracks, Friends and The Flood At Lyons, also heard (uncredited) on Golden Key. He only seems to use it for choirs (male in this case), like many of his contemporaries, but it's quite nice use, if slightly inessential.
In 2000, a mystery disc appeared, titled, with considerable unoriginality, Day of the Dreamer. Despite the lack of recording information, keen listeners have nailed most of it down to a BBC performance in 1978, during the Song for All Seasons tour, making it a valuable document for fans, as most live recordings only seem to cover pre-Novella material. As you'd expect from a radio recording, the sound quality's excellent and all concerned are in fine form. Complaints have been made that there's no Northern Lights, although it's perfectly possible that the band elected not to play it that night, despite its 'recent hit' status. Now, I don't know if this was a one-off, but it seems John Tout's studio Mellotron work wasn't in isolation, as he clearly had one on stage this night. Mind you, with all the string synth work on which he was so keen, especially when they weren't using an orchestra, all he uses it for is male voices and then only in short bursts on three tracks. The upshot of which is, while this is an excellent document of live Renaissance towards the end of their useful life, don't bother for the 'Tron. Incidentally, 2008's Dreams & Omens (live at Philadelphia's Tower Theater in 1978), while an excellent record of a partial set from that year, is Mellotron-free.
So; there are better Renaissance albums to buy, Ashes Are Burning and Scheherezade & Other Stories spring to mind, but if you desperately need to hear them use a bit of 'Tron, all these albums are good, though don't expect too much of them. And whatever you do, don't buy anything they recorded in the following decade... n.b. One more Mellotronic item in Renaissance's catalogue is a recent reissue of their rather poor 1971 effort Illusion, which includes several bonus tracks, including All The Fallen Angels. It turns out that this is a 1976 Keith Relf demo, his last recording, in fact and has previously been available on Illusion's terrible posthumous Enchanted Caress, as All The Falling Angels.
Renaud (1975, 36.03) ***½/TBack and in
Voyage Without a Guide
Alain Renaud was a French guitarist who collaborated extensively with Richard Pinhas/Heldon, finding time to record a couple of solo albums, 1975's eponymous effort and the following year's Out of Time. Both albums feature swathes of Renaud's acoustic backdrops and multi-overdubbed electric leads, with other instrumentation dropping in and out of the mix. Renaud sports a side-long opener in Back And In, probably the album's most coherent work, with a more mixed bag on side two, included the Rhodes-heavy Voyage Without A Guide and the rather pointless vocal number Pretty Stranger, which serves only to spoil the mood created by the rest of the record.
To my surprise, Voyage Without A Guide features a couple of brief Mellotron string parts, quite possibly played by a guesting Pinhas (the rear sleeve gives nothing away). We're not talking 'unmissable' here, but it does serve to brighten up a slightly messy piece that can't decide whether it wants to be classical or jazz (never easy bedfellows). To my knowledge, this is entirely unavailable; surely those nice people at Musea could reissue both his albums on one disc? Should you track a copy down, expect a good guitar album with little 'Tron. File under 'reasonable'.
See: Heldon | Richard Pinhas