Return to Forever
Marc Ribot y los Cubanos Postizos
Miranda Lee Richards
First Offenders (1973, 39.23) **½/TYou'd Best Believe it
Friend Out on the Road
Drive Me Wild
I Suppose it's for the Best
To be brutally honest, Renia weren't a very exciting band; not on record, at least. The nearest they come to any genre is 'mid-'70s rock'; more of that slightly heavy, slightly proggy, slightly several other things stuff, without being particularly anything. While far from offensive, Renia never even gets my foot tapping, I'm afraid, although the pace does pick up here and there. The one 'Tron track, Shelter (a rather drippy ballad), has some very ordinary strings on it from keyboard man Malcolm Sutherland, so it's not even worth picking up for that. For die-hards only, though of what I'm not entirely sure.
The Reputation (2002, 44.15) **½/T
Stars of Amateur Hour
Misery By Design
She Turned Your Head...
The Uselessness of Friends...
|For the Win
The Reputation were formed by Elizabeth Elmore while she was at college, backed by a revolving-door set of musicians. Their first album (of two), 2002's The Reputation, has various influences quoted in online sources, none of which mention powerpop, the overriding one across much of its length to my ears. Admittedly, typical indie, generic singer-songwriter and even punk (US '80s version) are to be found somewhere in the mix, but the first half of the album leans heavily on the melody-with-oomph brigade.
Elmore plays Mellotron, with strings all over the lengthy For The Win, although how genuine the Mellotron might be can only be a matter for conjecture; suffice to say, there are no stand-out fake parts. Sadly, this album slackens off towards the end, so with few truly memorable songs, I'd have trouble recommending this to powerpop fans and with little upfront Mellotron, the same goes for you lot.
Return to Forever Live: The Complete Concert (1978, 151.44) ***½/½
The Endless Night
So Long Mickey Mouse
Come Rain or Come Shine
The Moorish Warrior and Spanish Princess
Chick's Closing Introductions
On Green Dolphin Street
I'm sure you all know at least something about Chick Corea's Return to Forever: one of the classic fusion bands, by their third album, they'd moved away from their early influences, shifting into full-on electric jazz-rock, their classic lineup including Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke, guitarist Al di Meola and drummer Lenny White (Airto Moreira was an early member). Corea, a Scientology devotee (don't start me), disbanded that lineup after 1976's incredibly successful Romantic Warrior, only retaining then-fellow Hubbardite Clarke for the following year's Musicmagic and Return to Forever Live, released in '78. Some confusion surrounds said album: initially released as a single LP, a four-album version, The Complete Concert, seems to have been made available at the time, now available as a two-CD set. The original LP (which I haven't heard) consists of heavily edited versions of some of the expanded version's tracks, with the exception of the short Come Rain Or Come Shine; given that it's effectively a sampler of the complete concert, it's impossible to gauge from the full version how many tracks on the edited version contain Mellotron without hearing them.
Anyway, the full version is a veritable fusion marathon, no fewer than four of its fourteen tracks easily attracting the 'side-long' sobriquet, Musicmagic reaching nearly half an hour; a jazz odyssey indeed. Many tracks cross over into a kind of progressive/fusion area, highly arranged sections being bifurcated by the expected instrumental solos; indeed, a handful of its tracks feature male and female vocals, although they only serve to dilute the power of the band, augmented by a brass section. Corea's wife, Gayle Moran, played second keyboards on the album, including (allegedly) Mellotron, although there's very little here that actually sounds like it's definitely sourced from an M400, with occasional background strings on Opening '77 and The Endless Night and background choirs (backing up real voices) at the end of So Long Mickey Mouse. To be honest, the strings could easily have emitted from a string synth, while the choirs don't sound particularly Mellotronish, although I'm not sure what else might've made that sound.
Overall, fusion fans who don't already own this should go into raptures over its considerable length, although the rest of us may find ourselves twiddling our thumbs in places. There's next to no Mellotron (if any at all), so I really wouldn't bother on its account. If I ever get to hear the original one-LP version, I'll add a tracklisting; it seems likely there's a little 'Tron, as it includes most of The Endless Night and all of So Long Mickey Mouse, for what it's worth.
First Shot (1981, 36.15) ***/T½Hell's Angel
Good Time People
I See the Light
Not Too Late
Rock 'n' Roller
Revolver were an (effectively) one-shot German hard rock outfit, featuring (like many of their contemporaries) English-language vocals from excellent American singer Mary B. Thompson, who really should've gone on to bigger and better. 1981's optimistically-titled First Shot sounds rather dated when put up against concurrent Scorpions albums, never mind the likes of Accept, to the point where I wouldn't have been surprised had it actually hailed from the mid-'70s. Is that a bad thing? Not in retrospect, no, but I'd imagine it seriously hampered their chances of getting anywhere in the early '80s. Best tracks? Solid, if clichéd opener Hell's Angel, the balladic Not Too Late, Highway Dreamer, which mines the same seam that King's X would exploit to perfection some years later and closing epic Yesterday Dreams, despite its descending picked chord sequence, reminiscent of both Styx and Judas Priest.
It's most likely keys man Friedel Amon who plays the Mellotron on a couple of tracks, although, given that the album was recorded in Dieter Dierks' studio, it's not impossible that Dierks himself played his own machine on the recording. Anyway, we get a lovely flute part on Not Too Late, with background strings and cellos thrown in for good measure and a nice little flute line cropping up on Yesterday Dreams, making this borderline worth hearing for Mellotron fans. The band went on (sans Thompson) to become Raindancer, although their lone album, '84's A Little Bit Confused (nice sleeve, guys), not recorded at Dierks', quite certainly contains no Mellotronic input.
Tunnel Into Summer (2000, 46.12) ***½/TT½
Heart of the Sun
If There's an Answer
Tunnel Into Summer
Tart with the Heart
Little Ray of Sunshine
The Radio Played Good Vibrations
Plas Yn Rhiw
Honey is That Love
Kimberley Rew's best work may have been with the staggeringly underrated Soft Boys, but his best-known (not to mention most lucrative) was with Katrina & the Waves, for whom he wrote the mega-selling Walking On Sunshine, not to mention Britain's first Eurovision-winning entry for over 15 years, Love Shine A Light. OK, Kim, we'll forgive you. 2000's Tunnel Into Summer (title influenced by Robert Heinlein's novel The Door Into Summer?) is typically jangly, '60s-influenced pop/rock, as you'd expect from someone who's worked with Robyn Hitchcock. Too many highlights to mention, although opener Simple Pleasures is excellent, as is closing instrumental Alice Klar.
Rew doubles (triples?) on Mellotron, with a speedy, clicky flute part on Rosemary Jean, a similarly clicky string line on Little Ray Of Sunshine, wobbling at the end in a 'this one's 100% genuine' kind of way. More 'dying on their feet' strings on The Truth and a more (if not completely) stable part on Alice Klar. It's possible it crops up elsewhere (If There's An Answer?), but is too far down in the mix to say for sure, and it's as likely to be Hammond as Mellotron anyway.
So; a good collection of songs with some interesting arrangements, which sounds like a recipe for a successful mainstream(ish) album to me; several good 'Tron tracks are merely a bonus. Worth hearing.
See: Robyn Hitchcock
Emitt Rhodes (1970, 31.32) ***½/½
|With My Face on the Floor
Somebody Made for Me
She's Such a Beauty
Long Time No See
Fresh as a Daisy
Live Till You Die
Promises I've Made
|You Take the Dark Out of the Night
You Should Be Ashamed
Ever Find Yourself Running
You Must Have
Mirror (1971, 30.00) ***½/½
Better Side of Life
My Love is Strong
Side We Seldom Show
Really Wanted You
Bubblegum the Blues/I'm a
|Love Will Stone You
Golden Child of God
Take You Far Away
Farewell to Paradise (1973, 36.53) ***½/TTTT
|Warm Self Sacrifice
See No Evil
Drawn to You
Shoot the Moon
Only Lovers Decide
Trust Once More
Nights Are Lonely
In Desperate Need
Those That Die (from "Tame the Lion")
Farewell to Paradise
Emitt Rhodes is one of those legendary figures amongst the cognoscenti, frequently compared to Macca, although it's not a comparison I'd personally welcome, but there you go. He recorded his three proper solo albums in his garage, on equipment bought with a record company advance, which explains their slightly low-fi nature, 1970's Emitt Rhodes being the album that made his reputation, full of material of the quality of Somebody Made For Me (that IS Paul on vocals, isn't it?), Long Time No See and Promises I've Made. Although the album's overriding keyboard sound is harmonium, unusually, the background strings on With My Face On The Floor have to be tape-driven, although whether Chamberlin or Mellotron is unknown, although the former's more likely, simply due to the lack of availability of Mellotrons in the States before the early '70s.
The following year's Mirror is, essentially, more of the same, top tracks including opener Birthday Lady, Love Will Stone You and Golden Child Of God. Minimal tape-replay again, with a brief (Chamby?) flute part on the I'm A Cruiser part of the Bubblegum The Blues/I'm A Cruiser medley, although the harmonium provides the album's chief keyboard backdrop again. My theory on this is... Rhodes knew Curt Boettcher, the maverick West Coast producer who created Sagittarius and The Millennium and mixed Rhodes' last album. Boettcher owned, or at least had access to a Chamberlin, so what are the chances it's his machine we're hearing here? Anyway, Rhodes' third album was actually the recordings he made in 1969 with The Merry-Go-Round, those chancers at A&M releasing them just after Mirror. Unsurprisingly, with a higher budget, no tape-replay here, although the material's pretty decent.
1973's Farewell to Paradise is his third and last solo album proper, as he pretty much retired from music not long after its release. Stylistically, the album's fairly typical for a singer-songwriter effort in the early '70s, being fairly soft rock, although much of the writing transcends its rather dated setting. Saying that, opener Warm Self Sacrifice and Bad Man are pretty ordinary rock'n'roll numbers, although little else disappoints, highlights being the balladry of Only Lovers Decide and the brief but beautiful Those That Die, apparently excepted and mutated from another Rhodes song, Tame The Lion. Mellotron from Rhodes himself, and lots of it (couldn't afford a string section?), with flute and string parts on See No Evil, Blue Horizon and Shoot The Moon, strings on Only Lovers Decide and Trust Once More, flutes and queasily pitchbent strings on Nights Are Lonely and finally, full-on strings on Those That Die. It's always a surprise when a previously-unknown major 'Tron album sticks its head up over the parapet, and this one just has.
So; early-'70s singer-songwriter territory, mostly good, loads of Mellotron on one album, anyway. What's not to like?
Rialto (1997, 48.19) ***/T½
|Monday Morning 5:19
Dream Another Dream
Broken Barbie Doll
|Love Like Semtex
When We're Together
Milk of Amnesia
Britpop leftovers Rialto made all the right moves; '60s influences, period instruments, mockney vocals. How could they fail? Probably because there was only ever room for one Pulp. Rialto isn't actually a bad album, with quite a few memorable songs, although they're nowhere near Pulp's level of sophistication, despite their Scott Walker fixation.
Keys man Toby Hounsham plays Mellotron on a couple of tracks. Summer's Over sounds like a Kinks outtake, with quite upfront 'Tron strings and maybe cello, while the harpsichord-driven Quarantine has a startlingly similar feel about it, with some Beatles-y brass, and more of those 'Tron strings. Actually, two good 'Tron tracks, and, going by the evidence presented here, a better band than many of their more successful rivals (who said Oasis? Oh. Must've been me).
Electròccid Àccid Alquímistic Xoc (1975, 41.14) ***/T½Sol Solet
Es Fa Llarg es Fa Llarg Esperar
Cuatre Barres Blanc i Negre
Brian a Clown
Occident (Recepte de Cuina)
Estrella de la Fortuna
To my knowledge, Pau Riba's 1975 release, Electròccid Àccid Alquímistic Xoc, was his first for several years, although a lack of Spanish leaves me unable to ascertain why. Whatever, it consists of that strange variety of psych-inflected mainstream pop/rock that seems to be unique to Spain of the period, possibly due to the lifting of restrictions after the fall of the dictatorship and the general social and political upheaval of the era. Or maybe the Spanish just liked it. It's passable enough as that kind of stuff goes, but a rather unexciting listen 35 years on, to be honest, although far from offensive.
Pepe Dougan plays Mellotron, with faux-orchestral strings and flutes on Es Fa Llarg Es Fa Llarg Esperar, heavily phased strings on María and a nice flute part on Occident (Recepte De Cuina), though nothing you really can't live without. So; passable album, couple of nice bits of Mellotron, just scrapes three stars. Whatever.
Marc Ribot y los Cubanos Postizos (1998, 46.41) ***½/T
|Aurora en Pekín
Aquí Como Allá
Como Se Gozo en el Barrio
No Me Llores Más
Los Teenagers Bailan Changui
Fiesta en el Solar
La Vida Es un Sueño
Marc Ribot's been around since the '80s, doing his 'weird guitarslinger for hire' thing with artists of the calibre of Tom Waits (he was Waits' guitarist of choice for some years), Cibo Matto and Elvis Costello. He's been releasing solo albums under various nomenclatures since 1990, including 1998's self-titled effort from Marc Ribot y los Cubanos Postizos ('Marc Ribot and the Prosthetic Cubans'). It's a wonderfully off-the-wall melting-pot of styles, Latin and otherwise, top tracks including gentle opener Aurora En Pekín and the nutzoid No Me Llores Más.
As part of the New York Weird Mafia, it's hardly surprising that John Medeski plays organ and Mellotron here (Ribot's guested with MMW), although there's just the one 'Tron track, No Me Llores Más, with a gleefully pitchbent string part alongside the organ. All in all, then, a joyful album that proves the Latin music can hold discrete liaisons with the avant-garde without losing face.
Official Marc Ribot site
See: Tom Waits | Auktyon
Trouble is Real (2005, 58.20) **/T
|Short Song for Strings
Kiss Me Goodbye
Break So Easy
Behind the Frontlines
My Mother's Son
|Leave the Light on
City on Fire
Put Me in Your Holy War
Stay at Home
Hickory Wind (Outro)
I Wouldn't Miss it for the World
The oddly-spelled Johnathan Rice is a pretty typical modern singer-songwriter, all over-emoting musical drool and blander-than-bland arrangements, assuming his debut, 2005's Trouble is Real, is anything to go by. The album's so faceless that most of it slipped past without me even noticing, including his take on Gram Parsons' Hickory Wind, so any attempt to say anything more about its contents would be fruitless.
Mike Mogis plays Mellotron, with a jaunty flute part all over Stay At Home, although all the album's strings sound real. I'm sure Mr. Rice is fairly popular, doubtless helped considerably by having songs used in TV programmes such as The O.C. One passable 'Tron track here, but far, far from enough to make the album actually worth hearing.
Sincerely (1969, 40.51) **/T
|In the Past
Will You Love Me Tomorrow
You'll Want Me
I'm Not Getting Married
For Emily Whenever I May Find Her
Baby I Could Be So Good at Loving You
London's Not Too Far
Take Good Care of Her
When I Find You
Punch and Judy
Rock'n'Roll Juvenile (1979, 44.09) **/½
|Monday Thru' Friday
Cities May Fall
You Know That I Love You
My Luck Won't Change
Fallin in Luv
Language of Love
We Don't Talk Anymore
Ah, Cliff Richard, the oldest swinger in town, not to mention the oldest confirmed bachelor, a.k.a. 'Cliffy Bastard', for anyone old enough to've seen the heavily Cliff-referencing The Young Ones in the early '80s. I should be fair here; Cliff (born Harry Webb) is Britain's first genuine rock'n'roller, releasing what's generally regarded to be the UK's first proper rock'n'roll record, Move It, in 1958, aged seventeen. In 2008, of course, he celebrates an unbelievable fifty years in 'the biz', although he's spent the vast majority of them as a family-and-Christian-friendly artiste, producing jaunty mainstream horrors such as Summer Holiday (OK, so it was a film theme), Congratulations (OK, so it was Eurovision) and Mistletoe & Wine (no excuses whatsoever - rhymes with 'children singing Christian rhyme'). We don't talk (anymore) about The Millennium Prayer. If you've never heard Cliff's music (Brit readers stop reading now), think: an even more straight-down-the-line Paul McCartney with less talent and extra added Christianity.
1969's Sincerely (or Sincerely Cliff, or, indeed, Sincerely, Cliff Richard) was Cliffy's fourteenth or fifteenth album, depending on how you're counting (does his 'live in the studio' debut count?) and is, you'll be stunned to discover, a very mainstream pop record of its time. Think: as if psychedelia had never happened (well, the horrid Congratulations was only the previous year). Soundwise, it's a typical pop production of the day, with the band in the left channel, the orchestra on the right and Cliff's voice in the middle, a little too high in the mix for comfort. If there's a best track, it's London's Not Too Far (notwithstanding its ultra-cheesy final line), although I'm Not Getting Married amused me. Indeed, Cliff. Worst? The Congratulations rewrite When I Find You. Hideous. An unknown session player adds surprisingly raucous Mellotron strings to Baby I Could Be So Good At Loving You, despite the real strings used on the rest of the record, but you really aren't going to shell out your hard-earned for this on that basis.
Rock'n'Roll Juvenile was something like his 33rd non-compilation studio album in twenty years and is, to no-one's surprise, a mainstream pop/rock album, recorded with the help of various session men and professional songwriters, including Brian "B.A." Robertson (not that one). In all honesty, while bland and faceless, it's nowhere near as bad as many, many other albums, its chief sin being the tedium it induces in any listener not inured to Cliff's unashamedly pop approach. Of the album's two hit singles, We Don't Talk Anymore, his first UK No.1 in over a decade, is truly horrible, although Cliff's sleevenotes comment that it only went on the album as an afterthought, being clearly recorded at a different session, while Carrie is actually one of his better hits, despite its cheeso chorus (well, it was a hit). Incidentally, presumably a) to prove everyone concerned has a sense of humour and b) to see if anyone's watching, über-session man Herbie Flowers is credited in increasingly sillier ways as the album progresses, ending up with 'Hermione Fleurs' and 'Inter Flora', which, while slight, seems to indicate an attention to detail lacking in so many mainstream acts.
The joy of track-by-track instrumental credits! Since I'm quite clearly deranged enough to actually buy stuff like this (as long as it's dirt cheap), at least some artists have the good grace to enable me to skip across the tracks on their worthless pieces of shite (OK, maybe not quite) until I reach the one (usually just the one) of any 'interest' (term used loosely). In this case, it's Language Of Love, with, rather surprisingly, a short burst of fairly decent 'Tron male voice choirs, played by hit-artist-in-his-own-right Peter Skellern. However, you're not going to buy this album for that, or, I'd imagine, anything else.
See: The Shadows
The Herethereafter (2001, 55.00/63.34) **/T½
The Long Goodbye
I Know What It's Like
Last Solstice of the 70's
Apparently, Metallica's Kirk Hammett taught Miranda Lee Richards how to play guitar by teaching her Mazzy Star songs, not that you can tell from her style... Her first album, 2001's The Herethereafter, is an alt.country/indie crossover effort, although I have to say, it's pretty bland fare; most of the tracks are too long, and Richards' voice is rather dreary, making for a somewhat unappealing package, I'm afraid to say.
The inimitable Jon Brion plays Chamberlin, with strings on The Long Goodbye, Folkin' Hell (ho ho), flutes on I Know What It's Like and strings and flutes on Seven Hours, alongside real strings on several tracks. Overall, this becomes more and more irritating as it progresses, largely due to its overriding blandness. Is it really acceptable to make music this safe? Seemingly. Anyway, more Chamberlin than on many similar, but nothing you can't live without.
Forever & Today (2003, 40.13) ***½/TT
Up & Out
Every Little Thing
I Wanna Make it With You
I Won't Give in
My Love is True
Little Petty Things
|Today (part 1)
You Fill Me Up
Oh No, Okay
Today (part 2)
The Richies are one of Australia's top powerpop bands, comprising members of other fêted outfits. Their debut, 2003's Forever & Today, is an immaculately produced record, highlights including I Wanna Make It With You, Little Petty Things, Today (Part 2) and the two 'backwards' sections, although, in truth, there isn't a bad track here. There also isn't anything of any great originality, but how many older genres really have anything new to say, anyway? Most 'genre' outfits settle for writing material as well as they can within the confines of their style; we can argue 'til the cows come home whether or not this is inferior to producing original rubbish.
Drummer Michael Carpenter and guitarist Eddie Owen both play Mellotron, with strings on Every Little Thing and Little Charms, plus flutes and strings on My Love Is True, all enhancing their chosen tracks nicely. Powerpop fans who haven't run into The Richies need to purchase this album post haste; anyone else who appreciates good writing in a Badfinger/Big Star style could do a lot worse than to hear this, too. Three 'Tron tracks merely enhance what is already a very good album. Recommended.
Space Waltz (1975, 40.50) ****/TTTFraulein Love
Out on the Street
Scars of Love
And Up to Now
Love the Way He Smiles
Alastair Riddell (1978, 42.57) ***½/TSmile
Come on Over
Wear My Light
Are They Real
Eyes of Love
What Good Does it Do Me
I Can See Space
Alastair Riddell was yet another of those Kiwis who moved to Oz to attempt to find fame and fortune (see: Split Enz, Crowded House and, er, Airlord). His stock in trade, at least on Space Waltz (also the name of his band) seems to have been as the Antipodean Bowie, doing a passable imitation of the great man's voice, with a band who did a fair Spiders/Mott impersonation. I believe Out On The Street was actually a largish hit over there, too, although it sounds slightly dated for '75 to my ears. On the 'Tron front, Tony Raynor (i.e. Eddie Rayner of Split Enz) plays loads of strings on Beautiful Boy, flutes, strings and choir all over the epic Seabird, flutes on Angel and more strings on Open Up, along with various other keys. Although the Bowie influence is far too obvious to ignore, it doesn't diminish the album's qualities. It's now been reissued twice, although with new sleeves (see right and above).
Riddell didn't record again until '78 and, despite its boring sleeve, Alastair Riddell is actually a pretty good album, rather like a toned-down version of his debut. In the interim, Riddell seems to have picked up another influence, Steve Harley, with much of his stylised diction tending towards him, although Bowie is everpresent too, of course. The songs are good without being outstanding (nothing is up to the quality of the best material on Space Waltz), but the overall sound of the album isn't unpleasing, being devoid of spiky Noo Wave influences, which probably hadn't made it as far as NZ by then. Only one 'Tron track this time round, from Riddell himself, with some fairly standard flutes and strings on Wonder Ones, but that isn't why you should pick this up if you see it. Oh, and Eddie 'Raynor's name is still mis-spelt.
So; Riddell's is a largely wasted talent, with a tiny handful of releases to his name; there was a third album in the early '80s, with an unpleasant synth-pop veneer to it, but I really wouldn't bother if I were you. Space Waltz is definitely the better of these two albums (and far more 'Tron), and by far the easier to find, with two different CD issues in the last few years, but his eponymous second effort is worth hearing should you find a copy, probably in NZ.
Holiday in Dirt (2002, recorded 1995?-99?, 61.31) ***½/½
|Beloved Movie Star
Operator Help Me
End of the Line
Garage Band '69
Bing Can't Walk
Brand New Special and Unique
After the Storm
Whatever Happened to You?
Act of Faith
Beloved Movie Star Redux
Behind Closed Doors [unlisted]
Stan Ridgway is known in Britain, if at all, for his one-off novelty 'Nam hit Camouflage, but is best remembered round these parts for his first band, the Wall of Voodoo's classic Mexican Radio, as later covered, in truly surreal fashion, by Swiss avant-metallers Celtic Frost. 2002's Holiday in Dirt is a collection of outtakes, b-sides etc, several of them seemingly finished off for the compilation and none, repeat none of them third-rate rejects left off previous releases due to a lack of quality. Highpoints include Garage Band '69, Whatever Happened to You? and Beloved Movie Star Redux, not to mention the superb unlisted track, a version of Charlie Rich's Behind Closed Doors sung as if by some bitter, twisted shadowy management figure, jealous of his client's talent. Killer.
Only one Mellotron track, from Ridgway's wife Pietra Wexstun, with flutes on Operator Help Me, although they don't, in all honesty, add that much to the song. So; possibly not the best entrée to Ridgway's singular talent - or maybe it is? Certainly worth picking up cheap, though not for the Mellotron. 2004's Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs credits Wexstun on Mellotron on no fewer than five tracks, but I'd put good money on those weedy flutes having little to do with a real machine, or even samples, making the previous year's Mark Ryden: Blood: Miniature Paintings of Sorrow & Fear pretty suspect, too, not to mention, er, Holiday in Dirt, thinking about it.
Birth of a Giant (1999, 51.28) ***/½
|Intro (Non Outro)
Birth of a Giant
Ballad of Maria Banter
A Casual Observation
Outro (Non Intro)
Bill Rieflin seems to have a largish musical résumé, but is best known for his work on the drum stool for Ministry and the Revolting Cocks/Revco (surely one of the best-named bands ever?), and after a lengthy friendship with Peter Buck, it seems he's now also R.E.M.'s touring drummer. Birth of a Giant is his first solo album, with considerable input from Robert Fripp and Trey Gunn of King Crimson and yes, it shows. I've seen it described as 'dark, heavy electronica', and that doesn't seem to be too far off the mark; it's a dense, claustrophobic record that still apparently manages to be one of the 'lighter' offerings in Rieflin's discography. Heavily percussive, even the gentler pieces here are quite propulsive, contrasting oddly with Rieflin's half-spoken vocals and the drifting synths that crop up almost everywhere you look. There doesn't seem to be that much variety on offer, at least on an initial listen, but I'm sure fans of the album will take me to task for saying so.
Multi-instrumentalist Rieflin plays Mellotron, alongside what seems to be almost everything else; the only place it even might be is on overlong closer Outro (Non Intro), although the background string chords could be produced by just about any modern keyboard, to be honest. I'll give this one the benefit of the doubt, but rather like Trey Gunn's The Joy of Molybdenum, I'm far from convinced any actual tape-replay was involved. So; an album unlike anything else I've heard, which is a feat in itself, but whether I actually like it is another matter. File under 'interesting'.
See: R.E.M. | Trey Gunn | King Crimson | Angels of Light | Swans
Ghost of a Gardener (2014, 35.43) ***/T
Where I Stand
You Can Go
|I See it Coming
Vermont native Rachel Ries' third album, 2014's Ghost of a Gardener, is a country-inflected singer-songwriter effort, louder (I use the term loosely) material - Where I Stand, Mercy - sitting alongside moments of quiet beauty. Highlights? Those quiet beauty moments have it for me: Ghost, Holiest Day, Willow and closer Standing Still, although the songwriting's strong throughout. Even the occasional indie feel isn't enough to spoil the best bits.
Mellotron? Ries plays a brief, gentle flute part on Holiest Day, while multi-instrumentalist David Vandervelde plays a longer part on closer Standing Still, sounding nicely authentic (spot the key-click). Depending on your stance, you could call this 'mournful' or 'introspective'; I'd opt for the latter, myself. Good album, nice Mellotron work.
More Adventurous (2004, 44.23) **/T
|It's a Hit
Does He Love You?
Portions for Foxes
The Absence of God
|Love and War (11/11/46)
A Man/Me/Then Jim
It Just is
Rilo Kiley were formed in L.A. by former child actors Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett, giving them an instant entrée into the world of TV and film soundtracks. He says, cynically. Going by their third full album, the mistitled More Adventurous, they play the kind of squeaky-clean indie pop/rock that seems to captivate untold millions of young people, for no seemingly discernable reason. Why do people like this kind of music? Its emotional content? It's easy to sing along to? It speaks to them? The only thing it says to me is, "I'm extremely dull, go and listen to something else", but then, I'm not a Young Person, and haven't been for a long time, so it'd probably be a bit scary if I did like it.
Mellotron from Lewis and Sennett, with a reasonable flute part on Does He Love You? (although the strings are real), and a few notes at the beginning of the oddly-titled Accidntel Deth, although I'm not sure why it took two people to play them. All in all, a pretty tedious record, not improved by the addition of pedal steel to several tracks. Little Mellotron, dull music: avoid.
Family (2007, 47.37/57.07) **/½
Nothin' Better to Do
Good Friend and a Glass of Wine
Something I Can Feel
I Want You with Me
One Day Too Long
What I Cannot Change
Till We Ain't Strangers Anymore
When You Love Someone Like That]
LeAnn Rimes had her first major hit at the tender age of thirteen, making her now a veteran of the country scene in her late twenties. She's found her niche in the country-pop market, although her tenth album, 2007's Family, is no worse than many others in the genre and better than many (the horrible Gloriana spring to mind). LeAnn actually experiments with different approaches on the record, not least the soul/blues of One Day Too Long, which is a long way from what you might expect of a contemporary country singer, although I could've done without the 'bonus' Jon Bon bleedin-Jovi duet Till We Ain't Strangers Anymore.
Tim Lauer plays Mellotron, with flutes on Fight, so despite a couple of 'is it/isn't it?' string parts, I think that's your lot. Family isn't that long an album, but would almost certainly be better were it a few (specific) tracks shorter, not least the two crummy 'bonuses' (funny use of the term, but there you go). Next to no obvious Mellotron, anyway, even if you, er, actually go for this stuff.