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Mavis Staples
Starcastle
Starflyer 59
Starglow Energy
Shelby Starner
Garrison Starr


Spyra  (Germany)  see: Samples

Squeeze  (UK)

Squeeze, 'Squeeze'

Squeeze  (1978,  41.39)  ***/T

Sex Master
Bang Bang
Strong in Reason
Wild Sewerage Tickles Brazil
Out of Control
Take Me, I'm Yours
The Call
Model
Remember What
First Thing Wrong
Hesitation (Rool Britannia)
Get Smart
Squeeze, 'Christmas Day' 7"  ( 1979)  ***/T

Christmas Day
Going Crazy
Squeeze, 'Argybargy'

Argybargy  (1980,  36.14)  ***/T

Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)
Another Nail in My Heart
Separate Beds
Misadventure
I Think I'm Go Go
If I Didn't Love You
Farfisa Beat
Here Comes That Feeling
Vicky Verky
Wrong Side of the Moon
There at the Top
Squeeze, 'Play'

Play  (1991,  52.27)  ***/T

Satisfied
Crying in My Sleep
Letting Go
The Day I Get Home

The Truth
House of Love
Cupid's Toy
Gone to the Dogs
Walk a Straight Line
Sunday Street
Wicked and Cruel
There is a Voice
Squeeze, 'Excess Moderation'

Excess Moderation  (1996, recorded 1978-93,  156.21)  ****/T½

Take Me I'm Yours
Model
Revue
Christmas Day
Blood and Guts
Going Crazy
The Knack
If I Didn't Love You
Separate Beds
I Think I'll Go Go
What the Butler Saw
Piccadilly
Trust
Tempted
Woman's World
Squabs on Forty Fab
The Elephant Ride
Tongue Like a Knife
His House Her Home
When the Hangover Strikes
The Apple Tree
Within These Walls of Without You
On My Mind Tonight
Hope Fell Down
No Place Like Home
What Have They Done?
Tough Love
Striking Matches
Peyton Place
Dr. Jazz
Melody Motel
Slaughtered Gutted and Heartbroken
Maidstone
The House of Love
The Truth
Letting Go
It's Over
Loving You Tonight
Cold Shoulder
Some Fantastic Place

Current availability:

Mellotrons/Chamberlin? used:

I've been waiting to review Squeeze properly ever since I realised that was a Mellotron on their first hit, the sublime Take Me, I'm Yours. The band had been together for a while by the time their first, eponymous album appeared in 1978; not only had they previously been signed to (and dropped by) RCA, but they had self-released their first EP, the sniggeringly-titled Packet of Three in '77, at the height of punk, with which they were briefly and bafflingly associated. What's more, after their rise to prominence at the end of the '70s, the music press (Sounds? NME?) dug out a picture and article from some years earlier, portraying not only a long-haired and hippyfied Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook playing low down on some (free?) festival bill, but also quoting some horrible Hare Krishna-type lyrics, doubtless to the pair's embarrassment. None of which stopped them becoming one of the UK's best-loved, and what's more, best purveyors of Intelligent Pop, if you will, churning out deathless classics such as Cool For Cats, Up The Junction and Is This Love? seemingly at the drop of a hat. Any hits compilation immediately garners the full *****, and telling me you don't like them is tantamount to looking for a fight. I've no idea with whom, mind, but I'm sure I'll find someone.

1978's Squeeze is more rock'n'roll than you might expect, if you'd only heard their hits, although when put into context, it makes more sense; this is only eight months after the Packet of Three EP, which did its best to try to compete with the punk (alternative) mainstream on its own terms. Never really an albums band, this one contains its fair share of filler, including second single (and first flop) Bang Bang, although Out Of Control's rampant lasciviousness amuses, while the instrumental Wild Sewerage Tickles Brazil and the bone-dry Hesitation (Rool Britannia) impress. The album's best track by a country mile is, of course, Take Me, I'm Yours, which still sounds like nothing else before or since; synth-heavy psychedelic pub-rock, the leader in a genre of one. Mr. Tilbrook says, "This song is conclusive proof that we were at the forefront of second wave use of the Mellotron", just in case there was any doubt regarding the matter. It was apparently a last-minute add-on, as A&M 'couldn't hear a single', so they 'hired lots of synths and a bloke who knew how to work them and pretended to be Kraftwerk'. Can't say it worked on that front, but it's a fantastic record, and on top of said synths, features plenty of pitch-bent Mellotron choir, doubtless from 'just a keyboard player back then' Jools Holland.

The second Squeeze Mellotron entry is an obscure b-side, Going Crazy, the b-side to non-album non-hit Christmas Day, although its choir contributions are hardly the most major use you're ever going to hear. Their third album, 1980's Argy Bargy, starts insanely strongly with the two hits, Pulling Mussels (From The Shell) and Another Nail In My Heart, although the rest of the record's no slouch, material like the excellent Farfisa Beat and If I Didn't Love You belying the old 'singles bands can't write album tracks' cliché. Mellotronically speaking, Jools plays nowt but choirs, with a single chord on Misadventure and a fairly major part running through the atmospheric Here Comes That Feeling, complete with 'tape choke off' wobble at the end of the track, just in case there were any doubt.

The only other Squeeze album (to my knowledge) that contains any form of tape-replay is 1991's Play, a fairly ordinary effort, with too many overlong songs (don't have to edit now we've got CD, eh?). It certainly isn't a bad album, but it struggles to reach beyond 'average', at least to my ears. Mellotron (or Chamberlin?), possibly from Elvis Costello's on-off keys man Steve Nieve, with strings and flutes on Letting Go and flutes on The Day I Get Home, though nothing you can't live without.

Excess Moderation is a rarity on this site, being a compilation of mostly previously-available material; amongst the 40 tracks on display here are several single-only efforts, one from a soundtrack and a handful of outtakes, including a different (and slightly inferior) take on mega-hit Tempted. Basically, it's a trawl through their catalogue, avoiding most of the obvious ports of call; think of it as a companion piece to their original definitive greatest hits, 45's and Under, and you won't go too far wrong. The booklet gives a track-by-track commentary by Difford and Tilbrook, shedding light onto the writing and recording process for those who care about such things. Given that all three 'Tron tracks here are available elsewhere (admittedly, in the case of Going Crazy, on the flip of, er, a flop), there are ground for eventually removing this album from here entirely, though given that one track's relative rarity, I shan't. Is it worth it for the music? Yes; it gives considerable insight into the band's career for those who've only really heard the hits. Is it worth it for the 'Tron? Probably not; if you have a hits compilation, you have the best of the three relevant tracks anyway, although the other two are worth hearing. I think this is still in print; I found a second-hand copy, and it is now twelve years old, but worth picking up if you see it at a decent price.

Squeeze, Argy Bargy and Play are all decent enough, if totally different albums, but I'd have to recommend the two compilations above in preference. And I didn't mention kitchen sinks once.

Official site

John Squire  (UK)

John Squire, 'Time Changes Everything'

Time Changes Everything  (2002,  46.52)  ***½/TT½

Joe Louis
I Miss You
Shine a Little Light
Time Changes Everything
Welcome to the Valley
15 Days
Transatlantic Near Death Experience
All I Really Want
Strange Feeling
Sophia

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Ex-Stone Rose John Squire loses no time on his solo debut, Time Changes Everything, in reaffirming his love of the '60s, although this isn't actually meant as a criticism (whaddaya mean, 'for once?'). His previous band, the Seahorses, put out one album, Do it Yourself (two 'Tron tracks) as long ago as 1997, so he's obviously opted to take a little time over this one, probably helped by releasing it on what appears to be his own label. If I'm going to be honest (I try, I try), I don't like Squire's rasp of a voice at all, but his songs are OK, if not exactly classic, and the sound of the album makes up for some of its musical failings. He's also resisted the temptation to stuff his new album full of songs fit only for b-sides or future 'rarities' compilations that everyone will buy and no-one will play, and has stuck to sensible 'vinyl' length.

John Ellis plays decidedly analogue, in fact, pre-synth keys throughout, and puts down some decent Mellotron work on several tracks. Opener (single, and probably best track) Joe Louis is smothered in strings, while Shine A Little Light features a semi-obscured flute melody, and Welcome To The Valley and Strange Feeling have polyphonic cello parts that sound highly Mellotronic. In case there's any doubt as to the veracity of the 'Tron, both Joe Louis and Sophia have pitchbent string parts, particularly the intro to the latter.

So; considerably better than expected, to the point where I found that three stars didn't quite suffice. Don't go expecting a full-on '60s recreation, but Time Changes Everything is a pleasant enough listen, if a little unengaging in places. The Mellotron work isn't bad, so if you see it cheap (as I did), it may just be worth picking up.

Official site

See: Seahorses

Squirrel Nut Zippers  (US)

Squirrel Nut Zippers, 'Bedlam Ballroom'

Bedlam Ballroom  (2000,  38.10)  ***/½

Bedbugs
Baby Wants a Diamond Ring
Do What?
Bent Out of Shape
Stop Drop and Roll
Hush
It All Depends
Bedlam Ballroom
Just This Side of Blue
Don't Fix it
Missing Link
Bedlam Reprise
Do it This a Way

Current availability:

Chamberlin used:

Squirrel Nut Zippers are a modern good-time swing outfit, of all things, inactive throughout most of the '00s, although their website states that activity is imminent. 2000's Bedlam Ballroom is something like their fifth album, stuffed with presumably self-penned ditties largely in a '30s style, taken at varying paces, mostly led by banjo and brass. Top tracks include opener Bedbugs, the title track and frenetic closer Do It This A Way, but nothing here offends.

Jim(bo) Mathus plays Chamberlin, with a cello line on the title track, although all other string and flute parts appear to be real. This is music made for dancing, not quiet contemplation at home, so if you like the sound of their, er, sound, I'm sure they're best sampled on stage. Saying that, this is a good album, but not one you'll bother with for its tape-replay work.

Official site

For St.  see: Saint

De Staat  (Netherlands)  see: Samples

Stackridge  (UK)  see:

Stackridge

Bernt Staf  (Sweden)

Bernt Staf, 'Valhall'

Valhall  (1973,  39.49)  ***/T

Väg Tid och Rum
Valhall
Göteborgsposten
En Liten Fågel
Zaïre
Försommarnatt
Vid Tjärnen
Vägen är Målet
Robotnik
Far Har Förtäljt
Arbetarblot

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

According to Swedish Wikipedia, Bernt Staf was as much a left-wing political activist as a musician; I've read that 'progressive rock' was as much a political movement as a musical one in Sweden in the '70s, so I suspect that's what we're encountering in the shape of his fourth album, 1973's Valhall. Is this 'progressive'? It's certainly progressive in intent, although little of it sounds like the modern idea of prog, more low-fi folk combined with strange singalongs, plus the occasional foray into something more energetic, such as the funky blues of Vägen Är Målet. To be brutally honest, going by the evidence, Staf couldn't sing a note, while some of the playing on the album leaves something to be desired, but I presume that isn't really the point. This was a Swedish album made for a Swedish audience; if foreigners can't understand the lyrics, that's their problem, not his. Anyway, better tracks include Zaïre, Försommarnatt and (at a pinch) Arbetarblot, but this barely scrapes three stars, to be honest.

Bo Hansson plays Mellotron on closer Arbetarblot, with M400 brass and choir parts (an unusual combination), merely adding to the album's weirdness. I can't imagine there's a huge appetite for this music these days; Staf died in 2002, so I doubt whether a reissue programme's likely any time soon.

See: Bo Hansson

Jim Stafford  (US)

Jim Stafford, 'Not Just Another Pretty Foot'

Not Just Another Pretty Foot  (1975,  36.39)  ***/TTT

Making Love With the Headphones on
None of Us Are Here
I Got Stoned and I Missed it
I Can't Find Nobody Home
Lady Greenfeet

You'll Never Take Me Alive
Midnight Snack
Bring Me You
Your Bulldog Drinks Champagne
I Ain't Working

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Jim Stafford seems to have been pigeonholed as a country artist, but going by '75's Not Just Another Pretty Foot, complete with 'smokes cigarette with foot' sleeve pic, singer-songwriter would seem to be a better description. Notorious for 'novelty' songs, I Got Stoned And I Missed It is a little unnecessary, but the bulk of the album consists of perfectly good, varied material, if very much of its time. Opener Making Love With the Headphones On may possibly be the highlight, but that could just be in the lyric department; suffice to say, despite a couple of novelty efforts, although dated, this could be a lot worse.

Alan Lindgren plays ARP strings and 'Melatrone' (hey! New mis-spelling!), with the latter, startlingly, on almost every track, mostly strings, but with flutes on a couple of tracks, too. No especially standout performances, although there are some interesting pitchbent strings on Midnight Snack that you don't hear every day. So; an OK record, though not one that's going to appeal to most of you, but plenty of 'Tron, admittedly in 'string section substitute' mode.

Official site

Stampede  (UK)

Stampede, 'Days of Wine and Roses' EP

Days of Wine and Roses EP  (1982,  15.08)  ****/T

Days of Wine and Roses
Movin' on
Photographs
Missing You




Stampede, 'Hurricane Town'

Hurricane Town  (1983,  40.43)  ***½/T

I've Been Told
Love Letters
Casino Junkie
The Other Side
Turning in Circles
Hurricane Town
Girl
The Runner
Mexico

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

Stampede appeared around 1981, rising from the ashes of the Bristol-based Lautrec, while just about hanging on to the fast-fading NWOBHM movement, such as it was. Notable for the singer being the guitarist's stepfather (!), both bands had a rather Lizzy/UFO sound; in fact, guitarist Laurence Archer went on to play in both Phil Lynott's post-Lizzy project, Grand Slam and eventually UFO themselves. So basically, we're talking melodic hard rock without having that dreadful wussy American sound that the likes of Grand Prix appropriated. Talking of which, it appears that when Sammy Hagar toured his Standing Hampton (arf arf, phnar phnar) album around this time, he got Grand Prix to support solely on the basis of their name. As our US cousins would say, "Go figure"...

Er, anyway... Stampede were snapped up almost immediately by Polydor, and had a dodgy live album, The Official Bootleg (***) (says it all, really) rush-released by the label, doing the band no favours at all. They had already lost their keyboard player and contracted to a four-piece, but they always missed the keys on stage, and smothered their studio recordings with them. Within months, they released their debut single, Days Of Wine And Roses, with the 12" EP version irritatingly appearing a week or two later (I've still got both versions as a result). The EP is magnificent, especially the two tracks not on the 7", with some great keyboard work, probably by Magnum's Mark Stanway, including a nice bit of 'Tron choir on Movin' On.

Unfortunately, by the time of their one and only studio album, Stampede had already recorded many of their best songs, leaving an album of too many also-rans. Hurricane Town's title track (more choirs, definitely by Stanway this time) and the single The Other Side are great, but many of the other songs have that 'filler' smell about them. There's a good Stampede compilation to be er, compiled, but you'd really have to pick and choose.

Official site

Doru Stănculescu  (Romania)  see: Samples

Standarte  (Italy)

Standarte, 'Standarte'

Standarte  (1994,  47.00)  ***½/TT½

Dream Love Sequences
One Strange December Evening
As I Wandered
Tolerance Town
Beat Pimp Muzak
A War is Declared

In My Time of Dying
Traumland
I Want You
Standarte, 'Curses & Invocations'

Curses & Invocations  (1997,  50.28)  ****/TTTTT

Dysangelium
What More I Have to Pay
Cities of Towers
Ordeal
Gehenna
Arrival of the Traveller
Herald
Mooning Around the Mill Hill
N.T.F.B.Y.
The One You Fear and Hate
Crossing
Standarte, 'Stimmung'

Stimmung  (1998,  50.12)  ***½/TT½

Intro
(We Want) a Peaceful Village
Kankweezler
Stimmung

Sonnermensch
Moon in Cancer
Dark Satanic Mill
In My Time of Dying
Yellow Cave Woman
I Won't Start Another Song
'...E Tu Vivrai Nel Terrore'

...E Tu Vivrai Nel Terrore  (1998,  9.17)  ****/TTT

[Standarte contribute]
Necropolis incl.Verso l'Ignoto
'Thousand Days of Yesterdays: A Tribute to Captain Beyond'

Thousand Days of Yesterdays: A Tribute to Captain Beyond  (1999)  ****/TTT

[Standarte contribute]
Myopic Void

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

Standarte fall fairly and squarely into organ-driven hard rock/prog territory, being vaguely akin to America's Bigelf, or, historically speaking, Atomic Rooster. Having not released anything for five years at the time of writing, I rather suspect that they're no more; their website is full of dead links, and I can't trace any current information about them anywhere. It would be easy to criticise the band for their considerable lack of originality, but that would be to rather miss the point; they obviously idolise early-'70s British hard rock, and don't care who knows it. The whole purpose of their existence is/was to recreate an era they love, which makes them ideologically identical to a million '60s-influenced outfits, just less fashionable. And as for '80s revivalists, let's just not go there...

Standarte is a solid enough debut, although it rarely transcends its influences, to be brutally honest; the songs aren't at all bad, but I keep spotting stolen riffs, which can be slightly disconcerting. Strangely, Michele Profeti's Mellotron use tails off as the album progresses. The first sound you hear is 'Tron strings on Dream Love Sequences, with flutes on One Strange December Evening and Beat Pimp Muzak, but a couple of the marked tracks only have a few seconds of The Beast under their spoken intros (there seems to be some sort of storyline running through the album). Sparse choirs on A War Is Declared and a few seconds of cello, and that seems to be it. Oh, and while In My Time Of Dying has the same lyrics as Led Zeppelin's version of the old blues standard, the tune is completely different.

Three years passed before their follow-up, Curses & Invocations, and it was immediately obvious that although the style remained the same, the songwriting had improved no end. The band chose to cover Gracious!'s Return Of The Traveller from This is... Gracious!, but otherwise stuck to their own material. Profeti's Mellotron use here is better and far more varied than on their debut; Dysangelium opens with a fantastic string part, and what I take to be solo trumpet starts What More I Have To Pay off nicely. There's ridiculously heavy 'Tron on Ordeal, with female voices, flutes and strings all vying for attention, not to mention the almost overpowering strings on Gehenna. Actually, the album's a complete Mellotron monster, with at least half the tracks featuring it as, essentially, a lead instrument. The music's good, but the 'Tron's fantastic. Buy.

In retrospect, it looks like the band were already starting to wind down on Stimmung, as half its tracks are live, including another (and slightly unnecessary) version of In My Time Of Dying. The studio tracks (1-5) tend to be better, with less jamming, but I suppose that's only one man's opinion. After Curses & Invocations, Profeti obviously decided to cut back a little on his 'Tron use, and it's not just because of the live tracks, as he used it onstage. Intro has (male?) choir, (We Want) A Peaceful Village has a short burst of strings, and Kankweezler is effectively based on a 'Tron flute riff, but the most major use on the album is the first live track, the instrumental Moon In Cancer, with an excellent strings part opening the song.

Well, Curses & Invocations is by far and away their best 'Tron album, and the material sounds superior to my ears, too, but their first and third releases are still worth the effort on both fronts. It appears, by the way, that the band has essentially morphed into psych monsters London Underground, so no more Standarte. Pity. Incidentally, the band recorded one track for Black Widow's 1998 ...E Tu Vivrai Nel Terrore set, Necropolis incl.Verso l'Ignoto, including plenty of decent string, flute and choir work. Hear it.

How on earth did Standarte ever get onto Italian TV? It isn't 1975, you know... Gift horses and mouths spring to mind.

Official site

See: ...E Tu Vivrai Nel Terrore | London Underground

Stands  (UK)

Stands, 'All Years Leaving'

All Years Leaving  (2004,  40.56)  ***/T

I've Waited So Long
All Years Leaving
Outside Your Door
When This River Rolls Over You
It's Only Everything
Always is the Same/Shine on
Here She Comes Again
The Big Parade
The Love You Give
I Need You
Some Weekend Night
The Way She Does

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

The Stands were an unashamedly retro Liverpudlian act, sounding more Byrds than The Byrds, although other '60s influences crop up on 2004's All Years Leaving, not least Dylan on Outside Your Door. About the nearest they get to a modern influence is the legendary La's, with Here She Comes Again bearing more than a passing resemblance to that outfit's heroin anthem There She Goes, sounding more 'authentic' than Lee Mavers ever managed. Maybe they used the right kind of dust. While it's difficult to fault their melodies, song construction etc., the album's far too derivative to excite anyone who's heard their influences, and cheeky nods to The Beatles like The Love You Give only serve to accentuate their unoriginality.

The unknown Mellotronist sticks it on one track, with flutes and cellos on The Big Parade, sounding like they might have been put through a Leslie, though that would appear to be your lot. So; a bit 'heard it all before', I'm afraid, though if you just can't get enough of that jangly 12-string thing, you may go for this anyway.

Vivian Stanshall  (UK)

Vivian Stanshall, 'Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead'

Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead  (1974,  41.44/50.20)  ***/½

Afoju Ti Ole Riran (Dead Eyes)
Truck-Track
Yelp, Bellow, Rasp et Cetera
Prong
Redeye
How the Zebra Got His Spots
Dwarf Succulents
Bout of Sobriety
Prong & Toots Go Steady
Strange Tongues
[CD adds:
Baba Tunde
Lakonga]

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

I sincerely hope there's no-one reading this who isn't at least vaguely familiar with the late, legendary Vivian Stanshall, linchpin of the Bonzo Dog (Doo Dah) Band, one of the most eccentric outfits ever to tread Britain's fair concert stages (not to mention most of the grotty ones). Outside the Bonzos, Viv's best-known for his 'master of ceremonies' role on Tubular Bells and his thoroughly deranged, long-running narrative Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (come on, BBC, let's have an official release for those Rawlinson Peel sessions), but he also produced a handful of offbeat solo albums.

His first such was 1974's Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead (an old joke concerning the British 'roadworks' sign, for those not in the know). Backed chiefly by members of Traffic and Family, it's every bit as eccentric (that word again) as you'd expect, swerving drunkenly from slightly overlong, twisted Afrobeat opener Afoju Ti Ole Riran (Dead Eyes) through the, er, 'unique' blues of Truck-Track, Viv's very personal take on the talking blues, Yelp, Bellow, Rasp Et Cetera, the nominally 'soulful' Redeye, the hilariously obscene reggae of How The Zebra Got His Spots... I think you get the picture. If I'm going to be searingly honest, however, without Stanshall's vocal gyrations, this would be no more than a sub-late-period Traffic album, mainstream '70s rock in all its lack of glory. Thankfully, however, the Ginger Geezer is present and correct throughout, dragging the whole thing up to 'acceptable'.

"There's Mellotron on this?", I hear you cry. Er, sort of. OK, yes, there is. For a few seconds at the end of the album. Because...? Skronky strings, for what it's worth, played by (unknown), quite possibly Steve Winwood. Stanshall fans almost certainly already own this already, but I'm not sure the rest of us need to, although much of it's worth hearing at least once.

Tribute site

See: Bonzo Dog Band

Mavis Staples  (US)

Mavis Staples, 'You Are Not Alone'

You Are Not Alone  (2010,  45.08)  ***/½

Don't Knock
You Are Not Alone
Downward Road
In Christ There is No East or West
Creep Along Moses
Losing You
I Belong to the Band
Last Train
Only the Lord Knows
Wrote a Song for Everyone
We're Gonna Make it
Wonderful Savior
Too Close/On My Way to Heaven

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

I'd have thought that Mavis Staples needed little introduction: the youngest of the four sisters comprising the Staple Singers, along with their father, "Pops" Staples, she's released a dozen or so solo albums in forty-odd years, working with Prince and Ry Cooder, amongst others. 2010's Grammy-winning You Are Not Alone (produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy) is a gospel/Americana collection, perhaps a little blander than you might like (thus the Grammy), better tracks including the title track, Last Train, Wrote A Song For Everyone and raw blues closer Too Close/On My Way To Heaven.

Wilco's Patrick Sansone plays Mellotron on In Christ There Is No East Or West, with what sounds like a high cello part, although it could even be muted brass. Is it real? Along with recent Wilco albums, the jury's out, to be honest. This is a surprisingly bluesy release from a singer noted for her gospel/R&B tendencies that might even appeal to Wilco fans, but I wouldn't even think about it for its Mellotron content.

Official site

See: Wilco

Chris Stapleton  (US)  see: Samples

Star One  (Netherlands)  see: Samples

Starbelly  (US)  see: Samples

Starcastle  (US)

Starcastle, 'Citadel'

Citadel  (1977,  39.15)  ***½/T

Shine on Brightly
Shadows of Song
Can't Think Twice
Wings of White
Evening Wind
Change in Time
Could This Be Love
Why Have They Gone

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Champaign, Illinois outfit Starcastle were one of the handful of US progressives to get a 'proper' deal (Epic in this case), and actually managed to release four albums in their lifetime. Starcastle (****) and Fountains of Light (****) were both good, in a 'complete Yes copyist' kind of way, although by Citadel the cracks were just beginning to show, with more, and shorter tracks, although their overall style hadn't changed that much. Their multi-layered harmonies sound like a cross between Yes and their Champaign colleagues REO Speedwagon, on whose first album singer Terry Luttrell appeared, and the guitars lack Steve Howe's quirky individuality, but other than that, read 'Yes-lite' for a pretty accurate description of their sound.

Keyboard man Herb Schildt is credited specifically with Mellotron here, although there's definitely none to be heard on their first two albums. For that matter, there's not that much here, either, with nowt but a smattering of background choir on Evening Wind, and only a fraction more on Why Have They Gone. So, a good, if not great, album, but don't even bother for the 'Tron.

WARNING! Avoid like the plague Starcastle's fourth 'effort', Real to Reel (**). This is absolutely appalling AOR, with only closing track When The Sun Shines At Midnight being anything less than utterly offensive. File under 'shite'.

Official site

Starflyer 59  (US)

Starflyer 59, 'Old'

Old  (2003,  39.08)  ***/T½

Underneath
Major Awards

Loved Ones
Passengers
Lights on
New Wife, New Life
Old
Kissing Song
Unbelievers
First Heart Attack

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Starflyer 59 get reviewed on Christian music websites, but unlike the other dreck I've seen described as 'Christian music', Old is a perfectly acceptable, if rather unexciting album of indie-flavoured middle-ground rock, although its averageness wears the discerning listener down after a while. The quality of the material varies somewhat, with closer First Heart Attack being a highlight, but there's nothing here that made me want to reach for the 'off' button, which has to be a bonus.

Although Richard Swift is credited with Mellotron, the male voices on opener Underneath sound more like Chamberlin to me, while the strings on Major Awards could be either, although the strings on Passengers are either real or good samples. The title track's flutes are definitely 'Tron, with more of those voices on First Heart Attack, and while other tracks could possibly have some 'Tron input (notably Unbelievers), they're more likely to be synths or samples.

So; a Christian Rock album that treats the music as at least as important as the lyrics. Result! Not a classic, but quite listenable, with a smattering of alleged Mellotron.

Minimalistic official site

See: Richard Swift

Starglow Energy  (Switzerland)

Starglow Energy, 'Gate to Celdan'

Gate to Celdan  (1998,  42.52)  ***½/T½

Dance of the Trolls
Fly Into the Rainbow
Time Traveller
Vengeance
The Rite
Celdan (the World of Colours)
Certain Friends

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

It seems Gate to Celdan is actually Starglow Energy's fifth album, including a live release, which is a fair bit for a band so little known. Going by this album, their sound is a Uriah Heep-ish early-'70s style hard rock with a progressive feel in places; extremely retro, anyway, with plenty of Hammond solos and other period touches, not least the opening minute-long drum solo (!). It's not bad, and sounds authentically 'old', but... Maybe I need to play this some more, but like so many other bands who try to do this style (with the honourable exception of Spiritual Beggars), it doesn't really capture what made Heep et al. so great; maybe it's the songs? Anyway, this is OK, without being particularly outstanding.

According to the Black Rills site, the (borrowed) Mellotron used on Gate to Celdan was the same one used one Kedama's sole album, a good twenty years earlier. It's played here by Luky Bosshardt, although only on the 'side-long' Celdan (The World Of Colours), a partially jammed-out epic, fairly heavy on the strings. Amusingly, the band opted to fill the near-five minute gap before the unlisted Certain Friends with 'end of LP' noise, with the needle clicking in the runout groove. Very good, chaps, especially as the 'needle' goes 'back down' before track 7... Ironically, said bonus track is possibly the best thing here, so I've no idea why they've tried to hide its light under a bushel, especially since its title is clearly easily available (well, I found it).

So; an average-ish retro-style release, with one OK 'Tron track. Good, but not that good. Given the lack of an official website, and no information about subsequent releases, I think it's safe to assume the band have split up, which is a shame, particularly now that their retro approach has entered the mainstream. Bad timing, boys.

Shelby Starner  (US)

Shelby Starner, 'From in the Shadows'

From in the Shadows  (1999,  49.16)  **½/T

Fall
Anyway
Don't Let Them
You
Empty Mind
North Winds Woman
Prisoner

Masquerade
Suspicions
Dripping War
Mindreader
Dreams You Had
Everything

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Shelby Starner was a remarkably mature teenage singer-songwriter, signed to Warner Bros aged fourteen, which may have been the start of her problems. After one, surprisingly dark, rocky album, 1999's From in the Shadows, she ran into the classic 'second album syndrome', dipping out of the business for a while when her mother announced she had breast cancer. Somewhere along the way, Shelby developed bulimia, dying in 2003, aged nineteen. The material on the album is nothing startling, being fairly derivative of Fiona Apple and her ilk, but that still makes it several trillion times better than that of your typical pop starlet, making her untimely death all the more tragic.

Gary Breit plays Chamberlin, with string swells on North Winds Woman and a chordal part on Prisoner, although the strings on You and a couple of other tracks appear to be real. I'm not saying this is a classic - in fact, were Starner still alive, I'd probably dismiss it as a Bonnie Raitt/Stevie Nicks wannabee effort - but given the circumstances, I feel justified in saying that it's far better than I'd expected, although its Chamberlin use is predictably low.

Official site

Starofash  (Norway)  see: Samples

Garrison Starr  (UK)

Garrison Starr, 'Stupid Girl'

Stupid Girl EP  (1995,  34.08)  **½/½

Rebel
Stupid Girl
Molly
Wooden Instrument
Pattycake
Pauper
Voices

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Going by her second release, the EP/mini-album Stupid Girl, Garrison Starr sits firmly in downbeat, Americana-influenced singer-songwriter territory; you know, the kind of stuff where the words are more important than the music. She doesn't help her cause any by her deliberately tuneless vocals, to be honest; yeah, Bob Dylan got (and still gets) away with it, but as many hate him as love him for it, and his songs are vastly better. Like Bahb, Ms. Starr likes to write reams of lyrics, making for six- or even seven-minute songs. Unlike Bahb, whatever she's got to say for herself becomes irrelevant when said songs are as tedious as these, with pretty much no change in pace throughout the disc's half-hour-plus length.

Clay Jones is credited with Mellotron, but it only even vaguely appears on closer Voices, with background cellos under the real violin, plus possibly a few seconds of strings. Some of you may go for this. I know I didn't, but I'm not usually that interested in whatever singer-songwriters go on about, as it's usually fairly self-absorbed and, frankly, boring (top names excepted, before you all start shouting at me). Anyway, next to no Mellotron and particularly dull instrumental interplay throughout. Incidentally, she's recorded a full-length Mellotron album, too, 1997's Eighteen Over Me; review forthcoming when I get to hear it.

Official site


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