Loudon Wainwright III
|7" ( 1969)
You've Never Been to My House
Looking for Shirley: The Pop-Sike World of Cliff Wade (2001, recorded 1969, 58.07) ***½/TTT½
|You've Never Been to My House
I See I am Free
Yes I'm Finding Out
Gonna Meet the Man
Empress of Perisand, Wandering Maid
Casting the First Stone
I Could Have Loved Her
You Should Have Seen Me
Look at Me I've Fallen Into a Teapot
People Get the News
Did You Know
My Little Chicken
Cliff Wade is one of the music industry's peripheral figures, who's nonetheless had a several-decade career writing, recording and producing in the background (Tina Turner was an early recipient, while Pat Benatar's AOR classic Heartbreaker is one of his). He released a single in 1969 on the Morgan Blue Town label, You've Never Been To My House b/w Sister, both tracks groaning with Mellotron, although it sank without trace and he took a backseat in the biz. Thirty-odd years later, those lovely people at Edsel resurrected not just the single, but nearly an hour's-worth of material recorded at the same time, releasing it as Looking for Shirley: The Pop-Sike World of Cliff Wade.
The larger part of its contents consist of the expected 'pop-sike', as it's irritatingly become known in recent years (stand up and take a bow, Record Collector mag, for inventing another retrospective genre; see: freakbeat, sunshine pop), stronger efforts including the Manfred Mann-esque original single, the fabulous Shirley, Sister and Yes I'm Finding Out, although the only track the compilers might have quietly shunted to one side is ridiculous closer My Little Chicken. Other deviations from the main style include the dual acoustic guitars of Empress Of Perisand, Wandering Maid, the proto-hard rock of Casting The First Stone and Did You Know, which opens with a stodgy reinterpretation of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, all of which work in their own ways.
The album starts off giving the impression that it's going to be the most Mellotron-heavy effort of the period (from Wade himself?), although most of it's restricted to the set's early tracks, opener You've Never Been To My House opening with what sounds like a choppy brass part, with more of the same on Shirley, strings on Dagger Lane and I See I Am Free, brass and flutes on Sister (alongside a real flute, by the sound of it), strings on Yes I'm Finding Out, a chordal flute part on Gonna Meet The Man, strings on Fern Meadows and low strings on November, while the rest of the set's strings appear to be real. This is a more satisfying overall listen than, for example, Mark Wirtz' similar A Teenage Opera, albeit less well-known, but given the quality of some of the material and the outrageously heavy Mellotron use on nearly half its tracks, if you have any interest in the period whatsoever, buy.
Distances Between Us (1974, 36.23) ***½/TTDistances Between Us
Music of the Spheres
Instincts (1977, 31.32) ***/TWhere Are We Going?
There's Another Summer Coming
Above the Horizon
Leaving it All Behind
I don't actually know an awful lot about Adrian Wagner, other than he's the great-great-grandson of the better-known Richard and he's a British electronic musician who released three albums in the mid to late '70s, of which Distances Between Us is the first and best. The side-long title track is probably the strongest piece, also featuring the most Mellotron, although the vocals were probably a mistake, in retrospect; it would've made a far better instrumental. Distances Between Us is actually a very ambitious composition, with an effective sound effects sequence in the middle, and interesting use of various modular and semi-modular synths. The only vocal parts on the album that actually work to any real degree are the contributions made by Hawkwind's poet in residence, Robert Calvert, who manages to imbue his parts with a genuine gravitas. It sounds like him towards the end of the title track, and Steppenwolf appears to be the same lyric he later recorded with Hawkwind on their Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music album.
The Mellotron use is basically confined to the first and last few minutes of the title track (strings with a little choir) and album closer Music Of The Spheres, with some epic strings chords, again with choir mixed in. To be honest, this isn't a great album, although some of the synth textures are worth hearing for students of the genre. Top marks to Wagner for attempting something different; I'm just not convinced that it worked.
Wagner took a while to get round to his second album, Instincts, and I have to say, it's rather nearer the electronic music mainstream, with a couple of odd 'South American' tracks in Amazon and Machu Picchu, which I don't personally feel work very well. He's insisted there's a lot of 'Tron on the album, but all I can really hear are some background choirs on There's Another Summer Coming and Leaving It All Behind. There may, or may not be strings on opener Where Are We Going? and a couple of other points during the album, but I really wouldn't care to say either way.
His third album, The Last Inca (***) has a similarly 'mainstream' sound, and don't really grab my attention either, I'm afraid. Incidentally, there are some hilarious misspellings in the equipment list on Distances...; 'Melatron', 'Clavanette', 'VCS 111' and 'APR', anyone? At least they got 'Farfisa' right... Incidentally, Wagner's M400 was sold to someone who sold it on to IQ's Martin Orford, who eventually sold it on to Pendragon and Arena's Clive Nolan. Mellotron trivia? We goddit.
Sort-of official site
Strange Weirdos: Music From & Inspired By the Film Knocked Up (2007, 48.08) ***/½
|Grey in L.A.
You Can't Fail Me Now
So Much to Do
X or Y
|Feel So Good
Doin' the Math
Recovery (2008, 47.56) ***½/½
|Black Uncle Remus
Saw Your Name in the Paper
The Drinking Song
Be Careful There's a Baby in the House
|Needless to Say
Movie Are a Mother to Me
Say That You Love Me
Man Who Couldn't Cry
I don't know why I've always assumed Loudon Wainwright III was Canadian; probably because of his one-time marriage with noted Canuck Kate McGarrigle. Anyway, he isn't; he was born in North Carolina and his famous children (Martha and Rufus) have dual citizenship. He began writing songs in the late '60s, releasing his first, eponymous album in 1970, 2007's Strange Weirdos: Music From & Inspired By the Film Knocked Up being his 18th studio effort. Although it's a soundtrack album, as its publicity states, it stands up in its own right and includes several new songs which seem to be quintessentially Wainwright. Whether or not you think that's a good thing will depend chiefly on whether you like anything else he's done, I suspect. Not blown away by it myself, but maybe you have to get into what he does. Anyway, the ubiquitous Patrick Warren plays Chamberlin, with distant, ghostly flutes on Valley Morning that don't especially add anything to the track; it may be elsewhere on the album, but it's the master of musical camouflage, so who knows?
The following year's Recovery is a more cohesive effort, with songs that, at least to my ears, sound better-crafted. Turns out that's 'cos they're new recordings of songs from his first few albums, thus the title. It's occurred to me (duh) that it's all about the lyrics, as with so many singer-songwriters, Wainwright's schtick being that they're mostly humorous, so if you're not prepared to listen to what he's singing, forget it. Best lyric? Closer Man Who Couldn't Cry, no contest. I know I've heard this recently, and I know I've never heard any Wainwright album containing it, and a quick 'Net search tells me it's on Johnny Cash's first Rick Rubin album, American Recordings, proving that Rubin only picked top-notch material for Cash to tackle. Anyway, Warren's back on Chamby, and while there are several tracks that might have it in the background, the only definite use is an almost discordant string part on Muse Blues, so that's another low T rating for Mr. W, I'm afraid.
So; do you think humour belongs in music? If so, and you can bear his on/off countryisms, you may well goes for Rufus and Martha's dear old dad. OK, Martha wrote a song for him called Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, but she's also collaborated with him. Parents, eh? Dad also wrote a song for Rufus when he was a baby, Rufus Is A Tit Man. Oh no he isn't... Very little Chamberlin on these albums, though, so don't go buying them for that.
Rufus Wainwright (1998, 53.21) ***/½
In My Arms
Rufus 'son of Loudon' Wainwright (not to mention his mother, Kate McGarrigle, his aunt, Anna or his sister, Martha) seems to have single-handedly revived the art of the torch singer, with his uncompromisingly gay approach to his art (the sleeve of his recent Want Two pretty much redefines the term 'camp'). I'll be completely honest here and say that his music does very little for me at all, although the only word I can find to describe his voice is 'gorgeous', despite its being fairly conventionally male. As a result, I'm not even going to attempt to review the music here; plenty of online reviewers have already done a good job of doing so, so I'll leave it up to them.
His debut, 1998's Rufus Wainwright, has considerable orchestral input; in fact, it could be described as 'overblown' - I believe Wainwright himself wasn't that impressed by its OTT production. As a result, it's difficult to work out exactly where Jon Brion's Chamberlin has been used, though it sounds like Chamby flutes on April Fools, and there's some sort of loop at the end of Danny Boy (not that one, thankfully) that could be Chamby, although it could just as easily be a sampler.
See: Samples etc.
The Waiting (1997, 44.54) **½/T
How Do You Do That?
Put the Blame on Me
It is Enough
Hands in the Air
Better Off as Friends
|Heaven is Home
No Time for That
The Waiting are a Christian outfit of the 'more palatable' variety, the breezy pop/rock of their second, eponymous album beating most CCM hands-down, better tracks including Put The Blame On Me and the rocky Number 9. Unfortunately, the album's limited appeal wears thin as it progresses, despite its reasonable length, but I've heard vastly worse in this strange, lyrical subject matter-driven genre.
Mellotron player to the CCM community, Phil Madeira, adds flutes and a string line to closer Beautiful Blood, although the strings on It Is Enough are real, making this somewhat not worth it on the Mellotron front. So; almost-listenable CCM. What will they think of next?
Tom Waits (US) see:
Rick Wakeman (UK) see:
Blitzkrieg (1971, 43.22) ****/TTTLunetic
Mother Universe (1972, 40.32) ***½/TTMother Universe
Dedicated to Mystery Land
Relics of Past
Cosmic Century (1973, 42.45) ***½/TTRory Blanchford
The Marvellous Child
Song of Wire
The Cosmic Couriers Meet South Philly Willy
Stories, Songs & Symphonies (1975, 37.46) ***/TThe Priestess
Stories, Songs & Symphonies
Your Lunar Friends
Sympathy for Bela Bartok
Wallenstein are one of those German progressive bands, along with Grobschnitt and Novalis, who always find themselves lumped in with the 'Krautrock' scene, next to Ash Ra Tempel, Amon Düül 2 et al., while not actually being anything of the sort. They were, in fact, a fairly typical prog band of the era, moving from their more guitar-heavy early material to a more symphonic keyboard-led style later on, before sliding into mediocrity in typical late-'70s fashion.
Blitzkrieg is a very early 'regular' prog album by German standards, although thinking about it, it's actually as much 'post-psych' as anything, with a fairly primitive sound. Keyboard player/main man Jürgen Dollase already knew the direction he was heading in, I suspect, and the end result is intense but tuneful, with some fiery playing from all concerned. Opener Lunetic (they had an American in the band at the time - couldn't he have told them how to spell it?) is probably the album's highlight, but there isn't a bad track to be heard, with reasonable Mellotron flutes and strings on all but the first track.
I believe the venerable elderly lady on the sleeve of Mother Universe was Dollase's grandmother - the rear sleeve shows the back of her head, hair in a bun. The title track opens the album in full-on symphonic style, 'Tron strings to the fore, although the band take a sharp left turn on the rocking Braintrain. The rest of the album veers between the heavier and more symphonic ends of the band's style, with some less obvious 'Tron on Shakespearesque, and an almost inaudible part on Dedicated To Mystery Land. Best track? Definitely Mother Universe itself.
Cosmic Century features a violinist, Joachim Reiser, along with the band's regular guitar/bass/keys/drums lineup. The material is rather more 'mainstream' than before, in a mid-'70s kind of way, of course, with no particular album highlights, although none of the tracks are actually bad. Dollase plays 'Tron on five out of six tracks, but it's fairly minimal, with the choirs and cellos on Song Of Wire being the most overt use. Be warned, though - some tracks feature no more than a few seconds of 'Tron, noticeably The Cosmic Couriers Meet South Philly Willy, which has a few flute notes on the fadeout.
By Stories, Songs & Symphonies, the band were describing themselves as 'The Symphonic Rock Orchestra Wallenstein', a bit of a misnomer, given that they still sounded like prog-ish mid-'70s rock on several tracks. The lengthy Your Lunar Friends is probably the album's best piece (Dollase's vocals aside), although the only Mellotron is some thin-sounding strings on the title track, so, better music than 'Tron, though not that great on either front, really.
So; a classic case of a band getting worse as they went along, to be honest. Blitzkrieg might not be their most 'symphonic' effort, but it's certainly the most energetic, and has the best 'Tron use. For fans of the German Sound, though, all these albums are probably worth the effort, though they did get a bit up themselves on the later ones. Like most of their contemporaries, Wallenstein 'went commercial' in the late '70s; their fifth effort, No More Love (**) is awful, and I'm sure later albums are even worse. Avoid.
See: Jerry Berkers | Cosmic Jokers | Sergius Golowin | Walter Wegmüller | Witthüser & Westrupp
|7" (1998) ***/T
Jakob Dylan's Wallflowers are one of those bands that I've been expecting to turn up here for years, so it comes as a surprise to find that their only credited tape-replay use is over ten years old and I've already inadvertently reviewed it. Their version of Bowie's iconic Heroes was used in 1998's godawful Godzilla remake, a pretty faithful take on the track, with little of the band's usual Americana feel, although the flip, Invisible City, (from their previous album, '96's Bringing Down the Horse) is more typical.
Patrick Warren plays Chamberlin strings on Heroes, with a part that would have worked well on the original track, although its actual Chamby use is different. This is easily available on the film soundtrack, but don't expect anything (other than its Chamby use) too different from the original.
See: Godzilla OST
Wally (1974, 41.30) ***/TThe Martyr
I Just Wanna Be a Cowboy
What to Do
Sunday Walking Lady
To the Urban Man
Your Own Way
Valley Gardens (1975, 40.00) ***/TValley Gardens
The Mood I'm in
The Reason Why
Wally suffered the rather dubious distinction of being championed by The Old Grey Whistle Test's 'Whispering' Bob Harris, these days known best for being a country music DJ (he sneered at the New York Dolls when they appeared on the Whistle Test, so he was hardly going to go for anything too energetic, was he?). In fact, Wally was produced by Harris and Rick Wakeman, which doesn't exactly inspire much confidence. While the band fitted (very) broadly into the 'progressive' category, there was more than a hint of country/rock about them, especially with Paul Middleton's steel guitar; West Coast Prog, anyone? Actually, the album isn't that bad, just rather forgettable, with a regrettable lack of energy. Paul Gerrett plays Mellotron on one track only, the twelve-minute To The Urban Man, with a string part drifting in and out of the song. Pete Sage's electric violin confuses the issue in places, but it's definitely only the one 'Tron track.
Second (and last) album, Valley Gardens, carries on in a similar vein to their debut, including a side-long track, The Reason Why, which was probably the best thing the band recorded. Gerrett was replaced by Nick Glennie-Smith, who gets marginally more 'Tron in this time round, with strings on the title track and the first part of The Reason Why, Nolan, but it's all pretty minor, to be honest. So; so-so albums, minimal 'Tron. Not that exciting, really, although I've heard an awful lot worse. I believe that's called 'damning with faint praise'. Oh well.
Walrus (2013, 33.30) ***½/TTTromsø III
Despite containing several Swedish members (not least Mattias "Änglagård" Olsson), Walrus, a new psych/space rock conglomeration including Matti Bye, identify as Norwegian. I can't describe their brief, eponymous 2013 debut any better than, er, 'psych/space rock', opener Tromsø III covering the 'manic, Hawkwind end of the spectrum' with aplomb, while the more reflective, violin-fuelled Signals (at least until half way through) relaxes back into the psychedelic sofa, (presumably) accidentally sounding quite like early Porcupine Tree in the process. Overall, the album features more of The Quiet Stuff than The Loud Stuff, but I can't imagine anything here is likely to bore those of a more psychonautical nature.
The album opens with Bye's choppy messing about on a Mellotron (strings and cellos, for what it's worth, with MkII 'moving strings' at the end of the track), with boys' choir and screechy strings on Spitsbergen, although I don't think the high, female voices on Signals are tape-generated. Go on, tell me I'm wrong. A fine modern psych album, then, that should also appeal to many progressive fans for its adventurous musical structures, not to mention a reasonable helping of Mellotron.
Official Matti Bye site
See: Matti Bye