Janie White & Son-Light
White Light Riot
Rise Again (197?, 31.13) *½/TTT
|Give Them All
How Great Thou Art
Mary Had a Little Lamb
Brand New Life
Home Where I Belong
Jesus Died for Me
|Let Your Light Shine
You're Something Special
Janie White & Son-Light's undated Rise Again is a typical mid-'70s Christian MOR effort ('thanks', once again, to Mark Medley for this), its contents covering the entire emotional spectrum from A to B. The unbelievably mawkish Mary Had A Little Lamb probably wins the album's uncoveted 'biggest steaming turd' award, against exceedingly stiff competition, notably closer You're Something Special's 'cute' (i.e. tuneless and vomit-inducing) kids' chorus, the Whites' son's solo spot actually making me physically wince. Are there any upsides to this stinking piece of crap? White's contralto voice has more than a little of the Karen Carpenters about it, for better or worse; in fairness (and unlike many of her Christian contemporaries), she can actually sing, shame she chose to waste her talents on something this crass.
Tom Smith plays 'string Melatron' on several tracks, in full-blown 'real strings replacement' mode, notably the high-speed part on opener Give Them All and the upfront ones on the smooth Christian jazz (I shit you not) of Home Where I Belong, the more sedate parts on the other highlighted tracks being the best thing about this sorry effort, knocking Ms White's genuinely excellent voice into second place. Be very thankful you're unlikely to run into a copy of this horror any time soon.
Venusian Summer (1975, 38.56) ***½/½Chicken-Fried Steak
Away Go Troubles Down the Drain
The Venusian Summer Suite
Pt. 1: Sirènes
Pt. 2: Venusian Summer
Prelude to Rainbow Delta
Prince of the Sea
Lenny White shot to prominence at the tender age of twenty, in 1969, after drumming on Miles Davis' seminal Bitches Brew, going on to play with Return to Forever throughout the '70s. It's therefore hardly surprising that his first solo album, 1975's Venusian Summer, is a through-and-through fusion record, although it has its quieter moments, not least the ominous first part of The Venusian Summer Suite, Sirènes. The playing on the rest of the album is probably most accurately described as 'fiery', notably on Mating Drive, featuring some of the most ridiculously athletic bass playing this side of a, well, fusion bassists convention, I suppose, from the outstanding Doug Rauch.
Loads of White's mates play on the album, including no fewer than four different MiniMoog players, plus Onaje Allan Gumbs on Mellotron, amongst other things. Mind you, if you can spot where it might be, you're doing better than me; it might just be providing either strings or flutes in the deep background on Mating Drive, but not so's you'd really notice. Overall then, a superior fusion album, avoiding some of the genre's clichés whilst accentuating others, but in a good way. Maybe you have to be American to play this kind of stuff this well? Don't know, but fusion fans need this album a great deal more than Mellotron ones.
Strange Bedfellow (1993, 37.23) ***/TSnow
Behind the Locked Door
The Way We Were
Coloured Mind Drops
White Heaven were Japanese Quicksilver/Doors referencers, going by their second album (of four), 1993's Strange Bedfellow. The band coalesced out of '80s psychsters Living End, releasing their first album in '91 and refining their sound for the follow-up, which sounds almost exactly like a lost artefact from 1969, tracks like the rocking H.L. and the gentle Behind The Locked Door typifying their acid-drenched approach.
New guitarist Soichiro Nakamura plays a decent chordal Mellotron flute part on closer Mandy Blue, which almost sounds like it's from a different album. I've seen this described as a 'psych classic'; I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it's definitely worth the effort for fans of jammed-out guitar psych. You'll never find a vinyl original and it's apparently 'unlikely' ever to appear on CD (why?), but it's available from download blogs.
Phylactery Factory (2008, 45.54) ***/½Destruction of the Art Deco House
Dreaming of the Plum Trees
Home Town Hooray
Lindberghs & Metal Birds
A Beast Washed Ashore
Napoleon at Waterloo
Hung on a Thin Thread
White Hinterland are clearly the brainchild of Casey Dienel, whose strangely childlike, almost tuneless vocals pervade her first album under that name, 2008's Phylactery Factory. Try to imagine Joanna Newsom reinvented as an ethereal jazz spirit haunting New England (go on, try), and you might be getting close to their sound. I can't say it especially appeals to your esteemed reviewer (in fact, I find her voice highly irritating), but it's been critically lauded and is certainly a work of some intelligence and invention, so what do I know?
Dienel plays Mellotron, amongst other keys, with occasional flutes on Lindberghs & Metal Birds, although that would appear to be your lot. So; if you like the idea of slightly jazzy, downbeat singer-songwriter oddness, you may just go for Phylactery Factory, although I really can't recommend it on the Mellotron front.
Atomism (2007, 46.01) **/T
Out of Sight
In a Shotgun Whirlwind
Our Formative Capital
Forever in the West
White Light Riot play US indie in almost exactly the same way as every other US indie outfit, so while nowhere near as irritating/downright offensive as that terrible 'MOR rock' thing they've got going on over there, nor are they actually at all, you know, exciting. 2007's Atomism is their second album and their sole release (to date) on an actual label, as against self-released. What's it like? It's like US indie, almost entirely devoid of character, without even the benefit of any decent tunes to liven things up a little. I'm succinct, me.
Now ex-guitarist Joe Christenson plays (real?) Mellotron, with a string part towards the end of Transit State and the same on Tourniquet, plus background flutes on Choice Theory, although any other possible parts appear to be something else. This is very dull indeed, so with little Mellotronic input, real or otherwise, I feel honour bound to advise you to go elsewhere.
Style No. 6312 (2000, 39.26) **/T
|Appeals for Insertion
Crashing the Clarion
Call the Kiss
Piss and Vinegar
Crossing the Rubicon
|No Resolution Theory
This is Not a Subsistence Existence
Guts and Black Stuff
Style No. 6312
I couldn't honestly tell you into which tiny sub-sub-subdivision of The Beast Called Rock White Octave fit. Emo? Indie? Post-grunge (whatever that might be)? Going by their first (of two) albums, 2000's Style No. 6312, they seem to be quite upset about something, and while I've no idea what, they go on about it for nearly forty minutes of shouty nonsense, so it must be getting to them fairly badly.
Drummer Robert P. Biggers Jr. plays Chamberlin, although the only thing that seems even slightly likely is the long, long sustained string chord that starts in Guts And Black Stuff, continuing into the title track. But it sustains for ever... This could be a) studio trickery (been there), b) samples or c) real strings. Who knows? Chamberlin's credited, so I'd like to think Chamberlin's present, but in this game, you never can tell... Can't say I recommend the album on any other grounds, either.
White Willow (Norway) see:
White Wing (1975, 38.05) ***½/TTT
Wait Till Tomorrow
The White Ship
A Little Levity
White Wing were precursors to the (marginally) better-known Asia (vastly superior US version), and sound a great deal more 'mid-'70s', for the pretty fair reason that that's when they existed, I suppose. Rather than Asia's full-on frontal assault, White Wing played a rather sort of middling hard rock, with even the heaviest tracks (Patent Leather, A Little Levity) being slightly on the tame side in comparison, which isn't to say they were bad, just a bit generic. Actually, some of White Wing's best tracks are the quieter ones, not least opener Hansa (Cygnus) and its closing reprise, Hansa (Aquila), lush ballads stuffed full of Mellotron strings, making the former a slightly odd first track, though effective nonetheless.
Speaking of which, there's strings on three more tracks, played by guitarist Mike Coates, who reprised his dual role a few years later in Asia. All five of the album's relevant pieces feature it fairly prominently, although the 'Tron never gets quite as in-yer-face as on the first and last tracks. So; now this is readily available (albeit at Jap import prices, and probably unofficially), do you bother? Well, don't expect anything much like Asia, and you won't be too disappointed, although its 'Tron input is pretty reasonable. Good, but not outstanding.
Eternal Nightcap (1997, 63.36) ***/T
Buy Now Pay Later (Charlie No.2)
Love is Everywhere
You Sound Like Louis Burdett
Where's the Enemy
Life's a Beach
|Tangled Up in Blue
Laugh in Their Faces
Up Against the Wall
Band on Every Corner
I'm assured The Whitlams are a pretty cheerful bunch most of the time, but it seems Eternal Nightcap is largely about a friend of their who committed suicide the previous year; several of the tracks are about him, including the three 'Charlie' ones (thanks to Adrian for that info). A few tracks up the ante and the pace, including Love Is Everywhere and Up Against The Wall, but most of the album relies on an almost alt.country laid-back feel, not to mention the waltz-time folk of Band On Every Corner, although the rest of it's nearer the rock/pop mainstream than that.
Mellotron on one track only, Melbourne, with band leader Tim Freedman playing 'Strawberry Fields'-style flutes, mixed with real strings in places, although the 'Tron's well down in the mix. As a result, not a 'Tron album in any way, although Melbourne is worth hearing. Incidentally, this is one of those irritating albums that has several blank minutes before a hidden 'bonus' track, although unlike most similar efforts, this one has snippets of early takes of various tracks, with the guy who died (Stevie Plunder) talking dolefully about why he left the band superimposed over some of it.
From Philly to Tablas (1977, 35.19) ***/TTTT
What Have You Seen
Rain Swollen Highway
Nine Day Sunflower
Oh Boy, I've Won The Contest At Last
As far as anyone knows, Stephen Whynott released just two LPs in the late '70s, 1977's From Philly to Tablas and the following year's Geography. He operated in the rather overwrought end of the folk-rock spectrum, sounding rather out of time in '77, although the US market seemed to support various supposedly 'outdated' styles past their alleged sell-by dates, probably due to the country's size. From Philly to Tablas was the only one to feature the Mellotron, and despite Whynott's emoting, it has its moments, not least its two longest tracks, Go Around and Snows Edge [sic], the former featuring a great solo Hammond part, and the latter some classy echoed Rhodes work, both from Dan Frye.
Frye also played Mellotron on several tracks, with flutes, cellos and strings in opener Retreat Suite, piercingly high strings on Rain Swollen Highway, cellos and strings on Without Us, flutes on Go Around... Seems like this is another unsuspected 'Tron-heavy album (plus real oboe), and is worth picking up for its 'Tronness, should you feel so inclined. I hear that although this has never been issued on CD, it sold surprisingly well at the time, all things considered, and isn't impossible to find for a few bucks. You may not warm to Whynott's dated material, but the Mellotron use here is excellent, so pick it up if you see it at a decent price.
Steve Wiggins (1991, 35.30) **½/T
|Don't Ya Think
Jesus is Real
Dancin' in Sunshine
|Knock it Off
All the Darkness
Steve Wiggins' self-titled 1991 debut is a rootsy Christian pop/rock/soul album. How does that sound to you? Something you'd like to hear? Sample lyric (from Dancin' In Sunshine): "Mom, I just don't understand creation/well I asked the preacher/he just says it's better than evolution..." I rest my case, m'lud. In all fairness, it's not that bad musically, if entirely generic, but Wiggins' lyrics will really divide opinion, his evangelical drivel sitting uneasily next to Motown-esque brass and organ arrangements, turning an average-to-above-average effort into something with which most of us aren't going to feel too comfortable.
Frank Weber plays Mellotron, a flute arrangement opening Dancin' In Sunshine, reiterating throughout, although the Mellotronish strings on the track more than likely aren't. Despite being fêted at the time of its release, Steve Wiggins is brought down by its author's faith, quite certainly turning a potential audience away and relegating him to the Christian ghetto. Dare I say, "Serves him right"?
Titans Wheel (2002, 68.05) **/T½
|Remains to Be Seen
Drive on Driver
Win Your Love
Drinks on the House
|Good Mornington Street
The Lost Lizard King (Ababacab)
To the Other Side
Heaven in a Modern World
That's the Way (Someone Chanted Evening)
Some Several Moons (2005, 60.54) **½/T½
Deep Pop (Before the Only One Comes)
Squaw Valley Non-Event
|Tokyo Joe (One Roll From Paradise)
Banging on the Ceiling
Cacobe Bar Two-Step
I was warned that these two recent Wigwam albums bore little in common with their excellent '70s work and my informant/supplier (hi, Johannes) wasn't wrong. Wigwam, led by Brit ex-pat Jim Pembroke, were a damn' good band in their day, and were one of the few progressive bands from a non-English speaking country to actually achieve some wider recognition. After splitting in the late '70s, they released Light Ages in 1993, then nothing until 2002's Titans Wheel [sic]. I'm afraid there's only one way to describe this album, particularly when you consider how good some of their original albums were: pseudo-commercial dreck. This is a very mainstream record indeed, although it's dated for when it appeared; maybe you can get away with this sort of thing in Finland? It would be generous to describe most of the songs as poor AOR with a blues influence; I certainly can't imagine the international audience taking this to their hearts, to be honest. As if another fault was needed, the album is overlong, with several tracks dragging on for two or three minutes longer than necessary, all assuming you considered them necessary in the first place. The most embarrassing part of an already poor album is Pembroke's jokey ending, where he merely sounds like a man out of time, referencing Sinatra and other singers from the era. Grim.
Finland's Mellotron player to the stars, Esa Kotilainen, adds 'Tron to a handful of tracks here. There's strings and 'Strawberry Fields' flutes on Remains To Be Seen, with more of the same on the title track and a neat descending/ascending string line on closer That's The Way (Someone Chanted Evening), although that's the only good thing about it, plus faint choir/strings/flute on Bitesize. It sounds like it could be Mellotron on one or two other tracks, but the uncredited flutes sound real, and the strings don't quite have that strained quality about them (is the quality of Mellotrons not strain'd? Sorry).
The reconstituted band followed up three years on with Some Several Moons, which manages to be better than its predecessor, although I wouldn't take that as any sort of recommendation. The horrible AORisms are largely absent, replaced by a more 'down home' feel on several tracks, which, while rather uninteresting, isn't actually offensive. The mostly-spoken Squaw Valley Non-Event is about the best track, showcasing Pekka Rechardt's guitar work nicely, but this isn't an album to which I can see myself returning very often. OK, ever. Kotilainen gets his 'Tron in again, with more of those 'Strawberry Fields' flutes in the background on Chord Squad, and a more straightforward part on Bow Lane, although the album's best 'Tron work is the layered flutes on Squaw Valley Non-Event (also featuring cellos). Background strings on Tokyo Joe (One Roll From Paradise), exceedingly faint flutes on Cloudy Dream, and that's yer lot.
So; some of Wigwam's '70s work is very fine indeed, but neither of these albums is worth your time or money, sadly. Maybe their Finnish fanbase will buy anything with their name on the cover, but these records absolutely do not cut the mustard internationally. Some OK 'Tron work, but overall, avoid.
See: Esa Kotilainen
Summer Teeth (1999, 53.09) ***/TT½
|Can't Stand it
She's a Jar
A Shot in the Arm
We're Just Friends
I'm Always in Love
How to Fight Loneliness
When You Wake Up Feeling Old
In a Future Age
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002, 51.56) ***/T
|I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
War on War
Ashes of American Flags
Heavy Metal Drummer
|I'm the Man Who Loves You
Pot Kettle Black
Sky Blue Sky (2007, 51.26) ***/T
You Are My Face
Sky Blue Sky
Side With the Seeds
Shake it Off
Please Be Patient With Me
Hate it Here
|Leave Me (Like You Found Me)
On and on and on
Wilco (the Album) (2009, 42.46) ***½/T½
|Wilco (the Song)
Bull Black Nova
You and I
You Never Know
The Whole Love (2011, 56.23/75.07) ***/T
|Art of Almost
Dawned on Me
Rising Red Lung
One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)
Star Wars (2015, 33.52) ***/½
Random Name Generator
The Joke Explained
Taste the Ceiling
Where Do I Begin
King of You
Summer Teeth, as in 'some are teeth... and some aren't'. Boom boom. Wilco's third album continued the vaguely 'alt.country' feel of their first two, but with added Mellotron on a few tracks. Can't Stand It has some nice strings under the chorus from Jay Bennett, and both She's A Jar and ELT feature some decent pitch-bend work; no samples here... Like several other similar things I've heard, the Mellotron tracks tend to be the best on the record (biased? moi?!), and I found the rest of the album a little overrated. By the way, I've been (humorously) berated for not giving this a rave review, so I gave it another shot and have decided I may've been a little unfair. It doesn't really ring my bell, but Sparklehorse et al. fans may well be into this. Not great, but certainly not bad.
They belatedly followed it with 2002's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, after lineup upheavals that had founder member Bennett moving on. Far more downbeat than its predecessor, it's a good album, but one I suspect the listener will have to work at, as it's far from readily accessible, but since when was that a bad thing? Obvious 'Tron on two tracks, presumably from Bennett, despite his general lack of involvement in the recording process, with an upfront strings part on Pot Kettle Black, and some muted cellos on lengthy closer Reservations. It took the band another five years to come up with another tape-replay album, 2007's Sky Blue Sky. It's roughly comparable to their earlier work, although the alt.country quotient may be down slightly. Pat Sansone plays Chamberlin and Mellotron, with inaudible Chamby something on the title track, Mellotron strings on Side With The Seeds, and some other inaudible things on Hate It Here and Leave Me (Like You Found Me), making all of one audible tape-replay track. Hmmm.
2009's Wilco (the Album) is definitely a Wilco album, but maybe slightly better. Why? Difficult to define, but the songs just seem to grab me a little more, along with nice touches like the amusing George Harrison pedal steel quote from My Sweet Lord on You Never Know. No-one's credited with anything, as such, but that's probably Mellotron (as against a Chamberlin, that is) flutes on One Wing and a nice string part on Everlasting Everything. 2011's The Whole Love is yet another inconsistent Wilco album, highlights (I Might, Black Moon, twelve-minute closer One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)) mildly scuppered by a raft of Wilco-by-numbers material that could/should have been pruned to improve the overall health of the album. Seemingly two Mellotron tracks, from Sansone again, with a string swell on Art Of Almost that pretty much opens the album and background strings on Open Mind, although it could well be present on anything up to three or four other tracks. For that matter, is it even real? Hard to tell, frankly.
Four years on, 2015's Star Wars is a serious conundrum of an album, from its bizarre, kitsch sleeve to its fanboy-baiting title, which is deliberately obtuse, in case you were wondering. Opening with angular instrumental EKG, other notable tracks include the propulsive, jammed-out You Satellite and the murky, fuzzy Pickled Ginger, while King Of You could be seen as a microcosm of the album as a whole. However, closer Magnetized is probably the closest we get to a 'typical' Wilco number, alt.country credentials present and correct. Scott McCaughey supposedly plays Mellotron on Taste The Ceiling, although it's completely inaudible, which leaves us with the distant strings on Magnetized, played by...? Pat Sansone?
So; six good albums in their field, though they're not going to be to everyone's tastes, with the first the better Mellotronic prospect. Incidentally, there's also 'Tron on one track of the band's second Billy Bragg collaboration, Mermaid Avenue Vol.II, though it's really not worth writing home about.
See: Jay Bennett & Edward Burch | Tweedy | Golden Smog | Billy Bragg & Wilco
This Can't Be Life (1996, 45.40) **½/½
Wake Up Sad
The Wild Colonials formed after Angela McCluskey moved to California from her native Scotland and teamed up with a group of like-minded musicians. Their schtick is faux-Irish roots-rock, although I don't believe there's a genuine Irishman/woman amongst their number. 1996's This Can't Be Life is their second album, filled with rather ordinary songs with an Irish feel to them, which is either going to make you say, "Hell, yeah!" (or similar) or... it isn't.
Jon Brion plays Chamberlin, although not so's you'd notice. Is that background flute on Coy? If it is, it's the nearest this dullsville album gets to any tape-replay content. I don't think I need to elaborate.
See: Angela McCluskey