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C'mon Tigre  (Italy)

C'mon Tigre  (2014,  57.32)  ***

C'mon Tigre are an anonymous duo from Bologna, whose eponymous 2014 debut combines a whole host of genres into a relatively original whole, not least various types of jazz, soul, funk, experimental... One of the most notable things about the album is its unusual use of brass, many tracks featuring mournful flugelhorn and/or euphonium parts, heavily (and refreshingly) out of kilter with the soul/jazz mainstream. Best tracks? Maybe sparse opener Rabat, the Hammond-heavy December and Life As A Preened Tuxedo Jacket, complete with some raucous guitar work. Ahmad Oumar is credited with 'drum machine and Mellotron' on six tracks, but, while the beatbox is fairly obvious, there's absolutely no sign of anything Mellotronic. Since it seems unlikely that he'd bother dragging a real machine in, only for it not to be used, samples (even inaudible ones) seem the obvious option. A surprisingly original release, then, though not one that's likely to get that many of you excited, I'd imagine.

Tom Cochrane  (Canada)

X-Ray Sierra  (1999,  49.10)  **½

Tom Cochrane is better known as Canadian stars Red Rider's mainman; going solo in the early '90s, he's now reunited with two of the band's other founding members. His fifth solo album (including one pre-Red Rider release), 1999's X-Ray Sierra (presumably the phonetic alphabet code for XS/excess), is a rootsy AOR effort of the kind that sounds best coming from your car radio as you drive across the prairie, although it all falls a bit flat on a rainy afternoon in Britain (OK, it didn't rain today, but you know what I mean). Best track? Probably closer Northern Frontier, although it would've been improved by the removal of the almost random percussion slathered all over it. Cochrane is credited with Mellotron, but going by the strings on opener I Wonder, er, I wonder, frankly. In fact, I wonder to the point where I've dumped this into 'samples'. One for fans of radio rock, then, but the rest of us really should avoid.

Cocoon  (France)

My Friends All Died in a Plane Crash  (2007,  37.02)  ***

French duo Cocoon play a melancholy kind of English-language folk/pop; even the more upbeat songs on their debut album, 2007's My Friends All Died in a Plane Crash (miserablists? Us?) have an, er, downbeat side to them, despite the cutesy sleeve. It's a perfectly respectable album of its type, but you'll probably have to be into that Gallic thing to gain an awful lot from it. Despite a Mellotron credit, the strings on Cliffhanger and (especially) flutes on Chupee are quite clearly sampled, if not merely synth approximations of the sounds. Very poor, at least on that front. So; listenable enough, but a rather large excitement gap, though to be fair, that's really not where Cocoon are coming from.

Code of Ethics  (US)

Soulbait  (1996,  40.07)  **

Code of Ethics apparently started as a more techno-based proposition than we hear on '96's Soulbait, best described as pop/rock with an electronica edge (spot the Star Trek computer sample in the punky Brightside). They're apparently Christians, but les overtly than many, although that could say a lot about how little I listen to lyrics, I suppose. It's all pretty tedious stuff, to be honest, chuntering along to no particular purpose, switching between bright'n'breezy pop (Good Things) and darker material (most of the rest), seemingly designed to appeal solely to mildly disaffected (Christian) Young People, most of whom have probably grown out of it by now. Well, let's hope, anyway. 'Mellotron' from Tedd T (no, really) on Echo, with a 'yeah, whatever' cello part that could, frankly, have been played on almost anything that sounds slightly like a cello. All in all, then, a waste of time and plastic, unless you were a certain age in the mid-'90s, in which case this may well still be your favourite album, proof that you need to listen to more music. Oh, and the sleeve's shit, too.

Códice  (Mexico)

Alba y Ocaso  (1999,  114.16)  ***

Guitarist Marco Corona moved from LA to Monterrey in Mexico during the '90s, recruiting a group of classically-trained musicians to record Códice's lone album, 1999's double-disc Alba y Ocaso. A fair proportion of the set falls into the typical 'symphonic' category, highlights including Página Del Pasado, beautiful instrumental interlude El Relato Del Bardo, Vorágine and Corriente Abajo, amongst others. Unfortunately, the album also features elements of sub-Spock's Beard-ish 'modern prog' and full-on '80s neo-, the worst example being El Eco De Tu Voz. Other stylistic quirks include the sequencer-driven synth work on Labyrinths - A Log Of Dreams, more modern EM than prog, Into The Machine is clearly heavily influenced by ELP, while parts (but only parts) of A New Millennium have an almost Focus vibe about them. Either Corona or Mario Mendoza plays the occasional sampled Mellotron, with distinct string parts on Página Del Pasado and Corriente Abajo and possibly less obvious ones elsewhere. It's difficult to wholeheartedly recommend an album this long, as its near-two hour length fails to hold the average listener's attention; 'symph fatigue', possibly. It has excellent moments, not least its several brief interludes, but so much music (and not all of it good) in one hit is far too much of a passably good thing.

Adam Cohen  (Canada)

Adam Cohen  (1998,  50.38)  **

I've seen Adam 'son of Leonard' and ex-Mommyhead Cohen's debut, eponymous album described as 'adult contemporary'. Now, if the thought of that makes your blood run cold, you're absolutely right; I'm afraid to say that this is one of the dreariest set of songs it's been my misfortune to hear in a while, no matter who his dad is. Admittedly, there are some decent lyrics hidden away here and there, but the appallingly 'contemporary' production sheen (now, of course, sounding horrendously out of date) is physically painful to listen to, with absolutely none of his dad's OTT melancholy, not to mention sense of humour. Samplotron on two tracks from Steve Lindsey, with regular strings on opener Tell Me Everything and phased ones on Cry Ophelia, but we're not exactly talking essential listening here.

Leonard Cohen  (Canada)

You Want it Darker  (2016,  36.09)  ****

Len's Last Laugh? 2016's You Want it Darker is Leonard Cohen's last album, his parts recorded at home, then e-mailed to his musicians. Cohen barely sings throughout the album's length (then again, did he ever?), intoning most of his highly personal lyrics in his usual style. Leonard Cohen really did do the best Leonard Cohen ever, didn't he? Difficult to pinpoint 'best tracks'; the album works best as a whole, although its bookends (the title track and String Reprise/Treaty) are possibly the greatest moments on this posthumous release. The album's last line? "I wish there was a treaty/between your love and mine". Back to the prosaic Land Of Mellotron, Zac Rae plays it on two tracks, although the evidence that he's gone over to the dark(er) side (samples, duh) is growing hourly. Anyway, we get background strings on Leaving The Table and near-inaudible flutes on Traveling Light, but, if even if they're real, they're an irrelevance in the context of a great artist's final work.

Cold Specks  (UK)

I Predict a Graceful Expulsion  (2012,  37.02)  ***

Cold Specks is Canadian-born ex-pat Ladan Hussein's stage name (previously Al Spx), named for a line in Joyce's Ulysses, proving her intellectual credentials, I think. Her debut album has been described as 'doom-soul', applying a downbeat approach to soul tropes, the end result coming across as a gloomy (in a good way) singer-songwriter effort. Ben Christophers supposedly plays Mellotron on When The City Lights Dim. What, the obviously real brass? I think not.

Marta Collica  (Italy)

Pretty & Unsafe  (2007,  33.01)  ***

Marta Collica isn't signed to 4AD, but you feel she should be; her work with John Parish (Eels/P.J. Harvey) partly explains her sound. Her debut album, 2007's Pretty & Unsafe, is a haunted, folk-inspired singer-songwriter effort, several tracks consisting of no more than Collica's voice and piano and/or Parish's guitar; trying to pick out 'best tracks' is slightly futile, as they're pretty much all on a level. Hugo Race and Parish are both credited with Mellotron, with Race adding a string part to He's Tellin' Me All that doesn't actually sound particularly Mellotronic, while Parish is credited on the seemingly Mellotron-free F.R.I.E.N.D.S., although there's no mention of the strings on the title track. Samples, says I.

Judy Collins  (US)

Sings Lennon & McCartney  (2007,  34.50)  ***

Like a handful of her folk scene contemporaries, Judy Collins is fully deserving of the epithet 'legend in her own lifetime'; singer, musician, songwriter, activist, survivor of several traumatic episodes, not least the tragic suicide of her only son, she remains musically active in her early seventies. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she's never had a purple patch, either, still producing albums every three years or so and still writing. Having previously covered Beatles songs (notably her 1966 take on In My Life), 2007's Sings Lennon & McCartney makes a kind of sense. Collins tackles the material with a certain reverence, rarely straying too far from the original arrangements, although she cheekily changes the last chorus of When I'm Sixty-Four to, "...when I'm eighty-four", in acknowledgement of having already passed that milestone (as, indeed, has its slightly younger author). Not sure about the children's chorus on Hey Jude, mind, but there you go... Christian Lohr plays samplotron, with background strings on Golden Slumbers, although all other strings appear to be real.

Paul Colman  (Australia)

Let it Go  (2005,  45.58)  *½

Paul Colman is ex-vocalist with crummy Aussies-turned-Yanks Christians The Newsboys, so it comes as no surprise to discover that 2005's Let it Go is a shockingly limp effort. It opens with the horrible Gloria, a particularly bad take on U2's schtick, appropriately enough, given that they wrote a (vastly superior) song of the same name. Nothing Without You is the least offensive thing here, but that isn't saying much when it's put up against CCM horrors like The One Thing, I'm Coming Home or I Owe It All. Jeff Roach plays samplotron flutes on Symphony Of The Redeemed, which isn't to be taken as any kind of recommendation. Bloody rubbish.

Colorama  (UK)

Llyfr Lliwio/Colouring Book  (2011,  22.09)  ***

It might say 'UK' above, but Colorama are Welsh, singing in their own language (a million native speakers, in case anyone's in doubt) on most of Llyfr Lliwio/Colouring Book, shifting between folk, indie and occasional electronica, the emphasis thankfully on the 'folk' bit. Highlights? Opener Lisa Lan and the floaty Eleri, probably. Carwyn Ellis is credited with 'Melotron', which must be referring to the fairly obviously sampled strings and flutes on the title track.

Colored Mushroom & the Medicine Rocks  (US)

The Gold Manor Eclipse  (2014,  28.51)  ***

I didn't expect Colored Mushroom & the Medicine Rocks to be an EM outfit - they're usually called things like Ursa Minor or Horsehead Nebula - but, aside from a mildly contemporary approach, there's little to distinguish this lot from your common-or-garden Berlin School bunch. Saying that, they do it well on The Gold Manor Eclipse and, crucially, keep it short. John Elliott plays 'Mellotron' strings on Bleak Vista and Gold Manor Hotline, with a solo 'oh what a giveaway' part on Losing Time Never Ends.

The Colors We Knew  (US)

Smooth Plebeian  (2015,  16.58)  **½

The Colors We Knew seem near-indistinguishable from a Christopher Haas solo project; he sings and plays everything except the drums on their 2015 EP, Smooth Plebeian. Hard to know how to describe this: alt.rock? It's kind of alt., kind of indie, not effervescent enough to be powerpop... Not especially interesting or memorable, to be perfectly honest. Haas credits himself with Mellotron on two tracks, but the high strings on The Only Way Is Down and lower ones on It's Awfully Sunny For A Rainy Day are far too smooth for their own good.

Colour Haze  (Germany)

All  (2008,  65.13)  ***½
She Said  (2012,  81.43)  ***½

Colour Haze are a stoner/psych trio from Munich, whose seventh album, 2008's All, while grungy in places, is a long way from their Sabbath-emulating origins. Admittedly, several tracks sound like Sabbath if they'd taken different drugs, but the album's best tracks are probably the centrepiece title track, a near-quarter hour psych monster, all sitars and swirling, Doors-esque guitar lines and Fall, similar, but with the murky guitar tone of the album's heavier tracks. Keys man Christian Hawellek is credited with Mellotron on four tracks, but there's nothing obvious on Lights, If or All and when a choir part appears near the end of Fall, it becomes obvious that samples (or indeed, generic modern synth sounds) are being employed. Hawellek's Hammond B3 is specifically credited, down to where it was recorded, but given that the rarer Mellotron isn't, I think we can safely assume that it's fake.

Their tenth album, 2012's She Said, justifies, just for once, its considerable length, as the band let rip on no fewer than four out of eight tracks (sometimes well) over ten minutes. The bulk of the album is exactly the kind of downtuned, Sabbath-esque riffage you'd expect, although the brass riffing towards the end of the epic Transformation is something you don't hear too often in this genre, while Grace steps right out on a limb, starting as a lengthy downtuned 12" string/electric guitar/string quartet piece, before slipping into a familiar groove, ending as it began. Although Roman Bichler's credited with Mellotron, the background flutes on Stand In..., er, aren't, I'm afraid. Still, they're hardly one of the album's premier features, to the point of near-irrelevance and should have no bearing on your potential purchasing decision.

Shawn Colvin  (US)

A Few Small Repairs  (1996,  54.39)  ***

Shawn Colvin's a bit of a late starter, not releasing her first album until she was in her thirties, turning forty when she finally broke through with 1996's 'divorce album' A Few Small Repairs. It's pretty much as you'd expect from a big-selling mid-'90s female singer-songwriter effort, to be honest; good at what it does, but you've really got to be into this stuff to get much from it. She may be influenced by Joni Mitchell, but that's where the resemblance ends. I suppose I should listen to the lyrics more closely, but when the music's perfectly pleasant but unengaging, I sort of lose interest... Guest woodwind player Rick DePofi plays samplotron, though not a lot, with only a faint flute line on You And The Mona Lisa being at all apparent.

Pascal Comelade  (France)

El Pianista del Antifaz  (2013,  42.16)  **½

How to classify El Pianista del Antifaz? Crazed circus music? Warped jazz? The Death Of Cabaret? A very strange album, intriguing for a few tracks, but tiresome over even a forty-minute haul. Comelade supposedly plays Mellotron on Portrait De L'Artiste Avec Des Lunettes Pour Voir Les Femmes À Poil. Er...

Company of Thieves  (US)

Running From a Gamble  (2011,  51.10)  *½

On their second album, 2011's Running From a Gamble, Chicago's Company of Thieves play a particularly irritating form of indie/soul crossover that is every bit as bad as it sounds. Despite being such a new band, they've had their material used on various mainstream US TV shows, which says more about them than I ever could. Gorgeous/Grotesque is probably its least bad track, if only due to its unusual (for them) energy levels, but the bulk of the overlong album's completely horrible. Mike Maimone is credited with Mellotron, but the exceedingly background strings part at the end of Look Both Ways and the flutes on Gorgeous/Grotesque aren't kidding anyone, frankly. What's more, despite its occasional forays into sub-crescendo rock (not exactly a groundbreaking genre itself, these days), this is pretty awful. Avoid.

Conjure One  (Canada)

Conjure One  (2002,  54.50)  ***

Conjure One are an off/on so-called 'electronic' project from Rhys Fulber, better known for his membership of both Front Line Assembly and Delerium. I suppose their 2002 debut, Conjure One, is loosely 'electronic', in that it's based around programmed beats and the like; actually, it seems to be a straight mix of Fulber's other two bands, with the electronica from FLA and Delerium's 'world' stuff combining in a commercially potent brew. The Arabic-esque vocals from various mostly female guest vocalists (Sinéad O'Connor, Mel Garside, whom I used to know slightly, for my sins, even The Tea Party's Jeff Martin) work pretty well, I'll admit, but the album loses me when the rhythms kick in. Rick Nowels (Melanie C, Dido, Ronan Keating) allegedly plays Chamberlin on Tears From The Moon, but given that the track also contains other keyboards and a violin, it's pretty hard to tell what it's doing; presumably the string pad in the background. If I hadn't known, I'd have said it was the blocky-sounding strings on Pandora, so what do I know? Fairly certainly sampled, either way.

Consorzio Acqua Potabile  [a.k.a. CAP]  (Italy)

Il Bianco Regno di Dooah  (2003,  68.00)  ****

Around the time I started this site, at the fag end of the last century (OK, let's make it sound even longer ago than it already is), I noted that CAP, or Consorzio Acqua Potabile, were reported to be using a Mellotron on their new album. I was never able to trace a 1999/2000 release, so I rather gave up on the whole business, until, that is, hearing their last album to date, 2003's Il Bianco Regno di Dooah. OK, so it was delayed a bit. But first, a quick bit of history: reports vary, but CAP formed some time in the '70s, possibly as early as '71, but never managed to get an album out. Given how many obscure Italian bands did, that was actually some feat, it seems. Anyway, a reformed CAP appeared in the early '90s, alongside re-recorded versions of some of their old material, '92's Nei Gorghi del Tempo and a genuine archive release the following year, Sala Borsa Live '77. Robin delle Stelle followed in '98, then the album in question after another five years. At this rate, the next one will be due in 2008, though I wouldn't hold your breath.

So, "What's it like?", I hear you cry. Well, they seem to have a proper understanding of Italian prog as it was, as against the horrible, dumbed-down neo- rubbish that most Italian 'progressive' bands were spewing out in the early '90s. Given the band's age, this could be seen as unsurprising, but it didn't work for Il Balletto di Bronzo's reformation, to name but one. I've seen one real pasting for this album, which completely ignored the sense of excitement the band can conjure up at their best, not to mention their feel for their country's illustrious progressive past. About the only real criticism I can level at them is their relative (note: only relative) lack of originality; Ginevra: Regina Senza Regno manages to cop bits of Spock's Beard, Rush and Kansas all in the same song, although I can't say I noticed any other howling rip-offs.

It's hard to tell just how genuine the vintage-sounding keyboards here are, although everything sounds fairly authentic (isn't that a Roland JX-3P in Il Regno?). There's a MiniMoog pictured in the booklet, but as for the Hammond and Mellotron, who knows? No specific credits, but both Romolo Bollea and Maurizio Venegoni play keys. I've actually shifted this from the regular reviews, due to a growing sense of doubt (you can tell I've got too much time on my hands, can't you?) that it's genuine, but what we get is 'Mellotron' on nearly every track (Luna Impigliata Tra I Rami is an acoustic guitar piece), with almost nothing but choirs for the first few, in true '80s prog style; ironic, given that that's the one decade of the last four in which the band haven't recorded... Just when you thought they weren't going to use the strings, however, in they come on La Danza, and are then used on and off throughout the rest of the record. It sounds like real flute (from Silvia Carpo) on Intro, but the last seconds of the 22-minute Il Regno definitely have the 'Mellotronic' version, and it may crop up elsewhere, too.

All in all, this is a fine album from a band whose name rarely seems to crop up when good modern prog is mentioned; it may not be the most original work ever, but it beats the crap out of most of the competition. Decent samplotron work, too, although its authenticity is in serious doubt. Assuming you can find this, buy. Incidentally, CAP also crop up on Mellow Records' Harbour of Joy Camel tribute, with what sounds like sampled Mellotron.

Eric Contractor  (US)

Night Escape  (2011,  48.32)  ***

New Jerseyite Eric Contractor (real name?) exists in a kind of art-pop singer-songwriter area, baritone vocals to the fore, so fans of rock'n'roll 'authenticity' should consider themselves duly warned. Dan McLoughlin makes quite sure his Mellotron string samples on Kiss Up All The Rain are clearly identifiable by utilising the most hideous, artificial pitchbends possible. No, I don't know why, either.

Control Machete  (Mexico)

Artilleria Pesada, Presenta  (1999,  58.39)  **½

Control Machete play growly Spanish-language hip-hop, which is probably all you need to know about 1999's Artilleria Pesada, Presenta. Someone who knows a little more about this stuff than me tells me it's wholly unoriginal, although I think I'd already guessed that. There is a little sonic variety on offer, with Danzón having a very distinct Latin flavour about it, but the bulk of it's yer usual generic stuff, albeit in Spanish. A gentleman naming himself 'Toy' is credited with Mellotron, but all I can hear is a repeating string part on Esperanza that sounds most sampled, although, as so often, I could be mistaken.

Hollie Cook  (UK)

Prince Fatty Presents Hollie Cook in Dub  (2012,  31.59)  ***

Hollie 'daughter of Sex Pistol Paul' Cook's dub remix of her eponymous 2011 debut is a very acceptable release of its type, possibly at its best on Walking In The Sand. Despite no fewer than three credited Mellotron players (Barthélémy Corbelet, Max Gilkes and Omar Lye-Fook) there's not a note of it, even sampled, to be heard.

Kristy Lee Cook  (US)

Why Wait  (2008,  35.52)  *½

Kristy Lee Cook released her first album in 2005, although she's best-known for her participation in the 2007 American Idol (why is it that every other country calls it 'Pop Idol', yet America has to get all patriotic on our arses? Again?). She scraped her way through to the top seven, apparently (isn't Wikipedia useful?) before being booted out, despite this notorious horse-lover (so to speak) famously having sold her favourite nag to raise the funds to compete. 2008's Why Wait (a statement? A question?) is exactly the kind of drivelly, half-arsed country nonsense you'd expect from someone with Kristy's obvious lust for fame; faceless, ultra-commercial crud designed solely to sell as many copies as possible, although, amusingly, it only managed sales of 30,000-odd, which for someone with as (fleetingly) high a public profile as hers is pretty dismal. It's difficult to comment on most of its contents, as they glide by on a sheen of glossy production, making little impact on the way (thankfully), although crass opener 15 Minutes Of Shame (surely a resumé of Kristy's career?) is notably horrible, while the shamelessly, fatuously jingoistic flag-waving of God Bless The USA (why?) causes bile to rise in anyone not in thrall to the US cult of patriotism. The nearest this gets to a 'high point' is the mildly witty lyrics on I Think Too Much, but it's too little, too late. Randy Cantor (Alejandra Guzmán, Psycho Realm) supposedly plays Mellotron, with what I take to be strings on God Bless The USA, although they don't really sound that Mellotronic, frankly. This is drivel; playing it may well be injurious to your health. Consider yourself warned.

Copeland  (US)

Beneath Medicine Tree  (2003,  44.16)  *½

Florida's Copeland specialise in the kind of wet-as-water, overwrought indie that a certain type of 'sensitive' teenager might find emotionally gratifying, assuming they had the sensitivity of a bog-brush. A cynical forty-something reviewer who feels that he's probably been there and done that finds them emotionally empty, in the manner of someone bereft of any natural emotion who has had to learn their responses by rote. Although 'some members of the band are Christians', the group fervently deny they are a 'ministry band' (as against a band who sound like Ministry, presumably), but they could easily be mistaken for one, merely on the all-round limpness of the music on offer (I use the term loosely). Their debut, 2003's Beneath Medicine Tree is, generally speaking, awful, with no obvious plus points apart from its limited 'Mellotron' use from frontman Aaron Marsh, with flutes on California. All in all, then, a pretty horrible album, although its follow-up, 2005's In Motion, despite starting in a slightly more promising way, is possibly even nastier; although I've read that it also 'features' Marsh on 'Mellotron', it doesn't appear to, meaning the time spent listening to it was completely, rather than almost completely wasted.

The Coral  (UK)

Butterfly House  (2010,  41.34)  **½

The Coral are a successful psychedelic indie outfit from the Wirral, across the Mersey from Liverpool. 2010's Butterfly House is their fifth full-length release in eight years, a harmless, yet curiously unengaging album, full of muted '60s references, unfortunately filtered through a modern indie sensibility. Six-minute closer North Parade is probably the best thing here, but it's all a bit anodyne, if truth be told. Someone (there are no obvious instrumental credits) plays Mellotron string samples on Walking In The Winter, although the strings on the title track are probably real. Are you going to buy this to hear one track of samplotron? Thought not.

Finn Coren  (Norway)

Lovecloud  (1999,  58.50)  ***

Finn Coren's 1999 release, Lovecloud, is a distinct improvement on its immediate predecessor The Blake Project: Spring, losing many of its cheesy 'contemporary' touches, better tracks including atmospheric opener In The Trenches, the string-led The Countess Cathleen In Paradise, the gloomy Dwarfman and closer Grow Old With Me, although the vocals are still a sticking-point. Coren plays alleged Mellotron on a large chunk of the album, with flutes and cellos on In The Trenches, an upfront flute part opening Tears Of Joy, upfront flutes and strings (plus real ones) on The Smile, more background flutes on Poison Girl, rather screechy strings on Shake Up The World and Jon-Willy Rydningen's (too?) deep flutes opening Dwarfman. Those flutes and an artificially-extended string note on Tears Of Joy, amongst other parts, consign this to the sample dungeon.

Chris Cornell  (US)

Carry on  (2007,  54.55)  ***

Carry on was Chris Cornell's (R.I.P.) second solo alum, post-Audioslave and pre-Soundgarden reformation, sounding pretty much as you'd expect: grunge, but with better-than-average riffs, possibly at its best on opener No Such Thing and Your Soul Today. Obviously sampled Mellotron flutes on Silence The Voices, for what it's worth.

Zacardi Cortez  (US)

REloaded  (2014,  63.30)  *½

Zacardi Cortez is described as a 'gospel [and] Christian R&B artist' on Wikipedia, which sounds about right, going by his second album, 2014's REloaded. In many ways, it sounds like a weird '80s throwback, from the screaming, yet neutered guitar on More Of You and For Me, the dated slap bass that turns up on a couple of tracks and some of the synth sounds. Is there a 'best track'? Possibly the soul/blues of He Brought Me, despite its god-bothering lyrical stance, but that really shouldn't be taken as any kind of a recommendation. Bobby Sparks is credited with Mellotron. Where? The strings on He Laid His Hands On Me? Sorry, really not hearing it, so this is consigned to 'samples' until or if I should find otherwise (most unlikely, frankly). Believe me, if your taste is even remotely akin to mine, you don't want to hear this, anyway.

La Coscienza di Zeno  (Italy)

Sensitività  (2013,  55.17)  ****
La Notte Anche di Giorno  (2015,  44.09)  ****

Named for Italo Svevo's seminal 1923 novel ('Zeno's Conscience'), La Coscienza di Zeno are a current Italian progressive outfit, operating chiefly at the 'pseudo-'70s' end of the spectrum, which is, believe me, vastly preferable to the slew of European neo-prog bands that appeared during the '90s. Not even any sampled Mellotron on their eponymous debut (***½), but their second release, 2013's Sensitività, is quite a treat, full of unexpected key changes, loads of piano work and a refreshingly un-neo- approach to composition, with no more riffy guitar than you'd get on the average Italian prog album from the mid-'70s. Luca Scherani and Rossano Villa's 'Mellotron' credits are a little optimistic, however. The (unusually rather uninteresting) solo choir chords in La Città Di Dite give the sample game away; too smooth, too lacking in character to be genuine, ditto the strings on Chiusa 1915 and elsewhere.

2015's La Notte Anche di Giorno, despite consisting of just two long pieces, has a very different feel to its predecessor. Because? Because it comes across as an album of relatively short songs, rather in the way that Genesis' The Lamb consists of shorter material in a progressive format. Does it work? yes, actually; what we lose on the 'epic' front, we make up on accessibility and eccentricity, not least on the odd little Impromptu Pour S.Z., while in Come Statua Di Dolore, I spotted a 'borrowing' of a little piece of The Lamia, as if to complete the circle. Samplotron choirs (and occasional strings) are in evidence, though to a lesser degree than on Sensitività.

Cosmic Ground  (Germany)

Cosmic Ground  (2014,  78.16)  ***½
Cosmic Ground 2  (2015,  77.56)  ***
Cosmic Ground III  (2016,  70.59)  ***

Cosmic Ground are affiliated to Electric Orange, essentially Dirk Jan Müller's ambient electronic side-project. Their/his eponymous debut is actually a far more interesting album than those of many long-term EM outfits (no, not you, r.m.i.), although I'm having trouble expressing why, exactly. More experimental? Hard to say, but it certainly seems to have more life than many ostensibly similar releases. Samplotron on all tracks bar Deadlock, with a particularly powerful part opening the album, plus choirs and strings elsewhere.

The originally-titled Cosmic Ground 2 is, fairly unsurprisingly, more of the same, with the interesting addition that, in places, you can see Müller's techno roots rear their heads for a few moments before sinking back into the murk. Extraordinarily little samplotron this time round, with naught but drifting choirs on Organia. Cosmic Ground III (at least we've gone Roman numerals this time) repeats the same tricks, admittedly with very pleasing results, although listening to these three albums on the trot has a slightly mind-numbing effect. Perhaps that's the idea. Anyway, plenty of samplotron on opener Ground Control and a major flute part on Crumbling Darkness, although that's yer lot.

Cosmic Rough Riders  (UK)

Too Close to See Far  (2003,  45.52)  ***½

The Cosmic Rough Riders seem to be mining a rich seam of Scottish pop dating back at least to the '79/'80 Postcard label explosion (Aztec Camera, Orange Juice et al.), with their West Coast-ish sound, not a million miles away from Teenage Fanclub's Byrds-esque jangle. Too Close to See Far is their third album 'proper', after 1999's Deliverance and 2000's Panorama (ignoring Poptones' Enjoy the Melodic Sunshine compilation), a cornucopia of retro powerpop, referencing all the Bs; Byrds, Beach Boys (the harmonies on Tomorrow May Never Come are pure Our Prayer), Beatles, Big Star, along with their Caledonian predecessors and contemporaries. Unfortunately, there's the odd nod towards Oasis, too, though that's as likely to be a second-hand Beatles lift as anything. Fairly minimal 'Mellotron', to be honest, from guest player Andrew Phillips, with a typical flute part (you know, Strawberry Fields) on Because You, alongside various Hammond, Rhodes and what sound like genuine monosynth parts scattered across the album.

Cosmograf  (UK)

The Man Left in Space  (2013,  55.29)  ***

Robin Armstrong, a.k.a. Cosmograf, is a current British progressive multi-instrumentalist, whose speciality seems to be the (sometimes dreaded) concept album. His third, 2013's The Man Left in Space, is hugely ambitious, punching slightly above its weight, to be honest, featuring guest spots from members of Also Eden, Big Big Train and even Spock's Beard. The storyline concerns an astronaut whose mission goes horribly wrong. Sounds familiar? There's actually a little musical nod to Bowie's Space Oddity at one point, so forget that plagiarism suit right now. But is it, y'know, any good? I liked it in parts, but found others to be lacking in imagination, with far too many rather bland, sub-Floyd-esque passages, the music clearly acting more as a backdrop to the story than as something that can stand on its own two feet. Harsh? Sorry, but this isn't original enough to really grab me, despite its plus points. Speaking of which, I like the way Armstrong uses different musicians for different emphases, giving the music some much-needed variety. On the samplotron front, there's a little burst of strings halfway through the title track, although that would seem to be our lot. Not one for anyone wishing to hear even sampled Mellotron, then, but an ambitious (that word again) album that will almost certainly improve with repeated plays.

Lucciana Costa  (US)

Last Chance for a Pony  (2009,  49.30)  ***

Lucciana Costa operates in a quirky, piano-driven, arty pop vein that manages, against all the odds, to sound nothing like Kate Bush. Best tracks? Offbeat opener Devil's Currency, the nutty Prom Song and The Four Ex-Wives, maybe, as much for the lyrics as the music. Costa's credited with Mellotron, but the background strings on Hallmark are not only too smooth for their own good, but they stretch well above the instrument's range. For what it's worth (admittedly, not much), we also get flutes and watery strings on Weather and strings on Everything I Knew.

Nikka Costa  (US)

Everybody Got Their Something  (2001,  45.33)  ***
Can'tneverdidnothin'  (2005,  45.20)  **½
Pebble to a Pearl  (2008,  55.58)  ***

Daughter of Sinatra arranger Don Costa, Nikka Costa was a child prodigy, releasing her first album at the age of nine, although she was nearly thirty before her first release in her own country (after an early 'second career' in Australia) and fifth overall, 2001's Everybody Got Their Something. I don't know if it's got something to do with being the offspring of a genius arranger, but this really is one of the strangest supposedly mainstream albums I've heard in a long time; it technically lies somewhere in the middle ground between rock, funk and R&B, although it doesn't really sound like anything else at all. Most tracks feature weird instrumental juxtapositions and unusual samples, although the more straightforward tracks (Corners Of My Mind is typical) are relatively commercial, I suppose. It's actually most refreshing to hear such an individual album in a morass of conformity, although we're not exactly talking The Residents here, before you get too excited. Justin Stanley plays various instruments, including clavinet, MiniMoog and Mellotron, the latter supposedly on Push & Pull, although you'll need sharper ears than mine to hear what he's actually doing with it. The skronky high strings near the end? Don't sound very Mellotronic to me, but I can't imagine what else it might be.

The first version of 2005's Can'tneverdidnothin' is, to my ears, superior to the released one, its best track, I'm Gonna Leave You, conspicuous by its absence on the eventual disc. Said album is generally regarded as a disappointing follow-up, so who am I to disagree? It has its moments (Till I Get To You, Fatherless Child), but is, overall, a poor rehash of her debut, without the things that made that album at least vaguely interesting. Stanley's credited with Mellotron, but the only place it even might be is on the mournful Fatherless Child (apparently an elegy for her father), with a few seconds of high strings in the deep background. To add insult to injury regarding the unreleased version, it sounds like Mellotron strings on another deleted track, The Last Time. 2008's Pebble to a Pearl is a rather less eccentric and rather more mainstream funk/pop album, smothered in über-funky clavinet work, although towards the end, it displays a tendency to descend into funk/soul by numbers, almost losing it half a star in the process. Stanley on Mellotron again, with background choirs on Keep Wanting More and distant high strings on Without Love, although you really wouldn't notice if they weren't there. I'm pretty sure it's all sampled, anyway. Everybody Got Their Something stands out from the (rat) pack, but the other two are just plain ordinary.

Danielia Cotton  (US)

Small White Town  (2005,  43.33)  **½
Rare Child  (2008,  38.56)  ***
The Real Book  (2014,  46.59)  ***½

Danielia Cotton doesn't fit the 'black female singer' stereotype in any way, thankfully, so no crummy R&B nonsense, no Autotune, no bling, just a great voice and a rock-orientated approach, evident on her debut, 2005's Small White Town. Sadly, the album's more mainstream than reviews led me to believe, though I don't know why I'm surprised; it's perfectly acceptable, but all too much of it's sub-Bonnie Raitt, although when she switches on the blues, everything improves (and it rhymes). Best tracks? Probably It's Only Life and Today, gutsier than the hopeful radio-fodder surrounding them. Rob Arthur on supposed Mellotron, with clearly sampled strings on It's Only Life and 4 A Ride. 2008's Rare Child is broadly similar to its predecessor, although Cotton's now perfected the technique of sounding like she really means it without going overboard, particularly on closer Bound. Tom Mandel is credited with Mellotron, but the album's occasional string parts all sound real, the one possible exception being the high, held chord right at the end of the album.

Cotton's 2014's release The Real Book is that frequently-reviled thing, a covers album, all too often a way for an artist to mark time, or to show that they've run out of inspiration. Not, however, in this case; the album is Ms. Cotton's way of proving that beating cancer and going through a divorce aren't going to slow her down. Danielia tackles well- and not-so-well-known material with aplomb, not least songs by The Eurythmics, Stones, Radiohead, Aretha, Blind Faith and Simon & Garfunkel. Highlights? Maybe Gimme Shelter and Can't Find My Way Home, although I'm afraid I'm unconvinced by her ukulele version of The Zombies' This Will Be Our Year. Rob Clores and Jack Petruzzelli are both credited with Mellotron, but not only do the 'Mellotron' strings on Gorilla sound little like the real thing, but there's no sign of one in the 'making of' video (although the Hammond's real), while a Nord can be seen, sitting there balefully, like the sample-player that it is. Er... You're not going to bother with this on those grounds, but I urge you to listen to what Danielia's stunning voice does with a range of other people's songs.

Court Yard Hounds  (US)

Amelita  (2013,  42.27)  **½

The Court Yard Hounds are a female-fronted Americana/mainstream country crossover outfit, competent but unexciting on Amelita, if truth were told. It's at its best on the more upbeat material, but, let's face it, this stuff isn't about innovation, is it? Greg Kurstin's credited with Mellotron, but the flutes on The World Smiles don't cut the mustard, while I'm sure I can hear samplotron strings on Watch Your Step, too.

Cozumel Keith & the Ginseng Addicts  (US)

Mayan Blues  (2002,  63.14)  **½

Keith Glasspoole Jr. (clearly nicknamed in honour of the Mexican island) released a cassette album in 1990 called In Cozumel, but, sadly, the clincher in determining the identity of this somewhat obscure musician was an online obituary; he died in 2008, aged 56. Mayan Blues is your classic 'cottage industry' album: rock-bottom budget, over-egged arrangements, weird production decisions, you name it. Opening with one of your weakest songs (the awful Nancy, complete with Glasspoole's best '50s vocal style) wasn't a great move, and what's going on with Jasmine's Tune? A cheesy instrumental ditty played on a chiming kind of sound on a cheap synth, or the horribly sentimental Mom, or Long, Long, Longing. To be fair, much of this overlong album is, indeed, blues and of a perfectly respectable kind, while the title track even displays a sense of humour lacking elsewhere. What a shame this wasn't edited down to a solid, forty-minute blues album. Samplotron? String pitchbends in Nancy, that seems to be our lot.

Crabb Family  (US)

Blur the Lines  (2006,  58.15)  *

The Crabb Family describe themselves as 'A Southern Gospel Group from K[entuck]y that has taken the industry by storm'; the emphasis on 'industry' says it all for me; this is music designed for a purpose rather than for itself. And that purpose is... 'worship music'. Aaargh. I'd imagine 2006's Blur the Lines is fairly typical of their output, containing aggressively pro-God messages in every song, in a variety of styles, some of which might be acceptable, were it not for their single/closed-minded lyrical content. Tim Akers adds samplotron string stabs to Champion Of Love, for what it's worth. God (pun, if pun it is, intended), this is fucking awful, redefining the word 'gloop'. This is the kind of stuff used to hammer home the Christian 'message' to pliant young minds, not yet able to make them up for themselves. Brainwashing music. Mind you, their pious lives sound so fucking dull that I can't imagine why anyone would want to do the same. Peer pressure, I suppose. Some peers.

Sarah Cracknell  (UK)

Red Kite  (2015,  37.02)  ***

Saint Etienne chanteuse Sarah Cracknell's second solo album, 2015's Red Kite, comes almost twenty years after her first. Unsurprisingly, it bears some comparison with the band's work in its early '60s influences, both compositionally and instrumentally, while Cracknell's voice is less '90s indie, more Dusty Springfield. She describes the record as 'cosy', which seems to sum it up well; tracks like opener On The Swings (how's that for evoking a British childhood in three words?), In The Dark and Ragdoll come across like a visit from a distant relative of, say, Nick Drake, although direct comparisons would be a little optimistic. Carwyn Ellis is credited with Mellotron on no fewer than seven tracks, but, going by the unidentifiable Mellotronic sound in On The Swings (a woodwind instrument? viola?), or the cello on closer Favourite Chair, it's all far too smooth to be genuine. And is that too-cleanly pitchbent vibes in On The Swings? I can't honestly say this is really to my taste, but it's good at what it does and will most likely keep Saint Etienne fans happy.

Crash Test Dummies  (Canada)

Puss'n'Boots  (2003,  45.28)  **½

A few years on from Give Yourself a Hand and the Dummies (can I call them that?) stuck some more supposotron on an album, in this case, 2003's Puss'n'Boots. Musically, it's the same old same old, of course; mainstream pop/rock with several sets of lyrics fairly obviously referencing drug use (yawn). Several samplotron tracks from Chris Brown, with fairly major string parts on opener It's A Shame, Your Gun Won't Fire and If Ya Wanna Know and flutes on I'm The Man (That You Are Not), although not enough to make this boring album worth the effort.

Create  (UK)

Reflections From the Inner Light  (2004,  78.30)  ***

Create, a.k.a. Steve Humphries, is a typical British EM artist, his work, at least on his debut, 2004's Reflections From the Inner Light, sounding an awful lot like Tangerine Dream, as do the vast majority of his genre-mates. That isn't to say that the album is in any way substandard, merely unoriginal and overlong; The Tangs wrote to a more reasonable, LP-length format out of necessity. Any two or three tracks picked at random make for a good listen, but nearly eighty minutes of too-clean digital synths and too-accurate sequencers set the attention wandering, the interesting harmonic quirks in Downside Up notwithstanding. Humphries plays obviously sampled Mellotron flutes in a solo part on opener Narissa, flutes and choir on Touching The Void, choirs and strings on Medusa, flutes on Downside Up and choirs on closer Chasing The One, for what it's worth, although you're never going to mistake his samples for a real machine. EM-by-numbers, then; good at what it does, but not a jot of originality.

Creeper Lagoon  (US)

I Become Small and Go  (1998,  43.55)  **½

I'm afraid to say I can't really think of anything much to say about Creeper Lagoon. They're a US-based indie outfit, with the regulation whiny vocals (WHY do they do that? I mean, WHY??!), and the regulation dreary, half-arsed songs, with no discernable melody. OK, it isn't quite that bad, but I Become Small and Go didn't grab me by the throat and say, "Play me again!". No standout tracks, although the 'Mellotron' (player unknown) on opener Wonderful Love is really quite full-on; easily the best bit of the album, although its fakery becomes fully apparent at the end of the track, with a full-octave pitchbend.

Cesare Cremonini  (Italy)

Bagus  (2002,  76.03)  **

Let me get one thing out of the way before I begin: I worked as an extra in a Cesare Cremonini video a while back (this nonsense) and not only have not yet been paid, but am beginning to think I may never be [n.b. I wasn't]. This isn't actually Signor Cremonini's fault - the blame lies with the production company - but, as the production's public face, I feel reasonably justified in laying at least some of the blame at his feet. That aside, the averageness of his debut album, 2002's Bagus, is pretty indisputable unless you happen to be a) a fan of mainstream 'adult' pop and b) Italian. While material such as La Cameriera Dei Giorni Più Belli and the rocky PadreMadre stand out slightly, the coveted 'best track' award goes, with no serious competition, to the weird, eighteen-minute, near-instrumental jam that follows the title track and accounts for the album's considerable length. Walter "Walls" Mameli is credited with Mellotron on Jalousie and the title track, but the vague string and even vaguer choir parts on the tracks lead to the realisation that we're hearing what are, at best, Mellotron samples, assuming they're even that authentic. You really don't need to hear this, frankly, despite that electro-jam he stuck on the end. So, Ches, where's my money?

The Cribs  (UK)

Ignore the Ignorant  (2009,  47.48)  ***
In the Belly of the Brazen Bull  (2012,  47.08)  **

Yorkshire's Cribs started as the trio of the Jarman brothers, Ross and twins Gary and Ryan, adding The Smiths' Johnny Marr in 2008, in an unlikely move. His first album with the band, 2009's Ignore the Ignorant, is a surprisingly good effort by modern indie standards, combining raucous material (opener We Were Aborted - that'll go down well in the States, chaps - and Emasculate Me) with reasonably inventive arrangements (We Share The Same Skies, Hari Kari), although it pulls off the unenviable trick of doing the opposite of growing on the (or this) listener with repeated plays. Shrinking on me? Gary plays samplotron on closer Stick To Yr Guns, with a nice descending string line. In the Belly of the Brazen Bull was their first album after Marr's departure; going by this, the mystery isn't why he left, but why he ever joined in the first place. Clattering, post-Oasis British indie of the most pointless kind, while Dave Fridmann's 'Mellotron' on Like A Gift Giver is (big surprise) nonexistent.

Crippled Black Phoenix  (UK)

The Resurrectionists & Night Raider  (2009,  140.02)  ***½
200 Tons of Bad Luck  (2009,  77.08)  ***½
(Mankind) The Crafty Ape  (2012,  86.07)  ***
No Sadness or Farewell  (2012,  45.09)  **½

Crippled Black Phoenix are Britain's new great white hope in the post-rock stakes, as far as I can work out (they even boast a member of Mogwai in their ranks), although there's a healthy dose of psychedelia in what they do, too. Their second album, the double The Resurrectionists/Night Raider is an almost obscenely lengthy listen, near-impossible in a single sitting, featuring prog epics (the 18-minute Time Of Ye Life etc., the brilliantly-titled Burnt Reynolds), pokey indie rock (Rise Up And Fight, 444), acoustic whimsy (Crossing The Bar) and often all the above and more within a single 'song', for want of a better word. They suddenly morph into Tom Waits en masse on Along Where The Wind Blows, à propos of nothing at all, before lurching into a full-on Mellotron psych-out on A Lack of Common Sense, which seems to fit the band's ethos pretty well. Due to the album's inordinate length, a (still very lengthy) single disc version was released simultaneously, 200 Tons of Bad Luck, containing just one track not on the double, the 35-second A Real Bronx Cheer, which isn't exactly unmissable.

Mellotron strings pop their heads up above the parapet here and there, but it seems highly likely they're sampled, although the part on A Lack Of Common Sense could almost be genuine. The other major use is on the Time Of Ye Life medley, with other, faint parts in the background on a few other tracks. Suffice to say, this sprawling effort, while impressive, is far from an easy listen, and not always for the right reasons. I would say, 'buy the single disc version', but if you like what they do, it would be almost criminal not to obtain as much of it as possible, and it doesn't seem that the material left off the shorter version is noticeably inferior. Impressive, yet strangely empty, with snippets of something Mellotronic on occasion.

2012's (Mankind) The Crafty Ape is merely very long, as against stupidly, unbelievably long, although it still manages to outstay its welcome once you get onto the second disc. Heavier this time round, the band still cover a fair bit of stylistic ground, not least the more eclectic disc two's acoustic sort-of blues (Dig, Bury, Deny) and the vaguely churchy We'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive. Not much samplotron this time round, principally a heavily overextended flute chord opening and closing The Heart Of Every Country, but are those Mellotron FX church bells on (In The Yonder Marsh)? This is a band who work too hard for too little artistic return. The same year's No Sadness or Farewell heads back towards more familiar post-rock/psych territory, the band turning into Pink Floyd on ironically-titled opener How We Rock. Best track? Jonestown Martin, to my ears, although I find myself unable to explain why. Credited Mellotron on One Armed Boxer, but the vague string part on the track is barely enough to even put it into this section.

Crippled Black Phoenix are quite infuriating; they combine moments of musical genius with long, rambling passages of pointlessness and seem unable to self-edit, pretty much defining the law of diminishing returns. There's one very good album to be compiled from the three discrete releases above, but four and a half hours of this stuff really is only for the truly dedicated fan. For what it's worth, these aren't the band's only releases over this timespan, either.

Jennifer Crook  (UK)

Merry-Go-Round  (2011,  36.57)  **½

Vocalist/harpist Jennifer Crook has been around the UK folk scene for a couple of decades, although 2011's Merry-Go-Round appears to be only her second solo release. Legendary folk scenester/songwriter Boo Hewerdine produces, giving Jennifer's airy material the transparency it demands, assuming anything so gentle could be said to demand anything. Unfortunately, said gentility is also the album's downfall, as while a few songs this light would nicely enhance a more varied release, an entire album's-worth gets a little sickly, like too many fairy cakes consumed in one sitting. Saying that, When Time Stood Still and Baltimore stand out, but, at least to this listener, a little more variety wouldn't go amiss in future. Hewerdine is credited with Mellotron, but there seems little evidence that a real one materialised in Glasgow's Kyoti Studio during the sessions, not least the extremely vaguely Mellotronic strings on opener Catching Butterflies. Am I wrong? Perhaps someone could let me know? Anyway, one for the kind of young woman who tends to wear fairy wings at any available opportunity.

Cross  (Sweden)

Secrets  (2000,  50.06)  **½
Playgrounds  (2004,  54.02)  **

Hansi Cross began working under his surname in the late '80s, writing the kind of neo-prog that was acceptable in some circles back then. I haven't heard his first few albums, but can state quite unequivocally that 1997's Dream Reality is shockingly bad neo-prog crud, to be avoided at all costs, unless, for some strange reason, you're of the opinion that later Galleon albums and the like are actually worth hearing. Actually, he makes Galleon sound good, ditto several other otherwise unworthy outfits.

His eighth album, 2000's Secrets, is a definite step up from Dream Reality, which isn't to especially praise it. The instrumental sections are a dead ringer for Trick/Wind-era Genesis, right down to the ARP sounds (maybe he's using an Omni himself?), which is all well and good as far as it goes, but originality clearly isn't even considered an option. Then he starts singing. No. Just no. Not that his voice is that bad, but his melodies are mostly stomach-churningly twee, making him sound like a soft-rock balladeer. Y'know, thinking about it, that's what so bad about so much neo-prog: it's essentially soft-rock with fiddly bits. Anyway, Cross plays 'Mellotron' strings on Bleeding In Silence and The Core, but it's all far too regular for its own good and almost certainly sampled.

Cross' follow-up and last album to date is 2004's Playgrounds, in a similar vein to its predecessors, albeit a bit less Genesis, although that appears to be its downfall, as without the retro-sounding instrumental sections, it's unbelievably dull. The modern keyboard sounds set this reviewer's teeth on edge and the vocals are as bad as ever, ditto the material. Mellotron samples crop up occasionally, principally the choirs on Déjà Vu, but nothing to get too (or indeed, at all) excited about.

Beppe Crovella  (Italy)

What's Rattlin' on the Moon  (2010,  77.05)  ****

If Beppe Crovella isn't considered 'legendary', he should be; keyboard player and main mover'n'shaker with Italian fusioneers Arti & Mestieri and the now-defunct Vinyl Magic label boss, not to mention his multifarious projects in the '90s. He's also released a whole slew of solo projects, the latest of which, 2010's What's Rattlin' on the Moon, is an album of Crovella's interpretations of ten of The Soft Machine's Mike Ratledge's compositions, with a few of his own stuck on the end. I'll admit here to an almost complete ignorance of the source material, so how Crovella's versions shape up against Ratledge's originals is unknown, but to the untrained ear, they stand up well in their own right, in an avant-jazz kind of way. The compositions are far from unmelodious, although their harmonic content is complex enough to give all but the most jaded listener something to chew on, highlights including The Man Who Waved At Trains and Pig. Crovella's own material is good, but rather outclassed by Ratledge's, although, in fairness, he's operating in a different, less avant- idiom.

Crovella appears to slather Mellotron over every Ratledge composition, treating it as the lead instrument, with combinations of strings, choirs and flutes on most tracks and brass on several others. Less common sounds include the vibes on Chloe And The Pirates, plus what sounds like two different choir sounds, the solo sax on All White, the cello on The Man Who Waved At Trains and the MkII rhythms on the same track, which finally give the sample game away. Given how heavily Crovella features his Hammond on his website, you'd think, if he owned a Mellotron, he'd picture that too, wouldn't you? Sorry, it's sampled. This isn't the easiest listen, which should be taken as a compliment; there's enough going on here to keep your average proghead busy for a while, assuming he (yes, usually a he) doesn't tire of the unconventional writing style. Crovella's writing contributions are less essential, but are at worst ignorable and at best complimentary to the album's real meat'n'potatoes.

Sheryl Crow  (US)

Detours  (2008,  52.55/60.37)  **½

Sheryl Crow's sixth album in fifteen years, 2008's Detours, came after several upheavals in her personal life, including a relationship breakup, an adoption and surviving cancer, although her anguish only makes itself apparent on a handful of tracks, the bulk of the album being the kind of undemanding pop/rock on which she's built her career. Acoustic-and-vocal opener God Bless This Mess and closer Lullaby For Wyatt (her adoptive son) are the best things here, nearly everything else the worst (with the exception of the interesting Middle Eastern-sounding Peace Be Upon Us), although that's probably rather unfair, given that there's nothing here that's buttock-clenchingly bad, just rather dull. As for producer Bill Bottrell's samplotron, it's not the most audible use I've ever heard, frankly; all we get are the strings on Shine Over Babylon, the flute on the title track being sampled.

Crowder  (US)

Neon Steeple  (2014,  51.57)  *

(David Wallace) Crowder is described on Wikipedia as 'Christian folktronica'. And what, pray (see what I did there?), may that be? Going by his solo debut, 2014's Neon Steeple, it's a suitably unholy cross between (you guessed it) folk and electronica, at its worst on material such as Hands Of Love, cotton-pickin' banjo awkwardly stuck onto horrible, R&B-influenced electronica, like (to quote a friend of mine) an ill-fitting wig. D'you know what this crap reminds me of? Anyone remember Swedish country/eurodance novelty act Rednex? You know, major international hit Cotton Eye Joe? 'Course you do. This is like that, only without the (intentional) humour. Is there anything here that doesn't offend? Actually, yes: My Sweet Lord (not that one) is a harmless ballad, with no overt electronica influence, while a couple of other tracks manage to be not too appalling. Christian Paschall is credited with Mellotron, but I'll be fucked if I can tell you where it is. Samples, then, I think. Anyway, one of the worst albums I've heard this month, at the least. Quite, quite horrible.

Crowned in Earth  (UK)

A Vortex of Earthly Chimes  (2012,  47.20)  ***½

Crowned in Earth are effectively the duo of drummer Darin McCloskey and Kevin Lawry, who plays pretty much everything else, the pair hailing from the mundane environs of Maidstone, Kent. Their second album, 2012's A Vortex of Earthly Chimes, complete with its Deanalike sleeve, is apparently quite a departure from their 'doom by numbers' debut, incorporating all kinds of early '70s influences, not least Camel's airy prog and Atomic Rooster's more tuneful take on the style. Twelve-minute opener Ride The Storm sums the album up in a rather lengthy nutshell: a prog Black Sabbath with modern stoner metal vocals, not unlike America's Astra, in some respects. Although Brian J. Anthony is credited with Mellotron, the watery string and choir parts heard across the album are clearly nothing of the sort, highlighted by the heavy 'MIDI controller keyboard' pitchbend towards the end of Ride The Storm, or the unfeasibly-sustained string chords on closer Given Time. With three out of five tracks topping the ten-minute barrier, this album is quite clearly aimed at both prog and metal fans, while having sod-all in common with the horror of prog/metal. No genuine Mellotron, but cautiously recommended.

Eric Crugnale  (US)

Carol Was Here  (2010,  39.27)  ***

Carol Was Here is a powerpop release of variable quality, highlights including I Can't Take My Eyes Off You, Unreliable Friend and Old Enough To Know. Kevin Bents is credited with Mellotron. What, the strings on What We Deserve? Surely not?

Crumb  (US)

Romance is a Slowdance  (1996,  44.41)  **½

Crumb were essentially the duo of Mark Weinberg and Robby Cronholm plus a revolving-door rhythm section, whose second album, 1996's Romance is a Slowdance, falls into a grey area somewhere between indie, powerpop and grunge. Better tracks include opener Kid Klone, Love and the punky Celebrity Judges, but too many also-rans scupper the album's chances of greatness, or even being halfway decent. Weinberg plays samplotron, with a background string part on Conversion Scale, going on to sing with Gratitude in the mid-2000s.

Cry of Love  (US)

Diamonds & Debris  (1997,  56.28)  ***½

I'm sure it won't come as a huge shock to you to find out that Cry of Love have a heavy Hendrix influence, notably in Audley Freed's guitar style. Freed went on to play with The Black Crowes, so a retro approach didn't hurt him... After a reasonably successful 1993 debut, Brother, the band lost their vocalist, making it four years before releasing their second and last effort, Diamonds & Debris. It's a good album without ever getting close to outstanding, which is clearly what damned it first time round; decent enough songs, lovely guitar work, but nothing to really get to grips with. John Custer plays samplotron, although you have to wait until the end of the album to hear it, with a brief string part on Garden Of Memories.

Cryptic Vision  (US)

Moments of Clarity  (2004,  56.40)  **½

Cryptic Vision are a pretty typical modern US prog band, utilising elements of symphonic, neo- and prog metal styles, albeit with only a fraction of the efficacy of, say, Spock's Beard. 2004's Moments of Clarity is their first album and it does sort-of show in its overlong lack of focus (pun possibly intended), highlighted in the four-part, twelve-minute title track. The band's vocals are sometimes a little too intrusive, too, although there are a couple of moments where the harmony parts come together beautifully, though nowhere near often enough for my taste. Although Rick Duncan is credited with Mellotron, it isn't, but nor are their samples overused, thankfully, with string and choir parts on a handful of tracks. You get the feeling that Cryptic Vision have the capacity for improvement, if only they'd learn to keep their albums down to a sensible length, although, in fairness, this could've been twenty minutes longer... Anyway, they have potential, which is more than I can say for a lot of current bands.

Crypto  (Netherlands)

Crypto  (1974,  43.38)  ***

Crypto were a Dutch one-off fusion outfit, whose eponymous 1974 effort is, well, it's a Euro-fusion album, sounding much like any other Euro-fusion album, which, frankly, sounds like just about any fusion album from anywhere. It has its moments, notably the Rhodes work towards the end of Awakening, but at the end of the day, it's just another so-so jazz-rock effort. Peter Schön might be credited with Mellotron, but the string synth on several tracks gives it the lie, proving that fake credits date as far back as this.

Christian Cuff  (US)

Chalkboard  (2010,  51.28)  ***

Christian Cuff's Chalkboard is a singer-songwriter album, variously tinged with Americana and jazz (!), at its best on Red Rum, E's Fever and closer Bessy's Wedding. Brian Coombes' 'Mellotron' adds up to no more than some insipid flutes (and are those strings real?) on the title track.

Jamie Cullum  (UK)

Twentysomething  (2004,  56.57)  ***

Jamie Cullum's the kind of artist who passes beneath my radar, due to his ubiquity with the young, smart set who throw dinner parties in the better-off areas of London and think he's 'daring' 'cos he covers Hendrix and beatboxes at gigs. As modern jazzers go, I've heard worse, but he's pretty bloody mainstream, but then, I suppose, that's the point; he's not trying to be obscure or 'arty', he's trying to make a living. Twentysomething is his third album, although it's only the second anyone's heard, as he only pressed 500 copies of his first, independent release, making it an outrageous rarity. The songwriting here is split between standards (seven), 'modern' covers (two) and written by himself or his brother (five) and it's a tribute to their writing that their material fits seamlessly inbetween the classics. His title track is amusing, if musically lightweight, while his takes on Hendrix's (The) Wind Cries Mary and Jeff Buckley's Lover, You Should Have Come Over are both worth hearing, although, overall, this is pretty bland fare. Cullum plays various electro-mechanical keyboards, including a Wurlitzer and a Hammond, plus a not-very-real-sounding Mellotron, although all we get is flutes on opener What A Difference A Day Made, unless it's buried in the mix elsewhere.

Ry Cuming  (Australia)

Ry Cuming  (2010,  41.09)  *

Jeff Buckley-influenced small-town Australian Ry Cuming got his break while travelling in Costa Rica, being spotted by a film producer who recognised a malleable, good-looking young man whose generic songs could be moulded into hits when he saw one. Cuming's eponymous debut appeared in 2010; a charitable description might be 'Coldplay-lite', its best feature a nice chordal turnaround on opener Some Kind Of Love, unfortunately repeated, with variations, on several other tracks, completely diluting its (admittedly limited) effect. Zac Rae plays Mellotron, although the album's real string parts tend to obscure it, to the point where the only track I'm even willing to put forward as a 'possible' is Is This Love, with a polyphonic cello part, possibly alongside a real one, most likely sampled, anyway.

Stephen Cummings  (Australia)

Skeleton Key  (2001,  47.18)  **½

Stephen Cummings' career kicked off with five years fronting iconic Aussie noo-wavers The Sports, shifting into a solo career after their dissolution (like the monasteries) in 1981. His tenth solo album, 2001's Skeleton Key, is a melancholy, country-based record, the exceptions being three bluesier efforts, New Cosmic Blues (no shit, Sherlock), the more acoustic The Truth About Love (with pedal steel) and electric closer Is It Me That You Love. Better tracks include No More Goodbye Songs, The Truth About Love and Is It Me That You Love, but too much of the material relies on its lyrical content at the expense of the by-numbers music, I'm afraid to say. Bruce Haymes plays 'Mellotron' flutes on Love Is Mighty Close To You, but both the sound's attack and sustain portions have convinced me it's sampled. So; Aussie country/blues, lyrics largely better than music. Your choice.

The Cure  (UK)

Bloodflowers  (2000,  58.00)  ***
Hypnagogic States  (2008,  37.02)  **½

Eight years on from 1992's Wish and all of two albums later (mid-career slump, anyone?), The Cure returned to their 'roots' once again, after the (apparent) relative disappointment of 1996's Wild Mood Swings. To my ears, I'm afraid Bloodflowers is Just Another Cure Album, doing all the things The Cure tend to do, i.e. rather gothy pop/rock with the odd memorable track here and there. Top marks for making track two over eleven minutes long, mind... Anyway, faint samplotron flutes (from Robert Smith?), played in the tried'n'tested 'Strawberry Fields' manner, on opener Out Of This World, but nothing you couldn't live without, to be honest. Hypnagogic States sees the band getting all prog on our arses - well, kind of - with a 'side-long' track, Exploding Head Syndrome, moving through various indie and EDM sections. There's also a heavy dancefloor influence on one of the 'regular length' tracks, Freakshow, although the rest of the album sounds exactly as you'd expect, upfront flanged goth bass and all. Obvious samplotron strings on Sleep When I'm Dead, for what it's worth.

The Curios  (US)

Pillow Book  (2010,  61.42)  **½

The Curios seem to be, essentially, the duo of Nancy Hall and Lee Parvin, whose stock in trade, going by 2010's Pillow Book, is a rather dreary singer-songwriter style, Hall's sweet-yet-slightly-drippy voice doing their insipid material no favours. Parvin's 'Mellotron' is no more than some rather wet flutes on the appropriately-titled Empty.

Cursive  (US)

Happy Hollow  (2006,  45.26)  **½
Dorothy at Forty / The Bitter End / The Censor 7"/CDS  (2006,  8.24)  **

Cursive are one of those American indie bands who throw various styles into the mix, all of which come out sounding the same. You know what I mean? No? Never mind. Happy Hollow's their sixth album and I'm not sure what the effect was meant to be, but the brass section that's been splattered all over the record serves only to irritate after a short while and bears no relation to the cool, '60s soul vibe they were probably trying to conjure up. Apparently, the lyrics convey some sort of concept regarding small town life (the Happy Hollow of the title, no doubt), but band leader Mike Mogis shouts them loudly enough that you just stop listening after a while. Mogis is credited with Mellotron on three tracks, with nothing audible on opener Opening The Hymnal/Babies, a nice flute part on Into The Fold and less of the same on closer Hymns For The Heathen, sounding distinctly sampled to my ears. Incidentally, another 'Mellotron' track finds its way onto the Dorothy At Forty single, with a flute part on first b-side The Bitter End that finally gives the sample game away with its unfeasibly-speedy glissando runs.

Cut-Out  (US)

Interlude With Fun Machine  (2003,  38.22)  **

I'll be honest, I struggled to locate the 'fun' bit in Cut-Out's Interlude With Fun Machine; a dreary, drone-based electronica album, at its worst on its longest track, Theme From Fun Machine, Part 1, which stretches a non-idea out to over ten, interminable minutes. Vague samplotron somethings on closer Fin.

Cyan  (UK)

The Creeping Vine  (1999,  55.38)  **
Echoes  (1999, recorded 1993-98,  55.30)  *½

It seems multi-instrumentalist Rob Reed originally formed Cyan as far back as 1984, clearly inspired by the previous couple of years' upsurge of interest in progressive rock, retrospectively dubbed 'neo-prog'. After the original band split, Reed formed a new lineup in 1991, releasing two albums, 1993's For King & Country and the following year's Pictures From the Other Side, both on quality-free Dutch neo-prog label SI, before the band's status dropped to being merely one of his ongoing projects. 1999 brought two releases, the former being Reed's first album of new Cyan material for several years, The Creeping Vine, a more mature work than its predecessors, although that probably shouldn't be taken as a recommendation; the composition's generally better than before, with a Celtic influence creeping (sorry) in on a few tracks, but it's still basically third-rate neo-prog, with everything that suggests. Hardly any fakeotron, with distant choirs on Goodbye World; a half-star effort were it applicable.

Echoes appeared later the same year, seven of its ten tracks seemingly being Reed's personal 'best of' his first two albums with three new recordings. All I can say is: why bother? I'm sorry to be so harsh, but this is exactly the kind of Lloyd-Webber-inspired cheeso neo-prog that gives the genre a bad name, with overwrought cod-operatic vocals on several tracks and a preponderance of crummy keyboard sounds, all inserted into some of the most unimaginative 'prog' you're likely to hear. Given when most of these tracks were recorded, it's surprising there's any Mellotron, real or otherwise, in evidence, but a few muffled choir and string parts turn up, while the worst (and most obvious) example is the 'Mellotron' flute part that opens Solitary Angel. Reed put Cyan to sleep at this point, forming Magenta soon after (what is it with this man and primary printer ink colours?), for which we should probably all be grateful. Not, you understand, that Magenta are an awful lot better, but at least they're more '70s than '80s, which has to be an improvement. Do you buy either of these albums? No, you do not.