Arthur H(igelin)'s music is virtually uncategorisable, his admitted list of influences containing such wildly disparate artists as The Sex Pistols and Thelonious Monk. 2011's Baba Love is his eleventh 'regular' studio album, shifting between the electronica of opener Cheval De Feu and La Beauté De L'Amour, the pre-psych '60s feel of Give Me Up and Le Paradis Il Est Chinois and the sparse piano and whispered vocals of the title track and seven-minute closer L'Ivresse Des Hauteurs, probably the album's best track. H and Vincent Taurelle are both credited with Mellotron, amongst various retro 'boards, but I'm really not of the opinion that the strings on La Beauté De L'Amour and Basquiat and cellos on L'Ivresse Des Hauteurs have anything to do wit a real machine. I can't imagine anyone outside French-speaking territories will be that interested in this, but its eclecticism has to be respected, if not actually liked.
German alt.rock crew H-Blockx (dreadful name; sorry, guys) formed in the early '90s, moving away from their original rap/rock style as fashions changed. That's what I like to see, chaps: commitment. Their sixth album, 2007's Open Letter to a Friend, is a thoroughly generic effort with no obvious German influence, sounding like an amalgam of every other alt.rock band you never wanted to hear again. Any highlights? The AC/DC-channelling I Don't Want You To Like Me could be a lot worse, I suppose, but little else here grabbed my attention. And WHAT is going on in Selfconversation? Snippets of an irritating British radio presenter and a short operatic section? Because...? String arranger Burkhard Fincke is credited with Mellotron, but the nearest we get is a murky pseudotron part in the closing title track, a particularly mawkish ballad. I should probably give this an extra half star, but even at only forty-five minutes, it bored the arse off me.
H-Burns, a.k.a. Renaud Brustlein, is a French artist who, fairly unusually, sings in unaccented English, his material, at least going by his fifth album, 2015's Night Moves, being a kind of indie/folk/post-rock crossover. I know full well that this stuff has its adherents, but I can't for the life of me work out why. Dreary, simplistic, melodically dull. Why? Brustlein is credited with Mellotron, amongst other things, but if the flutes and cellos on the title track are anything to go by, 35 strips of magnetic tape in a box has been nowhere near the recordings studio. Sorry, but a dull record with no actual Mellotron. Just say no.
Norway's Sir Haakon is otherwise known as Haakon Ellingsen, once of reputed 'Tron users The Last James, alongside Lars Pedersen of When. What is to Come...? appears to be his second solo album and the only one released under the moniker Sir Haakon & the Popular Musicians, its predecessor being labelled just Haakon and its two successors appearing under his full name. It's probably best described as low-fi folk, although not all of it adheres to both of those appellations, although it all adheres to one, if that makes any sense. Its chief problem is that three or four tracks are great, but a whole album (even a short one) begins to drag after a while; an EP consisting of the title track, Victoria, Don't Disturb The Dreamer and maybe the scratchy Eulalie would get a rather higher rating from yours truly, but too many jokey efforts like Sir Horny Humperdink drag it down, at least to my ears. With no-one credited with Mellotron, my guess is that we're looking at (or rather, listening to) samples here; the flute parts on the opening title track and The Sound Of Yesterdays are a little too 'smooth' for their own good, while the strings on In The Big Picture pretty much confirm it. Overall, then, a partially good effort; maybe I need to hear a compilation of Ellingsen's best work? Mind you, that's always someone else's choice... When was the last time you encountered a non-'greatest hits'-type comp that matched your taste EXACTLY? Exactly.
Named for the Arabic word for a variety of heavy duststorm, Haboob were a German-based group of US ex-pats living in Munich, notably ex-Amon Düül II keys man Jimmy Jackson, later of Embryo. Their sole, eponymous album is the kind of late-period psych-fest that usually gets labelled 'krautrock', although it has little in common with the chief progenitors of that 'movement', such as it was. Nine-minute opener Israfil is probably the best thing here, shifting between a Clavinet-led, jammed-out first half and an ambient-esque, Hendrixy second half (effectively a different piece altogether), with heavily echoed vocals, although percussive extravaganza Sooloo and the drifting Morning Prayer are both very much worth hearing. Downsides? The bluesy Blues For Willy Pee and Soldier Boy are both slightly unnecessary (couldn't they have just bashed out a couple more jams?), leaving us the proverbial album of two halves. ...And the reason this is here? The Amon Düül II reviews tell the story, such as it is, of the 'choir-organ', a bizarre, one-off tape-replay device mastered by Jackson in his time in Germany; it gets nowhere near as heavy use on Haboob as on the Düül LPs, but it can be heard, faintly, on Israfil and Morning Prayer and more obviously, in the female register, on Soldier Boy.
Steve Hackett (UK) see:
We Slept at Last is Marika Hackman's debut album, a kind of dark-folk-with-hints-of-electronica effort that works in places, or for short periods of time, yet drags over its forty-minute length. Better tracks include Claude's Girl, Monday Afternoon and Undone, Undress, although opener Drown and Animal Fear typify everything I don't like about this album, in their unwieldy attempts at a genre mash-up. Hackman's credited with Mellotron flutes, with a line running through Next Year, exposed as sampled by a radical pitchbend at the end of the track.
Kurt Hagardorn plays pleasant enough, if undemanding country on Leaves, very occasionally breaking into a mild sweat. Although both he and Mike Anzalone are credited with Mellotron, the flutes and strings on Only A Dream really aren't persuading me.
Hagen were formed in 1995 with a remit to meld Swedish folk and metal together; an actual fusion of the styles, rather than laying folk melodies over a rock backing. The end result is strange, but reasonably good, although the fusion doesn't always work. Opener A Summer Air is magnificent, but some of the faster material (at least to my ears) doesn't have quite the same punch, despite being heavier. One notable member of the band is Hans Lundin, from one of Sweden's best progressive bands of the '70s, Kaipa, who plays Hammond, 'Mellotron' and synths here, although I'm pretty sure the 'Tron's not real (Lundin never owned one in Kaipa days); the string chords at the beginning of The Northwinds Blow, for example, sound just a little too even to be genuine. His 'Mellotron' use here is variable, with an upfront string part on A Summer Air and the previously-mentioned solo chords in The Northwinds Blow. The rest of it is more background string and choir chords, which leaves me unsure whether or not to recommend this. The music is a brave experiment, though I'm not convinced it's an entirely successful one, and two tracks aside, the 'Tron' use is less than overt, so the jury's still out, I'm afraid.
Haiabusa are a Swedish doom/trad hard rock outfit, whose 2006 eponymous (presumed) debut is a fuzz-fest of slow (but not grindingly so) tempos, distortion and, well, early '70s blues-rock tropes, actually. Of course, it isn't exactly what you'd call original, but, in fairness, I doubt whether anything particularly new has been done in this sub-genre for decades. Speaking of unoriginality, Sweet reminds me of Norman Greenbaum's deathless Spirit In The Sky, but the material is, overall, pretty decent within its confines, the band even showing a sense of humour on closer The Incredible Sound Of Hajabusa, an amusing send-up of a hapless bogus American DJ type. Jerry Silfver plays samplotron flutes on Grains Of Sand, with some rather unlikely trills in a couple of places.
Emily Haines is a Canadian singer-songwriter from the 'piano school', as against the 'guitar school', who plays with Metric and Broken Social Scene, alongside her occasional solo career. 2006's Knives Don't Have Your Back is only her second album in a decade, doubtless due to her other commitments, one of those 'mostly only piano and vocal but somewhat intense' records, better tracks including The Maid Needs A Maid (a tribute to/dig at fellow Canuck Neil Young?) and the slightly atonal Mostly Waving, although I can't imagine anything here will disappoint fans of a certain type of feisty female solo artist. Scott Minor plays samplotron on opener Our Hell, with a nice flute solo.
Ed Hale (previously Ed Darling) fronts Transcendence alongside his solo career, releasing four albums since 1990. I don't know what the others are like, but Ballad on Third Avenue is, frankly, horrible. It's full of the kind of 'confessional' singer-songwriter guff that only puts him a small step above the likes of James Blunt and his vile ilk. In fairness, the album doesn't start too badly, but quickly deteriorates into a mish-mash of badly sung slop, including one song (this had to happen here eventually) 'featuring' that appalling Autotune effect on Hale's vocals, which is entirely and fully unforgivable. Fernando Perdomo plays samplotron, with flute parts on the title track and Thoughts Of California.
Charlie Hall's On the Road to Beautiful is the worst kind of tedious, insipid dreck served up to the Christian community as worthwhile music, full of pious lyrics about how much the writer prostrates him/herself to an imaginary deity. Er, you may have gathered that I'm not the biggest fan of 'CCM', and this album illustrates why. I've no idea whether anyone outside said community listens to anything this awful, although I suspect they do; I don't know this kind of person. Highlights? None. Samplotron from the excellently-named Nathan Nockels: I'm not sure about the murky strings that pop up occasionally in My Drink (I Remember You), but the strings on the title track are a definite, while Waking Up has a gorgeous strings intro, with more later in the song. Shame about the lyrics, mind. Sounds like cellos on Beautiful Of Heaven and (heavenly?) choirs on Priceless Treasure and Rising Shout, with flutes on closer Sending.
Somewhat late in the day, Mellotronically speaking, Hall & Oates' 2004 release, Our Kind of Soul, appeared, a set of mostly soul covers, handled with aplomb by the duo. Of course, your appreciation of this will be tempered by your tolerance for soul; low, in my case, although it's difficult to fault their delivery. Surprisingly, Hall or Greg Bieck play samplotron strings (along with a real string section) on Soul Violins and I'm Still In Love With You (thanks to Trevor for spotting this one), also possibly heard in the artificial-sounding string stabs on What You See Is What You Get, too.
Likely is a downbeat singer-songwriter album with an Americana edge, probably at its most effective on The Water Running and Electricity. Unfortunately, the appeal of Sarah Hallman's fragile voice quickly palls, as it becomes apparent that she's a one-trick pony. Dave Draves supposedly plays Mellotron on Comfort & Security, but the track's flutes lack a certain authenticity. Although I can't prove sample use on Hallman's eponymous 2006 release, given that Draves is, again, responsible, I've chucked it into the sample dungeon anyway.
Semi-supergroup The Halo Benders' third and last album, The Rebels Not in [sic.] continues their skronky, abrasive approach to writing and recording, although nothing here comes close to its predecessor, Don't Tell Me Now's Bomb Shelter Part 2. Steve Fisk plays what sounds like sampled Chamberlin cellos on Surfers Haze, its pitchbends far too accurate to be anything other than a modern controller keyboard pitchwheel, plus flutes on Love Travels Faster, cementing his reputation 'round these parts as an inveterate sample user.
Jenee Halstead's debut was apparently a fairly typical singer-songwriter effort, making Raised By Wolves' offbeat, electro- take on that style all the more startling. I can't say it all works, but it's possibly at its best on Building You An Altar and Bitten By The Night. Evan Brubaker's 'Mellotron' flutes and rather shrieky strings on Building You An Altar and flutes on Heart Song are clearly nothing of the sort, however.
Hamadryad are a strange one; neo-prog with a strong '70s influence, one minute cheesy, melodic stuff, the next, mad Yes/Gentle Giant-style vocal harmonies, sitting slightly uneasily next to each other as if each might wish to cast the other out, but is too polite to make the first move. Their debut, 2001's Conservation of Mass is one of the more schizophrenic progressive albums I've heard recently, opener 'proper' Amora Demonis illustrating their duality perfectly, veering between angular riffs and near-AOR choruses like a whole Spock's Beard album condensed into one song. Although not obscenely long, the album would've been improved by binning some of the weaker material, not least the lengthy Action! Fakeotron on several tracks, mostly choir (plus strings on Nameless), including the solo part on Still They Laugh that really gives the sample game away.
It took the band four years to follow up with the aptly-titled Safe in Conformity, their weaknesses magnified and their strengths diminished. They even found a new weakness in the interim with a greater level of guitar wankeroo, Denis Jalbert spaffing all over the record like a sex-starved adolescent, sweep-picking like his life depended on it. I feel like I'm being overly harsh again, though; the album certainly has its moments, but they're consistently undermined by their insistence on listening to neo-prog and prog-metal bands in preference to anything good. More fakeotron choirs and strings, though used with slightly more subtlety than before.
2007's Live in France 2006 is exactly what it says on the tin, the French-speakers playing in their spiritual home. With no new material, all you get is their idea of a 'best of' their two releases, sans the benefits of a studio production, while the material doesn't really gain anything from its on-stage setting. Sampled Mellotron in the same places as on the studio versions, making this one for hardcore fans only. Their only other release, 2010's slightly better Intrusion (***), doesn't appear to feature any Mellotron samples, although the choirs on closer Liar could be from almost anything.
Despite being a Finnish X-Factor winner, Elias Hämäläinen's Finnish-language powerpop/singer-songwriter thing is actually very good on his sole album to date, Rakkaudesta Ja Pelosta. Highlights? Probably opener Keskiarvoo Parempi, Hyvä Tyttö and gentle closer Maailma On Kaunis. Tommi Vainikainen supposedly plays Mellotron on Kerro Mulle. Really?
Hammock are a Nashville-based post-rock duo (one of whom shares my name), Steve Kilbey is mainman of The Church and Tim "timEbandit" Powles is drummer in the same outfit, their collaborative EP, 2011's Asleep in the Downlights, being dominated by Hammock, Kilbey playing on opener No Agenda and Powles on Verse For Forgiveness. As a result, what we get is pretty much bog-standard post-rock, which sounds like, well, pretty much any other post-rock, in a genre not known for its innovation. Powles is credited with Mellotron on his track, Verse For Forgiveness, but the wholly generic strings that emanate from the speakers have zilch to do with an actual Mellotron, to the point where even referring to them as 'Mellotron samples' is pushing it. Anyway, unless you're a post-rock devotee or Church completist, you really aren't going to go for this, believe me.
Hands Off Cuba's From Arrival to Survival contains a kind of cinematic electronica, acoustic and electronic instruments justaposed in a soundtrack-esque manner, possibly at its best on propulsive opener Crassus and Shekels. Ryan Norris' 'Mellotron'? High strings on River Raid, Shekels and 3 Step, clearly sampled.
Two Bit Suit is a classic example of Canadian country, a.k.a. outdoing the Americans at their own game. I won't pretend this is my bag, but John Wort Hannam plays it as if he were born to it, highlights including Infantryman and Black As Coal. Known samplotron user Steve Dawson's credited with Mellotron, but the cellos on closer Wrecking Ball (not that one) are clearly sampled.
Jennifer Hanson's eponymous 2003 debut album is at the 'rock' end of the country spectrum, with far fewer cheesy ballads than you might expect from the genre, which isn't to say there aren't any. Her secret weapon is the area at which country often wins out: the lyrics. Yup, the bulk of it is cheesy nonsense, but when Hanson can write stuff as amusing as Just One Of Those Days, you can forgive her a lot. Mike Rojas plays samplotron, with high-end cello chords on Travis.
Avoid Danger is probably best described as pop/punk, although Happiness Factor sail a little too close to the indie shoals for comfort at times. Best tracks? Opener The In-Crowd, Trouble Magnet and witty closer Mr. Critic, no contest. Rip Rowan plays obvious fakeotron flutes and strings on Proper Channels.
The Vice & Virtue Ministry is a mainstream indie album, occasionally tentatively venturing into Beatles-lite territory, but never staying there for long. Tim Ruble and Jason Roberts both get Mellotron credits, but the album kicks off on immediate fakeotron, with not-even-slightly-authentic choirs on opener Learning To Love The Factory, more of the same on Drinkin' On The Job and similarly fake strings on Don't Wait Up and flutes on Sex And Valium.
Happy Ending (tasteful name...) are a New York-based outfit operating at the slower end of indie, with a slight Americana influence, the end result being 2009's Turn it on, which tries really hard, but still ends up being a little dull. It's not even that I can point the finger at anything specific, just that in its attempts to be honest, heartfelt and 'for real', it merely manages to be rather insipid and generally lacklustre, with a sad lack of memorable material. Producer Jimi Zhivago plays background samplotron strings on opener Lay Down Your Head.
London's Happyness (from Bermondsey) are often referred to as 'college' or 'slacker' rock, both inherently American styles, although their Britishness keeps leaking through on their debut, 2014's Weird Little Birthday. Perhaps it's the transatlantic sensibility they bring to their UK-indie roots (good example: Lofts) that makes this such a listenable proposition? Better tracks include Orange Luz, the punky Anything I Do Is All Right and Weird Little Birthday Girl, but nothing here appals. Mellotron credits on three tracks: Jonny Allan plays a skronky flute line, complete with pitchbends, on Orange Luz (plus strings) and background strings on Anything I Do Is All Right, although whatever Benji Compston's supposed to be adding to Pumpkin Noir is inaudible. Real? I really don't think so; those pitchbends are too 'clean' and a flute chord hangs over the eight-second limit. My guess would be the Nord visible in one of their videos. Incidentally, kudos to the trio for naming themselves in honour of a song by Brute Force. No, not that song. Also incidentally, not to mention oddly, the band have a connection with almost the very next page entry, Ed Harcourt.
Although Jim Haptonstahl is generally described as a 'singer-songwriter', half the tracks on Inside My Mind's Eye are inventive acoustic guitar pieces, to the point where I'd rather hear a full album of them, quietly dropping the vocal numbers. The choirs on Klaa2 #9 barely even sound like a Mellotron, though.
Ed Harcourt(-Smith) is a British singer-songwriter working at the poppier end of the spectrum, whose fifth non-compilation album, 2010's Lustre, is, frankly, a drippy piece of fluff. I've no doubt that his meaningful lyrics are, y'know, meaningful, but the music is the limpest pile of old dross I've had to endure since the last one. No, there are no best tracks. Harcourt supposedly plays Mellotron, but the smoother-than-smooth flutes on Haywired ain't foolin' no-one. Do I need to tell you anything else to convince you to avoid this? Let's hope not.
Hardcore Superstar are a trashy hard rock outfit from Sweden who, going by their fifth, eponymous album, from 2005, have an ear for a tune and the sense not to go the full Jovi/Leppard route. By all rights, I really shouldn't like this stuff, but after listening to a raft of terrible indie or sensitive singer-songwriter efforts, a blast of joyous, memorable rock kind of hits the spot; there's an awful lot worse around than this, let me tell you. Highlights? Ridiculous opener Kick On The Upperclass (the closest the band gets to a political statement), the propulsive rock'n'roll of Last Forever, We Don't Celebrate Sundays... The more I think about it, the more I realise that there's little to dislike about this, ludicrous though it is. Anders Ehlin plays samplotron; a choir swell before the riff kicks in on Kick On The Upperclass and a polyphonic flute part on the album's sole (sort of) ballad, closer Standin' On The Verge. Frankly, you've probably got to appreciate the collected works of AC/DC, Y&T and The Scorpions to get much out of Hardcore Superstar, but should your collection contain releases by those very bands, this gets a cautious PM thumbs-up.
John Wesley Harding's 1998's Awake is perfectly good at what it does, if a touch unexciting; I suspect the best was yet to come in his discography. Better tracks include 'proper' opener Your Ghost (Don't Scare Me No More) and I'm Staying Here (And I'm Not Buying A Gun), but the slightly overlong album could probably have lost a couple of tracks along the way. The recent expanded version adds another five, including Wreck On The Highway, a live duet with none other than Bruce Springsteen. Harding plays samplotron, with a faint string part on Poor Heart.
Daniel G. Harmann's The Lake Effect is a terribly sad album, both in its (better) acoustic numbers and its (not better) overlong electric ones, somewhere between indie and post-rock. This nearly got **½, but finally ground half a star off for excess tedium. Graig Markel's 'Mellotron' on Ghosts Of The New Harbor? Well, it's a keyboard instrument, but that's about as far as it goes.
Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer's fifth album, 2010's Oh Little Fire (a quote from fourth track One Match) is a reasonably appealing mixture of Suzanne Vega-style confessional material, Americana (notably on The City) and a palatable form of indie, better tracks including New Loneliness and the aforementioned One Match, although nothing here really steps outside its chosen genre. Whatever supposed Mellotron Sarah adds to New Loneliness is effectively inaudible, while co-producer Gavin Brown adds what I presume are samplotron vibes to Careless.
Harmonic 33, a.k.a. Dave Brinkworth and Mark Pritchard, have produced an interesting little album in Music for Film, Television & Radio Vol I. I don't believe any of it has actually been used for those purposes, but all of it could have been, and still could be (and already is?). Online reviewers have pointed out similarities to the work of John Barry and Lalo Schifrin, and you barely need to close your eyes while listening to be transported to the set of a seedy '60s film, probably low-budget, probably British. Carousel and The Dream Sequence (squaring up nicely to a well-worn film music cliché), amongst others, conjure up precisely the images their titles suggest, making a straight run-through of the album akin to channel-hopping UK TV at three in the morning, catching snippets of long-forgotten films no-one watched in the first place.
The excellent liner-notes refer to the 'Mellotron' to be heard on, amusingly, opening track Optigan (is that a real Optigan?), but I have to say, it doesn't sound particularly authentic. Of course, I could be utterly wrong, but the flutes don't sound grungy enough to be real, although I suspect the choirs are (or are meant to be) from the titular optical disc-playing device. There are other moments on the album, mostly flutes and cellos, which could also be the real/fake 'Tron, but it's rather hard to tell. I suspect the analogue synths heard on several tracks (not least Departure Lounge) are genuine, although I could be wrong there, too. Anyway, an excellent album of faux-soundtrack music, although I rather doubt that the 'Mellotron' is anything of the sort. I've heard this referred to as 'the best album on Warp', and it's certainly better than the Vincent Gallo CDs I've heard, while I expect Brinkworth and Pritchard are nicer people, too.
Unfortunately, I keep mixing Ben Harper up with Roy Harper's son, Nick, but there's no real comparison whatsoever, other than their use of acoustic guitar; maybe reviewing this album will separate the two out in my brain. Ben's been around since the early '90s, sometimes recording with his on/off backing band, the Innocent Criminals, operating in the, er, 'acoustic rock' area, I suppose, mixing folk, soul and gospel with rock and funk on his more uptempo tracks. Not my thang, it must be said, but he seems to do it perfectly well and at least it's well thought out, without that commercial sheen that makes so many current artists almost unlistenable to my ears. His fifth studio album, Diamonds on the Inside, apparently has more funk influences than Harper's previous releases, but they're not that overt, leaving most of the album in the acoustic zone. I find that he writes great intros that morph into average songs, but that's probably only the way I hear them. Samplotron from Greg Kurstin, with a brief flute part at the beginning of So High So Low and a longer part on closer She's Only Happy In The Sun.
Roy Harper's one of those artists who, despite living through the 'Mellotron years', never actually used one, so it's my sad duty to report that the situation hasn't changed. Man & Myth is a fine album, the usual mix of shorter, frequently pithy tracks, both acoustic and electric and an epic, in this case, the fifteen-minute Heaven Is Here. For those who love Roy's '70s work, this is Business As Usual, both his voice and the quality of his songwriting undiminished. Omar Velasco is credited with Mellotron, but the wishy-washy string samples on Cloud Cuckooland aren't fooling anyone.
Since Rolling Stone chose to describe James Harries as 'a cross between Jeff Buckley and Oasis', who am I to argue? The best bits of Days Like These sound like he's trying to channel Neil Young, while the worst display his overwrought, sub-Buckley vocal style. Ben Yonas' Mellotron? That must be the vague flutes on opener Best Intent and strings on Are You Happy.
Brady Harris appears to be the missing link between The Beatles and Americana, straddling the country/powerpop divide with aplomb on North Hollywood Skyline. Highlights? Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the amusing We're Alt. Country (& Yer Not), Wish I Knew and Names. Steven Wilson (not that one) is credited with Chamberlin and Marc Bernal, Mellotron, with upfront (Mellotron?) strings and flutes all over opener Get The Losers Out, Mellotron strings on Sweetheart Of The Rodeo and strings and flutes on Come Along & Thrill Us (spot the MkII 'moving strings' and rhythms), the other use being background (Chamby?) strings on Seaway/Seaside (and its reprise) and Wilson's Chamby strings on the title track and, finally, upfront (Mellotron?) strings on Names. All very impressive - they actually had me fooled for a while - but, ultimately, sampled.
The following year, Harris released a covers album, Cover Charge. OK, stop right now: I know what you're thinking. Nope, it isn't the usual lazy career-filler, it's a diverse set of material, all reimagined in Harris' signature style. Highlights? Madonna's Like A Virgin works well, as do the Cheap Trick parts of the bizarre I Want You To Want Me/Surrender/Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? mash-up - to be fair, the Culture Club segments refuse to offend - but the album's crowning glory is closer Ace Of Spades, the strength of Lemmy's songwriting shining through the sparse arrangement. Harris is credited with Chamby and Brandon Schott with Mellotron, with nothing obvious on Girl, Chamby strings on Spanish Bombs and both on Highly Evolved, although the only audible evidence is a couple of string swells, more obviously sampled this time round.
Brett Harris (nothing to do with the Christian dweeb) describes himself on his website as a 'pop musician', so at least you know what you're getting. His debut, 2010's Man of Few Words, is a fairly harmless, if also fairly dull poppy singer-songwriter effort, the occasional ray of light creeping through in the form of one or more powerpop tropes, better tracks including Perpetual Motion and the folky Wish. Legendary powerpop doyen Chris Stamey (credited as 'additional producer') plays samplotron on See The Light, with a few background flute notes.
Trey Harrison's version of an Eddie Bond song (Bond was a rockabilly artist, notorious for turning down Elvis), What A Lawman, is a spooky, low-fi effort, full of cut-up sound and effects - or perhaps that's just the shitty video on YouTube. Doug Easley's Mellotron credit sound like no more than distant samplotron strings.
Angie Hart was vocalist with Frente!, an early '90s Aussie pop outfit, moving on to a duo, Splendid, with her then-husband, before striking out on her own with 2007's Grounded Bird. She followed up, two years later, with Eat My Shadow, a rather insipid singer-songwriter effort, to be honest, little of its material really standing out. Unusually for an album of this type, you can hear Hart's strine accent all over the place, rather than the more common generic US or UK English, although I wouldn't say it's a feature that enhances the record. Funnily enough, the bonus disc that comes with some versions of the album is far better than the album proper, including covers of The Smiths' There Is A Light That Never Goes Out and Neil Young's Only Love Can Break Your Heart, amongst others. Shane Nicholson plays samplotron, with flute chords on Funny Guy and Glitter.
Beth Hart's 2003 release, Leave the Light on, has been available in many different versions in different 'territories', or 'countries', as the rest of us know them. The 'standard international version', released in late '03, several months after the New Zealand version, for some reason, is a rather mixed bag, although it has its moments, not least Bottle Of Jesus and Lay Your Hands On Me. The programmed loops are rather irritating, however, while other tracks merely grate, particularly closer I'll Stay With You. Morten Buchholtz is credited with Mellotron, but the only place it even might be hanging out is a faint string part on World Without You, so into samples it goes.
Montreal native Corey Hart seems to've been around for ever, producing pop for adults, AOR-lite (!), singer-songwriter stuff for those who don't want to hear anything too unsettling. Suffice to say, his eighth album, Jade, is a soporific collection which only picks up even vaguely towards the end, with a couple of slightly less irritating faster tracks, though they do little to liven things up, to be honest. One samplotron track, with near-inaudible strings on Break The Chain from Michel Corriveau, with what sounds like a few volume-pedalled chords a little way in.
Scotsman Roddy Hart could easily be mistaken for American, at least on record, his first widely-available album, 2006's Bookmarks, being more Americana than anything else. It's one of those albums where the lyrics take precedence over the music, a casual listen refusing to divulge its strengths, although the actual music is relatively uninteresting, sadly. It's not all bad news; Flames and the Dylanesque She Is All I Need are better than average, but too many of the slightly overlong album's tracks let it down. Hart plays samplotron, with cellos all over Temperance Of Peace and (less so) on Rain In December. Four years on, 2010's Road of Bones is a massive improvement; although Hart's loosely working in the same genre, the songwriting's gone up several notches. Excellent opener Restless Soul mines the same lyrical seam as Richard Thompson's incomparable Beeswing, the energetic Girl Called Jo transcends its slightly mundane subject matter and the closing title track, a piano ballad, rounds the album off stylishly. Hart plays samplotron again, with an effective flute solo on Close To The Flame.
From the first note of this album, it's obvious that Jamie Hartman is in thrall to bloody Coldplay. So sensitive... I can't think of anything nice to say about this wuss-fest of an album, so perhaps I should stop now. A just-about-listenable version of Dylan's Hard Rain? Really not enough. Hartman's 'Mellotron'? Inaudible. Don't worry, it quite certainly wasn't real, anyway. Absolute crud.
Harvestman are essentially 'atmospheric metal' outfit Neurosis vocalist/guitarist Steve Von Till's solo project, a kind of dark folk/space-rock/post-rock mash-up, going by his second album under the moniker, 2007's In a Dark Tongue. More notable material includes synth-and-atmospheric guitar opener World Ash, familiar Gaelic tune Eibhli Ghail Chiuin Ni Chearbhail (believe me, it's familiar) and The Hawk Of Achill, which appears to be a loop from Hawkwind's Opa-Loka (from their fab Warrior on the Edge of Time), stretched out to ten minutes and overdubbed with Von Till's synth and guitar squalls. Von Till plays fairly obvious (and admittedly credited) M-Tron flutes on Birch-Wood Bower and background strings on The Hawk Of Achill, neither to any great effect, to be honest. While In a Dark Tongue has its moments, it's at least twenty minutes too long; no, it isn't 'hypnotic', it's dull. Be less self-indulgent and produce a better album.
Polly Jean Harvey's White Chalk is a more acoustic album than its predecessors; she plays piano on several tracks, though the overall weirdness level is still fairly high. So what would you rather hear? R&fuckin'B? Lyrically, it's as uncompromising as ever, with a particularly rude verse on When Under Ether. Eric Drew Feldman on samplotron, with flutes on Silence. 2009's co-credited Harvey/John Parish release, A Woman a Man Walked By, is, well, another P.J. Harvey album, co-credit or not, albeit one darker than usual. Once again, it veers between noisy and quiet, although rarely in the same song, better tracks including opener Black Hearted Love, Leaving California and Passionless, Pointless. Parish on samplotron this time round, with a high, cracked string line on Leaving California, a major string part on Pig Will Not and flutes on Passionless, Pointless. On the other hand, Polly's 2011 solo, Let England Shake, sounding more like her usual self, has Mellotron credited on three tracks: the opening title track, England and the closing The Colour Of The Earth, all from Parish, but it's completely inaudible all round.
Although Kazumasa Hashimoto seemingly used a real Mellotron on his Tokyo Sonata soundtrack the following year, 2007's Euphoriam appears to contain nothing more exciting than samples. It's a kind of dreampop soundtrack album, without actually being a soundtrack, at its best on the scratchy Londo and the gentle Endless. Obvious samplotron flutes on Lonesome Girl, Euphoriam, Londo and others.
Annie Haslam is, of course, best-known for her long-term membership of Renaissance, where her pure soprano and the band's orchestral approach aided them in standing out from the 'second rung down' progressive pack. The Dawn of Ananda was her fifth solo album, probably comparable to the most laid-back end of Renaissance's work, although it borders both MOR and New Age, too; this is not an album for your Inner Punk. Annie's voice is as beautiful as ever here, although the orchestrations are synth-derived these days; there are at least five keyboard players credited on the record, depending on whether the legendary Tony Visconti's 'multi-instruments' credit includes keys. One of the five 'definites' is Larry Fast, a.k.a. Synergy, always more of a synthesist than a 'keyboard' player per se. It's rumoured that he played Mellotron on the album and indeed, those distinctive choirs and strings appear on the last two tracks, Running River Runs and Angel Blue, sadly clearly sampled.
Despite hailing from a hardcore punk background, Dave Hause's Devour is a rock-end-of-singer-songwriter album, better than it has any right to be. Highlights? Autism Vaccine Blues (I'm still trying to work out whether or not the lyrics are ironic), the slow-burning Before and The Shine. However, Bo Koster's 'Mellotron' amounts to no more than a vague cello part on opener Damascus. Perhaps not.
Hautville are probably best described as progressive folk on their first proper album, Numen Lumen, massed acoustics crossing swords with lyrics taken from the works of famous historical Italian esotericists. There's no point trying to identify 'best tracks'; this is absolutely an album to be listened to as a whole. Paolo Bitonto's 'Mellotron'? What, the strings on opener Apparizione? Or on Otranto? Surely not?
While we wait, seemingly in vain, for a decent Warrior on the Edge of Time tour recording, any number of other Hawkwind tours become documented, in highly variable qualities. Atomhenge 76 (edited to a single disc for US release as Thrilling Adventures: Live 1976, a.k.a. Thrilling Hawkwind Adventures) is a murky, bootleg-quality recording from Bristol Colston Hall, September '76 on their Astounding Sounds tour. Bob Calvert was back in the band for a spell and is one of the best things about the album, although it's noticeable that, aside from Uncle Sam's On Mars (basically Opa-Loka with narration), there's nothing here from the previous year's Warrior.... Basically, this is a bit of a mess; a so-so set list, averagely played and poorly recorded. There are several incredible Hawkwind live albums; this is not one of them. As far as Simon House's credited Mellotron goes, it's clearly a mis-credit, the murky, background strings on Time For Sale (where is this track from?) could be anything, while the strings on Paradox and Wind Of Change are string synth.
Sheffield native Richard Hawley played in the last incarnation of Pulp, being encouraged by that band's Steve Mackey and Jarvis Cocker to record his own, pre-psych '60s-influenced songs. Lowedges (named, as are most of his albums, after an area in his hometown) is his second full-lengther and it has to be said, if you're going to get anything out of this, you'd better be prepared to chuck anything later than, say, 1966 out of the window and get yourself ready for a burst of Sheffield noir. Think: rain, neon, cigarettes, horn-rimmed spectacles (not glasses), more rain, two channels on your black-and-white telly and Dusty Springfield on the radio. Appeal? Not here, it doesn't, but I've never understood this particular brand of nostalgia; however, Richard Hawley does, as do his increasing legion of fans, assuming you can call such a well-mannered bunch a 'legion'. Colin Elliot is credited with Mellotron (he also plays on Hawley co-production A Girl Called Eddy's self-titled album), but all I can hear is distant, sampled strings and flutes on opener Run For Me, either of which could be produced by almost anything, really. OK, not a Clavinet.
Andrew Mayer "Mayer Hawthorne" Cohen's third album, Where Does This Door Go, is a funk/soul hybrid, adding snippets of hip-hop where required. Effectively done, but not something I (or probably you) will want to listen to again/at all. Mellotron? Whatever Kid Harpoon adds to Robot Love is inaudible, while Greg Wells' strings and faint flutes on All Better sound sampled to my ears.
Colin Hay is one of a host of Australians (famous or otherwise) born in Scotland, who emigrated with their families in childhood (think: most of AC/DC's original lineup); he's best known as vocalist with Men at Work (come on, who can dislike Down Under?), going solo after their mid-'80s split. 1998's Transcendental Highway is one of those funny albums that starts badly, then improves all at once, in this case at track nine, Death Row Conversation, its sparse arrangement, allied with the album's best tune and lyric, adding up to a genuinely good song. The remainder of the album would make a nice, short-ish release, were Hay to scrap the rather turgid half hour-plus of slightly worldy pop/rock he serves up during the interminable first half. Sadly, this is what we get, dull, overlong efforts and all. It's often difficult to work out what a Chamberlin's doing in a mix and this album's no exception. I think Dave Dale's providing the strings on If I Go, but I suspect samples.
What a difference a decade or so makes... 2011's Gathering Mercury shows us a songwriter who's come into his own; yes, they're songs for his own generation, but 'pop music' stopped being merely for the young a long time ago. Top tracks include opener Send Somebody, Invisible, Dear Father and Far From Home, although I'm personally less impressed by the jauntier, more countryish material, notably Where The Sky Is Blue and Simple Song. Chad Fischer is credited with Mellotron on Dear Father, but, given the string section and harmonium present on the track, whatever might be there is completely inaudible; I strongly suspect 'disappear in the mix' samples. 2015's Next Year People, while a decent record, seems to lack the focus Hay displayed on Gathering Mercury, at least to my ears. Saying that, we still get songs of the quality of the title track, Mr. Grogan, a rumination on ageing and Lament For Whisky McManus, one of the two CD bonuses. Jeff Babko supposedly plays Mellotron on Scattered in the Sand, but the vague, high string notes that appear towards the end of the song sound little like a real machine to my ears.
(Paul) Hayden (Desser) is an Ontario-based singer-songwriter, whose third (and second major-label) album, 1998's The Closer I Get, seems to be a Spartan evocation of the inside of his head, mostly quiet (note: not gentle) acoustic guitar pieces, although Nights Like These is all mournful piano and cello. Although country is mostly a style sitting just over the horizon here, his Americana roots erupt (quietly) in the countryish Two Doors. Best track? Possibly haunted closer I'll Tell Him Tonight, just Hayden's voice and guitar. Notorious sample user Steve Fisk produces a handful of tracks, including (you guessed it) Instrumental With Mellotron, with not-very-good sounding flutes (albeit with key-click intact) superimposed over a mid-paced, er, instrumental. Overall, then, a decent enough effort, probably a 'grower', were I able to give it the time, with one fairly unspecial fakeotron track.
He is We are the Tacoma, WA-based duo of Rachel Taylor and Trevor Kelly, who, going by their first full album (ignoring 2009's Old Demos), 2010's My Forever, play unbelievably twee indiepop, full of vocal 'oh-ah's and other infuriating indie tropes. Taylor's harsh, characterless voice helps matters not a whit, so with not one single song that transcends their incredibly narrow genre boundaries, this is an album to avoid at all costs. Dan Romer (Ian Axel, Ingrid Michaelson) seems to play almost everything on the album, including alleged Mellotron and Chamberlin, with (Mellotron?) flutes and (Chamberlin?) strings on opener Forever & Ever, Chamby strings on All About Us and what I take to be more of the same on Happily Ever After, Prove You Wrong and Fall. God, this is awful.
Dave Einmo's Head Like a Kite play entirely generic indie, interspersed with an occasional hip-hop influence on Random Portraits of the Home Movie, at its least irritating on A Dime And A Cigarette. Einmo plays wafty samplotron strings on the delightfully-titled Your Butt Crack Smile. Whatever.
I've seen French (but English-language) copycat alt.rocksters Headcases compared to Alice in Chains, which sounds about right. Welcome the Intruder isn't awful, but does absolutely nothing new, especially in 2004. I really have no idea why bassist Laurent Paradot is credited with Mellotron.
The Headstones were a hard rock/punk crossover outfit, at least going by their fourth (and penultimate) album, 2000's Nickels for Your Nightmares, which actually probably features as many acoustic tracks as electric, although I'm not sure the band's talents really lay in that direction. Best track? Little Lies, I'd say. Why? It's the only thing here that successfully marries the heavier and more melodic sides of the band's personality. Guitarist Trent Carr allegedly doubles on Mellotron, with background strings on Blonde & Blue and the murkiest choirs ever on My Perspective Fades, making me quite certain it's all sampled; I mean, listen to the low string note at the end of Blonde & Blue... Anyway, not exactly the most exciting thing you're ever going to hear, real Mellotron or no real Mellotron.
Imogen Heap began writing songs in her early teens, releasing her debut album, 1998's I Megaphone (or iMegaphone, an anagram of her name), aged twenty. It's far from a typical singer-songwriter effort, Heap's personal material augmented by electronica, 'found sounds' and the like, drawing comparisons with other, less 'standard' songwriters (K*te B*sh occasionally springs to mind). It's difficult to isolate any standout tracks; the album's strength lies in its diversity, the common factor being Heap's intense, sometimes falsetto vocalising, never less than intriguing. Heap plays background samplotron strings on Oh Me, Oh My and stabbed strings on Whatever, although the album's other string parts sound real. Did I like this? Not really, no, but I hope I can identify talent when I hear it and not merely slate something for not conforming to my taste. Despite minor overuse of late '90s musical clichés, I Megaphone is streets ahead of your usual, identikit wispy female artist.
NYC's Anne Heaton is a singer-songwriter of the pop/rock crossover variety, at least on Give in, at its relative best on The Line, the breezy Counting and Breathing My Breath. Heaton's credited with Chamberlin, which may or may not refer to the vibes and/or distant strings on Maybe It's Peace. Real? Doubtful.
In 2010's Acid Country, Paul Heaton (ex-Housemartins (with Norman Cook, a.k.a. Fatboy Slim)/Beautiful South) has made, would'ja believe, an album of (slightly) psychedelic country. Just like it says on the tin. Actually, make that (slightly) psychedelic country with a superbly British bent, largely on the lyric front; he even sings 'bollocks' in the title track. Best tracks? Probably opener The Old Radio and closer A Cold One In The Fridge, but it all seems to be in the lyrics rather than the music. Christian Madden allegedly plays Mellotron, but the polyphonic flute part on the title track fails to convince on the veracity front, I'm afraid. Well, I suppose this does what it does perfectly well, but the only thing that might make me wish to revisit it is the occasional witty lyric, which probably isn't enough.
Heaven Street Seven/HS7's third album, Budapest Dolls, is a bit of a 'local's band' record, combining aspects of alt.rock and last-gasp Britpop, of all things, the latter evident on Good Try, Joe. Not terrible, but not something many people outside Hungary really need to bother with. The album was recorded in Germany, so it's possible Szilárd Balanyi's Mellotron strings on Hatvannégy, Burn, Light Traumas and Under The Weather are genuine, but they fail to have that ring of authenticity about them.
John "Heavenly Beat" Peña's second album combines '80s synthpop with more contemporary styles, the end result being fairly hideous, frankly. Obvious samplotron brass and strings from Daniel Schlett on four tracks, for what it's worth.
Some of you may remember cult UK outfit The Heavy Metal Kids (named for the street gang in William Burroughs' Nova Express); I'm quite sure many people bought their albums hoping for a slice of serious heaviosity, instead receiving a dose of sharp, too-cool-for-school rock'n'roll. The band were fronted by the legendary Gary Holton, who went on to become a semi-successful actor before suffering a drug-related death in 1985, their other (semi-) notable member being keyboard player Danny Peyronel, who left the band in 1975 to join UFO, playing Mellotron on the following year's No Heavy Petting.
Three original members of the band reconvened in 2002, releasing Hit the Right Button the following year, vocals provided by Peyronel. To my great surprise, it's an excellent collection of song-based hard rock, veering towards the commercial, but always staying on the right side of the cheese divide, top tracks including opener Message, Blow It All Away, the title track and Viva New York; actually, there really isn't one bad track here, which is more than you can say for most modern rock albums, frankly. Peyronel is credited with Mellotron, but the far too-clean flutes on closer Voices really aren't convincing me. Y'know, I never expected to listen to this and say 'recommended', but I am; although the album peers down the Bon Jovi/Def Leppard route, it doesn't stray too far in that direction, being more comparable to bands such as Y&T or, dare I say it, UFO. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Maximilian Hecker is a German singer-songwriter who sings in English, making music, if 2008's One Day is typical, of the blandest, wettest, most insipid variety of mainstream balladic pop you can imagine. Admittedly, he intersperses some more upbeat material amongst the sloppy stuff, but his whispery vocals and the Europop origins of his style conspire to make these just as awful, if not more so. As if the album needed any more minus points, it's also available as a two-disc set, over ninety minutes long, when forty of this kind of stuff is already far more than enough. I found the most listenable thing here to be the last track on disc two, Hecker's demo for Daze Of Nothing, although it would be immeasurably improved by removing his horrid voice. Guy Sternberg plays a 'Strawberry Fields'-type samplotron flute part (how original) on Wind Down, while Doron Burstein is credited with 'Mellotron voices' on the same track, although they're inaudible.
Although originally recording as Jetone, Montrealian Tim Hecker now releases his ambient electronica under his own name. His tenth album (between both monikers), 2013's Virgins, concentrates more on the electronica end of his range, most tracks bordering unlistenable to ears more attuned to a more, shall we say, melodic approach, which doesn't make it bad, merely niche. More listenable tracks? Probably Radiance, Live Room Out and the brief Incense At Abu Ghraib, although it all depends on one's perspective, I suppose. Hecker adds raw, sampled Mellotron flutes to Amps, Drugs, Harmonium, although the album's other sampled flutes sound less Mellotronic. An exploratory album, then, though most certainly not one for all tastes.
Tiare Helberg's The Inconsolable Isolation of Intimacy EP contains some of the wettest balladry I've had the displeasure to hear in quite some time. What's more, David Skeet's so-called Mellotron flutes and strings on Tattooed Cards and Matador Of Love are quite clearly nothing of the sort. Rubbish.
Hellbillies are a major name in their home country, their Norwegian-dialect Americana a prime example of Scandinavians doing American music better than the Americans. Their eighth album, Spissrotgang ('Run the Gauntlet'), is a perfectly pleasant listen, their chosen style tempered with the occasional Norwegian folk element, but I can't imagine they have much of an audience outside their home market. Lars Christian Narum plays samplotron flutes on Drukne Ei Gudinne.
Why is it that Scandinavian bands 'do' American music so well? Bones in the Closet gives us a certain brand of Americana, 'that' surf/spaghetti western guitar sound all over it like a rash, not to mention the more-country-than-thou lyrics and Dag Sindre Vagle's haunted vocal delivery. Vagle's also credited with Mellotron, but all we get is sampled strings on classic death ballad Times Of Trials, Lost Highway Motel and Sixty Seconds To What.
Everything's OK is a decent enough powerpop album, albeit one with few real highlights, at its best on the energetic Week Of Days. Producer Henrik Krogh Christensen (presumably not the noted opera singer) plays blatant samplotron flutes on What Holds The World Together.
Tom Helsen's third album, 2004's More Than Gold, is the wettest, most insipid singer-songwriter/pop dreck you can imagine; even if any one track starts off as if it might be listenable, it quickly descends into a morass of keening vocals, heartfelt acoustic guitar and soaring strings. Horrible. Closer Hotellounge (Be The Death of Me) is listed as a 'bonus track', although I rather doubt whether you can buy a version without it. Some bonus. David Poltrock plays the faintest of faint 'Mellotron' strings on Don't Let Them Get You Down, but they could've been produced by almost anything, to be honest. Maybe they were.
Love Songs for Angry Men is an album of dark, raw Americana, Nick Hensley's rough-hewn voice delivering his careworn lyrics with aplomb, sounding like diary entries from the edge. The music? Good, but this is about the songs. Tom Bard plays blatant samplotron flutes on Get Off The Fence.
I was expecting limp indie from a band with a name like Her Vanished Grace, so it's a nice surprise to get an energetic, actually quite rocking, er, indie album in Soon, at its best on Valhalla, Sink Or Swim and Monitor, not to mention the King Crimson kind-of borrow in Home Again (Red, for what it's worth). No Mellotron credited, although I've seen references in the past. They were wrong. Colors Vols. 1 & 2 isn't dissimilar, although its outrageous running time becomes a real listening chore. Edit, please. Best track? The twelve-minute The Grand Staircase. Charlie Nieland's credited Mellotron turns out not to be (big surprise), the Mellotronesque strings on Dreamskate featuring a chord sequence ripped straight out of Genesis' Supper's Ready. What is it with this lot? More of the same on Snake Charmer and The Grand Staircase, plus choirs on Ozone and flutes on set closer Sooner Or Later Diana.