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Tom McBride  (US)

Morning in Glen Burnie  (2013,  44.55)  ***

Perfectly pleasant country-end-of-Americana, although Tom McBride struggles to say anything new. Perhaps he's not trying to. Despite a Chamberlin credit for Jamie Edwards, there's not only nothing audible, but I seriously doubt whether a real machine was involved anyway.

McBride & the Ride  (US)

Amarillo Sky  (2002,  36.20)  **½

McBride & the Ride (later Terry McBride & the Ride) were formed by producer Tony Brown in 1989 in direct competition with Alabama, who, although apparently massively successful, I have never heard of. Going by their description on Wikipedia, I don't want to, either; sounds to me like they're entirely responsible for that buffoon Garth Brooks' 'arena country' stageshows, now widely copied on the scene. Anyway, McBride and co split in the mid-'90s, reforming for one last album in 2002, Amarillo Sky. Despite being mainstream country, it manages to avoid the worst Nashville excesses, although I wouldn't actually take that as a recommendation. Is there a best track? Yes, actually, albeit pretty much by default, as covering The Who's double-entendre-laden Squeeze Box beats their own material by (wait for it) a country mile. Ho bloody ho. Good banjo solo, too. No, really. Squeeze Box is also the receptacle for the album's only audible samplotron, from Matt Rollings.

Angela McCluskey  (UK)

The Things We Do  (2004,  49.06)  **½

Angela McCluskey is a Scottish vocalist who moved to the States, co-founding The Wild Colonials, amongst other projects. 2004's The Things We Do is her first solo album, full of slightly over-dramatic songs about all the things that make the world go round. Trouble is, it's a bit... boring. Of course, I'm listening more to the music than the lyrics, thus doubtless missing out on the bulk of the album's appeal, but her ever-so-slightly off-Broadway approach sets my teeth on edge after a while. Sorry. Nathan Larson plays samplotron, with faint flutes on Somebody Got Lucky and strings on Dirty Pearl. Overall, then, one for the drama queen (of either sex) in your life, I think, particularly the bonus tracks, McCluskey tackling standards like My Funny Valentine or classics such as Bowie's Lady Grinning Soul, all in a torch style. Strangely, they work rather better than most of the contents of the regular release; maybe she should concentrate more on this style? Maybe she has?

Shawn McDonald  (US)

Ripen  (2006,  60.30)  **

Shawn McDonald is a Christian singer-songwriter who came to his faith by one of the well-worn routes: a fragmented childhood, ending up in addiction before redemption. Quite why he felt the need to turn to a popular-yet-entirely-unprovable deity to get out of a bad situation is beyond me, but there you go. I've had the good fortune to have never been there. Anyway, his second studio album, 2006's Ripen, is a folky singer-songwriter CCM effort, dull music unenlivened by rubbish lyrics. Well, what did you expect? No, no best tracks. Chad Copelin plays samplotron, with faint flutes on Free under the real strings.

Greg McEvoy  (Canada)

Sea of Yards  (2013,  24.26)  ***

Greg McEvoy's Sea of Yards EP is a respectable rock-end-of-Americana record, at its best on opener Someone Who's Around and All This Time. Laurence Currie's Mellotron? Samplotron flutes on closer Kerouac.

Tim McGraw  (US)

Tim McGraw & the Dancehall Doctors  (2003,  66.03)  **½

Tim McGraw is proof positive that an artist can be huge in their own 'world', yet mean little to the rest of us. I'd never heard of him before adding him to this site, yet he's apparently sold over forty million records, which is quite shocking. Obviously, he's a veritable superstar in that world, married to another country superstar, Faith Hill, with whom he sometimes tours and records. His eighth album, Tim McGraw & the Dancehall Doctors, apparently bucks a Nashville trend, as McGraw gets his touring band to play on the record, rather than the usual 'A'-list Nashville sessioneers. Radical, eh? In the country world, it seems it is. As mainstream country goes, it's relatively inoffensive, having as much in common with 'roots rock' as country, so plenty of Hammond, not much pedal steel. It seems McGraw doesn't write, so while I suspect that most of the album's songs were written for it, McGraw also covers Elton John's Tiny Dancer. The samplotronist seems to be uncredited, although Jeff McMahon plays the album's keys, but the only obvious use is a few string stabs on Sleep Tonight.

Don McGreevy  (US)

Aichmophobia  (2014,  33.12)  ***½

Given that 2014's Aichmophobia ('morbid fear of sharp objects'. See sleeve design) is a near-ambient, acoustic-guitar-and-keys album, I'm amazed to find that Don McGreevy's day jobs are as drummer with The Master Musicians of Bukkake and bassist with Earth. His 6- and 12-string playing here are beautiful; he admits to loving circular chord sequences and why not? There's no inherently good reason for instrumental music to go anywhere, per se; drifting along in a meditative kind of way is absolutely as valid as any other approach. Trying to identify any 'best tracks' here is slightly futile; this is an album that needs to be listened to as a whole, aided by its brevity. Given the Mellotron sample use of McGreevy's two main projects, it's hardly a surprise to find the same here, the distant choirs on Annoyances Ala Satie and high strings on Hidden Obscene Permissions (and elsewhere?) not even really trying to sound authentic. All round, a fine effort; play on 'repeat' while meditating.

Colin MacIntyre  (UK)

The Water  (2008,  50.16)  ***

Colin MacIntyre (a.k.a. The Mull Historical Society) is a Scottish indie/folky type, whose first album under his own name, 2008's The Water, is a surprisingly diverse set of songs, better moments including the title track's folky feel, the effective rhythmic changes in Stalker and the complete change of mood halfway through closer Pay Attention To The Human, complete with its cameo from legendary British Labour politician Tony Benn. Much of the remainder, sadly, is fairly generic indie, but the album's good moments just tip the balance to give it a three-star rating. MacIntyre and Nick Franglen are credited with Mellotron, but if the strings on Famous For Being Famous are anything to go by, it's sampled, a viewpoint exacerbated by a slew of pics from the recording sessions on MacIntyre's website, none of which show a Mellotron. Then again, nor do they show any other vintage keyboard, with the honourable exception of a harmonium, although several are credited, not least a (Yamaha) CS-80, which is possibly obscure enough to be genuine. Doubt it, though.

Nellie McKay  (US)

Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day  (2009,  43.22)  ***

London-born comedienne Nellie McKay grew up in the States, kicking off her musical career around 2003, 2009's Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day being her fourth release. Is she being ironic? Is she fuck. Many songs here are tackled 'straight' (as in, 'no death metal versions'), although I suspect Ms Day might've booted her arranger out if he presented her with charts like her sparse, recorder-driven take on Black Hills Of Dakota. 'Small jazz ensemble' seems to be the album's default setting, although there's enough oddness here to keep the casual listener interested. Nellie plays samplotron on two tracks, with occasional flutes on Send Me No Flowers and I Remember You.

Susan McKeown  (Ireland/US)

Bones  (1995,  52.27)  ***
Belong  (2012,  39.05)  **½

Susan McKeown emigrated from Dublin to New York in her early twenties, her musical partner in The Chanting House, John Doyle, following soon after. Her first non-cassette release, 1995's Bones, starts off in a sub-Suzanne Vega vein, bland, vaguely Celtic singer-songwriter fare, typified by the rather elongated likes of opener Cé Leis É?, Snakes/Mná Na eHireann and Heart. The overall effect is better than that sounds, however, worthwhile efforts including the haunting Salome, the a capella Gorm, the bluesy I Know I Know, the heavily Celtic Storm In A Teacup and the Weimar accordions of the closing title track. Jimi Zhivago adds samplotron to a couple of tracks, with a high, background string part on Salome and eerie flutes on Storm In A Teacup. Sadly, by 2012's Belong, McKeown's haunted singer-songwriter thing had become plain dull. Although Justin Carroll's credited with Mellotron on opener On The Bridge To Williamsburg, there's nothing audible on the sparsely-arranged track.

Ian McNabb  (UK)

Ian McNabb  (2001,  59.42)  ****
Before All of This  (2005,  56.11)  ***½

Ian McNabb has used both real and sampled Mellotron on various albums, beginning with 2001's Ian McNabb. If anything, it's an improvement on its illustrious predecessor, with excellent, witty songwriting, viz Liverpool Girl or Rockin' For Jesus. The playing is more upfront, too, several tracks rocking out in grand style, with notable irony on Whatever It Takes, although McNabb's Neil Young fixation rears its slightly disfigured head again on Moment In The Sun. Difficult to work out exactly what is and isn't samplotron here (from McNabb and drummer Geoff Dugmore), but it sounds like strings on (If We Believe) What Love Can Do, Open Air and Moment In The Sun, the last-named featuring a repeating low F, below the instrument's range.

McNabb's 2005 release, Before All of This, is a single disc laid out as a double, split into 'acoustic' and 'electric' halves. The songwriting's as good as ever, although splitting the tracks this way might not work quite as well as integrating the styles. Best tracks? Maybe Western Eyes from the acoustic half (clever lyrics, too) and The Nicest Kind Of Lie from the electric camp. McNabb plays samplotron on four tracks, with gentle strings on opener There Oughta Be A Law and The Lonely Ones (1), the latter also featuring McNabb's weird 'autotune vocals', a.k.a. how to gleefully misuse an expensive piece of studio gear. On the electric half, there's nothing audible on The Nicest Kind Of Lie, with more of those background strings on Picture Of The Moon.

Shannon McNally  (US)

Jukebox Sparrows  (2002, recorded 1997,  55.13)  ***

Shannon McNally recorded her first album, Jukebox Sparrows, in 1997, her charmless label then shelving it 'indefinitely'. Luckily for her, they finally decided to stick it out five years later, although it must have been a pretty dispiriting experience having relatively ancient material treated as if it were 'new'. It's not a bad album, in a roots-rock/alt.country vein, although several tracks slightly outstay their welcome and few really grab the listener by the throat yelling "Listen to me!", although the closing title track stands out by dint of sounding nothing like the rest of the record. Ron Aniello is credited with Mellotron (although the ubiquitous Patrick Warren also turns up, merely credited with 'keyboards'), although the strings on Now That I Know, It Could've Been Me and Colorado (and opener Down And Dirty?) sound sampled.

Steph MacPherson  (Canada)

Bells & Whistles  (2012,  40.28)  ***

Bells & Whistles is an acceptable, if not especially interesting Americana/singer-songwriter album, probably at its best on Summer Salute and Silver Platter. Jason Cook is credited with Mellotron on Bent & Unkind, while Ted Gowans takes the honours on This One. Really?

The Machine  (Netherlands)

Calmer Than You Are  (2012,  45.39)  ***½

Dutch heavy psychsters The Machine's fourth album, 2012's Calmer Than You Are, runs the gamut of the genre's approaches, from opener Moonward's doom, through Grain's more Sabbathesque feel to Sphere (...Or Kneiter)'s jamming and closer Repose's 'short, tuneful' take on their sound, although 5 & 4's repetition becomes a little wearing. Best track? Probably Sphere (...Or Kneiter), which seems to wrap up everything that's best about them into one twelve-minute package. Although bandleader David Eering is credited with Mellotron on Sphere (...Or Kneiter), the insubstantial strings are quite clearly nothing of the sort, ditto the uncredited background strings on Moonward. Spurious Mellotron usage is fairly irrelevant here, frankly; this is a fine album of its type and could easily do without a few seconds of sampled Mellotron.

Enrico Macias  (France)

Oranges Amères  (2003,  41.25)  **½
Voyage d'une Mélodie  (2011,  47.38)  ***

Gaston "Enrico Macias" Ghrenassia was born in Algeria in 1938, kicking off his musical career after an enforced move to France in 1961. I'm not even going to try to work out how many albums he's released; suffice to say, he barely missed a year between 1963 and 1990, at which point he only slowed down a little. Three of his 2000s albums have Mellotron credits, from his son, Jean-Claude Ghrenassia: Oranges Amères, La Vie Populaire and Voyage d'une Mélodie, of which I've heard the first and third. Oranges Amères is largely French chansons, of little interest outside his home market, although Voyage... brings in Macias' Arabic influences, amongst other world musics, being all the better for the ensuing variety. Saying that, I'm less convinced by the sampled drums utilised on a few tracks, but there you go. Mellotron? Nothing obvious, sampled or otherwise, on Oranges... and if those strings on Les Séfereades on Voyage... are supposed to be Mellotronic, well...

Mad Men & English Dogs  (UK)

Mad Men & English Dogs  (2001,  59.02)  ***

Nigel Glockler is chiefly known for his on/off retainership of the drum stool for NWoBHM survivors Saxon, although his first major job was drumming for Toyah (Wilcox) in the early '80s. Mad Men & English Dogs are his duo project with guitarist Doug Scarratt, their eponymous album being partially an excuse for the latter to shred over Nige's drum and keyboard parts, although several tracks on the album take a more 'progressive' turn than that might suggest, not least Pomporwot, Dreadnought and Snow-Capped. Despite various string and choir sounds, the latter track is the only one with actual Mellotron samples and then only the choirs that come in towards the end of the piece. Mad Men & English Dogs is an album for the guitar lover in your life, although it has far more depth than most of the one-dimensional shredding nonsense it's been my displeasure to hear. Worth the effort.

Mad Scene  (New Zealand/US)

Sealight  (1995,  53.09)  **½

New Zealanders Mad Scene (originally Monsterlight) moved to New York in 1991, releasing their debut EP, Falling Over: Spilling Over the following year. After '93's A Trip Thru Monsterland, it took them two years to produce the sort-of psychedelic Sealight, which turned out to be their last album, although they put a couple more EPs out before they folded. Sealight's one of those 'yeah, it's OK' kind of albums that has more ambition than actual talent, or so it sounds to me, although the band contained members of such Antipodean luminaries as the Go-Betweens and The Clean. West Coast heroes Love are an obvious influence, particularly the trumpet work, but the songs seem to be missing, or maybe I'm just not hearing them. Also, like so many other albums of its type, it's too long. Just because you CAN fit lots of music on a CD doesn't mean you SHOULD. Samplotron from Dean Falcone, with flutes and strings on opener Strange To Be Here and slightly skronky string and choir parts (sustaining well past the eight-second limit) on My Dreams Are Losing Their Teeth.

Bill Madden  (US)

Gone  (2006,  39.51)  **½

Gone is an infuriating album; one minute decent enough electric singer-songwriter fare (Friend, Gone), the next, irritating, indie-inspired stuff (Art Of Being, Everything And That). Frustrating. Billy Mohler plays extremely obviously sampled strings on What In The World and Art Of Being.

Madnomad  (UK)

Tamper-Evident  (2003,  42.10)  **½

Bristol's Madnomad mix techno, metal, pop and just about anything else you can think of into a huge smörgåsbord of, er, something or other on 2003's Tamper-Evident. Does it work? Depends on your point of view, I suppose. I'd imagine they were the dog's bollocks live, but come across as slightly sterile on record, sometimes sounding like a thirteen-band compilation rather than a cohesive document of the band's sound. The sleeve design is based around food packaging, including an ingredients list, which puts Matt Sampson's Mellotron at the bottom, with '1%', alongside 'banjo' and 'child'. What we actually get is a flute melody on Direct Evidence Against Uniqueness and what sounds like string section on Love Is Sometimes Colder Than Ice, all sampled.

Audra Mae  (US)

The Happiest Lamb  (2010,  43.15)  **½

Audra Mae's debut album is great in small doses, but her relentlessly downbeat approach drags after minor exposure. Best track? Bandida, also the recipient of Frank Pedano Jr.'s sampled Mellotron flutes.

Maga  (Spain)

Maga  (2006,  41.23)  **

Maga are a Spanish pop/rock outfit who have elected, for reasons known only to themselves, to self-title their first three albums. Aping Peter Gabriel? In that only, I can assure you. Anyway, 2006's Maga is their third release of that name, a thoroughly average effort aimed at the local market, although I can't imagine these songs doing well internationally with English lyrics, but then, what do I know? Jordi Gil is credited with 'programming, Solina and Mellotron' on several tracks, none specified Mellotronically. As it happens, it's inaudible on all of them, so God alone knows whether he actually used a real one or not and if so, where. Did you need another excuse not to hear this album? You've got one.

Magenta  (UK)

Revolutions  (2001,  96.37)  **½
Seven  (2004,  76.31)  **
Home  (2005,  67.46)  **½
New York Suite  (2006,  40.02)  **½
The Twenty Seven Club  (2013,  64.15)  **½

A few years ago, I and a group of like-minded individuals who shall remain nameless stood outside the hall where Magenta were playing at a small UK prog festival. Every minute or so, someone would pipe up: "Tarkus!" "Something from Topographic!" "Something else from Topographic!", all to much laughter. It wouldn't be too much of an exaggeration to say that ex-Cyan multi-instrumentalist (but mainly keyboard player) Rob Reed's next venture, er, 'somewhat lacks originality'. The female-fronted Magenta, with Christina Booth at the mic, play the kind of contemporary neo-prog that keeps old Marillion fans happy, without sounding like a direct copy; as a result, they outsell many more worthy bands.

They debuted with 2001's sprawling double-disc Revolutions, consisting of four lengthy, multi-part tracks, one shorter piece and two genuinely nice brief acoustic guitar instrumentals, easily the best thing about this album. The bulk of the set merely reinforces my original impression of the band; there appears to be no end to the artists Magenta are prepared to 'borrow' from, including Yes (hugely), Marillion (natch) and even The Beach Boys on part one of Man The Machine, just before they shift into a bit of Squonk-style Genesis, so close rhythmically to the original (albeit without its power) that it comes across as pastiche. In places, Magenta effectively lift whole chunks of other artists' work (spot the Heart Of The Sunrise cop on part four of Genetesis, just before the Awaken bit), to the point where I'm surprised they're not challenged on the subject more frequently. Another minus are the almost autistically-literal lyrics, particularly on Man The Machine, making Neil Peart sound like Tennyson, although the bulk of the music's enough to drive most old-school prog fans away. Rather like the aforementioned Topographic Oceans, any random, brief snippet of this album will have you screaming 'PROG ALERT!', but more than a minute or two may well leave you craving something with a little more... originality.

Reed actually underuses his Mellotron samples, which first make themselves apparent in the form of the rather murky strings on part three of Children Of The Sun, The Battle, with more of the same on the 'title track' section of The White Witch plus 'are they/aren't they?' flutes in a couple of places, notably at the beginning of part five of The White Witch, The Spell. Choirs? Hard to tell whether they're Mellotron samples or merely generic ones. I was tempted to give this a paltry two stars for its various failings listed above, but at least Reed has the taste to rip off some decent bands (and Marillion), although the lumpen way the contrasting styles are jammed together betrays a sorry lack of genuine prog talent.

2004's Seven is, as you can see, a concept effort based around the Biblical seven deadly sins, although a preponderance of sickly ballads drags the album down; not so much 'heartfelt' as 'rather too slick for their own good'. Fewer obvious cops from other artists' work, although I spotted a recreation of the ARP Pro-Soloist patch Tony Banks used on Ripples at one point, modulation and all, used in a similar setting. Overall, this loses half a star from an already fairly paltry score for its high boredom quotient, while the choirs on a few tracks might not even be Mellotron samples; it's hard to tell. Reed & Co. shamelessly rip off '70s Pink Floyd on the following year's Home, right down to the well-placed sax solo, not to mention Genesis again and solo Steve Hackett (on Demons). We also get some cod-Celtic nonsense on the title track for bad measure, although the same 'right style, wrong notes' caveat applies as before. As I said, minor samplotron, with brief string parts on Brave New Land and The Journey, but, once again, they're underused. 2006's New York Suite was marketed as an EP (and included as the second disc of the Home reissue), but in my book, forty minutes is an album, so an album it is. Conceptually, it appears to follow on from Home, assuming you're actually listening to the lyrics, which I'm not, while it sounds a lot like its predecessor musically, with a snatch of samplotron strings at one point.

After a couple of samplotron-free efforts, 2013's The Twenty Seven Club (a contemporary Amy Winehouse reference?), recorded as a trio, is slightly better than its predecessors, though not enough to actually pull an extra half star out of the Planet Mellotron hat. While Stoned and The Gift are probably the best things here, closer The Devil At The Crossroads almost loses them that half star again; suffice to say, Magenta still don't appear to be aiming for 'originality', sadly. Not a lot of that samplotron, either, with naught but a few string swells in Stoned. Magenta are the F2 label's flagship act, as far as I can work out, which probably has more to do with having a female frontperson than anything to do with the quality of the music. Go on, argue effectively with that one. Met any British prog fans lately?

Magenta  (Norway)

Little Girl Lost  (2002,  48.13)  **½

Magenta (nothing to do with the outrageously unoriginal UK 'progressive' band) seem to be a Norwegian goth band, for want of a better description, although their sound is rooted as much in 'traditional' indie as anything. They're an augmented trio, effectively, with any number of guests joining the core of vocalist Vilde Lockert and guitarists Anders Odden and Daniel Hill, both of whom double on almost everything. Little Girl Lost is their second full release and, apart from the odd moment (the first part of Mermaid, the electronic title track), made me want to take it off immediately, I'm afraid. Bored-sounding female vocals intoning in bad English doth not a dark, scary album make, people. Andreas Bjørk and Tore Ylvizåker are credited with 'Mellotron', but none of it sounds that authentic, the real giveaway being the muted choirs on I Need My Love, which just don't cut the mustard at all. The rest of their sample use consists of strings on opener These Things, overdubbed strings and flutes on Mermaid and 'Strawberry Fields'-esque flutes on closer Green Dragon, some of which doesn't sound bad, but none of which convinces me it's real. Now, of course, I'll be proven wrong...

Magic Hero vs. Rock People  (US)

Magic Hero vs. Rock People  (2008,  60.56)  **½

Magic Hero vs. Rock People play a kind of indie/psych crossover on their eponymous debut, fine in small doses, but tedious in hour-long helpings. Much samplotron, not least the strident string section parts on The Close Purveyor Of Fog and Selfness Nameless Vanity, the flutes all over Astro Turf and strings on One Way Woman and World For Kings, particularly obviously sampled on the last-named.

Magic Numbers  (UK)

Undecided  (2007,  24.59)  **½
The Runaway  (2010,  54.14)  *½

The double brother/sister foursome The Magic Numbers seem to've captured critics' collective imaginations, although their 2007 EP, Undecided, gives me few clues as to why. A couple of its limp tracks aren't so bad, but six on the trot is enough to make my teeth squeak. Romeo Stodart plays samplotron strings on closer Sissy And The Silent Kid, one of the aforementioned better tracks. Listening to their third album, 2010's The Runaway, I have absolutely no idea why anyone likes this band. None. None at all. Remember soft rock? This is the same (lack of) style, updated for a new (and not obviously better) millennium, pathetically excused by said critics as 'folk influenced'. Well, if this is folk, I'm the proverbial denizen of the Orient; if it looks like soft rock and sounds like soft rock, then soft rock it bloody well is and a pretty poor example of it, to boot. Michele Stodart plays samplotron on Dreams Of A Revelation, with strings under real ones and a faint flute part.

Magnet  (Norway)

On Your Side  (2004,  49.36)  ***
The Tourniquet  (2005,  40.39)  **½

Norway's Magnet essentially consist of singer-songwriter Even Johansen and while On Your Side is his first album under that name, his solo debut, Quiet & Still, appeared in 2000. So, what does Mr. Johansen sound like? Melancholy intelligent pop with an Americana influence, basically, despite being Scandinavian, although I have to say, after the first few tracks I found it starting to drag. You find yourself willing him to up the pace a little, but he never does, with his tedious take on Dylan's Lay Lady Lay being the album's nadir. On the samplotron front, the only 'definite' I can hear is some nice upfront flutes on Everything's Perfect. Johansen released his follow-up, The Tourniquet, a year later and, if anything, it's even more indie-schmindie than its predecessor, although he throws the odd Beach Boys harmony in to throw you off the scent. One famous guest, with Jason Falkner, now long ex-of the sainted Jellyfish who, although he played guitar in that outfit, plays mostly drums here. I have to say, this didn't grab me at all, I'm afraid; too whiny, too indie, too dull. Johansen plays all the album's credited Mellotron, with flutes on Hold On, Believe, Deadlock (including a low F, out of the instrument's range) and Blow By Blow, possibly from either Falkner or Jørgen Træen instead of Johansen.

Magnetik  (Czech Republic)

Projektor  (2010,  46.22)  **½

Magnetik's Projektor sits at the synthpop end of electronica, instrumental, yet with sporadic hooks, great for two or three tracks, but with too little substance to sustain throughout an entire album. Peter van Krbetz and Moimir Papalescu are credited with Mellotron, but all we get is occasional samplotron, notably the upfront flutes on Black And White TV - Music From The Respirium.

Magnolia Electric Co.  (US)

Sojourner  [including all of 2006's Fading Trails]  (2007,  117.19)  ***½
Josephine  (2009,  46.32)  ***

2007's two-hour, four-disc Sojourner is actually a full release of the source material for Magnolia Electric Co.'s previous year's Fading Trails, four recording sessions, one (wastefully) per disc. It's a pot-pourri of Molina's influences, discs one and two (Nashville Moon and Black Ram) sounding more like What Comes After the Blues, while the brief three (Sun Session) is more country and four (Shohola) pretty much solo acoustic. Alan Weatherhead is credited with Mellotron on disc two, but the only even vaguely audible use is some most likely sampled background strings on Will-O-The-Wisp, unless it's buried away in the mix elsewhere. Molina followed up with 2009's Josephine, a laid-back, countrified record with little of that Neil influence left, sadly, although it can vaguely be heard in the title track and The Handing Down. Saying that, it's a good, mournful Americana effort, better tracks including Shenandoah and Hope Dies Last, although possibly not matching up to the band's earlier work. Michael Kapinus is credited with Mellotron, but I'd love to know where, as it seems to be completely inaudible.

Magnus  (Belgium)

The Body Gave You Everything  (2004,  47.47)  **½

Magnus are a Belgian synth-pop duo, 2000s style, so no Human League/Soft Cell-style pop sensibilities here, more a dance-influenced, sample-based approach, so contemporary that, seven years later it sounds quaintly old-fashioned. Better tracks include Jumpneedle and Rock Chick, but I can't imagine this is going to excite anyone who has a place in their heart for the first wave of synth-based pop. Peter Vermeersch adds obviously fake (yet credited) Mellotron strings and flutes to French Movies, with vaguely similar sounds cropping up on a couple of other tracks. All rather dull, really, particularly on the fakeotron front.

Nick Magnus  (UK)

Straight on Till Morning  (1993,  43.09)  ***
Inhaling Green  (1999,  53.09)  ***½
Hexameron  (2004,  50.26)  ***½
Children of Another God  (2010,  50.15)  ****
N'monix  (2014,  46.49)  ***½

Nick Magnus joined The Enid as second keyboard player in 1976, staying for six months before leaving to form the Portsmouth-based Autumn, whose recordings finally appeared in 1999 as the highly-recommended, though sadly Mellotron-free Oceanworld (****). After a fortuitous mix-up with a 'musicians wanted' ad, Nick teamed up with Steve Hackett for a decade, playing on his run of albums beginning with 1979's wonderful Spectral Mornings, releasing his first solo album, Straight on Till Morning, in 1993, after contributing to the semi-legendary Rime of the Ancient Sampler: The Mellotron Album, albeit in sampled form. It seems Straight on... is actually a re-recording of a library album Nick released, titled Framework (there's a library music title if ever there were one), so it won't come as any great surprise to hear that it largely consists of music more back- than foreground, much of it with something of an '80s sheen about it; you know, all programmed drums and chiffy synth patches. Best tracks? Probably the gentle Miranda and the orchestral version of Lac Lucerne that closes the record, although, since Voiceprint allowed this to go out of print many years back, you'll be hard-pushed to find a physical copy. The album's sole samplotron use is the vague strings on Nick's contribution to the aforementioned Rime... disc, Night Of The Condor, although you'd be forgiven for missing them entirely.

1999's Inhaling Green is an album of mostly instrumental symphonic progressive rock, although the female-vocalled Cantus, maybe surprisingly, is nearer the dance end of the spectrum, while Dixon Hill is more in a swing vein and Nick's take on George Martin's Theme One (you'll know the Van der Graaf version) is slightly techno-flavoured, would you believe. Best tracks? Probably the flute-led Veil Of Sighs and the lengthy, three-part title track, part three being especially Hackett-esque. Those Mellotron samples crop up here and there, with strings on Free The Spirit, The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea and Weighing Of The Souls, although it's not the heaviest use you'll ever hear, sampled or otherwise. Five years on, 2004's Hexameron can been seen either as more cohesive or less varied, depending on your outlook (I prefer the former description), concentrating more on the progressive end of the spectrum. Nick adds vocals to the mix this time round, guest vocalists including ex-Hackett colleague Pete Hicks and ReGenesis man Tony Patterson's Gabrielesque tones, other guests including guitarist Geoff Whitehorn (If, Procol Harum) and Hacketts John (flute, of course) and Steve. The furthest the album deviates from the (loosely) symphonic template is the Celtic flavourings on Sophia's Song, most of its material sitting somewhere between Enid-style symphonics, contemporary guitar-driven prog and a touch of new age in places. On the samplotron front, we get strings and/or choir on several tracks, including Marduk, Brother Sun Sister Moon and Seven Hands Of Time, used, once again, with welcome restraint.

2010's Children of Another God ups the ante somewhat, possibly even being Nick's Big Progressive Statement, featuring repeating musical and lyrical motifs throughout in true concept album style. Top tracks include the opening title track, the Hackett-esque The Colony Is King, with its strange, chanted vocals and the slightly Spock's Beard-esque Babel Tower, while Doctor Prometheus is reminiscent of mid-'70s Rick Wakeman, albeit considerably better, leaving the female-vocalled The Others as the album's odd man out, sounding as if it belongs on another record. The 'guest list' this time round is fairly familiar, including Hicks, Patterson and both Hacketts again, plus Nick's old Enid bandmate Glenn Tollett on upright bass. Did I use the phrase 'welcome restraint' regarding Nick's sampled 'Tron use above? Am I mad? This time round he gets strings and/or choirs in on most tracks, used with considerable taste, as I'd expect, often alongside sampled Taurus pedals, using the ever-faithful Genesis template; a compliment, in case you were wondering.

2014's N'monix', while still undoubtedly 'progressive rock' (whatever you take that to mean), shifts further towards the orchestral spectrum than Nick's previous work, although opener Time is full-blown classic Hackett/Magnus. Elsewhere, Memory is a choral piece at the prog end of the musical theatre spectrum, Kombat Kid is a grimly amusing cautionary tale regarding modern technology, complete with historical references, while there's more than a little of Gentle Giant about Headcase, leaving the remainder of the album loosely 'progressive', the eccentric Eminent Victorians also reminding the listener of the odder tracks on Hackett's 'classic period' releases. Samplotron on several tracks, with strings (and brass?) on Time, block string chords on Kombat Kid and string swells on Eminent Victorians, Broken and Entropy.

Duncan Maitland  (Ireland)

Lullabies for the 21st Century  (2010,  47.34)  ****

Duncan Maitland used to play in Irish sensations Pugwash, so it should come as absolutely no surprise at all that his first solo album, 2010's Lullabies for the 21st Century should be a gorgeous, sun-drenched concoction of intelligent pop and gentle psychedelia. Think late-period XTC; actually, keep thinking that as you listen to the first track, Your Century, as it sinks in that none other than XTC's Colin Moulding's playing bass. There genuinely isn't a bad track here; mind you, not everyone's going to get the 'Light Programme' whimsy of closer Insect Under The Stone, in which case they should probably go for the Beatles-esque Your Century, Terry The Toad (beautiful chorus) or Alien At Home, to name but three. I had to apply a little pressure, but Colin eventually owned up to using samples, largely because I couldn't work out how he'd tracked down a Chamberlin in Ireland. He uses 'Tron or Chamby samples on nine of the eleven tracks here, with a wider range of sounds than most real Mellotron users can manage (often a 'sample giveaway', that one), notable parts including the 'Tron flutes on Your Century and Cry Me To Sleep, the 'Tron strings on Up To You and Supermarket Dream and the Chamby sax solo on Insect Under The Stone, "So good", says Duncan, "That I credited it to a fictional player!" ('Herbert Ginshell', for what it's worth).

Catherine Major  (Québec)

Rose Sang  (2008,  57.09)  **½

Catherine Major's jazzy, piano-driven, French-language chanson pop is, like so many other albums I hear, fine in small doses, yet overly hard work over the course of a full album. Alex McMahon's 'Mellotron' on Les Grands Espaces turns out to be barely-Mellotronic samplotron flutes.

Major Parkinson  (Norway)

Songs From a Solitary Home  (2010,  46.06)  ***½

Major Parkinson find themselves variously described as 'prog', 'alternative rock' and 'pop/rock', the truth, unsurprisingly, lying both somewhere in between and elsewhere. Influences on their second album, 2010's Songs From a Solitary Home, are as disparate as '77 punk, Brecht & Weil (notably the deranged Dance With The Cookie Man), French chanson (Downtown Boogie) and early '80s post-punk, while I'd be amazed to hear they'd never heard Cardiacs. The whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts, however, so trying to nail this lot down to any one style is an utterly futile exercise. Someone plays fakeotron strings and flutes on Solitary Home and Domestic Violets, with possible background use elsewhere, but it's hardly the album's defining feature. This is a very good album that repeated plays can only make better, its eclecticism showing a million lesser outfits the way. As a result, they'll probably sell very few records.

Peter Malick Group  (US)

New York City  (2003,  30.28)  ***

Peter Malick is an LA-based jazz guitarist who had the good fortune to hook up with a pre-fame Norah Jones in 2000, recording a handful of tracks released three years later as New York City. Stylistically, we're talking bluesy jazz (or jazzy blues?), with some tasteful playing from Malick and vocals of the quality we've come to expect from Ms. Jones, although the material's hardly top-notch; this probably wouldn't even have been released were it not for the obvious. Danny McGough is credited with Mellotron on the title track and its pointless radio edit added to the end of the disc to bump it up to a paltry half hour, but if it's referring to those generic-sounding strings that crop up occasionally, it's clearly sampled. Incidentally, Malick has cashed-in as much as possible, given the small number of tracks at his disposable, releasing a double CD of the type that would fit onto one disc called The Deluxe Collection, adding entirely pointless remixes of most of the mini-album's tracks to no effect whatsoever.

Ben Mallot  (US)

Look Good, Feel Good  (2008,  37.54)  ***

Ben Mallot(t)'s debut album, 2008's Look Good, Feel Good, completely belies his relative inexperience, Mallot sounding like a seasoned, world-weary peddler of fine Americana. Of course, there's little actual originality on display, but what do you expect from a genre that's been around this long? It's all about the songs, anyway, which are good, if not outstanding, the best ones probably being Shotgun Suzy, Leaving and closer Just Like Angels. Producer Mark Hallman allegedly plays Mellotron, although I have absolutely no idea where, as it's completely inaudible.

Heather Maloney  (US)

Making Me Break  (2015,  43.39)  ***

Heather Maloney's fifth album, 2015's Making Me Break, is a competent, country-inflected singer-songwriter effort, of the kind that often finds itself used on TV programmes like The O.C. Whatever that is. Its better tracks are generally the more acoustic ones, such as Involuntary or Hey Serena, although we could probably have done without cheesy, mainstream guff like opener Linger Longer (terrible lyric, too) or Day With You. Jimmi Wallace allegedly plays Mellotron and Chamberlin on Involuntary, by which he quite certainly means the M4000D sample player, with strings (Chamby?) and cellos (Mellotron?) and background flutes (not sure which) on Day With You.

Mamiffer  (US)

Hirror Enniffer  (2008,  34.35)  ***

Mamiffer (who have also collaborated with Locrian) are one of American guitarist Aaron Turner's multifarious projects, albeit one actually led by vocalist/pianist Faith Coloccia, whose debut, 2008's Hirror Enniffer, is probably best described as 'post-metal', whatever you take that to mean. Coloccia's piano is the lead instrument throughout the bulk of the record, although Death Shawl is essentially a slow build-up of distorted organ and closer Cyhraeth is similarly piano-free. Coloccia is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on Black Running Water sound pretty shaky from where I'm standing (OK, so I'm sitting), although whether they're actually Mellotron samples or generic strings credited as such is hard to say. So; is this any good? Good at what it does, assuming you like the sound of ambient piano overlaid with wordless vocals and distortion.

Mammoth Volume  (Sweden)

A Single Book of Songs  (2001,  55.33)  ***

Mammoth Volume are part of the 'third wave' of stoner hard rock/metal, following the late-'80s burst of activity from Trouble, Monster Magnet et al. But are they any good at it? I hear you cry. Well, I've heard better, to be honest, although they have a certain level of competence going for them and a disinterest in 'playing the game', making every track sound like every other, all of which sound like a bad amalgam of Black Sabbath and Hawkwind. You know the type. Maybe I'm just becoming incredibly jaded, but even on a second listen, I can't really warm to their second full-length effort, 2001's A Single Book of Songs, although it has its moments. The 'Mellotron' parts are fairly obviously sampled, with strings on opener To Gloria, The So Called 4th Sect and Evening Streeted, with distant, phased choirs on Pleroma, strings and cranky flutes on Brave Manic Mover and finally, more strings on closer Instead of Circles, which would've given the album something like TTT were the Mellotron genuine. There's supposed to be more 'Mellotron' on their eponymous 1999 debut, but all I can hear is some dodgy generic string samples, though I've been wrong before... As far as A Single Book of Songs goes, it's fairly adventurous for a stoner band, but somehow, I just couldn't engage with it properly, (fake) Mellotron or no. Sorry.

Man From RavCon  (US)

Rides Again!  (2011,  41.58)  ***
The Traveler  (2012,  36.45)  ***
Skyscraper  (2013,  46.38)  ***

After leaving (splitting?) The Ravelers, Mike Brown took a sharp left turn with The Man From RavCon, concentrating on surf/spaghetti western-style instrumentals, to reasonable effect, 2011's Rides Again! being all Duane Eddy-esque guitars and Morricone pastiches, albeit in a tuneful kind of way. The following year's The Traveler tones down Brown's surf fixation, even to the point of some proggy touches on the title track, while 2013's Skyscraper carries on in a similar vein, to the point where the title track cheekily borrows from King Crimson's Starless. Plenty of fairly obvious samplotron strings, flutes and choirs throughout.

Eleni Mandell  (US)

Miracle of Five  (2007,  39.04)  **½

2007's Miracle of Five is something of a retrograde step for Eleni Mandell, at least to my ears, filled with pseudo-late nite jazz, all swooning clarinets and Mandell's breathy tones. I wouldn't mind, but too many of its tracks sound near-identical to too many of its other tracks, making for a rather monotonous listening experience, however well-played and sung it might be. Andy Kaulkin adds a melodic samplotron flute part to Wings In His Eyes.

Mat Maneri  (US)

Pentagon  (2005,  58.11)  ***

Viola/violinist Mat Maneri's Pentagon is a full-on experimental, improvised jazz album, decidedly hard-going for those not used to the style, with melody, harmony and structure going the way of all things, although I'm sure aficionados would disagree. It's quite impossible to pick out any highlights when you don't even understand what's going on, but closer America has an almost-normal (real) strings part, which comes as light relief after the preceding chaos. Samplotron from Jamie Saft, with discordant flutes on W.W.P., bereft strings and flutes on Wound and ghostly choir on An Angel Passes By and the very brief title track. It sounds like pitchbent brass and strings on War Room and it's possible that it's somewhere in the mix on some other tracks, but with so much going on at once, it's rather hard to tell.

Mangala Vallis  (Italy)

Lycanthrope  (2005,  62.17)  ***

Mangala Vallis' first album, The Book of Dreams, features real Mellotron, although that's just about its only redeeming feature. However, their follow-up from three years later, Lycanthrope, proves that neo-proggers can improve, if only slightly. It starts off as a vast improvement on its predecessor, although it still opens with a Genesis steal (Watcher this time). Guest vocalist on their debut, ex-PFM man Bernardo Lanzetti, seems to've become a full member by this time, making Chocolate Kings comparisons inevitable; better than Script though, eh kids? Mangala Vallis' previous Spock's Beard influence seems to have become more dominant here, with the vast bulk of the hour-long album taken up by the sort-of title track, the Werewolf Suite, replete with loads of Enzo Cattini's Hammond and fake Mellotron work. Hurrah! This isn't to say it's all good, by any means; Lycanthroparty pumps away at a mainstream rock groove for far longer than necessary, including the obligatory dullsville guitar solo, and in fact, the quality dips as the album progresses, until by the end, it isn't an awful lot better than its predecessor. What a shame; if only the album had been shorter, maybe the band could've tightened up their arrangements and made for a better release all round. 'Tron samples across the board, mostly strings, with bits of flute and choir here and there, although some of the notes hold just that little bit too long. So; a partly good partly non-neo-prog album with fake Mellotron. Concentrate on what makes the first half of Lycanthrope good, lads, and your third effort could be very reasonable. Incidentally, many thanks to my old pal Gary for extracting a sample use confession out of the band.

Mangrove  (Netherlands)

Touch Wood  (2004,  66.29)  **½
Facing the Sunset  (2005,  57.30)  **½
Coming Back to Live  (2006,  94.24)  **½
Beyond Reality  (2009,  67.39)  **

Mangrove formed in the mid-'90s under a different name, releasing their first full album (after a brace of demos), Touch Wood, in 2004. Obvious influences include 'mid-period' (i.e. post-Gabriel, pre-chart success) Genesis and, I'm sad to say, Marillion, their sound being pervaded with an unfortunate neo-prog sensibility, particularly in the vocal department. Actually, I'm reminded in places of superior Scottish neo-proggers Citizen Kane, also IQ, although with little of either band's sometime inventiveness, the nearest this gets to an exception being the vaguely bluesy/jazzy touches in closer City Of Darkness. This is one of those 'OK in small doses' albums, where any single track is perfectly listenable, but over an hour in one go becomes exceedingly tedious. Samplotronically speaking, obviously fake string, cello and choir parts on opener Fatal Sign, flutes on Vicious Circle and combinations of these four on most of the rest. The following year's Facing the Sunset is basically more of the same, albeit in longer form, featuring four lengthy tracks; unfortunately, the band's talents don't really extend to complexity in any great way, so they all become a bit dull after a while. Less samplotron than before, but better sounds, for what it's worth.

2006's double live (bit early for that, isn't it?), Coming Back to Live, might've gained an extra half star had it edited their live set down to its best forty minutes or so. As it is, two new tracks aside, we get large chunks of their first two albums, in a live setting, with samplotron strings and choirs throughout. That's it. Sadly, 2009's Beyond Reality is, unbelievably, even worse than its predecessors. Most depressing of all, though, is that the band manage flashes of inspiration, then brutally smother them to death with endless minutes of utterly clichéd neo-prog drivel. Guys, guys... Can't you do better than this? Stop listening to Marillion; that'll help. More of the usual samplotron, not that I care any more. I had a nasty feeling that Mangrove were going to suck, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt and have been comprehensively defeated. If I (or anyone) could actually be bothered, there's probably about twenty minutes of good bits spread over all three of these albums, which is vastly too little to be any use. Why do the Netherlands chuck out so many of these bands? Please stop.

Manic Street Preachers  (UK)

This is My Truth Tell Me Yours  (1998,  63.13)  ***
Postcards From a Young Man  (2010,  44.24)  ***

The Manic Street Preachers' story has been one of tragedy; their arch-propagandist, Richey James, disappeared in the mid-'90s, having almost certainly thrown himself off the Severn Bridge during a bad bout of depression; the band regrouped, recording Everything Must Go as soon as possible to try to overcome the trauma. In retrospect, Richey didn't seem to actually do an awful lot in the band, existing more as their public face than anything else, so their subsequent career hasn't suddenly taken a lurch in a different direction. The Manics started off wanting to be The Clash, but quickly mutated into a stadium-rock outfit for disaffected teenagers, an area they still inhabit today.

This is My Truth Tell Me Yours does nothing to change this state of affairs; mostly mid-paced, with a great deal of rather hollow lyrical rhetoric and somewhat clichéd song structures. Session keyboardist Nick Nasmyth brought in a raft of vintage gear, principally a Hammond and a Wurlie piano, making reasonable use of them across the album, although it's interesting to note that the band's next effort featured a noticeably stripped-down sound, as they apparently felt that This is My Truth was a bit 'lush' in the production department. I've always been under the impression that the credit for 'Mellotron' meant exactly that, but going by the interview with producer Dave Eringa here, it seems they're samples. Anyway, fake 'Tron on three tracks; the rather pretentiously-titled single, If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next has strings running through it, while the balladic You're Tender And You're Tired has a short arranged string part in the middle. The Manics also used a proper string section on the album, so Nasmyth was obviously going for a distinct 'feel' by using the pseudo-'Tron here. Album closer S.Y.M.M. (South Yorkshire Mass Murderer, apparently) has a background strings wash, with a slightly more upfront part on the second verse.

I'd heard that the Manics had recorded an album of music set to unused Richey lyrics, incorrectly assuming that it was 2010's Postcards From a Young Man. Well, it'd make sense, wouldn't it? It seems that was the previous year's Journal for Plague Lovers, however, its successor apparently being, "One last shot at mass communication". To be honest, it makes a pretty good shot at it, the band's tried'n'tested stadium riffs crossed with indie vocals trick serving them well once again. Do I like it? Not especially, no, but it's difficult to deny that they do what they do rather well. Loz Williams is credited with 'Melotron', but with real strings on most track, who knows where it might be? Are those 'Melotron' strings faintly audible at the end of The Future Has Been Here 4Ever? If so, I'd swear blind they ain't real. Again.

Aimee Mann  (US)  see:

Aimee Mann

Manna  (Finland)

Sister  (2007,  38.16)  ***

Manna Jäntti is a Finnish singer-songwriter, clearly aiming at the international market by singing in English. Her debut, 2007's Sister, is a surprisingly decent effort, largely steering clear of the genre's expected cheesy melodies and limp arrangements, better tracks including Lost, I Gave In and the title track. Manna's close-mic'd voice is considerably better than those of many of her transatlantic contemporaries, thankfully missing the nasal edge that so many American singers seem unable (or unwilling) to drop. Kalle Gustafsson Jerneholm is credited with Mellotron on opener Stars, but the vague strings on the track sound little like a real machine to my (admittedly jaded) ears. It's notable that probable sample users Soundtrack of Our Lives' Martin Hederos plays on the track, although whether or not he's had anything to do with the presumed fakeotron is unknown. Anyway, good at what it does, but unlikely to appeal to most Planet Mellotron readers.

Manning  (UK)

Tall Stories for Small Children  [originally as Guy Manning]  (1999,  69.30)  ***
The Cure  (2000,  64.39)  ***
Cascade  (2001,  64.13)  **½
The Ragged Curtain  (2002,  68.06)  **½
The View From My Window  (2003,  56.14)  **½
A Matter of Life & Death (The Journal of Abel Mann)  (2004,  53.54)  **½
One Small Step...  (2005,  57.40)  **½
Anser's Tree  (2006,  63.28)  ***
Songs From the Bilston House  (2007,  67.14)  ***
Number Ten  (2009,  63.16)  ***
Charlestown  (2010,  61.30)  **½
Margaret's Children  (2011,  60.27)  ***
The Root, the Leaf & the Bone  (2013,  66.07)  ***

I can't work out what Parallel or 90 Degrees associate and Tangent member Guy Manning did before the late '90s; like many other current progressive artists, he probably spent years making music he didn't like, finally finding the freedom to follow his heart. Incidentally, some years ago, he wrote to tell me that he used Mellotron on all his albums, then didn't reply when I asked where he'd sourced a machine, although he's recently let me know that he started off using an Akai, moving on to the ubiquitous M-Tron.

He released his first solo album (and the only one credited to anything other than Manning), Tall Stories for Small Children, in 1999, falling in between the progressive and singer-songwriter genres, sounding not entirely unlike Pink Floyd in places. This is the kind of album that rewards multiple plays and much reading of the lyrics; unfortunately, I don't have the luxury of being able to give everything I review the appropriate attention, but initial listens give the impression of a reasonable, though far from classic effort, incorporating no fewer than three multi-part epics. The Last Psalm is probably the most Floyd-like thing here, The Fall And Rise Of Abel Mann? accentuates the singer-songwriter aspects of Manning's work, while Holy Ireland explores his heritage, with some appropriately Celtic themes cropping up here and there. As for the 'Mellotron', indeed it is sampled, given away by the pitchbend on The Last Psalm, with strings and/or choir on most tracks; maybe a TT½, were it applicable.

The following year's The Cure (as Manning) is, essentially, more of the same, although the Floyd references seem to have been put to bed. Its concept might possibly be explained by the brief essay in the CD booklet, 'The Effects of Partial & Total Sensory Deprivation'; suffice to say, this is music where the lyrics are at least as important as the music, à la your typical singer-songwriter. The music's perfectly good for what it is, but its slightly back-seat role makes this a slightly less engaging listen than its predecessor. Less samplotron, too, although Manning gets a bit in on most tracks. 2001's Cascade is, I'm afraid, a rather weaker effort, its uneasy prog/folk/pop crossover almost designed to keep everyone unhappy; its best track is a version of Hushabye Mountain (from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), unfortunately highlighting the relative weakness of Manning's writing. Saying that, he has his fanbase, but I suspect that, like, the artist himself, they're as interested in his albums' lyrical content as the musical. Once again, fakeotron on a few tracks, but nothing startling.

2002's The Ragged Curtain seems to be the next instalment in Manning's lengthy sequence of (presumably unrelated) concept titles, the vaguely Floydish music once again more of a backdrop to the lyrics. As with his previous albums, it features the occasional really nice moment dotted amongst tens of minutes of rather forgettable ones, not to mention some quite unforgivable sax solos. Once again, samplotron on a few tracks, for what it's worth. Incidentally, spot the Mott the Hoople's All The Young Dudes quote on Where Do All The Madmen Go. Keeping up his 'one a year' workload, 2003's The View From My Window carries on a similar vein to its predecessors, which is about all I can think of to say about it. It contains a little sampled Mellotron. 2004's A Matter of Life & Death (The Journal of Abel Mann), while no more interesting musically, seems to have a more cohesive concept, giving the Tall Stories... character his own album. Is there a best track? Probably Out Of My Life, but that isn't really a recommendation. It certainly isn't the cheesy rock'n'roll of closer Midnight Sail, anyway. Y'know, my problem with Manning's albums has just come into focus, listening to this one: he's influenced by rather too much of the insipid end of prog, crossing over into '70s 'middling rock' to be able to claim any real prog credibility, much of his material sounding more like Elton John, say, or maybe The Alan Parsons Project. Manning may take the comparisons as a compliment, but they're not.

2005's One Small Step... carries on that concept thing, also bringing in the occasional new influence, notably the prog/Americana of The Mexico Line. Man Of God is probably the best thing here, Manning's influences coming together in reasonably pleasing form, avoiding cheesiness en route; shame he can't apply the technique to more of his material. The following year's Anser's Tree (go on, work it out), however, is a rather better effort, although its pseudo-historical concept is less than fully transparent. Why is this better? Not sure, it just is. Less MOR? Hard to say, but the material manages not to irritate, while the lyrical vignettes make more sense than previously. Manning keeps the (relative) quality up on 2007's Songs From the Bilston House. Now, I originally thought that this would be a live album recorded at the (semi-) legendary Robin 2 club in Bilston, in the Birmingham conurbation, but, er, it isn't. What we actually get is another hour or so of new material (regular as clockwork, this guy), which delves further back towards the very early '70s. if not the late '60s, better tracks including the really rather good Understudy and the jamming Icarus & Me, although losing rather dreary closer Inner Moment would actually improve the album.

His tenth release, 2009's Number Ten, wittily references the British prime minister's legendary residence on the sleeve, although I didn't spot any overt political references on the album, which starts well with the dynamic r'n'b of Ships, while the point at which A Road Less Travelled shifts up a gear is a highpoint. Yet again, though, the album suffers from Manning's usual 'around twenty minutes too long' issues; losing Another Lazy Sunday and lengthy closer The House On The Hill would actually have improved the end result. Sadly, the following year's Charlestown seems to be a backwards step into sort-of prog dullness, exacerbated by the thirty five-minute opening title track, despite its upfront samplotron flutes and strings. The album picks up by closer Finale, but by then, it's too little, too late. For what it's worth, all of the above that lack specific mentions have reasonable levels of sampled Mellotron, tending to shift between the 'holy trinity' of strings, flutes and choir.

I initially presumed 2011's Margaret's Children referenced our (now) unlamented ex-prime minister, although I'm not sure how that might fit the overall concept. A sequel to Anser's Tree, the lyrics cover biographical excerpts for another seven linked fictional characters, the music partially illustrating their lives, notably on Harriet Horden (1912-1955) (A Night at the Savoy, 1933). There seems to be more of a Jethro Tull vibe about this record, with overblown (in a good way) flute work abounding, other highlights including the brass on Harriet Horden, which works surprisingly well, ditto the instrumental coda on Amelia Fairfax. Minimal samplotron, with naught but background strings on Harriet Horden and David Logan, plus upfront flutes on the latter. After 2012's unsurprisingly samplotron-free Akoustik, the following year's The Root, the Leaf & the Bone does that Tull thing again, often to very good effect. Infuriatingly uneven, highlights include the opening title track (with its creepy "Tick... tock" vocal interjections), the folk/metal of The Huntsman And The Poacher and the dynamic Mists Of Morning Calling To The Day, although I find myself unable to warm to several tracks. Typically sparse on the samplotron front, all we get is distant choirs and high strings on the opening title track and upfront strings on Mists Of Morning Calling To The Day.

Do you bother with Guy Manning? All of the above are essentially singer-songwriter albums, played in a proggish style, although you feel he might be more comfortable shucking off the stylistic baggage and simply making albums of linked songs, rather than overlong, pseudo-prog efforts that fall between several stools. These should all have been trimmed to a fortyish-minute length, in my humble opinion; that might mean losing some of the concepts, but the musical gains would more than compensate. Potentially decent albums mostly scuppered by excess.

Mansion  (Finland)

The Mansion Congregation Hymns Vol.1  (2014,  10.11)  **½

I'm not sure if Finland's Mansion could be said to continue their country's grand (?) tradition of playing sleazy cock-rock on 2014's The Mansion Congregation Hymns Vol.1, begun by the legendary Hanoi Rocks in the early '80s. Because? Because while the 'A' side (despite its title, this isn't even EP length) fits that description, the flip is more of a stoner/doom thing, almost as if it's by a different band. Are either side any good? Not especially, no. Joona Lukala is credited with Mellotron, but the vague choirs on New Dawn are quite clearly nothing of the sort. Can I recommend this? Not especially, no, although at least it does its thing with the requisite levels of vim.

Maple Mars  (US)

Welcome to Maple Mars  (2001,  48.58)  ***

Maple Mars' 2001 debut, Welcome to Maple Mars, is a decent, if not classic powerpop album, concentrating on the psychedelic end of the genre, although, as with so many similar, you get the feeling that it would've been improved by some trimming. Top tracks include the opening title track, Souvenir and the Mott-esque Absolute Zero, but a mid-album lull loses it half a star. Rick Gallego allegedly plays Mellotron, but the 'Strawberry Fields'-esque background flute part on Fly is so muffled that if a real machine was used, I can only say that's it's long overdue an overhaul. Not bad, then, although I suspect the best was to come for Maple Mars.

Maple Mountain Sunburst Triolian Orchestra  (Canada)

The Maple Mountain Sunburst Triolian Orchestra  (2010,  43.36)  **½

The Maple Mountain Sunburst Triolian Orchestra is Andy McNeill's nom de plume, working in the... the what? How to describe his eponymous album? Electronica? Sampledelica? Indie? Americana? All of the above and then some? Snippets of spoken word, some quite lengthy, glitchy laptop noise, down-home acoustic guitar... Interesting, in its own way, but I can't say it grabbed me. McNeill plays really rather bogus 'Mellotron' flutes on The Auctioneer and Boundless Blue, with more of the same and some terrible string samples on A Beautiful Walk In The Country, not to mention... something on The Ruby Yacht.

Maplewood  (US)

Maplewood  (2004,  44.31)  **½
Yeti Boombox  (2009,  41.39)  **½

Maplewood are a minor supergroup, comprising members of Nada Surf, Champale et al., formed as an homage to '70s 'canyon rock': Bread, America and the like, to the point where the current lineup of the latter have both covered and collaborated with the band. Their eponymous 2004 debut is pleasant enough, although knowledge of their source material probably helps in its appreciation; frankly, it's all a bit wet for anyone who hasn't grown up with this stuff. Geoff Sanoff plays alleged Chamberlin, with literally a couple of flute notes on Darlene. It took the band five years to follow-up with Yeti Boombox, probably due to other commitments, more obviously slightly parodic than its predecessor, with titles like Moonboot Canyon and Embraceable. In all other respects, however, it's pretty similar to Maplewood, right down to only having one obvious track of supposed tape-replay, sampled Mellotron this time, from Mark Rozzo and Gerry Beckley, but did it really take two of them to play the flutes on opener Moonboot Canyon? Nothing to get too excited about, then, unless you're a member of the David Gates fan club.

Marah  (US)

A Christmas Kind of Town  (2006,  39.07)  ***

Marah followed 2005's If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry the following year with a Christmas album (!), A Christmas Kind of Town, in a vague song/sketch/song format, full of ironic jollity - or maybe not? Anyway, reasonably good fun, although I can't imagine wanting to listen to it too often, even (especially?) at Christmas. Kirk Henderson's credited with Mellotron, but I can't hear a thing; a mis-credit?

Marbles  (US)

Expo  (2005,  25.27)  **½

Marbles are basically the solo side-project of Apples in Stereo mainman Robert Schneider, taking less of a '60s and more of a late '70s/early '80s turn on 2005's mini-album Expo. Largely informed by synth-pop, a handful of tracks work well enough in isolation, but the overall effect, even in under half an hour, is of tedium, I'm afraid, and as for Schneider's well-documented ambition to sound like ELO... Given my chariness at the Apples' Mellotronic veracity, it comes as no great surprise to report that the credited 'Mellotron' here... isn't. Some of the strings barely sound like one at all, although it's possible they're actually something else, but the supposedly definite 'Tron strings don't sound right at all, ditto the choirs, leaving only the easy-to-sample flutes sounding at all genuine. Sorry, but if you want to hear retro synth stuff, there's an awful lot better around than this. I like the Apples' albums, but I'm afraid this leaves me cold.