Steve Miller Band
Metropolis (1973, 40.27) ***½/½Birth
Glass Roofed Courts
The sole Metropolis album may actually, unlike the work of so many German bands from the '70s, fit the 'krautrock' genre, at least to an extent. A trippy mix of straightforward rock, psych and all-out experimentation, various members had links with the likes of Ash Ra Tempel, Agitation Free and Mythos and clearly had considerable interest in jamming, although much of the album is fairly conventionally structured.
Most of the strings and flutes on the album are real, easily heard on opener Birth, although a pitchbent strings part on the lengthy title track has to be Manfred Opitz's Mellotron, although it's not actually credited as such. It's easy to see how Metropolis has been labelled a 'Mellotron Album', as many (though by no means all) of the string parts are of the 'block chord' variety, with a slight lack of imagination in the arrangement department. Anyway; a good album of its type, more tuneful than the likes of Dzyan and rockier than, say, Wind, though definitely further 'out there' than Nektar and their ilk. Hardly any Mellotron, mind, so don't go buying it for that.
See: Ash Ra Tempel | Agitation Free | Mythos
Half the World is Watching Me (2000, 44.24) ***/TT
|Am I Wry? No
Her Voice is Beyond Her Years
|She Came Home for Christmas
I Should Have Been a Tsin-Tsi (for You)
And the Glass Handed Kites (2005, 54.02) **/T
|Circuitry of the Wolf
Why Are You Looking Grave?
The Zookeeper's Boy
A Dark Design
|Saviours of Jazz Ballet (Fear Me, December)
An Envoy to the Open Fields
The Seething Rain Weeps for You (Uda Pruda)
White Lips Kissed
I was under the impression that Mew were 'the new prog', so I was quite surprised, on playing 2000's Half the World is Watching Me, to hear an album of quirky pop, referencing The Beach Boys, Porcupine Tree, Sigur Rós and '70s TV themes (listen to the piano part on Saliva), amongst other influences. OK, so Comforting Sounds is nearly nine minutes long, but this isn't prog by any standard definition, unless what's meant is 'progressive pop', which is another matter entirely. Actually, a large part of this album sports the incredibly irritating type of vocal melodies that became popular in the '90s which make you want to lynch the songwriter, but seem to be popular with 'the kids', although the writing has enough quirks to keep it interesting, if not something that I'll play too often.
Produced by the obscenely talented Tim Christensen, it's hardly surprising there's some vintage kit to be heard here, not least one or more of Christensen's Mellotrons on several tracks. Going by his solo albums, there could be all sorts of obscure sounds, so apologies if this list is incomplete. It sounds like strings, sometimes doubled by a real violin on Am I Wry? No, Saliva, with its rather disturbing lyric and King Christian, plus what I'm guessing are Mellotron vibes on 156 and Symmetry. There's a very clear Mellotron string section on Comforting Sounds, followed by polyphonic flutes, probably the most obviously Mellotronic parts on the album, with real strings later on in the long-form piece.
What a difference a few years can make... 2005's And the Glass Handed Kites is a terrible disappointment, as Mew enter the indie mainstream, albeit with some rather unconventional song structures, sadly not in a good way. Less irritating material includes The Zookeeper's Boy and er, that's it. Uncredited Mellotron on seven-minute closer Louise Louisa, with a major string part entering the fray about halfway through. It really wasn't worth it.
See: Tim Christensen
Items You Won't Find Elsewhere (2004, 51.22) ***½/T
The Stars Kiss Me Goodnight
Arms of Love
Pebbles on the Window
The Purest Thing
Mary is Missing
Wrapped Around Your Finger
Meredith Meyer is an American singer-songwriter (California via Oklahoma) who bears comparison with Aimee Mann, amongst others, which is praise indeed. Less melancholy than Ms. Mann, she beats the likes of Fiona Apple hands-down on her debut, Items You Won't Find Elsewhere and, with songs of the quality of Storyteller Girl and The Purest Thing, surely it can't be long before she comes into the orbit of the Lilith Fair crowd? Mind you, I can't see her dumbing-down for them... Was it a dream, or did people actually once buy well-crafted records that made them think? What happened?
Anyway, the inimitable Brian Kehew (Moog Cookbook, Jellyfish compatriot) produces and has been given free rein with his collection of vintage gear. Mellotron on three tracks (one uncredited), with almost-inaudible strings on Mr. Wilson and something even less identifiable on Mary Is Missing, although the strangely uncredited Pebbles On The Window makes up for it; essentially a brief (forty-five-second) Mellotron cello solo, this is quite gorgeous, though nothing like the rest of the material on offer here. A good album of modern singer-songwriter fare, then, Meredith's 'up-close and intimate' vocals giving the impression she's singing the songs for you alone. No sub-Kate Bushisms, either (take note Tori and others).
Thighs and Whispers (1979, 42.30) **½/½Big Noise From Winnetka
My Knight in Black Leather
Hang on in There Baby
Hmmm... Bette Midler, eh? 'The Divine Miss M'. Actually, the world would be a duller place without Bette's raucous humour and larger-than-life persona, although neither excuse this album, or for that matter, the rest of her musical career. Always more Broadway than rock/pop, Midler's albums, as far as I can tell, were largely producer-driven, locking them forever in a prison of the time and place of their creation, her sixth, Thighs and Whispers (groan), being no exception. About half of its contents are overlong disco workouts (Big Noise From Winnetka, My Knight In Black Leather), with an excruciating version of Hang On In There Baby just to down the ante. Maybe surprisingly, the album's best track is closer Married Men and that largely for its wry lyrical observations on its subject (amusingly, written by a man).
So why the hell is this here, eh? Usual reason: Randy Kerber plays keyboards on a few tracks, with some distant (credited) Mellotron strings on the faux-S&M My Knight In Black Leather, just about recognisable amongst the general discoisms of the rest of the track's instrumentation. So; you know what I'm going to say, so I won't bother saying it and if you're thinking of asking why I've given this as high a rating as I have, well, it's Bette Midler, innit?
Midnight Circus (1972, 32.54/39.01) ***/T (TT)
I Had a Dream
Midnight Circus were essentially the folk-rock-with-progressive-tendencies duo of Christian Bollmann and Torsten Schmitt, who made just the one self-titled album in 1972. Between them, they shared the vocal and acoustic guitar work, Bollmann adding recorder and trumpet (notably the solo on longest and best track November Church), various guest musicians filling out the sound. Midnight Circus is good, if not essential, several songs operating in 'meandering and slightly stoned' mode, although some interesting instrumentation helps to lift it out of the also-ran category.
Amongst the album's guests was Veit Madaus on keys, who played instantly-recognisable Mellotron strings on I Had A Dream, with less obvious brass on November Church and more of both on one of the CD's bonus track, Get It, with a particularly abrasive and upfront brass part. There are more essential albums in the German Progressive category, though this wins out over the likes of, say, Witthüser & Westrupp or Wind, by dint of being less stoned and containing a couple of decent songs. Not much Mellotron, although I Had A Dream's work is quite nice. So-so.
Earth & Sun & Moon (1993, 53.59) ***/TT
Earth and Sun and Moon
Drums of Heaven
Outbreak of Love
|In the Valley
Tell Me the Truth
Now or Never Land
Midnight Oil, or 'The Oils', have followed a path of political activism from the outset, providing a welcome antidote to the unfortunate right-wing streak that crops up all too often in Aussie politics (remember the appalling Pauline Hanson, the 'Oxley Moron'?). While it's easy to accuse them of being musically unadventurous, with their agenda, they weren't going to get very far as a punk band or something, so playing mainstream rock is clearly their compromise, assuming they even consider it to be such. Earth & Sun & Moon was their eighth full studio album, not sounding startlingly different to their two early-'80s records I've heard, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (10 to 1) and Red Sails In The Sunset, with its apocalyptic sleeve design, being radical radio-friendly rock, concentrating heavily on their country and what will become of it, particularly on the anti-monarchist Truganini. Difficult to argue there...
Guitarist/keys man Jim Moginie plays Mellotron (presumably real?) on several tracks, with flutes and possibly strings on opener Feeding Frenzy, pitchbent strings on Renaissance Man and more regular ones on Drums Of Heaven and Outbreak Of Love. As always, it perks up almost any track, so although his use isn't especially radical (pitchbends aside), it's always nice to hear. Moginie also played it on his solo project from '96, Fuzz Face, for what it's worth.
Although the band appear to have split, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them have another go before too long, even though their most outspoken member, vocalist Peter Garrett, is now a member of parliament for the Australian Labor Party. Although not their biggest seller ('87's Diesel & Dust takes that honour), Earth & Sun & Moon is probably as good a place to start as any if you're unfamiliar with the band, probably less slick than their late-'80s efforts. Reasonable Mellotron, too, though I've no idea whether or not Moginie used it with the band again.
Informative fan site
See: Jim Moginie | Fuzz Face
Brennende Drømmer (2001, 55.11) ****/TTTT½
Berg og Dvale
Faunus (2005, 49.33) ****/TTTT½Den Dagen Jeg Forsvant
Sjælernes Evige Beven
Den Gjengrodde Sti
Higher & Higher: A Tribute to the Moody Blues (2006) ***½/TTTT[Mikromidas contribute]
Despite forming in 1995, it took Mikromidas until 2001 to release their debut, Brennende Drømmer, but it was worth the wait. I've seen comparisons to Änglagård et al., but the only real one is in their choice of instrumentation, specifically Hammond and Mellotron. Stylewise, they go for a (relatively) straightforward song format with Norwegian lyrics, although we ain't talking mainstream here, more a vaguely Uriah Heep thing, though they're not a particularly good comparison, really. Difficult to pick out the best tracks on one listen, but Jublende Rekker made me stop what I was doing.
Øystein Larsen uses his very obviously real Mellotron (hurrah!) on every damn' track, with plenty of strings and choirs, with some flute and cello parts here and there. He seems to have the same problem with his as I had with mine before its last service, where some of the pinch rollers are clogging up and sticking, giving a few of the high notes that classic 'Mellotron wobble' which, while extremely authentic, isn't really any more welcome than the audible whine and instability of an old motor board. I digress... particularly strong Mellotron parts on the intro to Døende Stein and the flutes on I Tåketimen, but there isn't a bad Mellotron (or otherwise) track here. Now, an oddity is the last track: only nine are listed and no other online reviewers seem to've noticed there's a tenth, unlisted track, but it's as good as everything else on the album and features the usual Mellotron quotient.
Four years on, Mikromidas suddenly reappear with Faunus and it looks like the band have taken a turn towards the prog mainstream in the interim, although some tracks, notably Sjælernes Evige Beven and Famle Rundt, hark back towards their earlier sound. Overall, another great album, although I imagine it'll take several plays for its subtleties to become completely apparent. Loads of Mellotron, of course, including quite a bit of brass, especially on opener Den Dagen Jeg Forsvant, plus the usual strings, flute and (a little) choir; this really is a Mellotron monster, falling only just short of the full five Ts.
See: Higher & Higher
Emigration (1973, 37.47) **/½Nachmittag im Stadtpark
Das Märchen Von der Sonne
I know next to nothing about Milestones, other than that they were Austrian (Viennese, to be precise) and had a female singer, one Beatrix Neundlinger. Their second and last album, 1973's Emigration, is often listed as 'progressive', presumably chiefly due to its side-long track, Das Märchen Von Der Sonne. Don't be fooled. This is a dull pop/rock album of its era, bordering schlager (!), side B being no more than a long-form, orchestral soft rock piece. This really is terrible. And I had such high hopes...
Christian Kolonovits (who apparently went on to have a top-notch production career) plays Mellotron, if barely, with background strings on Apfelbaum, although the strings on Das Märchen Von Der Sonne are real. Hopeful eBay sellers use phrases such as 'rare progressive rock' and 'great Mellotron!' I can only reiterate: avoid.
Begin (1968, 41.38) ****/½
To Claudia on Thursday
I Just Want to Be Your Friend
I'm With You
Sing to Me
|Some Sunny Day
It Won't Always Be the Same
The Know it All
Karmic Dream Sequence #1
There is Nothing More to Say
Magic Time: The Millennium/Ballroom Recordings [Disc 1] (2001, recorded 1966-68, 58.29) ***½/T½
|Spinning, Spinning, Spinning
Love's Fatal Way
Would You Like to Go
You Turn Me Around
It's a Sad World
I'll Grow Stronger
Lead Me to Love
A Time for Everything
Baby, Please Don't Go
Would You Like to Go (instr)
I'll Grow Stronger (instr)
|You Turn Me Around (instr)
Magic Time (instr)
It's a Sad World (instr)
Spinning, Spinning, Spinning (instr)
The Millennium were a studio group, put together by the legendary Curt Boettcher, who was heavily involved with The Association (Beach Boys-lite, going by what I've heard), going on to sprinkle his fairy dust on several subsequent projects, none of which, sadly, made much of an impact at the time, although they've since assumed their proper place in Californian music history. 1968's Begin was also, sadly, the end, apparently due to falling between two stools; too light for the emerging rock audience and too complex for the pop mainstream. It's notorious for being Columbia's most expensive production up to that time, going on to sell diddly-squat; with over four decades' hindsight, there's no denying it's pretty light stuff, but the vocal harmonies are sublime, as is much of the material. Someone (Boettcher?) adds the tiniest smidgeon of Chamberlin strings to its bizarre closing track, Anthem (Begin), but not so's you'd actually notice.
To credit 2001's Magic Time: The Millennium/Ballroom Recordings to The Millennium alone is a misnomer; the three-disc set includes material recorded by several linked outfits, chiefly The Ballroom and The Millennium, plus odd tracks from Summer's Children, Sagittarius and Boettcher himself. Be warned: if you dislike the idea of 'sunshine pop', don't go anywhere near these recordings. This is the lightest end of vocal harmony psych-pop and can sound pretty lightweight to ears attuned to a modern aesthetic, although fans of the style/era will be in absolute rhapsodies. Disc one (The Ballroom) contains an imaginary album by said group (who included Michael Fennelly, later of Crabby Appleton, amongst their ranks), plus several instrumental backing tracks, disc two (Assorted Milk & Honey) mops up the rest of the Ballroom tracks, adding two each by Summer's Children and Sagittarius, plus a handful of Boettcher demos and instrumental Millennium tracks, leaving disc three (The Millennium) as a reissue of Begin, plus extras.
The set's Chamberlin content is concentrated on disc one, with unidentified woodwind (oboe?) and strings on Would You Like To Go (and its later instrumental version), vibes and strings on the set's title track (plus instrumental), wavery strings on the cheesily sentimental Musty Dusty and accordion on their genuinely radical take on Baby, Please Don't Go and, of course, those few seconds of strings on Anthem (Begin), not listed here. All in all, essential listening for sunshine pop aficionados, if perhaps a little lightweight for many psych fans, with enough Chamby to be worth hearing if you're listening anyway, but not enough to make a purchase necessary.
See: Curt Boettcher | Michael Fennelly
I Made You Up (2009, 43.38) **/TT
|I Made You Up
Between Us and Them
Gomer Put Your Fist Down
|Alas I am Your Dirty Secret
Million Lonely People
Despite much online acclaim, California's Michael Miller's second album, 2009's I Made You Up, complete with appearances by vaguely well-known friends, is no more than a dreary modern singer-songwriter effort, at its least dull on Tipsy, which is absolutely no recommendation.
Patrick Warren is credited with Mellotron and/or Chamberlin on six tracks, with skronky Chamby strings on Between Us And Them, background flutes (both instruments are credited) on Sweetness, more regular strings on Munkie (again, both instruments), Mellotron and Chamby flutes and strings on Carolina Skyline, aided and abetted by Brendan Buckley and Chamby strings on Sutures and Alas I Am Your Dirty Secret, including a sneaky MkII 'moving strings' sample at the beginning of the last-named. No reason to listen to this drivel, however.
See: Samples etc.
Summerland (1997, recorded 1966-68, 40.05) ***/½
|Where Did it Go?
The in Things
Time Has No Meanings
Time and Time Again
Forget Me Not
Who Cares About the Moon
Sweet Talk Town
Oh Miss Halliday
'Big Boy' Pete(r) Miller is one of those shadowy figures that has apparently helped to quietly steer the music business since the late '50s, in his role as songwriter, engineer and producer, although his performing career has had rather less success. Well, have you heard of him? Vinyl fetishists Tenth Planet have released several albums of Miller's '60s demos, including 1997's Summerland, recorded between 1966 and '68, notable chiefly for not really sounding like anybody much else; it isn't beat, psych or folk-rock, although it has elements of all those styles, ending up sounding like, well, a Pete Miller album, I suppose. Miller's voice, while relatively tuneful, isn't the most endearing sound in the world, but the material isn't bad, so why it's taken these recordings so long to appear, I've no idea.
Derek Shepherd plays Mellotron, although the only part I can hear for definite is some background strings on Listen Girl, other possibles being covered by real instruments (oboe, brass). '60s obscurity obsessives need to hear Pete Miller now, if they haven't already done so, but the rest of you can probably limp along in your ignorance of his work without missing out on too much. Summerland certainly contains some decent songs, but their delivery isn't all it could be, so with next to no Mellotron... Maybe not.
The Believer (2006, 43.20) ***½/TTT
Help Me, Suzanne
Brand New Way
Ain't That Strange
I Believe She's Lying
|I'm With Her
Rhett Miller is The Old 97's vocalist, although he somehow finds time to run a parallel solo career; 2006's The Believer is his third album, although the first pre-dates his involvement with his main band. It's a pleasing mix of alt.country and powerpop, although most of its contents fall into one camp or the other, rather than combining them, highlights including opener My Valentine, the rockier Ain't That Strange, Delicate and closer Question.
Patrick Warren and Jon Brion both play Chamberlin on the album; is this overkill? Thankfully not, with flutes on opener My Valentine, strings all over Help Me, Suzanne, Meteor Shower, Brand New Way and I Believe She's Lying, although I'm pretty sure the pedal steel on Fireflies is real (the Chamby's known for its emulation). More strings on I'm With Her and the title track and what sounds like solo violin (is there such a Chamby sound?) on Question. Excellent!
See: Samples etc. | The Old 97's | Pine Valley Cosmonauts
Children of the Future (1968, 38.23) ***½/T½
|Children of the Future
Pushed Me to it
You've Got the Power
In My First Mind
The Beauty of Time is That it's Snowing
Baby's Callin' Me Home
Roll With it
|Junior Saw it Happen
Key to the Highway
Steve Miller's first album, Children of the Future, is stylistically a long way from the mainstream radio rock he churned out later on in his career, sitting somewhere between blues-rock (Fanny Mae, Steppin' Stone) and psych (side one's linked tracks). It's actually pretty good and nowhere near as formative as you might expect, good musicianship all round, Miller and future solo star Boz Scaggs sharing the guitar work. The album was recorded in the UK (Olympic Studios in London, fact fans), noted engineer (and later, producer) Glyn Johns at the desk.
There were few Mellotrons in America in the '60s (although Chamberlins were more commonly used), but recording in Britain meant that Olympic's MkII found its way onto the album, played by either keys man Jim Peterman or Miller himself. It's only actually on two tracks, the chief use being on the lengthy In My First Mind on side one, strings running right through the song in a most pleasing manner, with a little more on the following The Beauty Of Time Is That It's Snowing.
Adelaide (2008, 57.40) **½/T½
Who I am
Heaven Only Knows
Another Day in the Life
Let Us End
Remember This Day
Dallas native Tim Miller's Adelaide (reasoning behind album title unknown) is, I'm afraid to say, a rather bland country/singer-songwriter effort, at its least dull on its opening one/two salvo, Say Hello and Let's Go. This is how to be both rootsy and boring at the same time.
Nick Jay plays Mellotron, with a brief, clicky flute line on Who I Am and more of the same on Let Us End and closer Remember This Day. I sometimes wonder; how do independent artists manage to get hold of a real Mellotron for recording? Not only are machines few and far between, depending on where you live, but many hire places charge more than you'd think someone like Miller could afford. Who knows? It seems to be real, anyway.
Ladies on the Stage (1977, 37.02) **/½
|Ladies on the Stage
Love Brought Us Together
How Can I Make it Better?
Heaven is in Your Mind
Young and in Love
You Need This Woman
|Bird in Flight
So Good to Be Home
Fanny's Jean and June Millington made just the one album together as Millington, Ladies on the Stage, an absolutely-of-its-time Philly soul/disco-lite effort. Any better tracks? You know you're onto a loser when the bland, near-MOR of Bird In Flight is considered a highlight.
Tom Sellers plays Chamberlin, allegedly on three tracks, although if you can hear what he's doing on the title track and How Can I Make It Better?, you have better ears than me (note: very possible). That leaves the chordal flutes and volume-pedalled high male solo voices on You Need This Woman as the album's only even slightly audible tape-replay. Fail.
Bafflemania (2005, 47.00) ***½/TT½
You're So Existential
Arcade Love Machine
Any Further Attempt to Contact Me Will Be Ignored
The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore
Expressions Worn in Autumn
Mighty Mouth (Version 2)
How's Your Fuzzy Box
I'll Wake Up Dead That Morning When I'm Gone
It's difficult to find out any hard-and-fast information regarding the Milman-Brignall Enigma, as they obscure the issue with misinformation; for what it's worth, Bafflemania was certainly not recorded between 1971 and 2007... Then again, the actual recording dates fell somewhere between those two years, so are they lying? You see what I mean... It seems likely that the band really does consist of Alan Milman (vocals and other bits) and Matt Brignall (assorted guitars and keyboards), both of whom have been around for 'a while' and are probably now headed inexorably for their fifties. Which matters not one jot when you hear the album (or indeed, at all); an insane blend of garage punk, authentic late-'60s psych and various other disparate influences, all chucked into a Magimix and sugar-coated with analogue keyboards and effects.
I'm not sure I even consider myself competent to describe the music, although some of it is actually quite straightforward. The parts that aren't, however, include fucked-up acoustic ballads, mangled psych and the new wonder of the modern world that is How's Your Fuzzy Box, veering wildly between arranged sections and anarchy. Brignall and David Will play the studio Mellotron, with strings and choirs on their suitably OTT version of the Walker Brothers' lugubrious The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore and distorted flutes (!) on Mighty Mouth (Version 2). Choir on Acka Raga and strings and flutes on the fairly random How's Your Fuzzy Box finish things off, much of the Mellotron work being original enough to earn them another half 'T'.
Mind Over Matter (Germany) see:
Fly Below the Radar (2003, 48.49) **½/T
|It is What it is
Mill Smoke Black
Somebody Down Here Loves You
Fly Below the Radar
Snake Buckle Belt
Although British, Minibar relocated to their spiritual home, America (specifically the south-west) many years ago, there to practice their Americana moves without hindrance. I believe 2003's Fly Below the Radar is their second full-lengther, mostly harmless, if rather dull, at its best on a cluster of tracks towards the end, namely the energetic title track, the sparse, desertlike Badlands and Fragile.
Although not specifically credited, Rami Jaffee plays Chamberlin, with cellos on Unstoppable (first released on the previous year's Trampoline Records Greatest Hits, Vol. 1) and Somebody Down Here Loves You, albeit not to any great effect.