Signs of Life
Sing Hollies in Reverse
Sounds of Wood & Steel
Spirit of the Black Rose
Stop Me if You Think You've...
Surprise Your Pig
Signs of Life: A Tribute to Pink Floyd [Disc 2] (2000, 76.16) **½/T
Shine on You Crazy Diamond
When You're in
The Dogs of War
|The Crack of Doom:
Another Brick in the Wall
The Electric Family:
Careful With That Axe, Eugene
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
One of These Days
What, another Pink Floyd tribute album? At least Signs of Life: A Tribute to Pink Floyd isn't some terrible orchestral, trance, reggae (fer Chrissakes) or other unsuitable genre effort, although much of its content is slightly questionable, at best. Most of the contributors are lesser-known prog or psych bands, many of them German, a few assembled for the album, notably Swedes Grand Cross, consisting of members of Grand Stand and Cross. In fact, of the 21 artists involved, I'd say only five or six are even remotely well-known, the rest languishing in largely-deserved obscurity.
As I've mentioned elsewhere, tribute albums tend to fall into two categories; this one's of the 'little-known artists, some of whom slavishly copy the original tracks' variety, not least Sylvan, Mystery and the aforementioned Grand Cross, while Fantasyy Factoryy's One Of These Days must be the limpest take on the song ever recorded. Solar Project's Pigs (feat. Dogs'n'Sheep) is a ten-minute distillation of the entire Animals album, sticky-tape well and truly visible, although Cromwell's Another Day Of Sorrow segues its way through three Floyd tracks (Yet Another Movie/The Happiest Days Of Our Lives/Sorrow) rather more successfully. The horrible Pendragon's Schizo (A Tribute To Pink Floyd) is a pointless 'in the style of' track, the only non-Floyd piece on the double-disc set, which reminds me no more or less of dreadful British Floyd tribute Think Floyd's godawful 'own material' album Hope from the late '90s, which was an absolute travesty. Of the remainder, probably the most adventurous efforts are R.P.W.L.'s excellent Cymbaline (well, they did start off as a Floyd tribute band...), Liquid Visions' decent take on Interstellar Overdrive and, above all, Aussies Vanishing Point's startling Celtic rock take on On the Turning Away; think, 'Big Country give Runrig a good kicking at a Floyd gig' and you won't be too far off. Top marks for originality, chaps.
Mellotronically speaking, of course, the Floyd aren't particularly known for their contributions to the canon, their MkII's last outing being in 1970. As a result, Mindala (actually Mind Over Matter, 'Cosmic' Klaus Hoffmann-Hoock's electronic outfit) are the set's only users, although it sounds like sampled strings on Flying Circus' Let There Be More Light. Anyway, Mindala/Mind Over Matter get some choir and strings in on their especially psychedelic Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, though I can't say you'd miss them if they weren't there.
So; a rather pointless affair, generally, with a tiny handful of genuinely worthwhile versions, lots of clones and a few real stinkers. Then again, isn't that the way with most tribute albums? In which case, why bother? Anyway, hardly any Mellotron, so definitely not worth it on those grounds.
See: Pink Floyd
Sing Hollies in Reverse (1995, 72.03) ****/T
King Midas in Reverse
Look Through Any Window
Steve Wynn, Eric Ambel:
The Air That I Breathe
Pay You Back With Interest
You Know He Did
Water on the Brain
On a Carousel
Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress)
After the Fox
You Need Love
I Can't Let Go
Heading for a Fall
The Hollies are one of those British '60s bands I've never really heard properly, probably because of their relatively lightweight reputation, certainly compared to The Stones or The Who, say. In fairness, they never pretended to be anything other than what they were, a cheery pop group, albeit one with unusually good material, it seems, some of it written by future 10cc man Graham Gouldman. Sing Hollies in Reverse goes a little way towards righting that particular wrong for me by introducing me to a good few songs I've never previously encountered, although a surprising number are quite familiar. The album features most of the top mid-'90s powerpop acts, including The Posies, Mitch Easter and The Wondermints, keeping the overall quality high, although with songs as good as these, you'd have to be going it some to ruin them (although we've all seen it done).
There's actually only one tape-replay track here, Jon Brion's lengthy closing take on Sorry Suzanne, stuffed with his own Chamberlin strings, flute and a raucous woodwind instrument of some variety (pitchbent nicely) and lead, er, something from E of The Eels. So; one for both Hollies (specifically) and powerpop (generally) fans, or anyone who feels the need to 'discover' The Hollies' back-catalogue without trawling through several discs'-worth of bad production and squeaky-clean instrumentation. A tribute album that works. Hurrah!
See: The Hollies | Jon Brion
Song Reader: Twenty Songs By Beck (2014, 65.32) **½/½
Title of This Song
Please Leave a Light on When You Go
The Wolf is on the Hill
Last Night You Were a Dream
Don't Act Like Your Heart Isn't Hard
Eyes That Say "I Love You"
Rough on Rats
Now That Your Dollar Bills Have Sprouted Wings
The Last Polka
Why Did You Make Me Care?
America, Here's My Boy
We All Wear Cloaks
Loudon Wainwright III:
Do We? We Do
Gabriel Kahane & YMusic:
Is it just me, or has Beck's star waned in recent years? You don't hear much about him any more, while I'd challenge anyone not already a committed fan to name anything he's released since the '90s. Saying that, a host of well-known, yet not top-drawer artists (Jack White, David Johansen, Loudon Wainwright III, Jarvis Cocker, the godawful Jack Black) have obviously considered it worthwhile to contribute to 2014's Song Reader: Twenty Songs By Beck, a typical tribute album in its slightly ill-fitting assortment of styles, although, if it has a default setting, it would be 'US indie'. Better contributions include, er, Beck's own take on Heaven's Ladder, Jarvis' Eyes That Say "I Love You", Marc Ribot's instrumental The Last Polka and Sparks' splendid Why Did You Make Me Care?, although far too many tracks sound like American 'alternative' (to what?) bands of twenty years earlier.
Michael Rosen plays real-sounding Mellotron flutes and strings on The Fiery Furnaces' Eleanor Friedberger's Old Shanghai, although you'd hardly notice were they not there. All a bit so-so, then, with a handful of decent tracks and a minuscule smattering of Mellotron.
See: The Fiery Furnaces
Sounds of Wood & Steel 3 (2003, 69.57) ***½/T
I Will Take Care of You
C. Michael Spriggs:
Sleep on it Tonight
Three Little Miracles
St. James Infirmary
You Just Missed Me
Jars of Clay:
Windham Hill are known for their New Age catalogue (Shadowfax albums are some of their biggest sellers), so it comes as a surprise to learn that they're behind the three volumes of the Sounds of Wood & Steel series, intended as a tribute to Taylor guitars. I suppose the music fits the label's remit in its gentleness, but there's no way the material on 3 fits the 'New Age' tag at all, being superbly played, essentially instrumental acoustic guitar pieces, performed by a run of greater- and lesser-known players, all to an exceptional standard. Some of the pieces are more energetic than others, while several drift into the country area, but the album's default setting is tuneful, acoustic music, rarely slipping into the blandness into which the label tends to be pigeonholed.
The first appearance of any kind of keyboard is on track five, C. Michael Spriggs' Trio, but the only Mellotron is from Jars of Clay's Charlie Lowell on their Jesse's Song, with (you guessed it) a tasteful (and reasonably authentic-sounding) flute part that adds nicely to the piece. Overall, then, not something you're going to get for its Mellotron input, but a very presentable effort in its field.
See: Jars of Clay
The Spirit of the Black Rose: A Tribute to Philip Parris Lynott [Disc 2] (2001, 70.52) ***/T
A Song for While I'm Away
The Boys Are Back:
Do Anything You Want to
Vagabonds of the Western World
Vick LeCar's Blue Moon:
Thunder & Lightning
Baby Please Don't Go
The Sun Goes Down
Thin Az Lizzy:
Ode to a Black Man
Record Heaven's The Spirit of the Black Rose: A Tribute to Philip Parris Lynott is, in many ways, a typical multi-artist tribute set, its contents mostly carbon copies or not-especially-adventurous reworkings, with a handful of radical versions thrown in for good measure. So far, so normal. However, this tribute opens both discs with spoken-word pieces, Philo's lyrics read over ambient backings, Disc 1's performed by no lesser a personage than Philomena Lynott, while track two on each disc is an original piece, Disc 2's, Robin George's Crying Diamonds, actually co-written by the great man. Any notable performances on the second disc? The Boys Are Back's Johnny drops down to a gentle, picked part on the fourth verse, NY tribute Fatt Elizabeth's Freedom Song throws in a brief 'harmony part' medley at the end, while Celtic Legacy do a reasonable job on Vagabonds Of The Western World.
Just when I thought there were no more Bigelf recordings in existence, up pops their ripping version of Bad Reputation, complete with Mellotron strings, kicking in around halfway through for a minute or more. Like most similar, this album is really only for the dedicated fan who has absolutely everything else already, but a handful of interesting performances just possibly make it worth the effort.
Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music From Vintage Disney Films (1988, 66.09) ****/½
Ken Nordine: Hi Diddle Dee Dee
(an Actor's Life for Me)
Natalie Merchant, Michael Stipe:
Little April Shower
Los Lobos: I Wan'na Be Like You
(the Monkey Song)
Bonnie Raitt and Was (Not Was):
Tom Waits: Heigh Ho
(the Dwarfs Marching Song)
Suzanne Vega: Stay Awake
Bill Frisell and Wayne Horvath:
Little Wooden Head
Syd Straw: Blue Shadows on the Trail
Buster Poindexter: Castle in Spain
Yma Sumac: I Wonder
Aaron Neville: Mickey Mouse March
Garth Hudson: Feed the Birds
| NRBQ: Whistle While You Work
Betty Carter: I'm Wishing
The Replacements: Cruella De Ville
Sinéad O'Connor: Someday My Prince
Sun Ra & His Arkestra: Pink Elephants on Parade
Harry Nilsson: Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah
James Taylor: Second Star to the Right
Ken Nordine: Desolation Theme
Ringo Starr: When You Wish Upon a Star
Stay Awake's certainly an odd one; a weird tribute album to Disney's finest, put together by noted producer Hal Willner (Saturday Night Live). As he says in his sleevenotes, it would've been easy to've filled the album with comedy efforts such as Public Enemy performing Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf?, but that would not only have been lazy, but ultimately unrewarding. As a result, he pulled together a wide range of artists, giving them free rein to treat the material as they liked; unsurprisingly, the end result mirrors that of most tribute albums, containing everything from near-carbon copies to wildly original reinterpretations.
Some of the tracks brought back memories of the originals for me, while others were completely unfamiliar, in some cases because I'd never actually seen the films, but standouts are Buster Poindexter, otherwise known as David Johansen of the New York Dolls doing Castle In Spain (Babes in Toyland), Suzanne Vega's fragile a capella Stay Awake (Mary Poppins) and, of course, Tom Waits' quite bonkers reworking of Heigh Ho from Snow White. He turns a jolly little number into a grinding, painful evocation of the drudgery of hard, physical labour, with the lyrics being the only obvious connection with the original. Compare this to NRBQ's Whistle While You Work, from the same film...
Anyway; tape replay? Tom Waits, of course, or rather, Mitchell Froom, who plays Chamberlin flutes on Heigh Ho, though not a great deal, to be honest, in time-honoured Waits style. Thinking about it, this might've been Waits' first use of the Chamby; he'd only just used a Mellotron for the first time at this point, on Franks Wild Years. Waits 'plays' Optigan on the track, too, providing the dirty, fucked-up rhythm track. Look, you REALLY have to hear this! I don't know if the track's available anywhere else, but make the effort to track it down; you won't regret it.
So; the usual mixed bag that you expect from tribute albums - beats dumb metalheads trashing Rush songs to no apparent purpose, anyway... For what it's worth, I found playing this an enjoyable experience, altough little of the music (like, none) falls into my usual listening categories. Hardly any Chamberlin, but that wasn't unexpected. I still wish Willner had actually got Public Enemy to do Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf?, though...
See: Tom Waits
Stop Me if You Think You've Heard This One Before (2003, 57.43) ***½/T
Fa Ce La
Mystic Chords of Memory
We Could Send Letters
Jazz is the Teacher, Funk is the Preacher
At Last I am Free
The Hidden Cameras:
Is This it
I Had a Little Boat
Ride it on
Lions After Slumber
|British Sea Power:
The Detroit Cobras:
The Fiery Furnaces:
Belle & Sebastian:
The idea ('concept' seems too arty-farty a word for Rough Trade) behind Stop Me if You Think You've Heard This One Before was to get the current crop of Rough Trade artists to cover tracks from the label's considerable history to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The end results are largely positive, which may have more to do with the strength of the material covered than the artists covering them... or may not. Major names involved include British Sea Power, The Tyde, Belle & Sebastian, The Fiery Furnaces and The Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser, covering the likes of Aztec Camera, Robert Wyatt, Galaxie 500, Ivor Cutler, The Strokes (recent 'history', then) and the legendary (it says here) The Fall, to greater or lesser effect. I notice The Smiths aren't represented, although the album title is theirs.
One Mellotron track, with a nice strings part on Liz Fraser's take on Robert Wyatt's take on Chic's At Last I Am Free (!), which may or may not be genuine; hard to tell. I'm quite certain it isn't the old Cocteaus' machine for various reasons, including I don't believe it was working at that point and I'm pretty certain it was loaded with nowt but choirs anyway. So; do you invest? Not for the Mellotron, no, but if you have any interest in Rough Trade's history, you're almost certain to like at least some of the album. Personal faves? Ms Fraser's track and Jeffrey Lewis' marvellous, low-fi take on The Television Personalities' Part-Time Punks.
See: The Cocteau Twins
Surprise Your Pig: A Tribute to R.E.M. (1992, 62.14) **½/T
|Just Say No:
Radio Free Europe
Band of Susans:
Samson & the Philistines:
Talk About the Passion
(Don't Go Back to) Rockville
Feeling Gravity's Pull
Mr T. Experience:
Can't Get There From Here
Flor de Mal:
When People Were Shorter & Lived Near the Water:
It's the End of the World as We Know it
(and I Feel Fine)
Tesco Vee's Hate Police:
Losing My Religion
Shiny Happy People
A slightly-early-in-the-game tribute effort, 1992's Surprise Your Pig: A Tribute to R.E.M. hasn't dated particularly well, featuring far too many 'popular at the time' alt.rock acts in the vein of Gumball, Steelpole Bathtub and the phenomenally-named When People Were Shorter & Lived Near the Water. Better contributions include Steelpole Bathtub's take on We Walk, based around a sample of someone shooting pool, Phleg Camp's sparse arrangement of Feeling Gravity's Pull, Mr T. Experience's rocking Can't Get There From Here (shame about the vocals) and King Missile's skronky synth-led Get up, which reminds me obscurely of something from The Stranglers' Black & White. Unfortunately, we also get far too many pointlessly raucous versions of not-that-great-in-the-first-place songs, notably Just Say No's Radio Free Europe, Gumball's Stumble (do you think they chose it because it nearly rhymes?) and When People Were Shorter's I Believe.
Although King Missile sounds like they just might have thrown a Mellotron into the mix, the only confirmed tape-replay sighting here is the legendary Mitch Easter's Chamberlin string work on closer Shiny Happy People, which does its best. It's still a shit song, though. I can't honestly recommend this, but then, a twenty year-old tribute album on an indie is almost certainly long out of print now, anyway.
Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams (1993, 53.53) ***/½
Summer of Drugs
Merry Go Round
|Shudder to Think:
Tarbelly and Featherfoot
Opelousas (Sweet Relief)
Why Look at the Moon
In 1993, after releasing two albums, Victoria Williams was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In most parts of the developed world, this would be disastrous, yet containable. However, without current health insurance, under the thoroughly iniquitous American profit-driven 'healthcare' 'system', she found herself unable to pay her medical bills. Quick diversion: how, I mean HOW, in one of the world's wealthiest nations, can this situation continue to exist? Never forget, people: America is FAR further to the right than you can possibly imagine. Apologies to all liberal Americans. I know you're out there.
Anyway, her friends and admirers quickly rallied round, recording and releasing Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams within a matter of months. As is the inevitable way with such albums, its contributors are a cross-section of its era, in this case, the class of '93, featuring artists already famous (Soul Asylum, The Waterboys and, of course, Lou Reed), then-current high-flyers (Pearl Jam, Matthew Sweet, The Jayhawks) and the (relatively) lost-to-history-brigade (Buffalo Tom, Shudder to Think, Maria McKee), covering songs from Vic's slim catalogue. Highlights? Lucinda Williams' Main Road, Pearl Jam's Crazy Mary and Matthew Sweet's This Moment, perhaps.
Patrick Warren plays uncredited Chamberlin on Michael Penn's Weeds, with solo male voices and unidentified woodwinds meandering across the track, to reasonable effect. Twenty-five years on, Victoria is not only still alive, but still able to make music, while the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund remains a going concern, raising funds for American musicians caught in similarly dire straits. I'm sure they'd fund musicians from overseas, but they don't need it, due to good, free health care. He said, making his point again.
Sweet Relief site
See: Victoria Williams | Michael Penn