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Katia B  (Brazil)

Só Deixo Meu Coração Na Mão de Quem Pode  [a.k.a. My Brazilian Heart]  (2003,  43.36)  **½

Katia B(ronstein)'s Só Deixo Meu Coração Na Mão de Quem Pode (also released as My Brazilian Heart) is a long way from the light-as-air Latin pop I'd expected, being more an unusual combination of trip-hop, bossa nova and modern pop tropes. Best tracks? I'm not the best person to ask - this didn't float my boat in any way - but at least it's not the expected horror. Marcos Cunha's Mellotron? No idea.

BMX Bandits  (UK)

In Space  (2012,  50.48)  

I'd never heard Scots indie fixtures BMX Bandits before playing In Space, at which point I discover that they sound like The Divine Comedy's faux-'60s pop with a sense of humour bypass. Better tracks include All Around The World and closer In Space (End Theme), but much of this overlong record is too twee for its own good. Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake (an old compadre of BMXB's leader Duglas T. Stewart) is credited with Mellotron. Really? The male choirs on Still (With Plectrum) aren't great, but the strings on Fucked Up This Time and In Space (End Theme) really give the sample game away.

BPM&M  (US)

XtraKcts & ArtifaKcts  (2001,  58.58)  ***

To my surprise, BPM&M turn out to be a King Crimson side-project, led by drummer Pat Mastelotto, also featuring Tony Levin, Adrian Belew, David Byrne and Bob Fripp himself, amongst others. Fripp not only plays guitar, but is heard speaking about his early career here and there, amongst the electronic noise, frantic rhythms and general chaos. David Singelton's credited with Mellotron on The Irresistible Blowtorch, but there's nothing, make that nothing on the track to suggest even samples, never mind the real thing.

Babel Fish  (Norway)

Babel Fish  (1998,  45.31)  **½

Oslo's Babel Fish (named in honour of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, of course) are the kind of band who straddle the divide between powerpop and, well, pop, knowing just how to spoil a potentially good thing. Their eponymous 1998 debut starts well enough, but soon descends into a pit of excess cheesiness, ending on big slushy ballad Boyscout Without Eyes, the kind of song that really isn't going to enhance my day. Keys man Halvor Holter sticks plenty of obviously sampled Mellotron on the album, with combinations of cellos, strings and flutes on opener Mania and flutes and strings on several others. Powerpop fans might wish to hear a few tracks from Babel Fish, but the bulk of the album only succeeds in irritating the discerning music lover.

Baboon  (US)

We Sing & Play  (1999,  24.57)  **½

Going by 1999's We Sing & Play EP, halfway through their career, Texans Baboon took hardcore as a kicking-off point, bringing in other influences, ending up with a kind of indie/hardcore crossover, at its best on the atmospheric Endlessly. James Henderson is credited with Mellotron on Angels, to which I can only say: you must be fucking joking.

Baby Ford  (UK)

Children of the Revolution: The Inca Love Remix Collection  (1989,  19.10)  **½

Peter "Baby" Ford is a British producer, notable for his pioneering work in the acid house and minimal techno fields (it says here). I feel I have to come clean at this point: sorry, folks, but my knowledge of these scenes is as minimal as the techno itself, so how much of this review actually has any use is arguable. Ford's fifth single was his take on T. Rex's Children of the Revolution, sounding more like a drastic remix of the original than new recordings. The main thing that makes this palatable to non-fans of the genre is that it's a bloody good pop song to start with and survives its modernist treatment dignity largely intact. This was released in several different versions, many of them featuring Hi, Mr. Logan on the b-side, although the four-track Inca Love Remix Collection eschews this in favour of My Innersence plus three versions of the title track. It's version two, the Inca Edit, that we're interested in here, although all I can hear of Ford's credited Mellotron is a few seconds of strings, probably no more than a generic string patch played vaguely Mellotronically, 1989 or no 1989.

Baby Woodrose  (Denmark)

Money for Soul  (2003,  33.54)  ***

Baby Woodrose are a Danish garage rock trio, whose second (third?) album, 2003's Money for Soul, successfully pastiches all areas of British 1966 beat-into-psych, copping licks from all the major bands in the process. While an enjoyable listen, it's about as original as the last Stones album, although rather more fun. Producer Jürgen Hendlmeier plays supposotron on Carrie, with a weird-sounding monophonic string line that's fairly certainly sampled.

Sophya Baccini  (Italy)

Aradía  (2009,  69.24)  ***

A member of Italian darkwave progsters Presence for the last twenty years, 2009's Aradía is vocalist Sophya Baccini's first solo album. A thorough smörgåsbord of influences, it's probably best categorisable as 'progressive rock', if only because no other description covers its intermingling of opera, cabaret, singer-songwriter and, yes, prog, while the tiresomely inevitable Kate Bush comparison has to be made, too. Does it work? In places, mostly when Baccini does her own solo vocal/piano thing, many of the project's other musicians serving only to clutter the album with extraneous noise. Worst example? Aurelio Fierro's clunky drumming on Al Ritmo Di Una Storia does itself no favours, although various flute and violin interjections generally work pretty well. Baccini's 'Mellotron' strings and flutes that open the album give the sample game away immediately, other obvious examples being the string swells on Studiare-Studiare and a brief solo strings part right at the end of the overlong album. Once again, please don't credit 'Mellotron' when it's clearly nothing of the sort. Thank you. Can I recommend this? Fans of the Black Widow label's output may well go for it, but its rather overblown approach is likely to put many progressive fans off, to be honest.

Bacilos  (US)

Sinvergüenza  (2004,  45.59)  **½

Despite their Latin American sound, Bacilos were based in Florida, although their three core members hailed from Colombia, Brazil and Puerto Rico. Musically, they conformed to the Rock en Español template, sitting firmly in between American pop/rock and more traditional Latin forms, while singing in Spanish. 2004's Sinvergüenza (Shameless) was their fourth (of five) albums, combining their trademark sound with the occasional nod to reggae and other forms, nothing particularly standing out to the non-fan, I'm afraid. Tom Capone and Maurício Barros are both credited with Mellotron, although I've no idea why it took two musicians to play the brief, sampled string part on En Los 70.

Il Bacio della Medusa  (Italy)

Deus Lo Vult  (2012,  33.53)  ****

Going by their third album, 2012's Deus Lo Vult, Il Bacio della Medusa are a band in absolute thrall to the '70s Italian progressive scene (note, NOT a criticism). The album's every bit as eccentric as you could hope for, given their influences, Urbano II Bandisce La Prima Crociata being a prog march, complete with massed male vocals and PFM flute, while Verso Casa is a rather bonkers flute-led waltz. Other highlights include the PFM clone intro, Invocazione Alle Muse, the ripping harmonica work on the rocking title track (quite a bit of full-on rock here, too) and closer La Beffa (Non Un Trono, Non Un Regno...Solo Sdegno). Drummer Diego Petrini doubles on alleged Mellotron, with strings all over opener Invocazione Alle Muse, running through into Indignatio (Infedeli In Terra Santa), cropping up again on Simplicio, with cellos and strings on La Beffa.

Bad Haskells  (US)

Hampden-Sydney Circus  (1996,  54.22)  ***

I wouldn't actually put money on it, but I get the impression that Texans The Bad Haskells' Hampden-Sydney Circus is some kind of concept album. Musically, they're at the hard rock end of powerpop, for want of a better description, album highlights including the title track, the poppy Love's Imagination, Deluxe and closer Sunshine Into Pain. Daniel Hines' Mellotron? Unconvincing flutes on Colours Fade. There's a second supposed Mellotron album, 1998's Day Glo; while samples seem likely, I can't say for certain until I've heard it.

Badger  (Norway)

C'mon Girls!  (2004,  46.43)  ****

Badger (presumably entirely unaware of the British band) are one of Norway's prime progenitors of powerpop, to the extent that you really wouldn't know they weren't native English-speakers. 2004's C'mon Girls! is their second and, to date, latest album, full of glorious songs along the lines of One Hit Wonders Of The World Unite, It's A Glorious Day and Elizabeth, although I'm having trouble finding anything about it I don't like, although closer Barefoot/Laila's Theme is a little too (deliberately?) cheesy. Producer Lars Lien plays 'Mellotron', although as always with his productions, I strongly suspect samples; the flute part on The Green Giant sounds OK until a speedy little run that would be difficult on all but the best set-up M400. Other samplotron use includes background strings on Supermarket Marianne, a nice polyphonic flute part on She's A Woman Now and more upfront strings on Barefoot/Laila's Theme.

Jonathan Badger  (US)

Unsung Stories From Lilly's Days as a Solar Astronaut  (2010,  52.06)  ***

It's no great surprise to discover that Jonathan Badger's sometime-Crimsonesque work is released through Cuneiform; this is more avant-rock than progressive, sometimes perfectly listenable (His Face Like Glass to the Touch, Beat 1), sometimes less so (closer Lucius). Very obviously sampled Mellotron strings and flutes, in various combinations, on most tracks.

Dave Bainbridge  (UK)

Celestial Fire  (2014,  74.17)  *½

Dave Bainbridge is guitarist with 'Celtic progsters' Iona, one of the blandest so-called 'progressive' bands by whom I've ever sat through an album (although, to be fair, the one time I saw them they weren't bad). Unsurprisingly, seeing as how he's one of the band's leading lights, his second solo release, 2014's Celestial Fire, is as dull as ditchwater, not helped by the Christian lyrics evident in places. Think: a bombastically 'proggier' (vaguely), more fusion-based, thoroughly smug (smugger?) version of Iona and you won't be too far out. As if the music wasn't bad enough, seventy-four minutes of it pushes the album over the edge from irritation to torture, to the point where restraining myself from hitting the 'skip' button became an epic, life-and-death struggle. One Collin Leijenaar is credited with 'Mellotron choir' on Love Remains, but the vague, wishy-washy choir sounds on the track seem most unlikely to emanate from a Mellotron. Funnily enough, although uncredited, we also get Mellotronic strings on For Such A Time As This and elsewhere, although, once again, the chances of their being real are minimal. Well, I can't unrecommend this highly enough, frankly; once again, I have absolutely no idea why certain online journalists are wetting themselves over this kind of stuff.

Bait  (UK)

South of the Delta  (2004,  57.04)  ***½
The Full English  (2005,  53.36)  ***½

Coventry-based Bait (or BAiT) were a bunch of, well, blokes who specialised in what is now, irritatingly, known as classic rock, for want of a better term. Their third and fourth albums (of five) veer between a kind of progressive hard rock and a more mainstream sound, although intricate arrangements were their forté, accentuating the 'progressive' end of their sound. Highlights? South of the Delta's Boldly Go (ho ho), Wordsworth and The Answer, although their neo-prog roots come lurching through the mix on 25, while The Full English gives us opener Liquify, Let Me Be Me, twelve-minute prog epic Cambrai and the kind-of powerpop of Down So Low. Nick Nugent (I believe) adds samplotron strings and choirs to both albums, sometimes veering rather to close to 'trad' neo-prog use, ditto his monosynth work. The good news? Both albums are available, in full, on YouTube.

Baker Brothers  (UK)

Hear No Evil  (2014,  53.12)  ***

Although The Baker Brothers are named for Dan and Richard Baker, they don't actually seem to play on their sixth (?) studio album, 2014's Hear No Evil, although they're listed as producers. It's a solid Brit-soul/funk release, heavy on the brass, the rhythm section effortlessly summoning up prime dancefloor grooves at the drop of a hat. Highlights? Instrumental opener Intercontinental Flower Power, the mid-paced Love's Atonement and closer Big Guns, maybe. Downsides? Too long. This kind of album should never top forty minutes in my opinion, although, in this case, it's not so much the track lengths (which average out at four minutes), but the number of them, leading the record to slightly outstay its welcome. Bassist Chris Pedley plays sampled Mellotron on Love's Atonement, with a repeating chordal part that morphs into a single-note run that ends on a high F (the actual machine's top note), before being pitchbent up into F# in a rather inauthentic kind of way.

Balduin  (Switzerland)

All in a Dream  (2014,  44.34)  ***½
The Glamour Forest  (2014,  10.23)  ***½

Without having heard any of his previous work, I get the impression that Claudio "Balduin" Gianfreda may not always have made music like that to be heard on 2014's All in a Dream and The Glamour Forest EP, that is, early Floyd-esque psych-pop. I have to say, he does it rather well, from the album's fab sleeve art to its sixteen short tracks, at least half of which could easily be singles. Singles, that is, in Balduin's alternate world, where time stopped in the late '60s and bands still had hits titled You Can Never Pipe My Fancy From My Dear or Mirror, Mirror (in reality, the lead track on the EP). Album highlights include Beach Boys-esque opener Love Is You, the electric sitar-led Which Dreamed It, The Labyrinth and Through The Snow, which shifts from acoustic whimsy through to a near-sound collage of echoed organ and wind effects.

I have a theory regarding the use of Mellotron samples: a real Mellotron's a bit of a bugger to play if you're not used to it (or even if you are), so when you hear Mellotron sounds slathered all over a recording, chances are they're sampled. The real thing actually becomes a little fatiguing to listen to (let alone to play) non-stop (take it from someone who knows), so wall-to-wall Mellotron? 98% chance of samples. This is not a scientific survey. Anyway, Gianfreda sticks samplotron strings all over practically every track here, other usage including brass on Mirror, Mirror and flutes on several tracks, notably Pretty Size! and Change. Do you buy these? Well, the EP (including the superb Jabberwock) only seems to be on 7", so that rather depends on your ownership or otherwise of a turntable, but the album's more than worthy of your hard-earned, I'd say.

Zeca Baleiro  (Brazil)

Baladas do Asfalto e Outros Blues  (2005,  50.01)  **½

José "Zeca Baleiro" Ribamar is a Brazilian singer-songwriter, whose eighth album, 2005's Baladas do Asfalto e Outros Blues, is a decent enough record of its type, that being 'Latin pop/rock', specifically MPB (Música Popular Brasileira). Better tracks include the brief Mulher Amada and the acoustic Cigarro, but this really isn't going to grab the (vast) majority of non-Portuguese-speakers, frankly. Humberto Barros is credited with Mellotron (in a country which, until recently, was resolutely Mellotron-free?), but the vaguely 'Mellotronic' flutes and even vaguer strings on Quando El Dorme Em Minha Casa, well, aren't. Good at what it does, but literally a continent away from my (and probably your) taste.

Jayson Bales  (US)

Cruel & Unusual  (2006,  42.19)  ***

Cruel & Unusual is, ultimately, an Americana album, although influences from alt.rock, indie, powerpop and even jazz also creep in. Highlights? Maybe the raucous X Street, Half Right and the powerpop of I Walk Alone. Chris Holt is credited with Mellotron, but the strings and flutes on opener 335, Amy's Song and Truth and the unknown strings variant on Half Right are very obviously sampled.

Eszter Balint  (Hungary)

Flicker  (1999,  41.05)  ***
Airless Midnight  (2015,  44.41)  **½

After Hungarian-born Eszter Balint's family's theatrical company moved to the States, she shifted into acting, working with the legendary Jim Jarmusch, before moving into music, playing violin on some of Swans' Michael Gira's Angels of Light's releases. Her first solo album, 1999's Flicker, is a world-weary record, strongly influenced by her mittel-Europa heritage, with gypsy, folk and pre-war jazz motifs in evidence, while also obviously being allied to the Gira camp. Dougie Bowne is specifically credited with 'Mellotron sample' on Tattoo Sun, but I'll be buggered if I can work out what he might be doing with it; this would get a '0' on the Mellotron front, were it applicable. So; a decent enough album of its kind, but not even any obvious Mellotron samples, let alone Mellotron.

After a lengthy, motherhood-related break from recording, Balint's 2015 release, Airless Midnight, is difficult to describe, although I suppose 'singer-songwriter' is about the best we'll manage. Influences include country/folk (both American and European) and '50s rock'n'roll, the former evident in the banjo in Departure Song and the latter typified by the rockier All You Need. J.D. Foster allegedly plays Mellotron, but I'd love to know where; the only strings to be heard emanate from Balint's violin, so unless we're hearing the little-known Mellotron string bass (or banjo?), whatever was played seems to've ended up on the cutting-room floor. Or, indeed, are inaudible samples. A decent enough album, then, but not one I'll be returning to any time soon.

Ed(ward) Ball  (UK)

It's Kinda Lonely Where I am  (1995,  14.29)  ***
Catholic Guilt  [as Edward Ball]  (1997,  38.03)  ***½

Ed(ward) Ball is an on-off member of The Television Personalities, having played seemingly every instrument in his various stints in the band, spending the rest of his time in, er, The Times and on his solo career. 1995's It's Kinda Lonely Where I am EP appeared the same year as his solo debut, If a Man Ever Loved a Woman. The EP's four tracks (the title track is from the album) are in the kind of indie/singer-songwriter style you'd expect, better than many, its best track probably being the witty Another Member Of The Millhill Self Hate Club, complete with local geographical references. Ball adds sampled Mellotron to Bled A River Over You, with overly-smooth strings and murky, buried choirs. You'll have trouble finding this, should you wish to; Creation (Ball was a label exec) went under in 1999, so start scouring those second-hand shops.

Catholic Guilt seems to be Ball's third full solo offering and can be categorised loosely as an indie/singer-songwriter album, although it's a lot better than that suggests. Touches of Dylan, the Velvets, maybe a less caustic Elvis Costello, though I'm not sure Ball would thank me for the comparison. Or maybe he would. Imagine Oasis if they were good, especially given the Creation connection. Go on, try. Difficult to pick standout songs, although the lyrics to The Mill Hill Self Hate Club and Controversial Girlfriend particularly caught my ear. Ball credits himself with a whole raft of instruments; hardly surprising, when you consider how many he's played in the TVPs. Among the nice old 'boards is a Mellotron, allegedly, although given that the album features both string and brass sections, there isn't an awful lot for it to do. In fact, all I can hear for definite (?) are some slightly 'Strawberry Fields'-esque flutes on The Hampstead Therapist, that might actually be something else entirely. Into 'samples' it goes, then. However, if you like well-written and played songs, with an English bent, you could do an awful lot worse.

Bambi Molesters  (Croatia)

As the Dark Wave Swells  (2010,  37.55)  ***½

The Bambi Molesters are that most unlikely of things, a Croatian instrumental surf band. Active since the mid-'90s, 2010's As the Dark Wave Swells is their eighth album and first for seven years, leaning as heavily on Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western soundtracks for inspiration as it does on Dick Dale et al. Since they maintain a stylistic consistency across the record, it's difficult to pick out specific tracks for praise or otherwise; suffice to say, if an excellently-played surf/Morricone crossover sounds like it might appeal, you won't go too far wrong here. Chris Eckman plays samplotron on Lazy Girls Hangout, one of the album's slower tracks, with a string line drifting in and out of the arrangement and a quiet flute line on closer Rising East.

The Bamboos  (Australia)

Medicine Man  (2012,  43.29)  ***

The Bamboos' Medicine Man's '60s soul grooves are infused with a hip-hop sensibility, which, although it makes the album a little less musical, at least adds some individuality to their sound. Highlights? The propulsive The Wilhelm Scream, Cut Me Down and the title track, although John Castle's 'Mellotron' amounts to no more than some vaguely Mellotronic strings on I Got Burned and Medicine Man itself.

Bang Tango  (US)

Dancin' on Coals  (1991,  50.56)  ***

Glam-metal troupe Bang Tango began the '90s unsure where they stood; their second album, Dancin' on Coals, came out the same year as Nirvana's genre-defining Nevermind, making their ilk redundant almost overnight. And not before time, some might say, not least myself. In actuality, Dancin' on Coals, while no classic, is more diverse than you might imagine, making the likes of Poison look as stupid and one-dimensional as they actually were. Some tracks, notably big ballad Midnight Struck, sound like budget Aerosmith and, while you might say that isn't too unusual in the glam scene, Bang Tango at least do it with some panache, not to mention Joe Lesté's Tyler-alike vocals. Pete Wood is credited with Mellotron, but the rather ordinary string part on Emotions In Gear, despite being pre-easily-available samples, really isn't a Mellotron, while the strings on the lengthyish Midnight Struck seem to be real. One for the reformed glam fan in your life.

Frank Bango  (US)

Fugitive Girls  (2000,  48.13)  ***½

I believe (not in a faith kind of way, you understand) that 2000's Fugitive Girls is Frank Bango's debut album, a frequently beautiful collection of powerpop gems, typified by 12-string classic Candy Bar Killer, the subdued One Pink Squirrel, A Monster In Your Cookie Jar and the rather psychedelic Entertaining Anne, amongst other highlights. In fairness, a few lesser numbers knock a half star from its rating, but that might be being picky. I could still be struggling to recall whom his voice reminds me of, until I read it somewhere else: Elvis Costello, for better or worse. Bango plays 'Mellotron' flutes on a couple of tracks, with a brief, skronky part on Building A Better Plaything and a more regular one on One Pink Squirrel, most likely sampled.

Harry Bannink  (Netherlands)

Harry Bannink Zingt!  (1999,  50.32)  ***

Harry Bannink (1929-1999) was a Dutch composer and pianist who spent much of his professional life working in TV. Harry Bannink Zingt! (Harry Bannink Sings!, of course) is an album of his own songs, much of it sounding like the kind of thing you'd hear on soundtracks or in musicals; hardly surprising for a seventy year-old. As a result, this is largely above criticism, although it's not something to which I'll be returning any time soon. Dionys Breukers' Mellotron credit is for the sampled flutes on Harry, Wat Heb Je Met Je Haar Gedaan? and Wil U Een Stekkie?

Cyro Baptista  (Brazil)

Love the Donkey  (2005,  49.10)  ***

Despite being a non-Jewish Brazilian, percussionist Cyro Baptista releases records on Jewish New York label Tzadik, largely due to his involvement with John Zorn. After forming Beat the Donkey in 2002 and releasing a self-titled album, he/they followed up with Love the Donkey in 2005, a Latin-via-New-York set, detouring into reggae (Rio De Jamaica), jazz (Forró For All), didgeridoos (Matan) and, er, blown bottles (duh, Bottles) along the way. The biggest surprise here is an accordion version Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song, which actually works surprisingly well. Tzadik mainstay Jamie Saft is credited with Mellotron, although as with Saft's solo album, Black Shabbis, it's totally inaudible, so 'samples' it is, whether it actually is or not.

David Barbe  (US)

Comet of the Season  (2001,  38.50)  ***

David Barbe has worked with many musicians, both as player and producer, fronting his own rated combo Mercyland in the '80s, although, ironically, he's probably best known for playing bass in Bob Mould's post-Hüsker Dü outfit Sugar. 2001's Comet of the Season is his sole solo album to date and has some of that Athens, GA sound to it (Barbe is from Atlanta, but based in Athens, home to R.E.M., amongst others), with a modern psych feel in places. It's hard to say which Barbe does better: the slow, near-psych of Hot, But You Won't Blow or Medicine Takeover, or the high-octane Nickel A Minute or Once In A While; suffice to say that he knows how to construct a record that holds the listener's interest, which is more than you can say for most of his contemporaries, it seems. Barbe is credited with Mellotron, but the only place it even might be is the flutey sound on Favorite Star, so into samples it goes.

Jill Barber  (Canada)

For All Time  (2007,  42.02)  **½

Jill Barber is a Canadian singer-songwriter who, to be honest, breaks little new ground on her third album, 2007's For All Time. It straddles several genres, with the country of Don't Go Easy and Legacy contrasting sharply with When I'm Making Love To You's jazz/blues and the folky Hard Line, although 'countryish' seems to be the album's default setting. Barber's voice carries the material, along with a handful of decent songs, although most of them seem to be just a little too generic for their own good. Les Cooper plays supposed Mellotron on Ashes To Ashes, with some barely audible and fairly certainly sampled background flutes (the vibraphone, my first guess, is real). All in all, then, countryish singer-songwriter stuff, nothing you haven't heard before, really, with next to bugger-all samplotron, to the point where, were it genuine, if I could give it a quarter T, I would. Actually, I could, as it's my site and I can do what I like (within reason), but you've got to have rules, otherwise where would we be? Eh? Eh?

Sara Bareilles  (US)

Little Voice  (2007,  48.53)  **½

Sara Bareilles' second album, Little Voice, is, in many ways, a typical singer-songwriter effort, Bareilles accompanying herself on the piano in true early '70s Carole King style, for better or worse. The album actually starts reasonably well, but as with so many 'genre' records, its appeal palls after a few songs, knocking half a star from its rating. Better tracks include openers Love Song (apparently a US no. 1) and Vegas, although Love On The Rocks is far too West Coast smooth for its own good (or is that title a send-up?) and slushy ballads City and Gravity don't cut the mustard at all, I'm afraid. Eric Rosse is credited with Mellotron, but all we get is some distant, watery samplotron strings on Vegas.

Barenaked Ladies  (Canada)

Are Me  (2006,  49.13)  ***
Are Men  (2007,  60.00)  ***

How can you like a band called Barenaked Ladies? I mean, how? Stupid frat-boy humour should be shucked off once one has left one's place of higher education, I feel, although Barenaked Ladies have made a twenty-year career out of playing the fool, so what do I know? In fairness, they seem harmless enough, sounding like a not-up-themselves Canadian version of Counting Crows with extra added jokes, maybe; you know, that Americana-influenced soft rock thing with catchy choruses that sounds good on car radios. Is that good? If you like that kind of thing, I suppose. Then again, EVERYTHING'S good if you like it... The only even slightly remarkable thing about the album is the presence of band inspiration and ex-Max Webster god Kim Mitchell on closer Wind It Up, whose solo lifts the track above the rest of the album, although it sounds disconcertingly like one of his own later efforts...

2006's Are Me (or Barenaked Ladies Are Me) is a perfectly acceptable, reasonably musicianly record, middling rock with a country influence, as you'd expect, although it's desperately unexciting, to be honest. I rather suspect that Barenaked Ladies fans don't want 'exciting', though, so job done, lads. Kevin Hearn is credited with Mellotron on opener Adrift, although there's a small string section on there, too, making whatever may be Mellotronically present entirely inaudible. I mean, why bother? Really? Some versions of the album added various bonus tracks recorded at the same sessions, sixteen of which appeared in their own right in 2007 as (Barenaked Ladies) Are Men, bizarrely actually superior to the original album, highlights including opener Serendipity, Angry People and Fun & Games, largely for its über-barbed anti-Bush lyrics. Hearn's credited with Mellotron again and while I have my doubts, there could be something (background strings?) on One And Only and flutes on Beautiful and Another Spin, though all in seriously limited quantities.

Nicklas Barker  (Sweden)

El Último Fin de Semana  (2011,  35.37)  ****

Although Anekdoten are, of course, heavy Mellotron users, it seems that their Nicklas Barker, on his first solo release, the El Último Fin de Semana soundtrack, sticks to the digital Memotron (or is it the M4000D?). Having not seen the film, I can't tell you how well Barker's music fits the visuals, but it works remarkably well as an album in its own right, only rarely betraying its origins as soundtrack material. Highlights? Celestial Ghost, the gloomy Rendezvous, the Theremin-driven Doom and the brief Home, only jaunty closer Beach Girls sounding in any way inappropriate and even then, I'm sure it works well in context. Fakeotron on most tracks, notable examples including the strings on Celestial Ghost, Night Ambience and By The Shore and the flutes and cellos on Sisters, while the MkII rhythms and 'moving strings' on Beach Girls effectively prove Barker's sample use.

Sophie Barker  (UK)

Seagull  (2011,  41.57)  **½

It comes as no great surprise to discover that Sophie Barker worked with British slowcorists Zero 7; Seagull has their gentle-yet-intense vibe, although the cheesily upbeat Bluebell proves that she's at her best playing quieter material. Barely any samplotron, with naught but background choirs on opener Paradise Lost.

The Barkers  (US)

Burn Your Piano  (1999,  48.17)  ***½

Austin, TX quartet The Barkers (as in 'carnival barkers') released Burn Your Piano in 1999, to minor local acclaim, although its off-kilter Americana-esque stylings should've gained them far more attention. It veers between the Dylanesque title track, the sardonic, redneck-baiting Brother, the upright piano-led October Trains and a fab psychedelic guitar solo in Baytown, amongst other delights, while the lyrics are worth actually, y'know, listening to, just for once. Best of all, though, Farmer's Song sounds like it opens with blown bottles (you know, fill several bottles with differing levels of water and blow across the top). Beats a Mellotron for archaism straight off. Speaking of which... Despite a reference to 'their Mellotron' in an article in The Austin Chronicle, the speedy string run in Brother doesn't sound right, although the consistently sharp strings in closer New Waltz are slightly better. Pretty certainly sampled, anyway.

BarlowGirl  (US)

How Can We Be Silent  (2007,  42.12)  **½

BarlowGirl were a trio of sisters operating in the CCM/alt.rock field, making their 2012 split less than a total tragedy. To be fair, unless you listen to the lyrics (something I usually try to avoid), they just sound like any other female-fronted indie-rock outfit. 2007's How Can We Be Silent is at its best on A Million Voices and its worst on Sweet Revenge and closer I Don't Regret, with polyphonic samplotron flutes on One More Round.

Digger Barnes  (Germany)

Time Has Come  (2009,  36.07)  ***½
Frame By Frame  (2014,  31.47)  ***

Mildly improbably, Kay "Digger Barnes" Buchheim (named for a character from Dallas, fact fans) is a German Americana artist; well, if you can have Italian reggae or Indonesian metal, why not German Americana? International boundaries are ridiculous human constructs, anyway. Seriously, if you didn't know better, you'd automatically assume he hailed from somewhere in rural Iowa or similar, such is his level of Americana authenticity.

After the superbly-titled My Name Is Digger 7", 2009's Time Has Come is Barnes' first album, although he's been around for some years as a member of Chuck Ragan's Revival Tour, an American folk-punk collective. The album is genre perfection, as dry and dusty as you could wish for, top tracks including opener Everybody Run, Waiting For The Snakes and the instrumental title track. Someone with the fantastic nom de plume of Mosquito Hopkins plays supposotron on Song For A Sleepwalker, with a haunted flute part drifting in and out of the mix, although it's clearly not real. If you go for that Americana thing, don't be put off by Barnes' nationality or assumed name; there might not be any real Mellotron here, but this is a very impressive debut.

2014's Frame By Frame is his fourth album, at least under this nom-de-plume, so authentically Western that it would probably take a genre expert to spot the difference. Top tracks? Maybe Two Ringing Ears, the honky-tonk of Dangerous Man and the balladic Soon I Will Hold You Again. Hopkins again is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on Way Of The Rover and vibes on two or three others tracks do little to convince. Do you bother with this? Old-time Americana fan? Then yes. Mellotron fan? Then no.

Barren Earth  (Finland)

Curse of the Red River  (2010,  54.07)  ***½

Barren Earth are a Finnish metal supergroup (yes, it seems there can be such a thing), comprising members of Kreator, Moonsorrow and others, whose debut, 2010's Curse of the Red River, is surprisingly listenable for non-lovers of the more metallic end of the spectrum. It takes influences from early Priest, Metallica and doubtless other more modern outfits I haven't heard, alongside '70s prog and folk (mainly in the melody department), the end result being an unexpectedly tuneful racket, only spoiled by the on-off 'cookie monster' vocals. WHY do you do this, guys? Is it meant to be threatening? It isn't. The album's improved immeasurably when Mikko Kotamäki stops growling and starts singing, which he can do perfectly well. Kasper Mårtenson plays samplotron, with strings on the title track, Flicker and The Ritual Of Dawn, although the background strings and choirs on most of the rest are generic samples.

Eli Barsi  (Canada)

Listen  (2004,  44.15)  **½

Despite describing herself on her website as coming from Nashville, Eli Barsi's Canadian, although you wouldn't know it from the straightforward country of Listen. Highlights? Not really, no. This is more an album for those who value lyrics over music. Joel Feeney plays the almost certainly sampled Chamberlin flute part on Don't Let Up.

Steve Barta  (US)

Follow Your Heart  (1999,  59.14)  ***

Steve Barta is an accomplished jazz pianist; Follow Your Heart, unsurprisingly, is an album of gentle classical/jazz crossover pieces. For some strange reason, Barta credits one Johann Sebastian Bach with Mellotron. There is no Mellotron on this album. JSB is dead.