Michael Carpenter's first album with his band, King's Rd., is a fine slice of powerpop, highlights including No Way Out and the ripping chord sequence in You're So Alone, although the overall effect has more punch than picking out individual tracks. Lachlan Williams' alleged Mellotron isn't even especially audible (the strings on Holiday?), so the chances of it being genuine are minuscule, I'd say. Rolling Ball is Michael Carpenter's sixth album and is apparently the one where his diverse influences come together, rather than sounding like several different records rolled into one. He still writes in a multitude of styles: powerpop (the opening title track), alt.country (Nothing At all), singer-songwriter (Good Enough) and almost-hard rock (No One), but the album retains a cohesive sound overall. Its chief problem seems to be the old 'handful of great songs and lots of filler' syndrome; while there are no genuinely bad tracks on offer, there just aren't quite enough really good ones to make the album a satisfying overall listen. Carpenter plays the samplotron himself, with faint flutes on Emily Says, more obvious strings on No One, flutes and strings on Let Down and The Ache, with a background string part on On My Mind to finish things off nicely.
Malmö's Carpet Knights are (or were) a psychedelic outfit, bringing in elements of prog and '70s hard rock, going by Beyond the Fairytale, possibly at its best on Soulswitch. This was their last short-format release before a pair of albums, the last released in 2009, making it look like they might have quietly disappeared. Henrik Nilsson is credited with Mellotron on Ageless and Soulswitch, but the strings on both tracks are seriously bogus.
Carptree are categorised as 'neo-prog' by ProgArchives, but they have little in common with the '80s bands that define that sub-genre, sounding instead like a cross between 'modern prog' (Spock's Beard et al.) and the tuneless prog metal that seems to pass for mainstream progressive rock these days. 2005's Man Made Machine isn't a bad album as such, just rather faceless, while its pomposity is enough to make any old-school prog fan who appreciates a little subtlety run for the hills. Although I've seen references to 'Mellotron' in relation to this album, the strings heard throughout are very clearly Mellotron samples, the upper end of their reach being screechy and stretched, though, in fairness, nothing's credited on the album. So; rather uninspired modern prog with sampled Mellotron. Your choice, methinks.
Seems Mickael Carreira's a big name in Portugal, big enough, in fact, to release a sprawling double live CD (two hours, folks) after only three studio albums. In fairness, it's padded out to the max with lengthy singalongs and minutes at a time of crowd noise and Carreira's stage chat, but it still strikes me as a little hubristic. But then, what do I care? His mix of Iberian-flavoured pop/rock and Big Mediterranean Balladry is guaranteed to make him precisely zero fans outside his home market, like he cares. Our old friend Armando Avila gets his usual 'Mellotron' credit for playing something vaguely reminiscent of a Mellotron string sound on Filho E Pai and others. FFS.
I had no idea before I played this album, but Nick Carter is a member of The Backstreet Boys, which probably tells you all you need to know about him. 2002's Now or Never is his only proper solo album to date, ignoring his 'early demos' collection, Before the Backstreet Boys 1989-1993 and, while it shows a reasonable diversity of style, it's still a mainstream pop album, mixing his usual boy-band thing with various dance styles, piano balladry and that kind of neutered 'metal' guitar sound on a few tracks, usually thrown in by producers in a vain attempt to portray their client as 'edgy'. The original, twelve-track US release has no Mellotronic input, but one of the two overseas bonus tracks, Forever Rebel, has an exceedingly brief samplotron flute part from Phil Thornalley; his credit includes the fatal words 'programmed by'. I rest my case.
Along with the better-known Ryan Adams, Caitlin Cary is the other ex-Whiskeytown member to have a visible solo career, taking that outfit's Americana template and, er, making it more mainstream. Saying that, several tracks on her solo debut, 2002's While You Weren't Looking put the alt. into alt.country, not least Thick Walls Down and Pony. Jen Gunderman plays supposed Chamberlin, but, yet again, it's nowhere obviously to be heard. Why? Really, why? Why use such a cool instrument then ensure it's buried in the mix? I know it's shy and retiring, but a sympathetic producer can make it stand proud and tall, not hide its light under a bushel (whatever that is). Not this time, however. Cary took a whole year to follow up with I'm Staying Out, which shifts yet further away from 'alt.' territory, despite the odd track of the quality of Cello Girl (great guitar solo) and closer I Want To Learn To Waltz With You, complete with Frank Gratkowski's clarinet. Gunderman on samplotron this time round, albeit not very much, with strings on Sleepin' In On Sunday, Beauty Fades Away and I Want To Learn To Waltz With You. Samples all round, I reckon.
Neko Case runs her solo career concurrently with her membership of Canada's The New Pornographers (she lived in the country for some years). The Worse Things Get... is her sixth solo release, an indie-end-of-Americana record, at its best on the energetic Man, Bracing For Sunday and the gentle Calling Cards, maybe. Bo Koster's 'Mellotron' can be heard on opener Wild Creatures, with some improbably speedy flute arpeggios, plus cellos.
Peter Case has had an incredibly varied career, from playing bass with The Nerves, who wrote Hanging On The Telephone, later covered by Blondie, to working his way through other powerpop/Americana-orientated acts, including The Plimsouls, before kicking off his solo career in the mid-'80s. 1998's Full Service No Waiting is his seventh solo effort, by which point Case seems to've moved across into alt.country - actually, not so alt, really - treating the genre for what it is: American folk, rather than the slushy Nashville version, which has to be applauded. Best track? Probably the lengthy Drunkard's Harmony, which seem to have the bite missing on much of the album's content. Producer Andrew Williams is credited with Mellotron, rumoured to be on See Through Eyes, but I'll be buggered if I can hear it, there or anywhere else. So; decent enough alt.country album, no obvious Mellotron.
Shadowblack is, apparently, the last release in a trilogy, a combination of ELP-style prog bombast and neo-prog, although Gabrielle Agachiko's vocals on the non-instrumental tracks fail to convince. The album's chief failing is its lack of musical inspiration, typified by closer Till We Meet Again, with its bland G# to C# chord sequence. Nothing here startles, or makes the seasoned listener look up, even for a moment. Mellotron? The album opens with a (get this) minute-plus samplotron string chord, played by Casey. Eight-second limit? Pshaw. Loads more pseudotron, for what it's worth, mostly strings and choir.
Casiotone for the Painfully Alone are effectively San Franciscan Owen Ashworth's solo project, although he uses collaborators as and when. 2009's vs. Children (or Casiotone for the Painfully Alone vs. Children, I suppose) is something like his sixth album, a low-fi delight of cheap drum machines, muted voices and school-hall piano, filled with strange, ageless little songs with titles like Tom Justice, The Choir Boy Robber, Apprehended At Ace Hardware In Libertyville, IL or Traveling Salesman's Young Wife Home Alone On Christmas In Montpelier, VT. I'm not even sure who might go for Ashworth's highly individual approach to music-making, although I hope someone does; this is too quirky to ignore, even if it's not exactly my bag. Ashworth freely admits to using Mellotron samples, which makes a nice change, with flutes and cellos on Man O'War, very upfront flutes on Killers (an amusing parody of Bowie's "Heroes") and closer White Jetta.
Amazingly, Mexico's Cast originally formed in 1978, keeping a low profile in the stinky '80s and releasing their first album in 1994. Although they tended heavily towards the neo-prog end of things in the '90s, they've slowly developed a sound of their own, until by their fifteenth release (they were very busy in their first decade), 2007's Com.union (ho ho), they can probably be said to be about as original as they're going to get within the confines of the genre. Despite its length (again...), the album has several highlights, not least the epic Elfonía, the odd, brassy, '60s-ish Hogar Dulce Hogar and Lobos, although one major criticism is Claudio Cordero's guitar work: all too often, it seems he can't think of anything more original to do than riff along with the keyboards. More imagination please, sir. Alfonso Vidales is credited with 'Melotron', but the strings and choirs on Elfonía sound about as genuine as that spelling, to absolutely no-one's surprise. Overall, then, a far better effort than I was expecting, having vestigial memories of being bored stupid by this lot in the late '90s. A shame a few more bands from that time can't pull their socks up in a similar fashion.
Castle Canyon were yet another early '70s US progressive band who, more through circumstance than lack of talent, never got the breaks, even in a small way. Bassist Fred Chalenor and keys man Erik Ian Walker reconnected twenty years later and, after finding drummer Paul Elias, decided to record some of their old material, the end result finally appearing in 2009 as the self-deprecatingly-titled Gods of 1973. And they sound like...? They sound like they listened to a variety of bands back then, not least Kansas, Gentle Giant and (unsurprisingly) ELP, other non-prog artists and a range of classical musics. Highlights include the epic Canoeing On The River Styx, the even more epic Triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number thirteen, years before Present's Triskaidékaphobie) and Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs/Cantabile Semplice, although, in truth, there's not a single track on this sensibly-lengthed album that disappoints.
The band openly admit Mellotron sample use (which makes a nice change), with strings on The Mighty Arp and flutes on the title track, plus other probable background use. Incidentally, the ARP 2600 heard all over the album was (get this) found discarded next to a skip. Do you know how much these things are worth? Thank fuck they found it before it was junked... When you consider some of the utter rubbish that passes for 'progressive' these days, or even if you don't, Castle Canyon are an absolute breath of fresh air, succeeding in sounding like no-one else in particular, while writing accessible material that's unlikely to offend any but the most ardent neo- fan. Buy this album.
To prove it wasn't a flash in the pan, the band have released a second album, Criteria Obsession, admittedly, six years after their exceedingly belated debut. And? It's noticeably more diverse, shifting between the welcome Focus/Trace-isms of opener Wiggy Beets and the psychedelicisms of the lengthy Criteria Obsession/The Mushroom Song, while Disaster goes all Canterbury on us. Two archive recordings from 1974 find their way onto the album, with that rescued 2600 getting an outing on Pope's Cabin and closer Zig Zag River. To be brutally honest, I'm less fussed about the jammed-out, repetitive My Lady Carey, even if it's based on a piece from the 16th Century, but it's hardly enough to put off prospective buyers. Surprisingly little samplotron use, with naught but background strings in Wiggy Beets, but a snippet of fake Mellotron is neither here nor there, frankly.
Cristian Castro is a Mexican actor/singer in possession of the requisite sultry good looks expected of such a thing, working in the mainstream Latin area, which is about as palatable to the rest of us as you can imagine. 2009's El Culpable Soy Yo is something like his twelfth album since the early '90s, full of plaintive Spanish-language balladry of the kind you try to avoid during Mediterranean (or Mexican) holidays. It's perfectly good at what it does, I suppose (he said, grudgingly), but what it does is awful. Armando Avila allegedly plays Mellotron, although you'd be forgiven for not spotting it; the nearest thing to it is the cellos on closer No Me Digas (Balada), but they could just as easily emanate from one of the album's programmed synths. In other words: just don't.
Despite being yet another American Idol contestant, Jason Castro's eponymous album's powerpop/conteporary pop hybrid is surprisingly good, although its 'vocal nine times as loud as everything else' mainstream pop production's a little hard to bear. Better tracks include It Matters To Me, his take on Leonard Cohen's deathless Hallelujah and the deluxe edition's Heart Of Stone. John Fields is credited with Chamberlin. Really?
Catbird are the Danish duo of Billie Koppel (daughter of Savage Rose's Annisette and Thomas Koppel) and Frank Hasselstrøm, whose second album, 2008's Among Us, could be considered a triumph of sparse, vaguely jazzy adult pop, if you were feeling generous. It could also be described as too slow for its own good, without quite enough content to justify its melancholy excesses, although the truth almost certainly lies somewhere in between. Better tracks include the string-laden opening title track, the vaguely Gallic How Long Must I Wait and the jazzy piano-and-vibes of City Of Blue, but Koppel's weary, little-girl voice is definitely an acquired taste. Savage Rose's Palle Hjorth is credited with Mellotron on How Long Must I Wait and Midnight Shelter, but the vague string parts on both tracks clearly have little to do with a real machine, making that band's own supposed use from the previous year even more suspect than before. Sorry to be so negative, but, while a few tracks of this album have a certain childlike charm about them, a whole album becomes something of a drag.
Chris Catena? Whadd'ya reckon? Sensitive singer-songwriter? Mainstream Italian pop artist? Avant-garde Euro-synthesist? Wrong, wrong, wrong. Chris Catena is a 'melodic rock' (as I believe it's now known) vocalist, whose Discovery sounds like a collection of Whitesnake (crap era) outtakes, frankly. OK, it's harmless enough, but this stuff now occupies a niche not dissimilar to that of prog; a once-massively popular style reduced to a hardcore of devotees, for better or worse. Catena clearly has a 'name' of some sort in the biz, however, as the album features guest spots from musicians of the calibre of Tony Franklin, Pat Travers, Carmine Appice, Bobby Kimball, Earl Slick, Bruce Kulick and, er, Uriah Duffy, none of whom make it any the more interesting a listen.
Someone called Eugene is credited with Mellotron on the seven-minute The Space, but I really can't imagine that the vague string and choir sounds utilised towards the end of the piece have anything to do with a real machine. So; not quite AOR, not quite hair-metal, more a middle ground for the genre's slowly diminishing fanbase. Progressive rock still throws up some artists prepared to take a chance, in the spirit of its pioneers; melodic rock was always designed to be part of the commercial mainstream, so it comes as no surprise to learn that, once washed up on a beach of the bleached bones of superseded musical styles, it, too, will eventually die.
Cathedral (UK) see:
The Caulfields were a Delaware-based band who, although rarely described as such, were essentially a powerpop outfit, albeit one with a few '90s indie influences thrown into the mix. 1995's Whirligig was their first album (of two), covering a fair bit of ground in the genre, including the jangly powerpop of Alex Again, the more hardcore-influenced Rickshaw and the balladic Fragile, although, sadly, the album never really ignites in the way of the field's top names. Bruce Kaphan guests on samplotron, with rather watery strings on opener Devil's Diary, although that appears to be it. So; a decent enough album that tries really hard, but rarely actually hits the spot. Unfortunately, the general public clearly thought so, too, as the band split after their second album, 1997's L.
I'm not really sure what Celebration are trying to achieve on their second album, 2007's The Modern Tribe. Modern psychedelia? Indie? Soft rock? All of the above? Moments of instrumental beauty are squashed flat by long, long minutes of failed funk and overcooked Hammond work, not to mention Katrina Ford's voice, which, shall we say, frequently lacks tunefulness. The album's worst crime, though, is a lack of memorable material, surely a prerequisite for music towards the 'pop' end of the spectrum? Sean Antanaitis is credited with Mellotron, along with Taurus pedals and others, but if the strings on several tracks, notably closer Our Hearts Don't Change, actually emanate from a real machine, I'll be stunned. Seriously, they're not even good samples. I'd like to be nicer about this album, but I'm afraid it's defeated me. Nice sleeve?
After a (relatively) confirmed Mellotron album in 2007's This Isn't Here, I wouldn't really call David Celia's I Tried 'Americana', more 'an Americana update of old-time music'; not very snappy, I'll admit, but accurate. Highlights? Rocking opener Turnout, I'm Not Texan, as much for its superb lyrics as the music and the gentle Bug's Apocalypse, possibly. Celia's supposed to play Chamberlin, but the full-on string and woodwind parts on Severeine don't quite convince.
Despite being Italian, Cellar Noise's 2017 debut, Alight, is 'set' in London, namechecking several landmarks, although I can't work out what the concept might actually be. In many ways, this is a typical modern Italian progressive release, its contents veering between quiet, piano-led sections and all-out rock, with large helpings of 'symphonic' prog to fill in the gaps. My personal preference would be for less of the pseudo-metal guitarisms, but their potential audience has been primed for this sound over the last couple of decades or more, so I can hardly blame the band for making a record that people will like. Best tracks? Probably lengthy instrumental opener Dive With Me, Temple, with its classical guitar intro and the quietly ominous Move The Stone, while Blackfriars is notable for copping Genesis' Slippermen riff. Keys man Niccolò Gallani wrote to me, admitting his use of an M4000D sample player; to be honest, sir, I'd have spotted it immediately; the sounds are 'authentic' enough, but far too smooth to ever be mistaken for a real, tape-based machine. Strings and choirs on all tracks, with the occasional burst of flute, plus vibes and cello on Embankment and male choir on Temple.
Mercy sits at the duller end of the pop/rock spectrum, waffling along for nearly fifty minutes without really saying anything. Any better tracks? Opener Watching You Drown and Sorry, maybe, probably because they're the two most energetic things here. Frank Amato's 'Mellotron' isn't, however, with sampled flutes all over the title track and further in the background on Everything He Loved.
Céu's Latin grooves have more than a little of that intermittently-popular brand of pre-psych '60s pop about them, which, given that Latin styles were that era's chief inspiration, is hardly surprising. Anyway, the album's at its best on its less obvious material, such as the brief, Hammond-heavy Fffree and the gloomy Streets Bloom. The obviously sampled 'Mellotron' only seems to crop up once, with flutes on Asfalto E Sal.
Chain Poets is a really rather good heavy-end-of-powerpop album, highlights including The Crush, the superb Little Tin Toys, the haunting Spleen, Emotion Sickness, closer Tidal... Nary a bad track here, I'd say. Greg Kaegen is credited with Mellotron; the strings on Spleen and Sweet Dreams appear sampled, but every now and again, an authentic wobble creeps in. Messing about with the samples?
Armen Chakmakian was a latterday member of Shadowfax, so it should come as no surprise to hear that his second solo album, 2004's Caravans, while almost obscenely pleasant, is also very, very dull. This is the new age end of prog (or, of course, vice versa), at its best on the three-part Birdsong Medley, probably due to his use of repeating melodic themes, rather than his usual 'drifting' style. Although Chakmakian is credited with Mellotron, the strings on a few tracks (notably Without A Word) are far too smooth and regular for any level of genuinity, not to mention several notes sustained for too long. Sorry, but despite decent moments here and there, this is a very 'background listening' release; fine if that's what you're after, I suppose...
How ironic that I should finally review a band called Chamberl(a)in, yet they use a Mellotron... Going by their second and last 'proper' album, The Moon My Saddle, Chamberlain were an ex-hardcore band who moved into the realms of mainstream, 'rootsy' pop/rock in a Counting Crows vein. The only keyboards used are Hammond, piano and Mellotron, while a slightly alt.country air to the proceedings makes comparisons with the Crows, The Hooters et al. unavoidable. Outstanding tracks, or even slightly above average ones? Good Enough and Until The Day Burns Down up the energy levels for a few moments (although the latter's about three minutes too long), but that's hardly a recommendation. Mellotron? Not a lot, no. A background cello (?) part on Stars In The Streetlight and a slightly more audible one on closer Last To Know, from Jonathan Cohen, fairly obviously sampled. This is a stupendously dull album; I couldn't find a single thing about it that grabbed my attention in any way. Chamberlain sounded just like a thousand other American bands, with their 'heartfelt' vocals and faux-'authentic' instrumentation, so it's not particularly surprising they came up against a brick wall eventually; as is well known, there's only room for so many artists of any one type in the industry.
Über-session drummer Matt Chamberlain's eponymous album is, unsurprisingly, rhythm-led, incorporating elements from jazz, electronica, various world musics and a generous helping of the avant-garde. But is it any good? Fucked if I know. Chamberlain is (gratifyingly) credited with Chamberlin, but the occasional flute lines and other possibilities sound sampled.
Californian Courtney Chambers' Bigger & Brighter sits at the Americana end of the singer-songwriter spectrum, better tracks including Pencil And Paper, Under Zenith and lengthy closer I'm Ready To Go Now. Sean Hoffman's Mellotron? Background strings on opener Any Way and Bigger And Brighter and more upfront ones on Confessions, only the last-named sounding at all authentic.
Chance: Risiko sound like they've been listening to the outer edges of King Crimson, although I wouldn't be surprised to find that their direct influences are more that early '90s strain of post-hardcore math rock (Shudder to Think and their ilk, assuming they have an ilk). Angular-yet-melodic, in its own way, Sleep Talking isn't the easiest album on which to get a handle, but when you've heard as much musical slop as my good self, you realise how badly bands like this need encouragement. Samplotron? Nothing especially obvious.
I can't work out, from Rumors of My Death, whether or not Jerry Chapman's an obviously Christian artist; Do Anything quotes from the same Biblical verse as The Byrds' Turn! Turn! Turn!, but they weren't god-botherers, either. I've seen the album described as 'adult contemporary', which sounds about right; utterly bland, faceless adult pop. Things pick up a bit on opener Surround You and Goin' Nowhere, but it's too little, too late. Chapman's credited with Chamberlin; what, the background strings on One Wheel In A Hurricane and Do Anything? Incidentally, a second, short disc of covers has been added to reissues, Chapman tackling Styx (the unexpected Man In The Wilderness), Prince, The Beatles and The Blue Öyster Cult (guess which song? Anyone who said Black Blade can go to the back of the class), amongst others, although, in fairness, he makes a decent go of (Don't Fear) The Reaper, refusing to merely play it in the same style as the original, but badly. Yes, Big Country, I'm looking at you. Shame Chapman didn't release the covers disc as the actual album.
Sweden's female-fronted The Charade are at the better end of indie-pop, with influences stretching further back than merely the previous generation of bands (i.e. about five years); The Byrds and other, lesser '60s outfits are clearly audible in their sound, which makes a nice change. Saying that, 2006's A Real Life Drama's overall tweeness counts against it, although a couple of tracks at a time are perfectly acceptable. Mikael Matsson supposedly plays Mellotron, but while the lovely flute part on opener My Song To You sounds reasonably authentic, the 'Mellotron' strings all over A Tough Decision, Stockholm July 2005 and closer Faith are clearly sampled. Scando-indiepop with sampled Mellotron, anyone? Even the better stuff? Thought not.
Americanbittersweet is, as you might expect, an Americana album, at its best when it steps away from the standard template, not least on Promised Land, or closer Light Pollution. Charlton and Stewart Myers are both credited with Mellotron, but the distant strings on Clementine and Already Gone and background choirs on Light Pollution sound distinctly inauthentic.
Scott Chasolen's Solitude Speaks is an infuriating album: for every sublime melody or unexpected chord change, we get acres of lite jazz and fucking Autotune. Why? I mean, WHY did he think it might be a good idea to Autotune his voice? It sounds perfectly good without, so why stick that shitty, dating effect on it at all? Surreal. Anyway, Things Between is about the best song, or would be without... you guessed it. Despite his collection of vintage gear, Chasolen's 'Mellotron' consists of no more than faint, most likely sampled string pitchbends on A Line Through Time. Seven years on, Fracture is a better proposition all round, although I can still detect subtle Autotune use here and there. The best songs sound like an updated Elton John, perhaps, including opener Novocaine, the Wurlitzer-driven Larceny and the Genesis-channelling Evolve, with a 'Mellotron' polyphonic flute part on I Didn't Mean to Let You Down and upfront strings on Scatterbrain.
To my knowledge, Cheap Trick have only used a genuine Mellotron twice on record, although that string sound appears a couple of times on 2016's Bang Zoom Crazy... Hello. The album's far better than it has any right to be, this far into the band's career, highlights including opener (natch) Heart On The Line, Blood Red Lips, The Sun Never Sets and their take on Billy Page's The In Crowd. Three credited keyboard players, two of whom (Tim Lauer and Zac Rae) have used tape-replay instruments in the past, although the occasional strings on Sing My Blues Away, The Sun Never Sets and closer All Strung Out fail to convince.
One Room Palace is a goth-end-of-singer-songwriter record, although I'm not sure Odessa Chen would thank me for saying so. The trouble is, her fragile, minor-key material has something of the night about it, so when Default's goth-riffery kicks in, I'm left with no alternative. Jeff Byrd is credited with Mellotron on For A Song and Default, but... it isn't.
María "Chenoa" Falomir, despite being Argentinian-born, grew up and resides in Spain, singing professionally since her teens. Her fifth album, 2007's Absurda Cenicienta, is a Spanish-language pop/rock effort, less irritating tracks including the rock'n'roll of Mucho Rodaje and the funky Cita A Ciegas, but the majority of the record is pretty dullsville, if relatively inoffensive and professional to a T. Jacob Sureda plays Mellotron, with sampled strings on Vive Tu Vida, although the part on Dieciseis sounds more like generic string samples.
Cherubin are one of those mid-'70s outfits, German in this case, who get labelled 'prog' without really being anything of the sort. The bulk of Cherub Safety Match is middling soft/country rock, better moments being the first minute of Overture, the second half of Choo Choo Train, Silver Song Part I (the instrumental part, unsurprisingly) and the jammed-out Now We're Coming. Bo Born might very well be credited with Mellotron, but, aside from an occasional string synth and the real strings on After All This Time Te Ka Hum He, there's precisely nothing here that matches that description.
Cheryl (Cole, née Tweedy) quite possibly means little outside the UK, for which the rest of the world should be thankful. Finding fame with rubbish girl group Girls Aloud, she went on to marry a famous(ly philandering) footballer and carve herself a media career, becoming such a household name in the process that she clearly feels confident enough to try for entry to the 'first name club'. You know, Madonna, Beyoncé, Cher, Adele... Arrogant? Possibly, but most likely management-driven, rather than down to Ms. Cole's self-regard. He said, trying to give her the benefit of the doubt for no particular reason.
2014's Only Human is her fourth solo album, entirely predictable in its 'currently-popular mainstream pop' production. Then again, criticising it on those grounds is akin to berating the Pope for being Catholic, really; what else is she going to do? Hard house? Black metal? Zeuhl? Of course it's as-mainstream-as-it-gets pop. Are there any better tracks? Not especially, no (he said, to absolutely no-one's surprise), although Coming Up For Air at least features some slightly creative synth work. Hmmm. Not really good enough, is it? Producer Caesars' Jocke Åhlund is credited with Mellotron on I Don't Care, but the stabby strings on the track are extremely obviously sampled. That takes care of that one, then. Anything else to say? Nope.
The Chesterfield Kings (named for the once-popular brand of American gasper) formed way back in '79, when bassist Andy Babiuk was only sixteen. Although their specific style has shifted over the years, they unsurprisingly fall loosely into what Americans would probably refer to as post-British Invasion; late beat/early psych to the rest of us. I've read somewhere that 1994's Let's Go Get Stoned was originally meant to be a Stones tribute album, becoming watered down to, well, an album of originals containing one Stones cover. Mind you, the rest of the material might as well be by Mick, Keef'n'the boys, Long Ago, Far Away copping its intro from Sympathy For The Devil, while you'd swear Brian Jones was playing on several tracks. Babiuk is credited with Mellotron on I'm So Confused, Baby, with strings all over the track, although we're clearly hearing early samples (eMu's Vintage Synth box appeared the previous year).
2003's The Mindbending Sounds of... is something like their ninth non-compilation album in twenty years and, while a decent listen for those into the era, its chief problem is that it's more pastiche than homage, channelling The Stones one minute (Flashback, Memos From Purgatory), Love the next (Transparent Life)... You get the picture. It's not a bad record, by any means, but its dearth of originality scuppers it in the 'undying classics' stakes. All four members are credited with multiple instruments, including, in Greg Provost's case, Mellotron. Er, if you say so, Greg... There's absolutely nothing audible at all, so Christ knows where it's supposed to be, but it doesn't seem to be this album. Psychedelic Sunrise, is, unsurprisingly, more psych-influenced than its predecessor, although there's still plenty of '66 Stones copies for the old school brigade, including the Lady Jane-style acoustic effort Inside Looking Out and the Paint It, Black near-rip-off Spanish Sun (that sitar riff!). Provost's 'Mellotron' is actually audible on one track this time, with a background string part on Rise And Fall, once again sampled, with an odd 'tape slowing down' thing at the end of the song.
Despite being largely non-Latin New Yorkers, Chicha Libre's music is based on a Peruvian variant of cumbia, called, funnily enough, chicha. Their second album is a case-study in joie de vivre, the band's lack of authenticity allowing them to experiment, bringing outside influences into the genre. Best track? Undoubtedly their amusing take on The Ride Of The Valkyries, genre tropes intact. Joshua Camp supposedly plays Mellotron - in fact, it even sounds authentic in places - but the high-speed strings on Ride Of The Valkyries and similarly speedy strings and flutes elsewhere give the sample game away.
Led by Paul Dougherty, the Nashville-based Chilhowie were an indie/powerpop outfit existing between 1992 and 2000, never quite breaking out of their home region. Their only album was 1999's Happy Hour, a decent enough effort without being particularly outstanding, better tracks including the muted Hüsker Dü-isms of Ash Wednesday, the angular guitar work on Cold Fusion and the punky Fuck. With no Mellotron specifically credited, it's no work of genius to decide that Dave Layne's string part on Loser is sampled, particularly noticeable on the high notes. Presumably long out of print, the album's available as a free download from Dougherty's website, a practice from which many other artists could learn, I think.
Choo Choo Train were effectively the duo of Paul Chastain and Ric Menck, who went on to form the semi-legendary Velvet Crush, although they only released an EP and a handful of singles in their original incarnation. The Briar Rose E.P. is a brief, perfect slice of powerpop, with no obvious '80s influence whatsoever (hurrah!), every track a winner, its possible peak being the gorgeous vocal harmonies on Flower Field. Chastain allegedly plays Mellotron, although I've absolutely no idea where; the production's transparent enough that it should be pretty obvious, but the only keyboards present sound distinctly un-Mellotronic. Still, it'd be a shame to deny such a great record a review on such a nitpicking point, wouldn't it? I don't know if the compilation of most of their recorded works, 1992's Briar High (Singles 1988), is still available, but should you spot a copy, grab it to hear a minor powerpop classic. Superb.
Fly High Brave Dreamers is a resolutely downbeat record, its tempos only rarely exceeding 'funereal', although it's difficult to pinpoint stylistically. Slowcore? I'm vaguely reminded of Low, although Chris (Eckman) and Carla (Torgerson, both of The Walkabouts) are no match for that outfit. Chris and Carla are both credited with Mellotron, but all we get are somewhat inauthentic flute and string parts on opener At The Twilight's Last Gleaming.
Tim Christensen (Denmark) see:
Christianes' sole release is a cheaply-recorded, low-fi, female-fronted psych/pop album, South American style, which pulls through despite its handicaps, at its best on material such as Amor Ultravioleta and Sol. José Miguel Miranda may very well be credited with Mellotron, but, as they're few and far between on that continent, it'll come as no great surprise to hear that there's absolutely nothing audible.
Made Out of Babies/Battle of Mice's frontwoman Julie Christmas has been memorably described as 'batshit crazy', which seems a tad harsh, although I'll admit that her solo debut, 2010's The Bad Wife, is a little odd. Musically, it falls between several stools, not least punk, jazz and avant-garde, the end result being more listenable in some places than others. Christmas memorably elects to tackle Jacques Brel (If You Go Away) and Willie Nelson (I Just Destroyed The World), although the album's climax, both figuratively and literally, is overblown closer When Everything Is Green. Andrew Schneider supposedly plays Mellotron on the last-named, with high strings hiding under a slide guitar part that obscures the sound's origin: sample or real? Not an album for the faint-hearted, I'd say.