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Moon Seven Times  (US)

7=49  (1994,  57.18)  **½

The Moon Seven Times, or Moon 7x (or even M7x) were an ambient '90s trio; not ambient as in 'dance ambient', but as in 'drifting, wishy-washy synths and half-arsed rhythms'. Oh dear, I've laid my cards on the table already, haven't I? In fairness, their second album, 7=49, has its moments, but the bulk of it wafts past without making any sort of impression at all; maybe that's the point? I'm sure this is meant to appeal to Cocteau Twins or Dead Can Dance fans, but the band seem to've missed what made those bands so iconic. Atmosphere. Lynn Canfield's voice is pretty insipid and let's not even mention the vocal 'melodies'... God, the sleeve even looks like a 4AD release. The two instrumentalists, Brendan Gamble and Henry Frayne, both play samplotron on various tracks, Gamble adding faint strings to Crybaby, Desert Vineyards, On A Limb and Curling Wall, although Frayne's contributions to Anyway and I'll Gather Flowers are both entirely inaudible.

Moongarden  (Italy)

Brainstorm of Emptyness  (1995,  71.07)  **½
The Gates of Omega  (2001,  100.32)  **
RoundMidnight  (2003,  52.29)  **
Songs From the Lighthouse  (2008,  71.06)  **½
A Vulgar Display of Prog  (2009,  65.26)  ***
Voyeur  (2014,  54.29)  ***

Moongarden's amusingly misspelt second effort, Brainstorm of Emptyness, starts off quite well, with a few minutes of laid-back progressiveness, until the whole band kicks in around the four-minute mark. Oh shit, it's Marillion. Actually, more IQ than Marillion, but poor neo-prog whichever way you look at it. To add insult to injury, the album is quite interminable and would've been overlong at forty minutes. It's not all bad; when the rhythm section quietens down and the guitarist picks up an acoustic, it's actually quite nice, as on the first two parts of Sonya In Search Of The Moon, but as soon as that herky-jerky bass riff starts again, my brain shuts down in a vain attempt not to be reminded of the horrors of the '80s. Cristiano Roversi plays a good bit of fake Mellotron, (he's admitted it's samples), even though '95 is a bit early for such things (Vintage Keys module, methinks). Flutes some minutes into opener Sea Memories, with a major string part on Who's Wrong?, whiile the strings on Gun Child rip off Yes' Heart Of The Sunrise quite effectively, although the rest of the album's string work is pretty decent. The choirs don't sound right at all, to be honest, which is hardly surprising, although there's a nice part in Sonya In Search Of The Moon: Moonman Return.

I put the six-year gap between Brainstorm... and 2001's The Gates of Omega down to Roversi being busy with other projects, although I may well be wrong. I'd read that their albums improve as they go along: wrong. OK, I suppose it has its moments, but the hubris of such an average band releasing a hundred-minute, double-disc effort is considerable. To think that the mighty Änglagård titled their glorious debut for the Swedish form of that word... The bulk of this album is tediously bland neo-prog, with little harmonic invention and much vocal emoting; in other words, all the things that make your average neo- effort so unpalatable to more discerning progressive fans. If you actually need an example, disc one's opener, Forever Chained, is absolutely typical, almost the only dissent coming in disc two's closer, Moonsong - The Conclusion, with a very Fripp-ish guitar solo, but it's far too little, far too late. Samplotron strings, choirs and flutes on a few tracks, not that I, or probably you, care.

Two years on and RoundMidnight is, at least, a sensible length, although that doesn't actually improve the album in any other meaningful way. The bulk of it is the usual neo- nonsense, while Learning To Live Under The Ground throws a new influence into the lukewarm melting-pot: prog-metal. Is this a welcome addition? Not especially, no, although it succeeds in making the track the album's least boring. Any other interesting points? the backwards piano used on one track is reasonably inventive, but that's probably your lot, the standard samplotron interjections being the same old same old. A five-year gap this time, 2008's Songs From the Lighthouse being a minor improvement on its predecessors, about its most interesting feature being the violin solo over piano and vibes of Flesh. More metallic prog influences, which at least help to banish the sub-Marillionisms of old. The following year's crummily-titled A Vulgar Display of Prog (v.funny, guys) is a genuine improvement, just pulling the band out of the **½ ghetto. The chief cause is seventeen-minute closer Compression, a genuinely dynamic effort featuring the 'outside influence' of several ghetto rap sections, presumably used to illustrate the storyline. Occasional heavy samplotron use on both releases, but you're hardly going to bother on its account, I'd imagine.

2014's Voyeur is quite clearly a concept effort, although I'm afraid I couldn't be bothered to try to work out what it's about. Musically, it's their by-now familiar blend of '80s neo- and '90s prog metal, the odd curveball thrown in, not least the weird, banjo-fuelled Barbiturates Gentleman. Speaking of influences: The Queen Goes To Bed. Did I hear someone say 'late '70s Genesis'? Better material includes Vickey Mouse, the electronica of The Usurper and the punchy TV Queen, but the album's most interesting parts are largely confined to instrumental intros, before the usual neo- fare kicks in. Mucho samplotron, of course, mostly strings and choir, with a little bit of flute here and there. Whatever.

Moonstone Project  (Italy/UK)

Rebel on the Run  (2009,  52.12)  ***½

Moonstone Project are an Italian collective who bring in guests from elsewhere, chiefly the UK. Their second album, Rebel on the Run, is a funky hard rock effort that transcends genre clichés with its joie de vivre, particularly on Moonster Booster and From Another Time, although I think we could do without the hideous sampled piano and rather tired boogie-woogie of Hey Mama. Mainman Matt Filippini's 'Mellotron' consists of obviously sampled background strings on opener Sinner Sinner and upfront flutes on Closer Than You Think.

Abra Moore  (US)

Everything Changed  (2004,  50.04)  **

Abra Moore (named for the heroine of Steinbeck's East of Eden, apparently) is one of those confessional singer-songwriter types, whose third album (and first in some years), 2004's Everything Changed, is, well, everything you'd expect of the genre. It would seem that Ms Moore has been to hell and back since her previous release, but you'd have to listen to the lyrics more closely than I did to tell. Musically, it's the same old same old, mock-transcendent material (Big Sky, closer Shining Star) rubbing shoulders with ultra-personal piano-led ballads (Family Affair, Pull Away), Moore's pretty-yet-bland voice clearly running the show. Co-producer Mike Mogis plays samplotron, albeit barely, with naught but a few seconds of echoed strings on No Fear.

Ian Moore  (US)

Luminaria  (2004,  44.51)  ***

Ian Moore is a Texas-based guitarist/singer-songwriter who's played with Joe Ely, although his sixth solo studio album, 2004's Luminaria, has little of the blues about it. Almost a psychedelic country folk/rock record, tracks like the lengthyish Caroline, Abilene and Cinnamon combine Moore's influences until they actually sound like no-one else. Quite an achievement these days... Derek Morris has an overall credit for Mellotron, but, without anything specific, I'm afraid I'm unable to hear it anywhere. So; one for Americana fans after something a little different, maybe, or psychsters wanting something a little less fractured. Not, however, an album for anyone wishing to hear a Mellotron.

Mandy Moore  (US)

Coverage  (2003,  46.14)  **½

Mandy Moore is yet another of those American singer/actresses that seem to be ten a penny at the moment, although, unlike most, she comes from a musical background, not an acting one. Coverage is officially her fourth album, although her second, I Wanna Be With You, is essentially a remix version of her debut, So Real. Interestingly, given that Moore was only nineteen when the album was released, it's a covers record and not just of the usual suspects. Try these for size: XTC (Senses Working Overtime), The Waterboys (The Whole Of The Moon), Todd Rundgren (Can We Still Be Friends?)... On its release, reviews noted that it was her 'new, mature' face after her earlier teeny releases and, even to a jaded old git like me, it has its moments, with sympathetic arrangements on several tracks and little that genuinely offends, although, sadly, quite a bit that bores. Matt Mahaffey plays alleged Chamberlin, with flutes on Can We Still Be Friends? and Joan Armatrading's Drop The Pilot, although I strongly suspect samples.

Steve Moore  (US)

Primitive Neural Pathways  (2010,  32.56)  ***½

Steve Moore is half of the excellent Zombi, so it comes as absolutely no surprise to find that his fourth (?) solo release, 2010's Primitive Neural Pathways, is stuffed with analogue synthetics. To an extent, the whole album, particularly C Beams on side two, is a homage to Jean Michel Jarre, an electronic musician I consider to be unfairly stigmatised for being seen to commercialise the genre, while actually making groundbreaking music. Contentious? Moi? Perhaps that's no longer a contentious stance. I have no idea. Either way, Moore's expert handling of his synths and sequencers has produced a fine release, accessible, yet with enough content to encourage further exploration. As with Zombi, Moore can't resist using the odd Mellotron patch, although the distant choirs on opener Orogenous Zones and C Beams could just as easily have been replaced by synths and might have sounded better for it. Anyway, although this only seems to be available on vinyl and, er, cassette (hipsters, eh?), it's well worth a listen if you can get hold of a copy on a format you can actually play.

Allison Moorer  (US)

The Hardest Part  (2000,  45.51)  **½

Allison Moorer (younger sister of Shelby Lynne and married to Steve Earle) is a full-on country singer, complete with that ludicrous pronunciation they insist on using, even when they don't actually speak like it (although, as an Alabaman, I'm sure she does). Actually, her second album, 2000's The Hardest Part, is far from offensive, rocking it up (relatively) in places, not least on Think It Over and the string-laden No Next Time, although I can't see it being something to which I'll return in a hurry. Jay Bennett (ex-Wilco) plays samplotron, with a nice flute part (alongside real strings) on Send Down An Angel, described extremely optimistically on several websites as 'the Strawberry Fields-esque...' Yeah, right.

Moraine  (US)

Groundswell  (2014,  52.23)  ***½

Seattle's Moraine are, in many ways, a typical MoonJune label band: progressive, jazzy, eclectic. Their third album, 2014's Groundswell, is all the above; an instrumental tour-de-force of what is probably best-described as avant-prog, arranged passages rubbing shoulders with improvisations, American musical forms clashing agreeably with ones from Europe and various areas of the developing world. Highlights? Maybe Fountain Of Euthanasia (ha ha) and particularly powerful closer The Okanogan Lobe. Guitarist Dennis Rea is credited with Mellotron, but, unless my ears deceive me, you have to sit through fifty-two minutes of music before it finally appears, a huge, crashing string chord being literally the last sound on the album. And it's sampled. It's such a minor player in Moraine's grand scheme of things, however, that I'm not even sure why they bothered recording and crediting it. A fine album of its type, then, if not exactly one for singer-songwriter fans.

Lisa Morales  (US)

Beautiful Mistake  (2011,  51.19)  ***

Beautiful Mistake covers most of the Americana spectrum, being at its best on its rockier tracks (in my humble opinion, of course), including opener I Am The Weakest, the raucous Drivin And Cryin, Learn How To Pray and Wanna Be In Love, while 'top instrumental moment' goes to the gorgeous Hammond work on Looking For Something Beautiful. Sadly, Ron Flynt's major 'Mellotron' flute part on They're Gone sounds sampled to my ears.

Jim Moray  (UK)

Sweet England  (2003,  46.41)  ***

For the first two minutes of Sweet England, it seems we're going to get another trad. Brit-folk album. Then the sequencer kicks in. Does Jim Moray's folktronica hybrid work? In places, yes, although the contemporary influences can be overbearing on some tracks. It's not all trad, either, Moray's own mournful closer Longing For Lucy being an album highlight. Samplotron? Inaudible.

Gaby Moreno  (Guatamala)

Still the Unknown  (2008,  44.53)  ***

Although Guatamalan, Maria Gabriela Moreno moved to LA at some point, releasing her first solo album, Still the Unknown, independently in 2008 (reissued with a slightly different running order and sleeve in 2011). It's a jazz/blues-influenced singer-songwriter effort, vastly superior to the assembly-line guff released by so many wispy American girls, seemingly aimed directly at crummy mainstream TV shows that use their drivel in the background, more interesting material including bluesy opener Little Sorrow, the jazzy piano-and-vocal Amapola and the (slightly) rocky Greenhorne Man. Mark Goldenberg plays alleged Chamberlin and Mellotron, with strings (and flutes?) on Song Of You, strings on the title track and strings and definite flutes on closer No Estoy Tan Mal.

Morgan  (Italy)

Da a Ad a  (2007,  55.24)  **½

Marco "Morgan" Castoldi's curiously-titled Da a Ad a has more in common with the film music of, say, John Barry than anything approaching rock'n'roll, although its near-hour length is rather offputting, as are its indie influences. Castoldi's supposed Mellotron useage isn't.

Morild  (Norway)

Aves  (2013,  75.29)  ***

Norwegian sextet Morild's second album, Aves, is one of those records I want to like more than I actually do. On paper, its combination of influences should be a sure-fire winner: Camel, their lesser-known countrymen Kerrs Pink and, in places, the mighty Änglagård, particularly with regard to Mari Haug Lund's flute work and their use of folky motifs. However... The album is far too long for its content, minute after endless minute of slowly shifting, minor-key organ chords, overlaid with rather ordinary flute melodies or characterless vocals, especially on the two (!) twenty minute-plus tracks. Another major problem is the banality of the chord sequences, with few key changes or anything to make the seasoned listener prick up their ears. And I haven't even touched on the terrible, buzzy guitar sound... Keys man Odd-Roar Bakken largely steers clear of Mellotron sounds, only using strings on two tracks, with a part a few minutes into Labour Day and more of the same near the beginning of lengthy closer Waiting For The Ferry. The sample giveaway appears during the latter, a note held for a good eight seconds (yes, I know that's the limit for Mellotron tapes, thank you), with no wobble or slur, sounding like it could carry on for as long as you like. I'm really sorry to be so negative; Morild may well have at least one great album lurking within their collective breasts, but in order to manifest it, they're going to have to learn to edit ruthlessly and write some killer melodies. Experiment with key changes, guys; your music will come alive.

Mörk Gryning  (Sweden)

Pieces of Primal Expressionism  (2003,  51.16)  ***

I believe Mörk Gryning (Dark Dawn) are black metal, as against any other sub-sub metallic genre; to my ears, they're merely 'extreme metal', a sobriquet that mercifully covers many of said sub-(etc.) genres, saving me a lot of tedious categorisation of music that rarely holds my interest for long. This lot have a 'cookie monster' vocalist and a drummer who utilises blastbeats whenever possible, making any serious point they may wish to make entirely redundant, as for all their thud and blunder, most of the time they sound a bit silly. This isn't to say that their fourth album, 2003's Pieces of Primal Expressionism, is complete drivel; the playing's absolutely spot-on, as you'd expect from the genre, while some of the quieter parts are very listenable. If only they didn't consistently succumb to the urge to ruin it all with incoherent grunting and hyperactive rhythms that aren't even particularly fast. Saying that, Our Urn (stop laughing at the back) is a pretty decent metal number with some inventive guitar work, while An Old Man's Lament is actually quite prog before they go and spoil it all again, although it does revert to the opening section later on.

Johan Larsson, a.k.a. Aeon, is credited with Mellotron, along with synth and guitar, with full-on strings on The Cradle Of Civilization, while An Old Man's Lament opens with an excellent string part, repeated when it all quietens down again, all sampled, sadly. All in all, an album of the kind to frighten your neighbours and/or close relatives, unless they're perfectly used to you playing stuff like this while wearing corpsepaint, too much leather and a bullet belt or, indeed, wear them themselves. I refuse to cast aspersions on your neighbours and/or close relatives.

Morning Benders  (US)

Big Echo  (2010,  38.54)  **½

The Brooklyn-based Mornings Benders are a fairly typical US indie outfit, going by their second full-lengther, 2010's Big Echo, which is a nice way of saying that it's a pretty dull affair, largely bereft of melodies that fall outside the modern conception of 'commercial'. If you excised most of the vocal parts from the album and looped a few of the better instrumental sections, it might be more listenable, but as it is... Christopher Chu is credited with Mellotron on three tracks, with strings under the programmed ones on opener Excuses, faint strings on closer Sleeping In and nothing obvious on All Day Daylight, but what little can be heard sounds fairly fake to my ears, so this goes here until/if I should discover otherwise. Another drippy indie album. Why? Why?

Mark Morriss  (UK)

Memory Muscle  (2008,  37.09)  ***

2008's Memory Muscle is Britpop survivors Bluetones' vocalist Mark Morriss' first solo album, giving him a break from their indie thing and allowing him to do something outside the confines of a band setting. Most of its material is slow-paced, almost funereal; while two or three chirpier numbers give the album a sense of balance, the slow ones tend to work better, notably acoustic opener How Maggie Got Her Bounce Back, the organ-heavy So It Goes and his version of Lee Hazlewood's My Autumn's Done Come. Gordon Mills adds a little samplotron flute melody to How Maggie Got Her Bounce Back.

Flo Morrissey  (UK)

Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful  (2015,  38.34)  **½

Flo Morrissey is a young British singer-songwriter, whose debut, 2015's Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful, is pleasant enough, its best material (Betrayed, I Only Like His Hat, Not Him, the closing title track) having a certain fragile beauty. Unfortunately, even under forty minutes of it is a bit much for the listener looking for a little variety, as you won't find that much of it here. Producer Noah Georgeson is credited with Mellotron, but I hope the strings on Pages Of Gold aren't supposed to be one, while the background flutes on Sleeplessly Dreaming are most unlikely to be more than samples. Pleasant, yet also a little dull.

Alan Morse  (US)

Four O'Clock & Hysteria  (2007,  63.58)  ***

Spock's Beard's guitarist, Alan Morse, always seems overshadowed by his prolific, extroverted brother Neal (below), although he's a very talented chap in his own right. 2007's fully-instrumental Four O'Clock & Hysteria is his sole solo release to date, displaying a previously-hidden love of (and talent for) fusion, for better or worse. Although the bulk of the album concentrates on jazz-rock in many of its countless attributes, Morse does veer off-piste here and there; The Rite Of Left's a much rockier proposition than most of the material here, while Major Buzz is slightly closer to standard Spock's, if you ignore the fusion violin/guitar duel... Bro' Neal plays keys on the album, making it quite certain that the 'Mellotron' choirs on The Rite Of Left are sampled, not that there's much doubt in the matter anyway. Overall, this is less an album for Spock's fans and more one for fusioneers, with top-notch playing all round, although too much of the material is rather by-numbers, losing the album a good half star.

Neal Morse  (US)

Neal Morse  (1999,  55.47)  ***
It's Not Too Late  (2001,  60.52)  **½
Testimony  (2003,  123.43)  ***½
One  (2004,  79.57)  ***½
?  (2005,  56.30)  ***
Sola Scriptura  (2007,  76.01)  ***
? Live  (2007,  137.31)  **½
Lifeline  (2008,  69.32)  **½
Testimony 2  (2011,  115.09)  ***
Momentum  (2012,  61.20)  ***½

Neal Morse kicked off his solo career while still seemingly happily the leader of Spock's Beard, with his eponymous debut in 1999. Those expecting a Spock's carbon copy have come to the wrong place; sensibly, Morse took the opportunity to record material that may not have worked so well for the band, although the heartfelt/cheesy (delete according to taste) ballad Emma and the closing four-part epic, A Whole Nother Trip, could have fitted quite easily onto, say, V. Much of the remainder veers far too close to AOR for this listener's comfort, though Morse could (rightly) be accused of sailing far too close to the wind on this issue right through his career. The 'Mellotron' on the album is highly suspect, not least as Morse doesn't own one and, apart from the drums, the whole thing was recorded 'at my house'. Anyway, faint strings on Lost Cause, Landslide and Nowhere Fast, although nothing in its obvious home, A Whole Nother Trip. His second solo effort, '99's It's Not Too Late, is very self-consciously 'not prog', allowing him to release his inner, er, Billy Joel, unfortunately. At an hour, it's a good fifteen minutes too long, its song-based format responding badly to thirteen frequently overlong tracks, many of which could have chopped a minute or more of pointless piano jamming and chummy studio chat from their length. The 'downhome' lyrics are another sticking point, reaching their apotheosis on the preachy Broken Homes and I Am Your Father, both of which are enough to make you want to leave your spouse on the spot, just to spite him. Fakeotron on three tracks, with strings on Leah, the cheeso I Am Your Father and closer The Wind And The Rain.

Oh Christ... Exactly. Morse made his dramatic exit from Spock's in 2002, after 'hearing the word', i.e. becoming a full-on God-botherer. Now, I'm all for religious freedom (including, of course, the freedom to have none at all), but when a public figure suddenly starts ranting about having seen the light, then seemingly throws up their career, you have to wonder if what's happening isn't nearer to nervous breakdown than Damascene conversion (see: Rick Wakeman...). Looking back, I suppose we should've been expecting this; I haven't heard his Christmas CD, Merry Christmas From the Morse Family (thank you very much), but I'm told it's absolutely excruciating. Musically, Testimony isn't that bad, although not a patch on the best 'Beard stuff (than again, nor are later 'Beard albums); its most irritating quality is its sickly lyrical content, reams of 'I love God so much' stuff that can turn the stomach of the non-believer. I mean, Oh Lord My God? WHY does all 'Christian music' have such a restrictive lyrical palette? I suppose it's what defines it as 'Christian'... Whatever happened to singing about life, love, an' all that? Maybe they'd argue that since God apparently encompasses all of those things, that's exactly what they are doing. Sorry, but gimme real-life stuff or, in fact, anything but this. Ironically, Oh Lord My God is the point at which the largely anodyne second disc picks up, but there you go... I've seen online reviews (from non-Christians) that rate this as one of the best albums of 2003, Morse's best work ever, etc., but I'm afraid I really can't see it. I mean, it's quite good in places, but harmonically, Morse is a one-trick pony and he pulls out his usual chordal stuff yet again; I suppose at least you know it's him.

There's a real string section all over the album, but in many places, that Mellotron sound comes leaking through the mix, although I know Morse uses samples at home (see the diary page on his website). Restrained string use on most tracks, although it sounds like flutes on Sleeping Jesus and Wasted Life and choir on several, including California Nights and Moving In My Heart, although the gospel choir (as in The Water from The Light) obfuscate the issue. It's more than possible that I've got it entirely wrong and it's on more, or fewer tracks than I thought; real strings, synths and massed harmony vocals don't help, but there you go. Your potential enjoyment of Testimony rather depends on whether or not you a) are a Christian, b) aren't bothered by the lyrical content if you aren't, or c) can simply ignore it. I can usually get round dodgy lyrical content by simply not listening, but it's so overt here that it's impossible to ignore. It would seem that the medium really is the message in this case and this is, as the title says, Morse's Christian testimony to the world. There are artists who manage to put their spiritual message across without beating you over the head with it (the wonderful King's X spring to mind), but Morse doesn't appear to be one of them, so, although the music isn't bad, I have to say, approach with extreme caution.

The basis of Morse's concept for 2004's One appears to be what botherers refer to as a 'crisis of faith', which he overcame, of course, otherwise we might have been presented with an album with less puke-inducing lyrics. HOWEVER... I have to say that I found this a far easier listen than its predecessor, despite Morse's ongoing total obsession with an imaginary deity; maybe the lyrics are actually less all-consumingly barking? Not sure, but while the musical palette remains the same, I wasn't offended as I was with Testimony. Musically, Author Of Confusion resembles the heavier stuff Spock's do occasionally, before lurching into one of Morse's patented multi-vocal parts, although most of the tracks do that standard Morse thing - you know, just like later Spock's. Towards the end of the album, he uses a small string section in preference to the Mellotron, with a brass section on closer Reunion, but otherwise, it's business as usual, sampled Mellotron choir and strings dipping in and out during the lengthy The Creation, what I take to be flutes on The Man's Gone, watery strings on Author Of Confusion and repeats of these throughout. The booklet pics show both a smaller Hammond and a MiniMoog, but no Mellotron, so I think I'm fairly safe in assuming sample use.

? has to have one of the most confusing titles I've seen in a while - you try searching for it on Google... It doesn't differ markedly from its predecessors, although it could be argued that it's slightly more musically diverse, notably Solid As The Sun's brass and programmed beats. Lyrically, there are absolutely no surprises at all, Morse obviously having completely regained his faith in something that doesn't exist, writing about it with nauseating intensity. Jolly good... Why bleat on to us about it, though? Maybe some of us would like to hear your music without being preached to about this post-nervous breakdown drivel? Also, do you think, Mr. Morse, you could stop regurgitating your early albums? In a ten year-plus career, the essential difference between the thirteen (count 'em) albums of original material you've produced is largely only apparent to those immersed in the progressive genre and even then, the similarities are far more obvious than the differences. At least this album comes in at under an hour, rather than filling the disc to capacity, as you do so often... Anyway, the usual 'Mellotron' strings/choirs/flutes combo on most tracks, sounding more and more like good, high-end samples to my ears.

2007's Sola Scriptura repeats the by-now standard Morse trick of combining some seriously good material (notably opening epic The Door) with some right old schlock (Heaven In My Heart), although the expected God-bothering lyrics are ubiquitous, of course. As also expected, the album's far too long; the deletion of the aforementioned Heaven In My Heart and an editing of the three multi-part tracks would've improved things no end. Reasonable samplotron use, the strings sometimes alongside real ones. The same year brought a double live offering, ? Live, mostly featuring material from ? and One, Morse fielding a crack team, although the ubiquitous female backing vocals wear thin after a while. Of course, the album's religious content makes it rather hard work for the unfaithful - the preaching in Entrance is particularly hard to bear - but many of the instrumental passages (almost) make up for it. The overall effect, though, is of a lengthy show with a high God quotient, knocking a good half star from its rating. Samplotron throughout, mostly strings and choirs.

I'm afraid to say that with 2008's Lifeline, I think I've reached the end of my solo Morse tether. Another overlong album that sounds like a parody of Spock's Beard. Another identikit set of schlocky Godbothering lyrics: 'Jesus is my lifeline' my arse. Another album that occasionally does exactly what you want it to do, then blows it in spectacular fashion. Aaarghh. The by-now obligatory limited edition bonus disc pairs covers (a blinding take on The Osmonds' killer Crazy Horses, decent versions of The Box Tops' The Letter and Brinsley Schwarz/Elvis Costello's (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, And Understanding) with a couple of outtakes and messarounds, making it actually far more listenable than the regular album, even the original material. Maybe Morse should've released it instead. Plenty of samplotron, sounding really obvious in places, just to dispel any residual doubts I may have over putting these here.

For some reason, Morse felt the need to record a sequel to Testimony, 2011's Testimony 2, where he explains, in no uncertain terms, how his daughter's life-threatening illness essentially caused him to suffer a breakdown and leave Spock's Beard, getting off the road for the sake of his family. So that's what happened... To say the man wears his heart on his sleeve would be an understatement; I can't imagine many modern artists, particularly in the prog field, writing lyrics as nakedly honest as these. Musically, it's the usual, unsurprisingly, although Morse gets to quote various early Spock's tracks to greater or lesser degrees: opener Mercy Street is a thinly-veiled rewrite of Beware of Darkness's The Doorway, quoting from the same album's Time Has Come and The Light's The Water, too. Despite the standard overtly-Christian lyrics (frankly, I find the assertion that God 'healed' his daughter faintly bizarre), this is one of Morse's better recent efforts. Plenty of fairly obvious samplotron, too.

2012's Momentum is definitely one of Morse's better recent releases, or is it simply that I haven't exposed myself to his work for several years? I have to report that he hasn't moved on harmonically from his early Spock's days, although when Thoughts (Part 5) samples the synth FX from the original piece, it's clearly homage, rather than ripoff. To my surprise, while the thirty-three-minute World Without End (complete with horrible Christian lyrics) is thoroughly overblown, it kind-of works, although its last ten minutes seem to be taken up by an exceedingly extended ending. Plenty of samplotron strings and choirs, alongside real strings in places. Incidentally, 2014's horrendously cheesy Songs From November is mercifully samplotron-free, so I don't have to spend several paragraphs telling you how utterly awful it is. It is shite, though.

Mosaic  (Italy)

Miniatures  (1995,  67.35)  ***½

Mosaic were one of several of Beppe Crovella's one-off '90s projects (not least Romantic Warriors), Miniatures being an intriguing experiment, forty decidedly progressive tracks on an hour-ish long album. Is there such a thing as valid short-form prog? This album says 'yes', although it comes across less as an exercise in prog snippets than as one disjointed sixty-seven minute track, so I suspect the overall answer is still probably 'no'. This is well worth the effort, though, its format allowing it to shift between multiple points on the prog spectrum while remaining (loosely) 'cohesive'. As I said, intriguing. His sleevenotes leave us with a conundrum, however. I quote: "Old Mellotron Sounds by Mike Pinder (all sounds and licks on 'Scherzo For Mellotrons' were taken from Old Mellotron models). What is Crovella actually saying here? All the Mellotron sounds are sampled, presumably emanating from Pinder's CD-ROM? Listening to them closely, I'd say so, which is why this is here, rather than in the 'regular' reviews. Scherzo For Mellotrons itself is a bunch of MkII samples strung together, many from the left-hand manual rhythm tapes, so no argument there on the sample front.

Mosaico  (Italy)

Vola  (2014,  38.09)  ****

Although they've been around in one form or another since 2000, 2014's Vola is Mosaico's first album, a solid Italian progressive effort that does all the right things in all the right places. Does that sound a little dismissive? I don't mean it to, but several of the album's (relatively short) tracks fail to ignite in the way their best forebears could at the drop of a hat. Saying that, the folkier, accordion-driven Il Critico, Il Profano, L'Artista and Questa Santa Umanità stand out by doing something different, while the band's progressive credentials are assured via the full-on '70s Italianisms of Il Nuovo Potere, although jazzy, sax-driven closer Sopravvivere sounds like it belongs on another album. But then, since when did bands have to concentrate on one narrow genre, eh? Since the '90s, is the answer; '70s bands cheerfully switched between styles on a whim, so ignore the above remark. Keys man Nicola Cambri supposedly plays 'Mellotron', but the background strings on Il Critico, Il Profano, L'Artista and even more background choirs (briefly) heard on Materia E Vita are fairly obviously sampled. In fact, they're used so sparingly that I'm not even sure why the band bothered with them; so they could put a 'Mellotron' credit? Stranger things have happened... Their minimal use is irrelevant, frankly; buy this because it's a new Italian band having a decent stab at resurrecting their country's past musical glories.

Mosquito  (US)

Planet Mosquito  (1998,  61.54)  **

Mosquito appear to be a one-off project by producer/studio owner Jack Younger, later of Nefarious Jack & the Naysayers, whose Planet Mosquito is probably best described as 'dark electronica'. Better tracks? Not really, no. The longer this lasts, the lower its rating. Jack Younger plays an echoed-to-death flute melody (in a manner of speaking) and string chords on Questions, flutes and strings on 16 Arms and skronky strings on Angel, all very obviously sampled.

Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou  (UK)

Quality, First, Last & Forever!  (2011,  36.16)  ***½

Folky husband/wife duo Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou emerged from the ashes of indie hopefuls Indigo Moss, releasing their second album, Quality, First, Last & Forever!, in 2011. Although the excellent Cheap Wine has a distinctly Appalachian edge to it, it's merely a blip on the album's overwhelming Englishness, typified by the likes of A Hill Far, Far Away and Feel At Ease. Richard Causon is credited with Mellotron, but given that the album was 'recorded in a derelict 14th century pub', the not-that-real-sounding flutes on All Been For Nothing seem more than likely to've been sourced from a sample set, despite the band's generally high levels of authenticity. Overall, a lovely album, more Fairport than modern indie, thankfully, but don't expect any real Mellotron.

Motels  (US)

Clean Modern & Reasonable  (2007,  42.36)  **½

Shockingly, the original version of The Motels (The Warfield Foxes) coalesced as early as 1971, with Martha Davis on vocals, although it took a name-change, a split and a reformation (including drummer Brian Glascock, elder brother of late Carmen/Jethro Tull bassist John) for them to break through in 1979. After splitting in 1987, Davis put a new lineup together a decade later, releasing So the Story Goes in 2005, following up with the Australian-only Clean Modern & Reasonable two years later. Containing mostly acoustic versions of old Motels hits, non-hits and Davis solo material, it's surprising just how few tracks I recognise, as in 'none'; have they been changed out of all recognition, were they never any kind of name in the UK, or am I just being dense? I'm afraid to say, none of it actually grabbed my attention, either; maybe you had to be a fan first time round. Davis, Nick Johns and Matthew Morgan are all credited with Mellotron, with flutes on Take The L and strings on Superstar, although it's quite clearly sampled. Frankly, unless you're already a fan, I wouldn't bother anyway.

Moth Vellum  (US)

Moth Vellum  (2007,  57.57)  ***½

Moth Vellum were a one-off Californian progressive outfit whose sole, eponymous album appeared in 2007. I'm not going to make any claims of originality for Moth Vellum; it's very much in thrall to its influences, but at least it doesn't come across as some post-neo-prog horror or yet another 'modern prog' effort, all riffing guitars and overly dramatic vocals. What we get here is almost a straight cross between mid-'70s Genesis and Yes, the latter especially in the vocal department. The album suffers from the usual problems on the originality front; its contents are well-written symphonic prog, but the band offer nothing new to the genre, merely regurgitating the usual time-worn clichés, admittedly in a reasonably pleasing fashion. Another standard Planet Mellotron complaint regarding recent progressive output is albums' excessive length. At nearly an hour, this is no exception and, just for once, could be easily (semi-) remedied by losing five-minute closer Against The Suns (Reprise), which adds nothing to the whole. Tom Lynham's 'Mellotron' is quite clearly sampled, strings all over opener Let The Race Begin and strings and occasional flutes on most other tracks. Re-reading what I've just written, I seem to have been a little harsh; prog fans stand a good chance of loving this to bits, especially if they give it more airtime than is possible 'round these parts.

Mothlite  (UK)

Dark Age  (2012,  47.06)  **

Talk talk, talk, talk talk... Er, Talk Talk? In the four years since their first album, Mothlite have only become more like Talk Talk, only without any of the good bits, merely retaining their debut's failed attempts to fuse post-rock and pop. Are there any best tracks? Not really, only better bits, such as the sequenced synth that opens Dark Age, quickly subverted into the backing track to yet another dreary dirge, which pretty much sums up the rest of the album. Daniel O'Sullivan plays Mellotron samples on a handful of tracks, with warbly flutes on Seeing In The Dark, murky string stabs on The Blood and background strings on Zebras, but I'm not sure why he even bothered using them, as they add little to the overall soundscape. If you liked The Flax of Reverie, you probably won't like this and if you didn't, there really is no hope.