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Ron Sexsmith  (Canada)

Long Player Late Bloomer  (2011,  43.36)  ***½

Long Player Late Bloomer's superficially lightweight sound hides a considerable depth of compositional talent, as acknowledged by several of Sexsmith's songwriting idols. Best tracks? Difficult to say without giving the album the several close listens it deserves, not to mention the ever-present singer-songwriter problem (well, for me) that the lyrics are usually considered at least as important as the music, but Believe It When I See It, Late Bloomer and Middle Of Love are particularly strong. John Webster is credited with Mellotron, with obvious strings on Believe It When I See It and Every Time I Follow, although several other tracks, not least the strings on Miracles and No Help At All and the flutes on closer Nowadays feature sounds which may or may not be Mellotronic. Samples all round, I'd say.

Sexus  (US)

Universal  (1997,  59.44)  **

Going by the evidence presented here, Sexus played a kind of indie/metal hybrid, which is every bit as horrible as you can imagine. There are no best tracks. It is also interminable. Yaron Fuchs plays samplotron strings on Occasion Of My Tears (listen for the overly-sustained chord at the end).

Shades Apart  (US)

Eyewitness  (1999,  46.34)  ***

Shades Apart, at least on their fourth full album, 1999's Eyewitness, are at the better end of pop-punk, filling the album with songs catchy enough to chart (as, indeed, Valentine did), yet not cheesy enough to repel the more serious listener. The album's actually stuffed with potential singles, not least Edge Of The Century and 100 Days, so it's surprising that they only had the one hit from it; once the public became aware of them, surely they would have bought others? Maybe their label didn't release any. Bassist Kevin Lynch doubles on samplotron, with a distant string part on the quiet bit of Valentine.

Shadow Circus  (US)

Welcome to the Freakroom  (2006,  45.26)  ****

Shadow Circus' name gives the impression that they're yet another half-arsed prog-metal band, which couldn't be further from the truth (well, not much). They're actually a new New York-based outfit, nothing like Shadow Gallery and their ilk; actually, Spock's Beard are a distinct influence, in the way the band meld newer and more 'traditional' forms of progressive rock, using piano like few other modern bands, alongside keyboards old and new. Welcome to the Freakroom's highlight is undoubtedly three-part closer Journey Of Everyman, although mock-AOR classic Radio People raises a wry smile and, in truth, there's nothing here to offend the open-minded prog fan, with next to no nasty neo- influences to be heard. Zach Tenorio plays keys, including samplotron, with choirs on the opening title track, strings on Storm Rider and Inconvenient Compromise, strings, flutes and choir on Radio People and choir (and strings?) on Journey Of Everyman.

Shadowlight  (UK)

Twilight Canvas  (2012,  56.48)  **½

Shadowlight are clearly aiming for the progressive market, such as it is, although I struggle to find anything particularly 'progressive' about their 2012 debut, Twilight Canvas. Of course there isn't anything genuinely 'progressive' here, but nor is it particularly 'genre prog', the overall sound being more Dream Theater-lite (OK, perhaps that counts as 'genre prog'), reprehensible AOR influence intact. Better moments? Scattered across the album, while refusing to bunch together into a single track, although opener Dreaming Awake fooled me into thinking this was going to be half-decent. Keys man Mark Wilson's string and choir sounds are largely generic, only really sounding distinctly (pseudo-)Mellotronic on Cutting Room. Sorry, chaps - I hate to stick the knife in, but this really isn't 'progressive rock', more slightly proggy hard rock/AOR, for those who like that kind of thing.

Shakary  (Switzerland)

The Last Summer  (2002,  50.25)  ***

Well, Shakary's second album, The Last Summer, is more concise than Alya, but carries on ploughing their 'modern'/neo-prog furrow, with what appears to be a concept album about a doomed holiday romance from some years earlier. Not typical prog fare, to be honest, but a brave move, making a welcome change from the 'I'm so miserable' brigade, or the prog-metal 'dwarves and hobbits' approach (see: the ludicrous Rhapsody et al.). My regular readers will know that I'm not especially a fan of this style, but it seems to be done well enough here, certainly far better than some I could name. The playing's good all round and is that a real piano I hear? The Hammond is quite clearly a synth approximation and although I'm assured there are Mellotron sounds used, there's little in the string department that sounds anything other than generic samples, presumably from Giovanni Galfetti's Kurzweil. Maybe the Mellotron sounds are mixed with 'real' strings? The occasional lead synth sound is very obviously digital, too, although the band assure me they're going to track down some genuine vintage gear next time.

Bree Sharp  (US)

More B.S.  (2002,  37.26)  **½

Bree Sharp seems to be running her career in reverse, releasing three solo albums before joining Beautiful Small Machines. The second of her own efforts, 2002's More B.S., starts acceptably enough, in 'girly singer-songwriter' mode, but the quality of her material drops as the record progresses, until tracks like Sunday School & Cigarettes and Dirty Magazine make me want to reach for the 'next' button. Don DiLego's Mellotron on Galaxy Song seems to consist of a generic string sound played in a 'Mellotronic' manner, although the strings on The Last Of Me and flutes on Morning In A Bar sound slightly more realistic. But only slightly. Maybe not, then.

Ken Sharp  (US)

Sonic Crayons  (2007,  42.43)  ****

Ken Sharp was originally known as an author, penning a respected Raspberries bio in the early '90s, followed by titles on other bands, not least the-powerpop-band-who-aren't-(yet-are), Cheap Trick. Given that he was (and is) such an aficionado of the genre, it apparently came as little surprise when he released his first album, 1301 Highland Avenue, in 1994, following it with 2000's apparently Mellotron-containing Happy Accidents. 2007's excellent Sonic Crayons carries on in similar vein, unsurprisingly, melody-packed powerpop (is there any other kind?), top tracks including brief-yet-perfect opener Hello Hello (very Cheap Trick, sir!), The Man Who Couldn't Be Wrong (spot the sublime chord change a few seconds in), the Beatles-esque Melody Hill and Orange Cellophane, although, truth be told, there isn't a bad track here. Ritchie Rubini is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on several tracks and flutes on So Simple Radio are, at least to my ears, too smooth to be genuine, not to mention the well-over-eight-second string note on Rush Rush and non-Mellotronic pitchbends on Why Girls Cry. Frankly, the presence or otherwise of a real Mellotron is sort of incidental; this is a great album, full of genuine love for the genre.

Maia Sharp  (US)

Hardly Glamour  (1997,  52.20)  **½

Maia Sharp's breezy pop/rock on Hardly Glamour starts well with I Need This To Be Love, but heads steadily downhill from then on, culminating in the tedious balladry of closer Parting Request. Mark Addison's Mellotron? Surely not the strings on Wandering Heart?

Sarah Sharp  (US)

Fourth Person  (2005,  40.40)  **½

Fourth Person is a rather bland pop/rock-end-of-the-singer-songwriter-spectrum album, probably at its best on Finally, its dull material interspersed with occasional little bursts of energy, notably in the middle of Buzz Factor. Kevin Ryan is credited with Mellotron and Chamberlin, presumably from the same sample set, with strings on opener Time Capsule (spot the unfeasibly-speedy run), strings and flutes on Run and clarinet on Coffee Shop Song, amongst other use.

Ringo Sheena  (Japan)

Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana  (2003,  46.29)  ***½

Yumiko "Ringo Sheena" Shiina's third album, Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana (Kalk Samen Chestnut Flower) is a long way from your 'standard' J-pop album, being an intriguing, multi-layered mélange of various flavours of pop, jazz and the avant-garde, possibly at its best on the potty Camouflage and closer Funeral. Uni Inoue is credited with Mellotron on Doppelganger and Poltergeists, with sampled flutes on both and uncredited ones on opener Religion.

The Sheer  (Netherlands)

The Keyword is Excitement  (2004,  48.25)  ***

The Keyword is Excitement is a pretty decent powerpop album, Dutch division, The Sheer being indistinguishable from many American genre outfits, possibly at its best on the punky The Goodtimes, Right Now and the propulsive, synth-fuelled You Are Mine. Jasper Geluk plays samplotron flutes on Love Is The Law (A Tune For Lune).

The Sheila Divine  (US)

Where Have My Countrymen Gone  (2001,  41.37)  **

The Sheila Divine play a rather unexciting form of 'transcendent' post-rock/indie on Where Have My Countrymen Gone, at its least unacceptable on Some Kind Of Home. Peter Linnane plays samplotron flutes on Monarchs and closer Vanishing Act.

William Sheller  (France)

Avatars  (2008,  45.41)  ***½

William Sheller occupies what must be a completely unique position, at least in France, as both a respected classical composer and pop/rock artist, the two worlds merging in places. 2008's Avatars is something like his thirteenth non-classical studio effort, an eclectic, interesting album of intelligent, quirky pop/rock, highlights include the Beatles-esque Tout Ira Bien, the mildly angular Jet Lag, Camping and closer Avatar II (Log Out), amongst others. What makes its best material as good as it is? Hard to say, but Sheller's ability to take the compositional road less travelled keeps the listener guessing, treading a fine line between 'accessible' and 'challenging'. Sheller plays vaguely 'Strawberry Fields'-esque samplotron flutes on La Longue Echelle; I suspect the consistently flat D utilised in the sequence is part of his sample set.

Maisie Shenandoah  (US)

Sisters: Oneida Iroquois Hymns  (2003,  43.14)  ***

Maisie Shenandoah, already elderly when she recorded Sisters: Oneida Iroquois Hymns, was Wolf Clanmother of the Oneida Nation of New York (thanks, Wikipedia). A collection of largely a capella hymns, while the women's voices are beautiful, a little of this stuff goes a long way; I'm really not sure what Christianity's got to do with Native American culture, while it all gets a bit sickly-sweet towards the end of the album. Tom Wasinger's credited with Chamberlin, by which I presume they mean the cello on Follow Me. Maybe not. Sadly, Shenandoah died in 2009.

Vonda Shepard  (US)

The Radical Light  (1992,  49.47)  **½
Ally McBeal: For Once in My Life  (2001,  62.20)  *½

Vonda Shepard made her name in the dull (and now, thankfully, almost forgotten) Ally McBeal, selling an awful lot of albums off the back of the show. Her first alleged tape-replay album, The Radical Light, is best described as 'mainstream pop/rock', I think. Her voice is fine, for those who are interested in such things, but the music is entirely anodyne, blandola nonsense, which means it's more popular than nearly everything I like. David Campbell plays viola and Mellotron on the record, though I'll be buggered if I can hear where he uses the latter. The strings on a handful of tracks sound sampled and there isn't even a hint of the flutes, the usual fallback for minor-use Mellotron albums. Ally McBeal: For Once in My Life works on the same 'half Vonda' basis as the other albums from the series, sharing vocal leads with various cast members and is the usual selection of smooth-as-silk mainstream balladry, making it about as inessential a listen as it could be. I mean, she (or rather, her arrangers) turn Dylan's Don't Think Twice, it's All Right into complete slush, which is quite a trick. Least offensive track? Anastacia and Shepard's Love Is Alive, which at least manages to inject a little Clavinet-led funk into the proceedings. Campbell's credited with Mellotron on Home Again and Alone Again (Naturally), but it's completely inaudible under the real strings on both tracks. Pah.

Shimmering  (Norway)

Shimmering  (2010,  47.36)  **½

Shimmering sits somewhere in between post-rock and singer-songwriter territory, possibly at its best on opener What If/Would You and As If Two Flowers. Hasse Rosbach's credited with Mellotron; I dunno about the strings on There's A Lot Going On Under Water, but that's obvious samplotron on Milou IV and Knock Out In Reverse.

Shine Dión  (Norway)

Berkana  (1994,  12.02)  ***
Killandra  (1998,  44.46)  ***
Wyn  (2002,  41.43)  ***

Shine Dión are a female-fronted Norwegian folk-bordering-on-new-age outfit; perfectly pleasant, but they remind me more of Ritchie Blackmore's current project, Blackmore's Night, than anything more authentic. They debuted with 1994's three-track Berkana, which sets their stall out neatly, all wafty female vocals, acoustic guitars and flutes. Perfectly pleasant, as I said, but (sad to say) somewhat uninspiring. Jørn Andersen supposedly plays Mellotron on two tracks, but the distant choirs on Woods Eternal aren't especially Mellotronic, while whatever's supposed to be on Rowan's Song is entirely inaudible. It took the duo four years to come up with the full-length Killandra, containing re-recordings of two of the EP's three songs. Andersen supposedly guests on Mellotron and mandolin this time, but there's startlingly little on the album. In fact, although there seem to be (synth-driven) ethereal choirs a-plenty, the only tracks I'd say are likely to contain it are Woods Eternal and Rowan's Song (the same as the Berkana tracks), both with some distant choirs, quite certainly non-Mellotronic. Wyn is a bit of an improvement, better tracks including opener Flowering, Moonlit Voice and closer The Valley's Song, while The Well reads like a rewrite of Richard Thompson's Fairport classic Crazy Man Michael. Andersen is credited with Mellotron yet again, on The Valley's Song, but I'd love to know what, precisely, he's doing with it, as both flute and violin are real, while the synth pad is quite clearly nothing more exciting than... a synth pad. Null points.

Shipwreck Union  (US)

Self Defense  (2005,  49.32)  **½

Shipwreck Union seem to be running on a 'rock'n'soul' ticket on Self Defense, at its best on propulsive opener Out Of The Woods and worst on the drippy So Sweet. Eric Hoegemeyer's 'Mellotron'? What, the strings on closer The Good News Is...? I don't think so.

Shotgun Honeymoon  (US)

Foregone Conclusion  (2007,  38.10)  **

Foregone Conclusion is a tiresome US indie album, at its best on the sparse, jazzy Label Of Blues and its worst on the limp I'm On This and Across The Room. Jeff Trott allegedly plays both Mellotron and Chamberlin, but, not only do the strings on Beautiful Suicide fail to ring true, but all other orchestral sounds sound like generic samples.

The Show  (Canada)

Debt Sweat & Tears  (2005,  59.07)  **½

The Show (rubbish name, chaps) are a Canadian R&B outfit, which means, in practice, a combo of hip-hop and soul vocals over largely tedious, repetitive backing, though not enough to be considered full-blown hip-hop. Any highlights? Yes, as it happens; the beautiful choral vocal work on Is It Raining and the massed synths of Watchin' Me. Craig McConnell's credited with Mellotron, presumably the vaguely Mellotronic strings on Let Go and what sounds like MkII 'moving strings' on Bobby And Sarah.

Sia  (Australia)

1000 Forms of Fear  (2014,  48.40)  *½
This is Acting  (2016,  50.44)  **

Sia (Furler) is an Australian singer, musically active since the early '90s. Her sixth album, 2014's 1000 Forms of Fear, is a glossily-produced mainstream pop record, her strained vocals doing nothing to improve matters. Is there a best track? Of course, not, although closer Dressed In Black probably gets the 'least bad' non-award, while the vocal effects on Free The Animal are a summation of why I hate this album so much. Greg Kurstin is credited with Mellotron and occasional Chamberlin, mostly cello and string parts, the sample giveaways being the extreme (and somewhat inauthentic) pitchbends at the end of Straight For The Knife and the high-speed cellos on Fair Game, while whatever Chamby sounds are being used on Dressed In Black are effectively inaudible. Two years on and This is Acting is marginally less irritating than its predecessor, which isn't saying much. Kurstin is credited with Mellotron on opener Bird Set Free, very clearly sampled.

Silent League  (US)

But You've Always Been the Caretaker...  (2010,  48.51)  **½

The Silent League exist in a post-rock/indie zone, But You've Always Been the Caretaker... zipping between ambient instrumentals (opener Egg-Shaped), Autotune Hell (Yours Truly, 2095) and thoroughly average indie (most of the rest), even channelling Hawkwind on Rules Of Disengagement. Messy, frankly. Dave Sherman's 'Mellotron'? The strings on There's A Caretaker In The Woods?

The Silos  (US)

When the Telephone Rings  (2004,  44.19)  ***

When the Telephone Rings is a decidedly superior Americana album, typified by stonking opener The Only Love, complete with its Neil Young-esque guitar work, the rocking Innocent and The First Move. Dave Bassett's credited with Mellotron, but the cello and strings on Ready For Anything sound sampled.

Silver Sun  (UK)

Neo Wave  (1998,  47.34)  ***½

Silver Sun are a relative rarity these days; a British powerpop band, admittedly one at the rockier end of the genre. After an initial burst of activity (with that all-important record company support), they were dropped after their rather groovy second effort, 1998's Neo Wave, presumably because it didn't sell a million, or something. Highlights include opener Cheerleading (hey, always start with your strongest song!), the rocking Would've If I Could've, Mustard and their cover of Johnny Mathis' (!) Too Much, Too Little, Too Late, but there's little here that offends. Bassist/vocalist Richard Kane plays samplotron on two tracks, with strings on Cheerleading and a choir chord at the end of Mustard. Incidentally, Too Much, Too Little, Too Late was released as the lead track of an EP, track two of which was their four-minute condensing of Rush's epic Xanadu, which truly has to be heard to be believed...

Silver Sunshine  (US)

Silver Sunshine  (2004,  42.10)  ****
A Small Pocket of Pure Spirit  (2005,  26.59)  ****

Silver Sunshine are a new psych outfit from San Diego, with a day-glo time machine set for 'back', although their retro textures occasionally sound more like previous '60s-influenced bands than the real thing. Who cares, though, when they make a noise as glorious as Silver Sunshine? Despite being Californians, they freely mix the US and UK wings, so the Strawberry Alarm Clock rub shoulders with Love, then Pink Floyd and the Kinks take a bath together. Backwards cymbals, backwards entire mixes, phasing, voice-through-Leslie, you name it, they do it. The lyrics are, of course, ridiculous, but isn't that the point? Conor Riley and Kayo Mitsuishi play the samplotron (confirmed by the band), with occasional strings and high-in-the-mix cello on opener (and best song?) Velvet Skies, a more obvious string part on their 'theme' song, I See The Silver Sunshine and major flutes and cellos on the balladic Nightmares, although I can't hear anything obvious on Miranda May.

The following year's A Small Pocket of Pure Spirit is a worthy successor to their album, although I'm not sure why they didn't wait until they had an album's-worth of material. While the songs are uniformly excellent, Another Day is an awful lot too White Album for its own good, although Hiroshima Never Again ups the ante with its instrumental intensity. Samplotron from Conor Riley and Richard Vaughan this time round, with flutes and strings on Waiting For The Sun and, surprisingly, flutes on the 'bonus track', a home demo of Winter Witch, alongside a real one. So, a thoroughly derivative and bloody brilliant album, with an equally good and marginally less derivative EP. Not bad (fake) Mellotron, either. Buy. n.b. Silver Sunshine have now morphed into the vastly more rocking Astra, a truly essential listen.

Silverstein  (Canada)

Discovering the Waterfront  (2005,  39.08)  **½

I've seen Silverstein (named for children's author Shel Silverstein) described as 'post-hardcore', but their second album, 2005's Discovering the Waterfront, sounds like a punk Queensrÿche to my ears, copping their trademark duelling riffs, then sticking shouty vocals on top. I'm afraid I can't name any 'best tracks'; the album's best moments are the occasional bursts of inventive riffing on several tracks, invariably spoiled by the vocals. Although Curtis Mathewson is credited with Mellotron, the vague background strings on My Heroine could be almost anything, frankly and are most unlikely to emanate from anything involving tapes. So; punk/prog/metal, no real Mellotron. Your choice.

Jeffrey Simmons  (US)

The Failure of the Horse & Buggy  (2000,  43.34)  ***
Almost... All the Way... Down  (2003,  50.41)  ***

Jeffrey Simmons' The Failure of the Horse & Buggy is an infuriating album, in that one minute it's XTC, the next it's bloody Coldplay. Highlights include the opening title track, Paint Youself and Step Outside, but inconsistency knocks half a star from its rating. Simmons plays blatant samplotron, with dirty brass and strings all over the title track, flutes on New York State and skronky strings on Word Gets 'Round, while the flutes on closer Count Me Out, heard on their own at the end of the album, really give the sample game away. 2003's Almost... All the Way... Down is, effectively, more of the same, at its best on opener Unkind, Goodbye Blues and the countryish Turning Grey. Joel Simches's Mellotron? Ropey flutes on Unkind.

Stephen Simmons  (US)

Something in Between  (2007,  46.22)  ***

Stephen Simmons is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter, so it comes as no surprise to learn that there's a distinct country influence in his music. Saying that, it's a long way from Grand Ol Opry schmaltz, for which we have to be grateful, although sometimes the Nashville in Simmons rises a little too close to the surface, as on Down Tonight. The album's probably better lyrically than musically, to be honest, which is probably the way with a lot of country music, but it's far from offensive, although it has a faint air of 'heard it all before' about it. Richard McLaurin is credited with Mellotron, amongst other things, but the album's strings all sound real, leaving nothing but vague, background flutes on Blues On A Sunny Day, one of the album's better tracks. If you don't dig country (I bet most country people don't say 'dig'), you're not going to go for this, but it does its job well.

Alan Simon  (France)

Excalibur II: The Celtic Ring  (2007,  55.15)  **½

I might have approached Alan Simon's Excalibur II: The Celtic Ring with a slightly more open mind had I not been subjected to the bulk of the album at Fairport Convention's annual Cropredy bash in 2010. Fairport invariably bring on a handful of special guests during their headlining set, but to be given such a large, indigestible lump of new music in one go was, at the very least, rather unwise.

Listening to the album in full in the comfort of my own home has confirmed my view that it's essentially your typical faux-Celtic stuff, a million miles away from Alan Stivell or Dan Ar Bras' work in the '70s (although the latter guests here), while any number of guest artists aren't going to polish this particular turd. OK, I'm being slightly unfair; any single track taken in isolation is passable enough, but nearly an hour of it in one fell swoop is enough to make you want to track down Michael Flatley and kill him. Slowly. No, America, we're not all 'a little bit Irish', even when we actually are. Special guests all over: as you can see, aside from Fairport and Ar Bras, the highly distinctive Jon Anderson, John Wetton, Justin Hayward, Steeleye Span's Maddy Prior and Jacqui McShee's current version of Pentangle are all involved, for better or (mostly) worse.

Marco Canepa is credited with Mellotron, but the only obvious part on the whole album is the strings on Call (special guests, Les Holroyd's Barclay James Harvest). Cut and dried, you might be thinking. But... Les' version of the band (the AOR one, tragically) have never used a Mellotron, that being the province of Woolly Wolstenholme, whose departure triggered the band's change of direction originally (or, more likely, vice versa). It doesn't sound especially authentic, either, so unless I get an outraged e-mail from someone involved with the project to tell me otherwise, this stays in samples for the indefinite future. So; do you want to hear this? Well, how to you feel about cheesy 'Celtic' folk-rock with loads of powerchording guitar? That's the question you need to ask yourself before shelling out your hard-earned on this overblown load of old nonsense. He said, provocatively.

Harper Simon  (US)

Division Street  (2013,  39.57)  **½

Paul Simon's son's Division Street is rather less engaging than his eponymous 2009 release, being more 'wet end of indie' (there's a dry end?) than 'singer-songwriter'. And Nate Walcott's 'Mellotron' strings all over opener Veterans Parade aren't.

Simon Says  (Sweden)

Paradise Square  (2002,  63.28)  ***½
Tardigrade  (2008,  74.04)  ***

After their 1995 debut, Ceinwen, Simon Says effectively disappeared for seven years. After working on an electronic project, bassist/keyboard player Stefan Renström realised he'd written enough Simon Says-style material for a new album and after tracking vocalist Daniel Fäldt down, reformed the band, releasing Paradise Square in 2002. It falls into the 'reasonably good' category, probably as good as its predecessor, in fact, although like that album it's never going to match Änglagård/Anekdoten et al. I've had it confirmed that they use Mellotron samples here, provided by Johan Wallén from Paatos, possibly from Änglagård's machine. It carries on (fake Mellotronically, at least) in a similar vein to Ceinwen, with some very full-on strings in places, although nothing you can't live without, really.

Another six years and the exceedingly overlong Tardigrade (named for a form of microscopic life) appears, constantly shifting gear between a Genesis-style symphonic sound (spot the Entangled rip on Circles End) and a rather less interesting neo- approach, with hints of fusion, notably on Strawberry Jam. I'm not sure what persuaded the band that they could write a coherent 26-minute epic, but here it is anyway, in the shape of Brother Where You Bound. Fakeotron all over the place, from the rapidly-becoming-tedious M-Tron, with the usual string, flute and choir parts, but nothing you haven't heard before. So; two decent enough albums, OK sampled Mellotron, that's about it.

Sturgill Simpson  (US)

Metamodern Sounds in Country Music  (2014,  34.26)  ***

Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (referencing Ray Charles' Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, of course) is, possibly ironically, pretty much a 'trad' country album, exceptions including the countryish blues rock of Living The Dream and the psych/country of It Ain't All Flowers. Mike Webb's credited with Mellotron, but the strings on opener Turtles All The Way Down sound authentic until the end of the track, at which point they... don't, while the ones on The Promise don't even manage that.

Dave Sinclair  (UK)

The Little Things  (2013,  53.44)  ½

What, THAT Dave Sinclair? On/off member of Caravan? It would appear so. Who'd have thought he'd produce an album of the limpest, most insipid balladry since, well, the last limp, insipid balladeer to cross your path? This is properly dreadful, in a 'can't believe it isn't some wet-as-water contemporary American singer-songwriter' kind of way. Sinclair's credited with Mellotron on Makino and Always There, but if the strings and choirs on the tracks (Jimmy Hastings played real flute) are supposed to be genuine, well... When old proggers go bad. A rare rock-bottom rating.

Sing-Sing  (UK)

The Joy of Sing-Sing  (2001,  53.14)  **½

I've seen Sing-Sing described as 'dream pop', which seems as good a description as any for their rather fey indie stylings. Essentially the duo of vocalist Lisa O'Neill and ex-Lush vocalist/guitarist Emma Anderson, they recorded a mere two albums in their decade together, the first being 2001's The Joy of Sing-Sing. It is, frankly, pretty wet, although I'm sure it sounds exactly as it's meant to; I think you've really got to be into the limper end of British indie to get anything much out of this... Producer Mark Van Hoen supposedly plays Mellotron, along with stacks of great synths (and a DX-7), with many excellent synthpop-era sounds cropping up. Unfortunately, the Mellotron is essentially inaudible; I thought I spotted some strings on Underage, but they turned out to be real. So; despite a couple of better tracks (notably closer I Can See You), this is a rather drab album, although indie fans probably love it to bits.

David Singer & the Sweet Science  (US)

Civil Wars  (2002,  35.18)  ***

David Singer's Civil Wars is a kind of indie/Americana crossover record, at its best on Better Than Nothing and I'll See You in the Moon, just scraping three stars. Singer plays obvious samplotron flutes on Slightly Damaged, Hardly Used.

Sioux City Pete & the Beggars  (US)

Necro Blues  (2006,  57.52)  ***

Rarely has an album been better titled than "Sioux City" Pete Phillips' Necro Blues, typified by raucous opener Farmlands and Playing the Murder Game, to pick two titles almost at random. It diverges from the pattern occasionally, as on the filthy acoustic blues of Dockerys' Pt 1 or the fuzzed-to-the-max Dockerys' Pt 2, funnily enough. 'The Beggars' are credited with Mellotron, although I'm not at all sure why.

Sippy Cups  (US)

Electric Storyland!  (2006,  50.40)  ***

San Franciscans The Sippy Cups (you know, those non-spill cups for small children) are (were?) like a psychedelic version of what The Aquabats eventually became; a band writing sweet little songs for kids, while retaining enough musical integrity to keep parents interested, too. Electric Storyland!'s probably at its best on Little Puffer, the early Floydian (no, really) I Am A Robot and the pure powerpop of Flower Tower, although five year-olds may disagree. Eric Drew Feldman (of all people) and Chris Xefos get Mellotron credits, although the flutes on Snail Song and choirs on I Am A Robot are clearly fake.

Sister Hazel  (US)

Fortress  (2000,  58.11)  **

It took me until the last track on Sister Hazel's tedious Fortress to pin down where I'd previously heard their style: Counting Crows. Yup, the same vapid, empty, scene-stealing bombast allied to a kind of fake Americana, full of pointless anthemic nonsense. So: tell it like it is. Say what you think. Don't beat around the bush. I tried, you know, I tried... I failed. This is rubbish. I've heard worse, which is why it doesn't get an ever lower rating, but fourteen bloody songs of this were enough to well and truly grind me down. Had the album only contained eight tracks, I mightn't have found it quite so relentlessly awful, but it doesn't. Kim Bullard and Jamie Muhoberac both allegedly play Mellotron, but the only places it even might be are the strings on Shame On Me and Your Winter. So; not good. Not good at all. Don't.

Sithonia  (Italy)

Confine  (1995,  54.38)  ****

Sithonia are a relative rarity: an Italian progressive band from the '90s who don't worship at the altar of Marillion et al., which has to be a bonus. Confine, their third release, is actually a pretty adventurous Italian symphonic prog album, combining the best of the genre's past and (then) present, making for a cohesive and inventive whole. As with so many progressive albums, praising individual tracks is almost pointless; it's more about the overall effect, which is up there with, say, Montefeltro or Consorzio Acqua Potabile. We could probably have done without the sub-90125-isms of Ultimo A Stare In Porta, mind, but nothing's perfect. Oriano Dasasso and Paolo Nannetti both play keys, but there's no way of knowing which of them contribute the Mellotron-sounding strings on Porto D'Inghilterra. 1995 was fairly early for Mellotron samples, but these (along with most of the album's older sounds) are more than likely from eMu's Classic Keys module, I'd guess. Anyway, a decent modern(-ish) prog album, despite some dodgy keyboard sounds. Worth hearing.

Siva  (Germany)

Capturing Ghosts  (2004,  16.34)  **½

How can I describe Capturing Ghosts? Downtuned indie metal? At its best on opener Black Hole, the EP's other three tracks veer too close to the 'indie' end of that description. Andreas Bonkowski plays samplotron flutes on Black Hole and closer Open.

Sixpence None the Richer  (US)

Divine Discontent  (2002,  55.10)  **

For some unknown reason, it took Sixpence None the Richer five years to follow their eponymous third album with Divine Discontent; well, it wouldn't have been drug addiction, would it? Maybe that's why they covered There She Goes... Conspiracies? We gottem. Anyway, more slushy shite; they manage to bugger up Crowded House's sublime Don't Dream It's Over, simply by playing it in their usual style. I mean, where's the bloody Hammond solo, you tossers? Drivel. Couple of less awful tracks in Melody Of You and Paralyzed, but it's like polishing turds, really. Samplotron from Jerry Dale McFadden, with a passable flute part on Waiting On The Sun.

Skambankt  (Norway)

Hardt Regn  (2009,  40.19)  ***

Skambankt apparently started out as a muck-about kind of band, taking a decade to decide to make a proper go of it. 2009's Hardt Regn is their third album, in a solid '70s hard rock (note: not heavy metal) vein, albeit sung in Norwegian; while perfectly acceptable (and vastly better than the hordes of modern metal drivel), it's disappointing in comparison to the '70s greats, but then, what isn't? Christer Knutsen supposedly plays Mellotron on O Desverre, but it's anyone's guess as to what he's playing, as the 'choirs' seem to be no more than the band singing 'aahs' in unison.

Ske  (Italy)

1000 Autunni  (2011,  56.24)  ****

Ske are effectively Yugen keys man Paolo "Ske" Botta's solo project, a magnificent, crazed piece of Änglagård-esque instrumental progressive rock, touching on avant-rock and jazz. Attempting to pick out individual highlights is pointless; this is an hour-long journey through a complex, angular musical landscape, clearly designed to be listened to as a whole. Samplotron all over, chiefly strings, arranged well enough to almost fool the ear. Highly recommended.

Skenet  (Sweden)

Allting Rullar  (2015,  41.37)  ***

Allting Rullar is the kind of album that puts the rock into folk/rock, at its best on the jangly title track, Percival and Groundhog. David Svedmyr plays not-so-obvious samplotron strings and flutes on closer Vindöga, while someone adds obvious ones to the title track.

Matt Skiba & the Sekrets  (US)

Kuts  (2015,  31.57)  **½

Matt Skiba joined Blink-182 in 2015, the same year he released his first full solo album, Kuts, so it won't come as any great surprise to hear that, in many ways, it's a typical pop-punk record. Material like opener Lonely And Kold, She Wolf and She Said all fit that mould, although, towards the end of the album, Skiba slips into a kind of mainstream singer-songwriter pop area, notably on Krashing, the cheesy Never Believe and Vienna (not that one). Rob Schnapf supposedly plays Mellotron. Er... Surely not the background strings on the amusingly-titled I Just Killed To Say I Love You? Or the faint background flutes on Never Believe? I think not. Which poses the question: if you're not using anything obviously connected to a Mellotron, even its sounds, why credit one?

Skies of America  (US)

Shine  (2006,  50.55)  ***

Named for an Ornette Coleman album, The Skies of America are yet another powerpop outfit, which sounds more cynical than intended. What I believe is their sole album to date, 2006's Shine, is chock-full of songs of the quality of the marvellous She's The Kind Of Girl, You Belong and Get Up, Get On, but... Why do I feel unfulfilled as the album ends? Q. Is it too long? A. Probably. Q. Do they spread their talents a little too thinly? A. Almost certainly. A good trimming, to thirty-five minutes or so, would do this record a world of good, but don't let a little excess fat put you off. Robert Bonfiglio is credited with Mellotron, but the high-speed strings all over opener Move! sound most suspect to these ears, ditto the flutes on You Belong, about the best sample use here being the upfront strings on Save The Day. All in all, a good album, though somehow lacking a certain something, which might be how the title track found itself on the soundtrack to the following year's Music From & Inspired By Bridge to Terabithia. Never trust a Hollywood soundtrack, kids...

Skuggsjá  (Norway)

A Piece for Mind & Mirror  (2016,  60.14)  ***½

A Piece for Mind & Mirror is, effectively, a Norwegian history lesson, seen through the eyes of the black metal fraternity, Skuggsjá consisting of members of Enslaved and Wardruna. The end result combines metal, Scandianvian folk, post-rock and other genres into an intriguing genre mash-up, although non-Norwegian speakers are at a disadvantage. I would guess that it's Ivar Bjørnson playing the repeating samplotron string part on Bøn Om Ending - Bøn Om Byrjing.