Baraka apparently bears similarity with Koyaanisqatsi, scored by Philip Glass, largely due to being directed by Ron Fricke, a cinematographer on that film. I haven't seen it, but its time-lapse techniques sound familiar, which isn't to say there isn't a lot more mileage to be had from them. Its score is suitably ethnic, largely written and recorded by ambient composer Michael Stearns, giving a reasonable idea of how the film might look, which makes it a successful soundtrack, I suppose. The mighty Dead Can Dance are also featured; now if ever a band should've used a Mellotron... Mike Pinder (Moody Blues, of course) is credited with both Mellotron and Chamberlin on the soundtrack, although I'm quite certain they're sampled (see: his quote in his reniew entry). The strings on L. Subramaniam's Wandering Saint and Stearns' Finale could be Chamby samples, but there's no sign of anything even vaguely Mellotronic. This is more an album for soundtrack fans or those who like to listen to Western interpretations of various ethnic musics.
Donnie Darko is the kind of film that picks up fanatical fans, who dissect it to the nth degree, trying to fathom the plot's complexities. I haven't seen it (not a great film watcher, you may've noticed), so whether it would have the same effect on me is, as yet, unknown. The soundtrack is somewhat on the confusing side, as it's been released in two entirely different versions, one of the mainstream songs included in the film and one of the incidental music, which is the one that interests us here. It actually sounds like a soundtrack, which makes a nice change, with a series of suitably dark, short, instrumental pieces, ending with Gary Jules' by-now overly-familiar version of Tears for Fears' Mad World. Responsibility for the soundtrack was handed to Michael Andrews, along with a minuscule budget, leading to him playing most of the instrumentation himself, including credited Mellotron, although it doesn't sound real. Anyway, we get flutes on The Artifact And Living and Rosie Darko, although it's possible it's hidden away elsewhere, too. Overall, then, an interesting, claustrophobic score; just chop the last two songs off for the perfect soundtrack experience.
Happy, Texas (an actual, two-bit town) is a cult film concerning escaped convicts pretending to be a gay couple, while organising a beauty contest and waiting their moment to rob the local bank. Thank you, Wikipedia. Although rumblings have been heard, there doesn't seem to be any great fuss about straight actors playing gay roles, unlike white actors blacking up, now only ever done for ironic comedic effect (see: Tropic Thunder). Should there be? Any more than the minor fuss caused by the able-bodied Eddie Redmayne playing Stephen Hawking (R.I.P.)? I'm not sure how a disbled actor would play someone over the course of many years as their illness progresses, but there you go. Anyway, this soundtrack contains, unsurprisingly, chiefly various flavours of country music (with a dash of Tex-Mex), some apparently exclusive to this set, some not. I'm not at all sure why Tony Harrell's credited with Mellotron, though.
Idiot Box appears to be an Antipodean slacker movie (I hate the word 'movie', but 'film' simply doesn't fit in this context), soundtracked by a host of 'never 'eard of 'ems' and our friends You am I, who provide a half dozen otherwise-unavailable tracks, including a couple of instrumentals. I've no idea about the film (although, from the snippets of dialogue on the disc, it sounds like it might be fun, if nothing else), but the soundtrack's actually pretty good, in a punky kind of way, non-You am I highlights including My Pal's Magic Dirt and Hoss' Simple Love. You am I's Tim Rogers is credited with Mellotron, but I strongly suspect it simply isn't here. Not a bad album in its own right, then, particularly as the contributors all wrote new material for it, but not one for anything remotely Mellotronic.
Noah? Remember this one? The Russell 'can't act for shit' Crowe vehicle? Latest in this year's 'retelling Bible stories' films, as against last year's 'retelling fairy tales' ones? Thinking about it, is there any real difference? No, I didn't see it, no, I don't care. Clint Mansell wrote the music, a typically portentous orchestral effort, perfectly good for what it is, only slightly spoilt by a lone vocal track, Mercy Is (the main theme?). Mansell is credited with Mellotron, but if you can spot anything that might even be the sampled variety amongst the overblown orchestrations, then good luck to you.
I haven't seen Our Idiot Brother, but it seems to be about a bit of a loser and his dysfunctional family. There you go - Planet Mellotron film reviews in a nutshell. The soundtrack (from Nathan Larson and Eric D. Johnson) combines what I believe are new recordings of old songs, not least Johnson's take on Dawn's cheese 'classic' Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree and several contributions from Willie Nelson. Is it any good? Suffice to say, it probably works better in its intended environment, i.e. soundtracking the film. Johnson and Larson are both credited with Mellotron, but Larson's Mellotron Melody gives the game away in grand style, as I'm fairly certain he wasn't actually using a MkII to produce the left-hand manual rhythms on the track, ditto the vibes, although it's difficult to tell whether or not the samples are used anywhere else. Actually, do we care? Maybe not.
The Quinceañera seems to be one of those coming-of-age ceremonies you hear about, this one a Latin American speciality, clearly designed to keep girls in their place. See: first communion/confession. Ugh. If you really want to know what the film's about, I'm sure Wikipedia or IMDB will give you the lowdown. The soundtrack's mostly Latin pop, of course, with a handful of more reflective instrumental pieces, clearly incidental music. Are those Micko Westmoreland's samplotron strings we're hearing on Acoustic Space?
2010's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World looked like it might be at least mildly entertaining, but it came and went from the cinemas without overly troubling myself or Ms Planet Mellotron. I hope the actual film's better than its soundtrack, which mostly consists of (probably deliberately) crummy faux-punk and unintentionally crummy contemporary pop/rock, most of which probably makes (at most) a fleeting appearance on the actual soundtrack. Incidentally, in case you're wondering who the appallingly-named Sex Bob-Omb and Crash & the Boys are, they're imaginary bands featured in the film itself, so their hopeless punk/electro pastiches need not trouble us too much.
As far as the 'proper' music here goes, I can't say I'm blown away by the contributions from Frank 'Pixie' Black, Black Lips and Broken Social Scene, amongst others, making The Bluetones' Sleazy Bed Track a rare winner here. As far as I know, T. Rex's Teenage Dream (from Zinc Alloy..., one of Bolan's handful of Mellotron albums) and The Stones' misogynistic Under My Thumb are the only 'known' tracks here, although I've no idea how either might fit into the plot. On the Mellotron front, we also know Beachwood Sparks' By Your Side (from 2001's Once We Were Trees), leaving Beck's Ramona (Pilgrim's chief love interest) as the soundtrack's sole new contribution, with a very background, almost certainly samplotron string part, largely smothered by real strings. All of which tells you, dear reader, to probably go somewhere else, frankly.
Mark Asche and Thad Spencer, collectively Asche and Spencer, were Minneapolis-based soundtrack composers who composed the incidental music for 2005's Stay, an eerie, downbeat work, that doubtless usefully augments the film. Whether it's a good listen in its own right is another matter, but people who regularly listen to soundtracks out of context are a breed apart, anyway. Tommy Barbarella is credited with Mellotron, but there's little evidence of one on the album. When we finally get some choirs (on I'm Never Gonna Sleep Tonight), they're far too smooth for their own good, leading me to suspect sample use. Overall, then, good in small doses, but more than about ten minutes of this is enough to make me want to listen to something a little more energetic. Redefines 'ambient'.
"In your city a storm rages. Shaking walls. Rattling foundations. The trembling is unbearable. It must stop - for the sake of survival. The pummeling is not against walls or buildings but against our very souls. The quake attacks the heart of man, eroding the basics of morality. There is only One who can calm the storm. There is only One who can repair that which is broken. And it is on this One, Christ the solid rock, which we stand." Are you puking on the floor yet? No? Why not? Acquire the Fire (gah!) are an organisation who 'challenge youth to stand for their Christian faith', which can also read as 'coerce waverers into returning to the fold', a tactic which I'm reliably informed these types of groups use. Predatory Christianity, eh? Surely not etc.
Anyway, 2001's Unshakeable is stuffed to the gills with the kind of religious frenzy you'd expect, only Superchic[k]'s energetic opener Holy Moment actually managing to be not actively musically offensive, although, absolutely as you'd expect, the album's lyrically vomitorious throughout. Mellotronically speaking, Christa Joy Black supposedly adds something to Melissa Tawlks' Uncommon Love, but the cello sounds real, so I've absolutely no idea what it might be. Anyway, I can only urge you, in the strongest terms, to avoid this vile record, no matter what its credits may allege. I refuse to provide a link to Acquire the Fire's 'Teen Mania Ministries' site, for fear of being branded abusive.
To my shame, I had to check where Dakar was; it's the capital of Senegal, for those as ignorant as my good self. African Underground: The Depths of Dakar is apparently the follow-up to African Underground Volume 1: Hip-Hop Senegal, although it would be a mistake to think that it's no more than a hip-hop compilation. Admittedly, many of its featured artists fall loosely under that banner, but there's far more going on in most of its tracks, elements of jazz, soul and various local musics finding their way into the sonic mélange. Personal favourite? Zoo Squad's Fresh Time Pt 2 (Beyondo Outro), with its mellow Rhodes work. Dan Cantor plays samplotron, with distant choirs on Adama's Aduna Bi and Tigrim Bi's self-explanatory Hip-Hop.
Assassins of Silence/Hundred Watt Violence is a Hawkwind (family) tribute, rather less successful (IMHO) than Daze of the Underground, from a few years later. Most of the versions here fall into the lo-fi/psych category, to a greater or lesser degree, while I, at least, have heard of precisely none of the featured artists. Are most of them one-off conglomerations? No idea. Personal favourite: Fuzzface's Urban Guerilla. Voco Kesh's Richard Franecki is credited with Mellotron (strings) on their take on We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago, to which I can only say: you must be fucking joking. Bum notes and all. Scrapes three stars.
As far as I can work out, Below Zero are a label and Below Zero: Minus, Vol. 1 is a compilation of (previously unavailable?) tracks, all loosely in a 'dance' vein; a lack of knowledge of the genres involved makes it difficult for me to separate the R&B from the hip-hop, or the trance from the electronica. Suffice to say, you are most unlikely to like any of this unless your tastes veer in the direction of modern electronic music with an irritating rhythmic component, although Guts' Latin-flavoured/dub closer And The Living Is Easy! is the least bad thing here. Sebastian Arocha Morton is credited with Mellotron (it looks like there might be the equivalent of a 'studio band' used on the record), with probably samplotron flutes on Samantha James' Rain, while all the strings sound like generic samples.
ATO Records' Bob Dylan in the 80s: Volume One defines the phrase 'filling a much-needed void'. Why would anyone want a tribute album to an artist's (arguably) worst decade? Admittedly, the idea was to highlight hidden gems in the Nobel Prize winner's back catalogue, to which I can only (and sadly) say: fail. OK, it has its moments, not least Dawn Landes & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's Dark Eyes and Hannah Cohen's Covenant Woman, while Lucius' When the Night Comes Falling From The Sky features some beautifully Andy Summers-esque guitar chording, but pickings are slim indeed. Notable horrors include Reggie Watts' remix-style Brownsville Girl (Reprise) and Aaron Freeman and Slash's piss-taking version of the appalling Wiggle Wiggle, which fully brings out the absurdity of the 'song'. "Wiggle wiggle like a pail of milk", my arse. Marco Benevento is supposed to play Mellotron on Every Grain Of Sand, but (to no-one's surprise) he doesn't.
Canossa: A Rock Opera is unusual in that it's a modern, multi-artist European prog concept effort, yet it has nothing to do with either Finland's Colossus project or Italy's Mellow label. It's actually the brainchild of Mangala Vallis's drummer, Gigi Cavalli Cocchi, who also provides the narration on every other track, although Fabrizio Varchetta provides the pseudo-orchestral backing for same. Of the seven bands involved in the project, I'll come clean and say that I've only heard of one; perhaps the others are one-off projects? Mangala Vallis provide a reasonable piece in Pietra Su Pietra, better than pretty much anything from either of their albums, while Type's La Battaglia is pleasingly angular, but most of the album is fairly average prog-by-numbers, I'm afraid, while the concept (stories relating to the northern Italian castle of Canossa) is somewhat opaque to non-Italian speakers. Mangala Vallis provide the album's only 'Mellotronic' input, with some occasional murky choirs, clearly sampled, on their contribution. I've seen rave reviews of Canossa, but I'm really not sure why; a decent enough listen, certainly, but far from outstanding.
It seems that Universal France's 2003 various artists Cinemix project was something of an add-on to their Écoutez le Cinema! series of twenty-eight soundtracks, mostly from French films. Now, I know I'm an old git, but I genuinely fail to see the point in taking perfectly good pieces of music, cutting them up and adding unwelcome programmed beats, squelchy synths et al. Yeah, I'm that old. Are any of these eighteen tracks worth the effort? Not really, no, the best any of them manage is to be less irritating than their neighbours (honourable exception: Alif Tree's closing Dernier Domicile Connu). On the whole, all they make me want to do is hear the originals. Perhaps that's the point? David Emmings' 'Mellotron' flutes and strings on Readymade FC's "Bright Star" remix of Sans Mobile Apparent are clearly sampled, making this even less worth hearing than it might otherwise have been. Recommended? Don't be silly.
Neil Young must be the most-mentioned non-Mellotron-using artist on Planet Mellotron. So here's another. 2008's Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young for Charity is exactly what it says, despite the oddness of women singing Young's frequently male-orientated, first-person lyrics. Of course, you really can't go that far wrong with an album of Neil songs, unless they were all played by hip-hop trios, perhaps, or arranged à la Stephen Sondheim. Actually, they might even survive those treatments. The bulk of the versions here are played straight, or, in the case of some of the acoustic tracks, made even gentler, with the result that few of the versions really stand out, although The Watson Twins' Powderfinger is almost unrecognisable, the twins singing the guitar harmony themselves. The two versions of CSNY classic Ohio perfectly illustrate the versatility of Young's material (as, of course, do his own live versions), Darcie Miner's electric take contrasting sharply with Dala's acoustic one. Julie Peel plays supposed Mellotron on her own take on I Believe In You, with a pleasant yet brief flute part, although I'm exceedingly doubtful as its veracity. If, however, you're a fan of either a) some of the artists on this compilation or b) Neil Young, you could do a lot worse than to get to hear a copy, at least. Decidedly worthwhile.
DMDK, or Depeche Mode Denmark (DK) is a tribute to the band featuring exclusively Danish artists, most of whom, to be bluntly honest, mean nothing to me, probably because they work in the mainstream pop spectrum, as against the Danish artists I do know. Are any of their versions any good? It doesn't help that I'm fairly ignorant of DM's career in the first place, but The Gospel's Personal Jesus (known to me from Johnny Cash's version) and Lake Placid's Everything Counts are the two things that stood out for me, amongst the clumps of electro-by-numbers that clutter up most of the disc. Nicolai Land plays supposed Mellotron on Marie Frank's It's No Good, with a background flute part that is most likely sampled. If you're a Depeche fan, you may wish to hear what's been done to their songs; the rest of us may not.
2009's Dark Was the Night (named in honour of the Blind Willie Johnson composition Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground) is the twentieth Red Hot compilation, a series designed to raise awareness and funds to help AIDS victims, with which it's difficult to argue. Its two hours-plus are filled with what appear to be exclusive tracks, mainly from current indie acts along the lines of Sufjan Stevens, Cat Power, The New Pornographers and The Arcade Fire, which is fair enough, as it's intended to sell. And sell it has, having raised over a million dollars at the time of writing.
But is it any good?, I hear you cry. Do you like modern indie? Do you yearn to hear unreleased tracks by the likes of Antony (without his Johnsons), Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), Iron & Wine and Grizzly Bear? Then yes, it's brilliant. Would you rather never hear another thing by anyone even remotely describable as 'indie'? Then no, it isn't. As one sitting nearer the latter camp than the former, I found the set harmless, if overlong and dull, Buck 65 Remix Featuring Sufjan Stevens & Serengeti's Blood Pt 2 being the only thing here that actually had me reaching for the 'next' button. No, I didn't find it very interesting, even The Kronos Quartet's take on the title track, but it isn't aimed at me and has raised a shitload of cash for its chosen charity, making my opinion entirely irrelevant. Did I actually like anything here? Do you care? Riceboy Sleeps' elegiac Happiness is excellent, although it turns out it's actually by Sigur Rós side-project Jónsi & Alex, so that explains that one.
Mellotron? TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek adds some strings to his version of The Troggs' With A Girl Like You, albeit to rather mundane effect, but they strike me as sampled. To be honest, while this has been an amazing fundraiser, I really couldn't recommend it to anyone not into the current crop of indie outfits or to anyone hoping to hear a reasonable helping of Mellotron. The star rating above is more for the thought than the deed.
Medeski, Martin & Wood's drummer Billy Martin released Illy B Eats in 2001, inviting listeners to layer their own work over his and send it to him for reworking. The result, Drop the Needle, is every bit as eclectic as you'd expect of such an approach, contributors mixing hip-hop, electronica, jazz, blues and other genre mash-ups into a surprisingly cohesive set that may well appeal to fans of the NYC scene centred around John Medeski and pals. Rob Marscher (Addison Groove Project) is credited with Mellotron on his and Mister Rourke's Voiles, but the flutes on the track fail to convince.
2003's A Fair Forgery of Pink Floyd is yet another entrant in the growing pantheon of Pink Floyd tribute albums. Like so many similar, its contents veer wildly between pretty-much faithful recreations (Which One's Pink?'s Dogs and John Stack & Numira's Sheep, possibly proving that Animals material doesn't re-interpret well) and, er, less faithful ones, highlights including Yortoise's rockabilly Money (don't laugh, it works! Although I remain unconvinced by 50 Cent Haircut's similar take on Breathe), Ira's Have A Cigar, which brings out the full industry horror of the lyrics and Harvette's superb Bike, although Rat Bat Blue's closing 5 Minute Version Of The Wall is clever, but somehow unfulfilling. WTF's with Big Lee's Another Brick In The Mason's Wall, though? A hip-hop thing based around the expected, with new and deeply inferior lyrics? Why? Although someone called John Would is credited with Mellotron, those are definitely string samples on Ira's Have A Cigar, while the cellos on Sally Semrad's Wish You Were Here could be anything. Overall, then, a decent tribute album, for those who enjoy such things; in fairness, there's plenty here to enjoy, especially if you like to hear much-loved material re-interpreted. No Mellotron, though.
I don't know what the concept behind Flere Sange Fra 1. Sal (More Songs From the 1st Floor) might be, other than Danish artists covering '60s and '70s songs unplugged, its best-known contributor probably being Tina Dickow. The collection's at its best on Kirstine Stubbe Teglbjærg's breathy Ain't No Sunshine and Angu's Heroes, although Laust Sonne's You Really Got Me takes too few chances with its source material to be particularly credible. Boi Holm is credited with Mellotron on Thomas Dybdahl's Song To The Siren, though I have no idea why.
For a Few Guitars More is, as its subtitle heavily suggests, a Morricone Spaghetti Western tribute, most participants tackling the material in an early '60s surf style, which, of course, in turn influenced the original soundtracks. The material covered is sourced from ten films, including the four that everyone knows (A Fistful of Dollars/For a Few Dollars More/The Good, the Bad and the Ugly/Once Upon a Time in the West, of course), although I think it'd be fair to say that the artists involved are, to a man or band, pretty damn' obscure, the only one ringing a bell with yours truly being that well-known beat combo The Bambi Molesters. Personal favourites include Canadian Brent J. Cooper's take on For a Few Dollars More's Sixty Seconds To What?, The Langhorns' trumpet-driven The Vice Of Killing (complete with musical box) and The Hellbenders' take on the piece of the same name, while In the West's Once Upon A Time In The West actually manages to sound slightly like Focus, of all bands. 'Mellotron'? Cooper plays 'faux Mellotron' on his take on Sixty Seconds To What?, with a background string part that could be almost anything, really. So; despite a couple of less essential tracks, one for fans of surf guitar or Morricone. Or both. And who isn't? Silly, but a lot of fun.
For an outfit dubbed 'the most popular overtly Christian act of all time', I have to say, I've never heard of DC Talk/dc Talk/dcTalk. It seems they were a Christian hip-hop trio who slipped into a more pop/rock sound towards the end of their career. 2006's Freaked! A Gotee Tribute to dcTalk's "Jesus Freak" is what it says on the tin, a track-by-track reinterpretation of the original album, although not having actually, y'know, heard said opus, it's difficult for me to meaningfully compare the two. Actually, I have to say, going by not just the performances, but the songs themselves, I suspect it might be quite listenable, at least within its genre, although at an hour, it's considerably too long. The best tracks on the tribute disc are probably The Showdown's opener, So Help Me God, Fighting Instinct's Like It, Love It, Need It and, above all, Grant Harrison's amusing Mr. Tobin, a spoken-word piece standing in for the original album's Mrs. Morgan. Relient K's Matthew Thiesen allegedly adds Mellotron to their take on Between You And Me, although I have no idea in what role, as it's completely inaudible. This isn't the most exciting tribute album you'll ever hear, but, despite its overtly Christian lyrics, it's actually very listenable in places, in a pop/rock kind of way. Not that good, but not awful, either, which is a nice surprise.
Sub Pop's 2001 tribute disc, Give the People What We Want: Songs of the Kinks (named for the band's 1981 release Give the People What They Want) is the usual curate's egg, contributors veering between respectful copies (Model Rockets' Byrdsian Ring The Bells, The Fastbacks' Waterloo Sunset) and sometimes out-there reinterpretation (Baby Gramps' channelling of Tom Waits on Sunny Afternoon, Nikol Kollars' light, jazzy I Go to Sleep). Best tracks? Perhaps surprisingly, the usually anodyne Minus 5 have a decent stab at Wicked Annabella, helped, as are so many of the featured acts, by having excellent material as a starting point. Although Steve Fisk is credited with Mellotron on Heather Duby's The Way Love Used To Be, he's known around these parts for using samples until more recently than 2001, although he makes the strings here sound more convincing than many. As usual, you're really not going to buy this for a few seconds of sampled Mellotron, but if you're up for a handful of interesting takes on Kinks songs, look no further.
I've heard bits and pieces of Dan Treacy's TVPs' work over the years, notably the insanely catchy Where's Bill Grundy Now?, although Part Time Punks is apparently better-known, while I still remember their seriously misplaced prank whilst supporting David Gilmour in 1984, reading Syd Barrett's address out from the stage while playing I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives (not covered here, interestingly. Forever tainted?) Clever... Possibly the ultimate cult band (serious competitor: Cardiacs), it's no surprise at all that there's a tribute album devoted to their oeuvre, 2005's If I Could Write Poetry, which, like most similar, combines reworkings (although I'm not too familiar with the material, I don't think anything here could be classed as 'radical') with slavish recreations, highlights including Higher Elevations' breezy The Engine Driver Song, the murky punk of Bartlebees' And Then Suddenly and The Mandervilles' powerpop Where's Bill Grundy Now?
The now-late Nikki Sudden (Swell Maps) supposedly plays Mellotron on his 'Texas mix' of If I Could Write Poetry itself, but, well, you're joking, surely? That vague stringy sound towards the end of the track? Doesn't even sound like a sample, frankly. Anyway, TVP fans will almost certainly get something from these reworkings, although the rest of us are probably better off with a copy of '95's Yes Darling, But is it Art? or '99 compilation Part Time Punks.
Indelible Grace are a Nashville-based Christian artistic community, who have apparently 'restored the historic practice of writing new melodies to old hymn texts' (Wikipedia, I love you). Volume IV, Beams of Heaven, contains a selection of the usual bland CCM, less bad efforts including Derek Webb's His Love Can Never Fail (well, Webb does have some previous) and Dan Haseltine's Beams of Heaven, but that's really scraping the barrel, frankly. Jeff Pardo plays samplotron flutes on Rachel Briggs' Come Ye Disconsolate, although I can't say they improve matters any. Why put crappy, pop/rock tunes to old hymns when the originals worked perfectly well? Pointless. Incidentally, in a proper 'couldn't make it up' turn of events, the community were originally led by a minister going by the name of Kevin Twit. Priceless.
Axels & Sockets was the third release from The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project, reworkings of unfinished recordings made by the late Gun Club frontman, in this case featuring contributions from the likes of Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry and Nick Cave, amongst other luminaries. While the bulk of its contents fall into a Gun Club-esque tortured delta blues homage/pastiche, a handful tip over into noise rock, for want of a better term. Supposed Mellotron from Andrew Innes on easily the worst track on the set, Primal Scream's utterly interminable Goodbye Johnny, remixed by the tedious and overrated Andrew Weatherall, but I can't even hear samples.
Last Summer seems to be a fairly homemade affair, only available on CD-R or as a download. I don't know the background to the 22-track release, but the bulk of it consists of dreary indie/folk, a.k.a. folk with the good bits removed, Whalebone Polly's Wakka, with its intricate vocal work, being the closest this gets to 'interesting'. In Gowan Ring's B'ee (who also plays with Birch Book, also present here) is credited with Mellotron, but the inauthentic flutes all over In Gowan Ring's Taking Wing tell another story.
As far as I can ascertain, the chief purpose behind 2004's The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered is to introduce legendary lo-fi naïf Daniel Johnston to a wider audience by persuading fans of the contributing artists to buy the two-disc set. So? I hear you yawn. Another tribute album? Ah, but this one has a twist: disc one is the expected more or less reverential covers, while disc two repeats the tracklisting with the original recordings. A genuinely original idea, at least to my knowledge and absolutely in keeping with the set's presumed purpose. 'Executive production' is by Johnston's manager, Jordan N. Trachtenberg and Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous, a man who knew a thing or three about outsider artists, being a borderline one himself.
Of course, the contributors are all the usual 'alt' suspects of the early 2000s; you know, T.V. on the Radio, Eels, Bright Eyes, Beck and, of course, Tom Waits, without whom any such collection must be considered incomplete. But is it any good? I suspect you have to be a fan of both Johnston and the artists concerned to really get anything out of this; better efforts include Beck's acoustic-and-harmonica take on True Love Will Find You In The End, Sparklehorse's Flaming Lips collaboration on Go, Mercury Rev's indie-Appalachian Blue Clouds, Waits' King Kong (of course) and a handful of others, clustered together towards the end of the disc. To be honest, I think I prefer Johnston's originals in many cases, particularly his harmonium classic Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Your Grievience (note spelling and pronunciation).
Although Jeff Mercel is credited with 'Mellotron' on Mercury Rev's Blue Clouds, we can be quite certain that it's as genuine as their other usage, i.e. not. As it happens, we only get a few bursts of murky strings that were never going to convince anyway. So; do you buy this album? Yes for Daniel Johnston fans, possibly for fans of more than a handful of the contributing artists, maybe not for the rest of us.
In 2008, Cardiacs' much-loved Tim Smith suffered a catastrophic heart attack/stroke combination that has left him in a parlous state; we can only be thankful for our 'socialist' NHS, which will essentially care for him for the rest of his life, if necessary, at the cost to him of precisely nothing. To think that many citizens of a rather larger country across a large body of water actually voted against a seriously watered-down version of the same system simply beggars belief. Some people really will believe anything they're told.
Anyway... Tim's short-term goal is apparently to be able to return home, obviously with a full-time carer; to this end, various fund-raising activities have been instigated, not least the 2010 release of Leader of the Starry Skies: A Tribute to Tim Smith: Songbook 1. As you may've seen from other reviews on this site, I'm not always a fan of the tribute album; most of them are stuffed with either a) overly-reverent exact copies or b) underly-reverent piss-weak versions in the covering artist's own 'style', in arrangements usually designed to stroke said artist's ego, rather than to actually produce anything of musical merit. Wonderfully, Leader of the Starry Skies contains few of the former category and none of the latter, which probably has as much to do with the artists who care enough about Cardiacs to be involved as anything.
Several contributors are themselves ex-Cardiacs of various eras (William D. Drake, Kavus Torabi (Knifeworld), Christian 'Bic' Hayes (mikrokosmos) and Mark Cawthra), several others part of the band's extended 'family' (Stars in Battledress, Max Tundra, North Sea Radio Orchestra and Mediaeval Baebes' Katherine Blake). All concerned tackle their chosen material with as much or as little reverence as needed, so while Ultrasound's Big Ship is effectively a carbon-copy, mikrokosmos' Is This The Life is both completely recognisable, yet wildly different to the original, the remainder sitting somewhere between these two extremes, other highlights including William D. Drake's Savour, Knifeworld's The Stench Of Honey and Robert White (ably assisted by no lesser a personage than Andy Partridge) tackling Lilywhite's Party.
Mellotron? Well, samples: Steven Wilson's beautiful version of Stoneage Dinosaurs (you can be certain that Tim's anachronism was deliberate) adds the 'Mellotron' flute and choir parts for which the original always cried out. The best thing about Leader of the Starry Skies might just be not that it's an excellent compilation in its own right, but that it makes you want to go back and listen to the originals, in the best possible way. Please buy this album, not just for charitable reasons, but because, if you've ever liked anything by Cardiacs or its offshoots, you can't fail to enjoy it in its own right.
Looking Into You seems like a good way to introduce oneself to Jackson Browne's music, until you realise that almost every contributing artist interprets his songs in a country-rock vein. Don't get me wrong, a few songs tackled that way can be excellent, but a whole (very lengthy, two-disc) album of them can become a bit much. Best efforts? Eliza Gilkyson's Before The Deluge and Lyle Lovett's Rosie. Lucinda Williams' Jason Borger quite blatantly uses sampled Mellotron strings on The Pretender, at one point stretching them a rather outrageous four full tones above the machine's top note.
It's hard to say whether Lost on the River should file under various artists, producer T Bone Burnett or The New Basement Tapes, the name given to themselves by the all-star band that convened to record the album, including Elvis Costello and My Morning Jacket's Jim James. It's based around a selection of previously-unseen handwritten Dylan lyrics from 1967, arranged individually by the various contributors, leading to multiple versions of some songs, not least the title track. I can't say it all works, but Spanish Mary, Florida Key and Lost On The River #20 are all highlights. Costello, James and Taylor Goldsmith are all credited with Mellotron, but the strings on Hidee Hidee Ho #11 tell another story. Non.