Dead Can Dance are one of those ensembles that you always feel should have used a Mellotron, but didn't. Call it bad timing (the '80s, of course), although that never stopped labelmates and (very) loose reference point The Cocteau Twins. DCD's five or so album run beginning with 1986's Spleen & Ideal are classics of the genre they created, sitting somewhere in between art rock, goth, world music(s) and medieval church music, although many fans prefer their later, more world-influenced work. Notably, their most-covered album here is 1987's Within the Realm of a Dying Sun (goth? Us?), but only their purportedly generic goth debut and '96's Spiritchaser are completely untouched.
2004's lengthy The Lotus Eaters: A Tribute to Dead Can Dance is possibly too much of a good thing; DCD are great, but two and a half hours (and covers at that) in one sitting could be construed as a bit much. I have to say, I've heard of few of the contributors, the only familiar names being Swans' Jarboe, Holland's The Gathering, Ulver and Noekk, which probably says more about my lack of knowledge of all things darkwave than the actual obscurity of the rest. Most of the contributors stick fairly closely to the accepted template; mould-breakers include Trail of Tears' The Arcana (from DCD's goth-crossover Garden of the Arcane Delights EP), although its guitar-heavy intro soon reverts to standard DCD mode, Imperia's The Lotus Eaters pulling a similar (albeit heavier) trick, as do Nightfall and Darkwell, although top marks go to Sarah Jezebel Deva's excellent a capella take on the atmospheric The Wind That Shakes The Barley.
Noekk and Subterranean Masquerade are both credited with Mellotron, but the brass/strings mix (?) on the former is clearly sampled, while the latter features a real violin, but no obvious Mellotron, sampled or otherwise. I can't imagine anyone not already a fan of Dead Can Dance getting much out of this, but, fifteen years after their last album, they still have a sizeable fanbase, although I'd have thought hat those of them who were going to buy this have probably already done so.
As other online reviewers have noted, Lounge-a-Palooza manages to combine several irritating late '90s musical fashions into one neat, tidy package, not least the brief 'lounge' craze, leapt upon by bored fashionistas before they tired of it, too. The album's not even entirely sure what it's trying to do, with lounge versions of recent hits (Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gormé's ridiculous Black Hole Sun, The Ben Folds Five's She Don't Use Jelly) rubbing shoulders with the likes of Edwyn Collins' Witchcraft or The Pizzicato Five's tired The Girl From Ipanema. P.J. Harvey & Eric Drew Feldman's Mel Torme-by-way-of Was (Not Was)' Zaz Turned Blue is actually halfway decent, bringing real drama to the track, Glen Campbell & Michelle Shocked's Wichita Lineman isn't that different to Campbell's original and The James Taylor Quartet's Music To Watch Girls By is actually pretty cool. However, the always-terrible Fun Lovin' Criminals' dreadful take on 10cc's I'm Not in Love is seriously misguided and the aforementioned Black Hole Sun isn't even funny. Kim Bullard is credited with Mellotron, but without track-by-track credits, it's far from the easiest task to locate it; the flutes at the beginning of Black Hole Sun are the most likely location, but they appear to be sampled, anyway. Overall, then, a rather dull effort, heavy on the 'humour' and light on anything you might actually want to listen to more than once (or even once, in several cases).
The Matinée Hit Parade is a compilation 'commemorating a decade of top quality pop music' from California's Matinée Recordings, featuring previously unreleased tracks by mostly British bands. Lightweight, C86-style indie is the order of the day, better tracks including Math & Physics Club's A Little Romance and Australia's The Lucksmiths' Good Light, although Strawberry Whiplash, amongst others, are just too fey for their own good. Cornel Wilczek gets a Mellotron credit, but the background strings on Good Light and Slipslide's Let Things Fall Apart are clearly nothing of the sort.
2000's Miniatures 2 is the successor to Morgan Fisher's 1980 release, er, Miniatures, which followed hot on the heels of the previous year's Hybrid Kids, frankly, one of the most bizarre musical experiments on which you are ever likely to lay your hands. And I know one of the album's backing singers, fact fans. Anyway, Miniatures 2 works in the same format as its predecessor: persuade loads of 'name' artists to record very brief pieces, in any style that takes their fancy, stick 'em all together and Bob's yer uncle. Of course, Fisher is more curator than artist (although he contributes one track), although, without his concept and guidance, this album would never have happened.
So, er, what's it like? More normal than The Hybrid Kids, but that isn't saying much. Actually, most of its sixty tracks (average length: just over a minute) aren't that weird, Klaus Trabitsch's guitar piece Jodler being a case in point. Does any of it actually catch the ear? Led Zep's John Paul Jones channels Brian May on It's Coming (A Fanfare For The Millennium), Wolfgang Mitterer's atonal Solo No. 3, Fripp and Gunn's typically late-Crimsoid Blast... There's definitely some decent and/or weird stuff on here, but too much of it seems to be exactly what you'd expect of the artist in question, only shorter. The Mellotron? Ireland's Daniel Figgis adds most likely sampled flutes to his Fail Better, but we're not exactly talking major stuff here.
Nashville is a TV drama based around, you guessed it, country music, still running at the time of writing, five years after it debuted. The albums released from the first series were produced by T Bone Burnett, which may or may not have anything to do with their supposed Mellotron content. The songs are as good as country songs from anywhere, at least to my ears, unlike most material written for films about fictional rock bands (who said Spinal Tap?), better tracks including the stomping Wrong Song and Telescope. Keefus Cianca supposedly plays Mellotron for Connie Britton, who gets three tracks on the first volume, but the flutes on opener Buried Under ain't foolin' no-one (said in an authentic 'Southern' voice), while Gabriel Witcher's 'Mellotron' on the second is no more than the samplotron flutes on Looking For A Place To Shine.
Norway's (Not Just) Another X-mas Album covers a fair bit of ground, musically, from Popface's twee opener, The December Snowfall, children's choir and all, through Syme's seasonal electronica on Ad Kosmos! and the reggae of The Rub a Dubs' Another X-mas, not to mention a slew of various flavours of indie, 2000s-style. Highlights? The raucous powerpop of Stavanger Energi's Ka Bler Det Te Med Den Snøen and Ståle Strømsvold's Adeste Fideles, an instrumental band arrangement of the tune better known as Oh Come All Ye Faithful. Tom-Erik Løe plays somewhat inauthentic 'Mellotron' string swells on Tom-Erik Örbeck's Woodland Winter.
The Old Town School of Folk Music Song Book (three discs over two volumes) collates a raft of contemporary artists' renderings of the Great American Folk Songbook, albeit much of it transplanted from Britain or Ireland, although a handful of tracks on Vols. 2 & 3 aren't in any way 'trad', including Kelly Hogan and Scott Ligon's take on Tom Paxton's Last Thing on My Mind and Laura Doherty's version of Donovan's Colours. Top versions include Shelley Miller's Red River Valley (the source for Johnny & the Hurricanes' coruscating Red River Rock), Bill Simmons' beautiful acoustic guitar version of Greensleeves and Jimmy Tomasello's amusingly rewritten take on Old Time Religion. Despite its considerable length, as a primer on (loosely) American folk, you'd struggle to find much better. John E. Abbey is credited with Mellotron, with chordal flutes on Colours, vibes on Emily Hurd's Hard Travelin' and strings on Water Is Wide, all quite clearly sampled.
1997's One Step Up/Two Steps Back: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen is one of the 'most versions sound just like the originals'-type tribute albums, although you would've thought at least some of Bruce's songs would respond positively to rearrangement. Sadly, it's all a bit ordinary, to be honest, few of the takes here stepping too far from the sheet music, leaving it up to individual performances to stand out, as so few of the arrangements take any real chances.
Plenty of Planet Mellotron artists present here, including The Smithereens, Joe Cocker, Elliott Murphy, David Bowie and Allan Clarke, plus several more who will hopefully find their way to these pages eventually and a whole load who almost certainly never will, not least Ben E. King, Nils Lofgren and the missing-presumed-dead Little Bob Story. The contributors' collective unwillingness to stand out from the crowd means there are no real stinkers, but also no stand-outs, although John Hiatt and sometime Bruce guitarist Lofgren perform particularly impassioned takes on Johnny 99 and Wreck On The Highway respectively and, maybe surprisingly, Bowie's string-driven It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City impresses.
Mellotronically speaking, Wesley "John Wesley Harding" Stace allegedly plays the thing on his take on Jackson Cage, but all I can hear is a couple of real violins. As far as the album's content's concerned, I'm personally surprised there's so little from the iconic Born to Run (only Syd Straw's lesser-known Meeting Across The River), with a good few newer selections. Maybe that should be taken as Springsteen's contemporaries' faith in his later material, or at least its suitability for reinterpretation, not that very much here is especially reinterpreted. Anyway, probably essential for the Bruce-fan-with-everything, though not for the rest of us and certainly not for anyone hoping to hear some Hot Mellotron Action.
2009's Il Paese è Reale is a compilation of current Italian indie outfits, curated by Afterhours, although I'm not sure whether or not all of its contents are exclusive to the set. While not the most exciting effort ever, several of its tracks are gutsier than just about anything you'll encounter in the British and/or American scenes, although I wouldn't take that as too much of a recommendation. Andrea Allulli adds alleged Mellotron strings and flutes to Marco Parente's Da Un Momento All'Altro, to reasonable effect, although it's over all too quickly.
I'll be honest; I've never given The Monkees' work the time I'm told it deserves, let alone their members' solo careers, to the point where I didn't even realise Mike Nesmith tribute Papa Nez: a Loose Salute to the Work of Michael Nesmith alluded to the title of his 1970 album Loose Salute. Despite The Monkees' manufactured image, Nesmith was (and is) a serious musician, not to mention a country rock pioneer, so it's no great surprise that the bulk of this album's contents sit in that genre. Jason MacIsaac is credited with Mellotron on Heavy Blinkers' Magic, to which I can only say, "Where?"
North Carolina's ProgDay is now the world's longest-running progressive festival, it seems, several albums from the event appearing over the years, both individual artists' sets and annual compilations. Progday '98 concentrates on the more symphonic end of the spectrum, including selections from Crucible, Discipline, The Flower Kings, A Piedi Nudi and The Pär Lindh Project, amongst others. Highlights? Discipline and the unfairly-neglected A Piedi Nudi. Fakeotron from Crucible, Discipline, The Flower Kings and Pär Lindh, largely recreating (sometimes sampled) parts played in the studio.
Musical ignoramous that I am, I have to admit that I've never previously knowingly heard anything by (or even written by) the legendary Virginia Patterson "Patsy Cline" Hensley. Of course, 'legendary' is an epithet often utilised when the artist in question is no longer with us, in Cline's case, due to a light aircraft crash in 1963. I've always thought she was a straight country artist, but it seems that she crossed over into the pop charts with a series of jazzy ballads having little in common with Hank Williams et al. (speaking of dead legends). 2003's Remembering Patsy Cline is MCA's attempt at a tribute album to the lady, largely concentrating on country artists, although a handful of jazzier singers (Norah Jones, Diana Krall) get a look-in, too. I feel an opportunity may have been missed by not getting any male vocalists; not all of Cline's material is gender-specific, after all, but there's little about this album that rocks any boats. Oh well, at least I suppose we're spared the likes of Marilyn Manson and U2 trashing their subject material. The most listenable thing here, at least to ears unattuned to lounge jazz/pop, is Terri Clark's bluesy Walkin' After Midnight, while Rebecca Lynn Howard takes the prize for turning a Patsy Cline song into a semi-power ballad, cheesy guitar solo and all. Greg Wells is credited with Chamberlin, although, irritatingly, track-by-track credits appear to be absent, so given that a string section is also present (unsurprisingly), my guess is that samples provide the blocky strings on Natalie Cole's I Fall To Pieces that opens the set.
Unusually for a 'tribute' album, Schizoid Dimension is largely very listenable, with a high good-to-shite quotient. I'm tempted to say this is a result of the excellence of the source material, but that doesn't stop most similar efforts being vile; maybe it's the fact that very few of the contributing artists deviate too far from King Crimson's original arrangements. Brand X (West) and Spirits Burning's respective recreations of Red are almost identical to the 1974 version, while Solid Space's In The Wake Of Poseidon could actually be the original, although most of the rest of the artists involved stamp at least a little of their own personality on their chosen tracks. Most innovative? Xcranium's Cat Food is a hard rock take on the track, while Astralasia's techno-orientated I Talk To The Wind moves furthest from the song's roots although, amusingly, without the programmed percussion, it would be almost identical to Crimson's version.
As far as the 'Mellotron' work here's concerned, it all apears to be sampled. Alien Planetscapes' A Sailor's Tale has a string part, probably from band leader Doug Walker, while Solid Space's In The Wake Of Poseidon has strings from Daniel Todd Carter. Architectural Metaphor's Cirkus dispenses with the Lizard version's strings, flute and brass, but layers plenty of samplotron choir all over the track, making for an interesting departure, due to Crimson's non-use of the sound. Although Astralasia's I Talk To The Wind sounds like it could contain Mellotron flute, it's far more likely to be a synth, ditto the vaguely Mellotronnish parts on a couple of other tracks. Not at all bad, then, although particularly low marks for the appalling sleeve; it appears to be a crude parody of the late Barry Godber's fantastic artwork for In the Court of the Crimson King (I mean, what's going on with those eyes?), but since I can't imagine why the compilers would wish to mock the original, I can only assume that it, too, is meant as a tribute. In fairness, it's the worst thing about the album; worth picking up second-hand.
Scott Walker: 30 Century Man (Music Inspired By the Film) could just as easily be titled Music Inspired By the Film Scott Walker: 30 Century Man; it appears to depend on your viewpoint. Stephen Kijak's acclaimed 2006 Scott documentary, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, has no soundtrack per se, the producers opting for what amounts to a tribute album instead, twelve artists mostly tackling material from Walker's first four solo albums (unsurprisingly), plus two recent tracks and one late-period Walker Brothers. As with most non-prog tribute collections, I haven't heard most of the originals, but the bulk of the contributors here treat the material (overly-?) reverently, highlights including Damon & Naomi's The World's Strongest Man (Scott 4), Saint Etienne's breathy Manhattan (Tilt) and Dot Allison's Montague Terrace (In Blue) (Scott), but, in truth, every version here is, at least, intriguing, which is more than you can usually say for tributes.
Saint Etienne use uncredited Mellotron string samples on Manhattan, while Bee & Flower's Jonathan Heine's credit on The Bridge (Scott 2) turns out, unsurprisingly, to be some form of sampled, er, something. Brass? Strings? Both? Quite certainly not a Mellotron, anyway. I'm not sure how many non-Scott fans will be interested in this release, but the more obsessive (er, most of them?) probably need to hear it.
This is a rather splendid two-disc set, covering Jellyfish's entire, two-album career, in sequence, serving to remind us what a fabulous (and ahead of their time) band they really were. And yes, Joining A Fan Club is still their best song. Any standout performances? Not as such - in fact, the bulk of the set could easily actually be by Jellyfish - but I can't imagine fans being disappointed. Daniel Lee supposedly plays Mellotron on Diel's take on Runnin' For Our Lives, but... no. Mind, you, excellent though this is, you're still better off buying the band's two original albums.
2008's Shockadelica: 50th Anniversary Tribute to the Artist Known as Prince is, er, shockingly, a five-disc set of Norwegian artists covering Prince, would'ja believe; by all accounts the purple one was less than amused, which is a) amusing and b) par for the course, so I can't imagine anyone got too worried. To be honest, given that I know where the 'Mellotron's used, I simply cannot be arsed to trawl through all five discs, so you'll get a review of disc 3 alone and you'll like it. So there. Well, although I've encountered a few of the artists spread across the set (Audrey Horne, Bellman, Anne Marie Almedal, The White Birch) and I've heard of a few more, most of them are new to me, while I suspect that, as on many tribute albums, a good few are one-off collaborations, usually operating under ridiculous monikers.
Anyway, Disc 3: Pop Life, Everybody Needs a Thrill, is, as expected, a mixed bag, Christopher Knutsen tackling I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man in overblown Phil Spector style, Matias Tellez' Do U Lie being a mid-'60s take on glam rock (!), Brødrene Lowenstierne takes a bizarre country/swing approach to Nothing Compares 2 U, while Joacim Lund's Sign 'O' The Times is possibly best described as spaghetti country'n'western. Sadly, however, far too many contributors play the songs pretty straight, in something approximating the purple midget's funk/soul crossover style. Presumably one of the aforementioned one-off collaborations, Dylan Mondegreen featuring The Aluminum Group (if you don't know what a mondegreen is, it's on Wikipedia), provides the entire set's only 'Mellotronic' contribution, Børge Sildnes playing vague samplotron flutes throughout. Like so many of this type of tribute set, I can't imagine at whom, precisely, this is aimed. Prince fans? Doubtful. Fans of the contributing artists? What, all of them? Given the expense of producing a set of this size, I really can't see how the record company can recoup their outlay, but there you go.
I'm slightly ashamed to say I've never become acquainted with the works of Tim Buckley, although I own his son's two 'must-have' albums. As a result, listening to the two-disc Sing a Song for You: Tribute to Tim Buckley can only be a second-hand experience, like seeing a film reflected in a distorting mirror. I also have no idea how any of the songs contained herein sounded originally, or how faithful these interpretations are (not to mention how faithful they should be). Most of the versions tend to be suffused with melancholy, as I imagine the originals to be, although Lilys' Strange Feelin' is the joker in the pack, tackled in an early psych style, bouncing along in a post-garage kind of way. Given the quality of both the material and the interpretations, I found this to be a very listenable collection, but then, without any real knowledge of Buckley's recordings, I can hardly become outraged at the possible liberties taken by the contributors. Mellotron's credited on two tracks, with background, most likely sampled strings from Alan Forrester on Mojave 3's take on Love From Room 109 At The Islander and something entirely inaudible on Neil Halstead's Phantasmagoria In Two from Halstead himself.
Sol Invictus? No more than a name to me, despite existing since the '80s and releasing fifteen or so studio albums. Led by Tony Wakeford, they broadly fall into the 'neofolk' movement, alongside Wakeford's old outfit Death in June and David Tibet/Current 93, taking in elements of dark folk (Comus are a touchstone), neoclassical and industrial musics. Unfortunately, the end result has an awful lot in common with, er, goth, which probably doesn't please its practitioners, who seem to be relatively bereft of anything resembling a sense of humour.
Having not actually heard anything by the band themselves, I'm left to judge their work via 2002's Sol Lucet Omnibus: A Tribute to Sol Invictus, a two-disc tribute set featuring, for once, not a single artist of whom I've heard, although I believe Tor Lundvall does a lot of artwork for the actual band. I get the feeling that most of the versions here are fairly 'straight' covers, giving us over two hours of doomy, pagan dronings, sampled orchestral accompaniment de rigeur. One disc of this stuff's OK, but the full monty's a bit much, frankly, so the star rating above should be taken more as an indicator of the quality of most of the contributions, rather than for the set's numbing overall effect. Worst track? Spiritual Front's croaking take on Minimal Baby. No contest.
It seems most unlikely that Oraison's Alek S actually had access to a real Mellotron for their recording, as the strings and choirs on Fields are low enough in the mix to evade accurate appraisal. So; if you love Sol Invictus, you stand a good chance of loving this. Conversely... Incidentally, the first 77 copies (why that figure? Does it have some significance?) came in a wooden slip-case with the band logo burnt into its surface. Very pagan, I'm sure. And I didn't mention Nazism once.
I have to be honest here and say, 'what exactly is the point of this kind of album?' 'Tribute' albums are always going to be a bit hit-and-miss, but can someone please tell me why a group of musicians would get together to record tracks from one's band's repertoire, then release the results? I've heard a couple of appalling Rush ones, not because of the material, but its treatment, although other efforts fare better. Stairway to Heaven: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin contains contributions from the likes of Sebastian Bach (Skid Row), Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society), Lita Ford, Foreigner's Lou Gramm, Def Leppard's Vivian Campbell and Slash (ex-Guns N'Roses, of course), but mostly ends up sounding like a half-arsed covers album which is, essentially, precisely what it is. Of course, the material's impeccable, but none of these versions even come close to matching the majesty of the originals (how could they?) and only Going To California strays from its original arrangement and then only slightly.
Richard Baker is credited with Mellotron, but the anaemic flutes on (of course) Stairway To Heaven itself barely sound like the real thing, which probably means they are [sigh]. Kashmir suffers even more, with truly horrible string and 'brass' sounds that highlight just how bad modern synths can sound if employed inappropriately. Overall, only the hardest of hardcore Zep fans really needs to bother with this and then probably only for completion's sake. Yeah, I've heard worse, but as soon as I hear Mr. 'Bach's voice, its utter pointlessness and futility come crashing down on me from a great height. Don't bother. Really.
Acid Jazz' Sugarlumps: A Psychedelic Selection of Groovy Movers & Sweet Freakbeat caused a minor stir upon its 2005 release, appearing to resurrect a cluster of extreme rarities, not least Grantchester Meadow's Candlelight, allegedly an unreleased 1971 single. Unsurprisingly, given its label, the album concentrates on the groovier, danicer end of the pre-psych/psych era, although a small problem confronts the dedicated student of the era: how many of these tracks were actually recorded in the late '60s? The answer seems to be: surprisingly few. One verifiable effort is Quiet Melon's Early Roller Engine 4444, apparently a drunken collaboration between various Artwoods, Small Faces and Rod Stewart, quite clearly one of the two featured vocalists, while Andy Ellison was a member of John's Children in the late '60s, not to mention Jet and The Radio Stars, although his contribution appears to be a new recording. Several of the artists (Soul Hooligan, Jarvis Humby, The Noel Gilpin Emporium) are definitely contemporary, as, I suspect, are the bulk of the remainder.
As for Grantchester Meadow, for the handful of you who haven't spotted the reference, it's the title of a solo Roger Waters track from the Floyd's Ummagumma (1969), that practically defines the term 'pastoral'. Anyway, if you'll allow me to quote from Acid Jazz' own description... "Found within a box within a box. Scrawled upon the label of a reel of EMI Tape. The Holy Grail for the Psych collector, Amber Limited ABR.004. Dripping with Mellotron and euphoric in its arrangement, this fantastically rare track has a musical folklore attached to it as rich as its fanfare chorus. Believed to be the work of a certain Pink faced musician, we are pleased to return this tune from the dark side." [Their italics]. To which I say: bullshit. OK, it's a joke and a good one at that, not to mention far from the first of its kind, its humour dependent on how much amusement you might gain from watching frantic collectors scrambling around trying to trace a copy of a non-existent single. Come to think of it... Anyone else conversant with the 'Hairy Door' story?
The album's one 'Mellotronic' contribution is on, surprise, surprise, Candlelight, a lovely, melodic flute part with background strings later in the track, although it's most likely samples. Played by whom? Who knows? Anyway, the 'single' has been deleted from this site forthwith, so don't bother joining the aforementioned frantic vinyl junkies, 'cos you won't find it. Overall, then, a decent enough compilation, although its lack of genuine period charm slightly diminishes its appeal, at least for this listener. Of course, should I ever discover the truth behind Grantchester Meadow, you'll read it here first.
Sweetheart 2005: Love Songs is a various artists collection of exactly what it says, sold exclusively through Starbucks and clearly aimed at their typical customer, i.e. young, middle class women. Its contents range from songs from pre-war musicals (Rufus Wainwright's My Funny Valentine, Tricky collaborator Martina Topley-Bird's original I Only Have Eyes For You) through to (relatively) modern classics (Calexico's take on Joy Division's iconic Love Will Tear Us Apart, Joseph Arthur's version of The Smiths' There Is A Light That Never Goes Out), to Dylan (Neko Case's Buckets Of Rain) and Cat Stevens (Gary Jules' How Can I Tell You. Whatever happened to Gary Jules, anyway? And who cares?). Better efforts include the aforementioned Love Will Tear Us Apart and Old 97's She's Got Everything, but the bulk of the album consists of exactly the kind of easy-listening schlock you'd expect.
Jim Waters (engineer at the studio) supposedly plays Mellotron on Love Will Tear Us Apart, but the occasional string notes that drift in and out of the mix really don't have that ring of authenticity to my ears, so, given that they've already got some sample 'previous', into samples it goes. If you spent any time in a Starbucks in the mid-2000s, you've probably heard most of this already and will know that it isn't worth the effort.
I don't know TF100's backstory, other than that it's Dutch label Tonefloat's (The Use of Ashes, various Steven Wilson-related projects) hundredth release, the title being its catalogue number. Although its seven tracks are credited to various combinations of Wilson, Theo Travis, Use of Ashes' Peter van Vliet and others, there's little discernable stylistic variation across the record, its default position being dark, yet major-key ambient, possibly at its best on Pale Ghostlike Friend, also the repository for Wilson's distant samplotron choir.
You've most likely never heard of Alain Bas(c)hung (1947-2009), but he's apparently regarded as second only to Serge Gainsbourg (who wrote for him) in the pantheon of French chanson artists, also known for his songwriting and acting. Given that he, along with every single other Frenchman of a similar disposition, was an epic smoker, I consider making it to sixty-one before lung cancer caught up with him was quite an achievement. Tels Alain Bashung is a tribute album, including contributions from a good half-dozen artists already on this site, not least Christophe (a friend/collaborator of Bashung's), Dionysos and Benjamin Biolay. Far better than you might expect, this is probably at its best on Keren Ann's sprightly take on Je Fume Pour Oublier Que Tu Bois (I Smoke to Forget You Drink. How French), Vanessa Paradis' Angora and Dionysos' 2043, but not one track here lets the side down. Mellotron? Serial sample-user Reyn Ouwehand's credited, but if he means the handful of string chords on Raphaël's closer L'Apiculteur, well...
A good various artists tribute album? Whatever next? Unlike many similar, many of the songs on This is the Town: A Tribute to Nilsson, Vol. 1 benefit from more modern arrangements, as Nilsson albums suffer (in my humble opinion, of course) from dated, pseudo-pre-rock'n'roll-compositions-trying-to-sound-like-'70s-singer-songwriter-records productions. As a result, his superb songwriting is here stripped of its soft rock trappings, allowing the genius to escape. Highlights? Low Cut Connie's Jump Into The Fire, Willy Mason's Think About Your Troubles, The Wiyos' Nobody Cares About The Railroads Anymore, Church of Betty's bizarre take on Without You (not, of course, actually by Harry) and Tracy Bonham's Everybody's Talkin', amongst other gems. Church of Betty's Chris Rael is credited with Mellotron, but the flutes lack that distinctive, well, Mellotronness.
Top 25 Heart Seekers: Praise Songs, Vol. 2 is, er, the second (and hopefully last?) volume in Maranatha's various artists series, a two-disc set featuring a pool of musicians who play on various tracks. Its contents seem to be sourced from traditional hymns, standards and original material, mostly played in that 'American roots' style that seems to fit Christian albums better than anything more contemporary, its most irritating feature being the reverence with which the various singers treat the somewhat anodyne material. I have to say, the title is somewhat contentious; what's with the armament-inspired 'Heart Seekers' bit, then? Sorry, I forgot: the American Christian right and guns go hand in hand, don't they?
The actual songs are pretty much what you'd expect: the usual lyrical guff spouted over sporadic not-too-offensive backing (bit of a bonus, that), better examples including the sparse Breathe, all female vocal and low organ notes, the reasonably rocking Forever, the Cars-esque I Will Not Forget You and Freedom's country hoedown, although I'm not sure what to think of the set's techno-lite effort, Your Name Is Holy. OK, I am. I have one major bone to pick with the lyricists, above and beyond my usual 'oh Christ (pun intended), it's an album full of God-botherers': Wonderful Cross. Yeah, right; I can imagine that's just what their mythical saviour (not to mention the untold thousands also executed in this particularly brutal fashion) thought as he (allegedly) dragged a massively heavy wooden construction through the streets before being, for fuck's sake, nailed to it, hauled into the air and left to die of clinical shock, blood loss and dehydration in the burning desert sun. Christianity is a sick, warped death cult. There, I've said it.
Rick Ochoa plays supposed Mellotron and Chamberlin throughout, with what sounds like Chamby cellos and strings on That's Why We Praise Him and Mellotron (?) strings on Surrender, Not My Will and The Trade, although his top use is the very upfront flutes that open Let My Words Be Few. However, I'm quite sure it's all sampled. Unless you're an outraged Christian who's found their way here by mistake, you're not going to like this any more than I did. Had it been half the length and stuck to the rootsier material, it might've been halfway listenable, but as it is, it quickly sinks into a slough of despond, as, indeed, did I.
2016's Transformers Roll Out is apparently an album of 'original tracks inspired by the franchise', so, ten songs about Transformers. Right. Unsurprisingly, it chiefly consists of stuff in an indie/metal vein (is this 'emo'? I'm seriously out of touch), all quite outstandingly dull. The nearest any of them gets to 'interesting' is Ours' Stronger, with its acoustic intro, but that's akin to clutching at straws, really. Jimmy Gnecco and April Bauer of Ours are credited with Mellotron, but the too-fast-for-veracity strings part on Stronger give the sample game away. Is anybody above the age of sixteen interested in Transformers, anyway? The first two films were terrible; time I'll never get back. The same goes for this album.
2005's Værsgo 2 is a tribute album to Danish artist Kim Larsen's iconic, much-loved 1973 release Værsgo, apparently a far cry from his main band Gasolin's work, being a light singer-songwriter effort. The Danish artist-only tribute album varies enormously in quality and style, as you might expect, veering between pop/rock (Warwick Avenue, Juncker, Hush), slightly 'alt.' (Ataf Khawaja, Ida Corr, Østkyst Hustlers) and even commercial hard rock (Johnny Deluxe). But is it any good? I found it all rather dull, but then, I'm not a fan of the original album (or have even heard it) or the Danish mainstream, so I was never going to, really. The album's only 'Mellotronic' contribution is from Tue West, who adds cellos and strings to his take on De Fjorten Astronauter, although I hear samples. I can't honestly recommend this to any but mainstream-loving Danes, frankly; I mean, a Danish tribute album and they didn't even ask Tim Christensen? You wot?
Working Class Hero: A Tribute to John Lennon contains exactly what it says on the box: reinterpretations of some of John's solo oeuvre, by a bunch of mid-'90s 'names', some of whom still mean something, some of whom don't. Of course, how much one likes a tribute album, more often than not, depends on how much one likes the original artist. In this case, I sit fairly firmly in the 'solo stuff's not that great, frankly' camp, although this album has introduced me to a handful of impressive tracks, not least Steel And Glass, (although I've actually heard it before, as it's on one of his Mellotron albums, Walls & Bridges).
Of the fifteen tracks here, the otherwise fairly awful Candlebox's Steel And Glass, pick-up band The Magnificent Bastards (with Scott Weiland on vocals) tackling the anti-Paul diatribe How Do You Sleep? and Cheap Trick's incendiary Cold Turkey are about the best. The remainder are largely a collection of also-ran versions of songs, notably Blues Traveler's Imagine, which manages to get some of the chords wrong (twats). Despite being loved by millions, (heresy alert! Heresy alert!) the bulk of these songs just don't sound that great with the benefit of hindsight. I know it's not just me, but why did none of The Beatles do anything half as good on their own? I seem to recall a phrase about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, or somesuch... Essentially, the versions that treat the source material with the least reverence tend to be the best and vice versa. One supposed Mellotron track, with Matt Serletic from Collective Soul playing pretty full-on strings on Jealous Guy, although I hear early samples.