Ak-Ale

 

Marc Hollander & Aksak Maboul (Belgium): Onze Danses Pour Combattre La Migraine (Kamikaze KAM 1, 1977)
Jazz/Folk/Pop/Progressive/Avant-Garde
Catherine Jauniaux (occasional vocals), Juliette (occasional vocals), Lucy Grauman (occasional vocals), Ilona Châle (occasional vocals)
In some passages, this odd little album steps forward from Hollander’s former band Cos; in others, its hypnotic electronic sound presages Stereolab. Most of it is instrumental and much of it is made up of short vignettes blending influences from jazz, folk, classical and gypsy music in increasingly unpredictable combinations. Its fragmentary nature means it could strike some listeners as insubstantial and the lack of rock elements – much of it is Hollander solo and overdubbed – could also limit its audience, but there’s plenty of fascinating music here. GRADE: B–.
Aqsak Maboul (Belgium): Un Peu De L’Âme Des Bandits (Atem/Crammed Discs 002, 1980)
Jazz/Rock/Progressive/Avant-Garde
Catherine Jauniaux (occasional vocals)
The second Aqsak Maboul album (under a slightly different name) is much more of a band effort and takes the group’s sound closer to outfits like Henry Cow or Univers Zéro. Less playful and eclectic than their first, it’s considerably more dynamic and powerful, especially on the remarkable side-long suite ‘Cinema’ on which they truly rival the Cow at their finest. GRADE: B.
Véronique Vincent & Aksak Maboul With The Honeymoon Killers (Belgium): Ex-Futur Album (Crammed Discs CRAM 014, CD, 2014, recorded 1981-1983)
Pop
Véronique Vincent (lead vocals)
And now for something completely different, as the Monty Python crew said. Well, perhaps not completely different, as this builds on the electro-pop tracks from Onze Danses…, demonstrating a clear influence from Vidéo-Aventures and in turn sounding like Stereolab a decade earlier. But it’s certainly a shock after Un Peu De L’Âme…, which is perhaps it was unreleased for more than 30 years. GRADE: C+.
Véronique Vincent & Aksak Maboul With The Honeymoon Killers (Belgium): 16 Visions Of Ex-Futur (Crammed Discs cram 271, CD, with gatefold minisleve, 2016)
Pop
Véronique Vincent, Laetitia Sadier, Lena Willikens, Bérangère Maximin
Albums like this – where a variety of performers cover, reinterpret and/or remix songs from a particular LP – are usually reserved for landmark works. As my C+ grade made obvious, I do not consider Ex-Futur to be a landmark work. The good news is that this is slightly better than the original LP, though that may be bad news for Aksak Maboul, since I’m saying that other people do Ex-Futur better than they did it themselves. In fairness to them, one of the two tracks by the actual band – the 10-minute ‘Le Troisième Personnage/Paysage Vole’ – is the best thing on the disc, with a progressive edge missing elsewhere. But no matter how fair I attempt to be, this still isn’t a landmark anything. GRADE: C+.
Aksak Maboul (Belgium): Figures (Crammed Discs CRAM 300, double CD, 2020)
Pop/Avant-Garde
Véronique Vincent (principal vocals)
Aksak Maboul’s first album of new recordings since the eighties is more experimental than Ex-Futur, restating their RIO credentials via a few short and whimsical instrumentals. However, this is still very song-based and pop-oriented, so it never threatens to rival Onze Danses… let alone Un Peu De L’Âme…. GRADE: C+.

Akiko’s Cosmic Space (Japan): Julahsica To This Wonderful Day (Muséa Parallèle MP-3308, CD, France, 2015)
Progressive/Psychedelic
Akiko Takahashi (principal vocals, keyboards, drums, percussion)
This new project by the former Ars Nova drummer is quite different from her former band: whilst there are a few moments of neoclassical keyboard rock, these are interspersed among passages of straighter psychedelic rock. With lyrics in a fictitious language, the whole thing has a satirical and light-hearted feel, resulting in an album that’s inconsistent and rather insubstantial but mostly good fun. GRADE: C+.
See also Ars Nova, Marble Sheep & The Run Down Sun’s Children, Sasori & Danball Bat

Akin (France): The Way Things End (No label, CD, with digipak, 2011)
Rock/Progressive/Metal
Adeline Gurtner (principal vocals)
A fine album betwixt metal, prog and mainstream rock, this features powerful guitar-dominated arrangements and intelligent use of a string quartet on many tracks. Having said that, more extended instrumental breaks and greater complexity would have taken this to a different level again. GRADE: C+.

Akphaezya (France): Anthology II: Links From The Dead Trinity (Ascendance ASC23007, CD, UK, 2008)
Metal/Progressive/Avant-Garde
Nehl Aëlin (lead vocals, keyboards)
At various times resembling Diablo Swing Orchestra, Rolo Tomassi, Stolen Babies or Unexpect, this is an interesting avant-garde metal work. Whilst not the very best example of its genre, it’s a diverse and highly creative record incorporating elements of jazz, Indian music and more, and constantly surprises with its shifts of mood and musical direction. GRADE: B–.
See also Nehl Aëlin

Al Et Al (UK): Strange Affair (Arny’s Shack AS 047, 1983?)
Folk/Rock
Rosie Hamilton (joint lead vocals)
This interesting folk-rock concept album traces an adolescent’s early experiences of love, and has sold for several hundred pounds. Musically it has a rather introspective, mournful feel and a mainly acoustic full band sound, though there are a few jollier uptempo cuts that don’t work so well (including renditions of ‘The Grand Old Duke Of York’ that end each side). The striking multicoloured sleeve is among the most beautiful to emerge from the British private pressing sphere. GRADE: C+.

Alabama State Troopers (USA): Road Show (Elektra EKS 75022, double, 1972)
Blues/Rock
Jeannie Green (joint lead vocals, piano), Brenda Patterson (occasional vocals)
Alabama State Troopers was nominally a trio of Fuzzy Lewis, Don Nix and Jeannie Green – respectively a legendary pre-war bluesman, a prolific soul/blues songwriter, arranger and producer, and an obscure folk singer who issued one album I’ve never encountered. Inevitably, they’re not a band per se, and mostly perform separately on this double album, which chronicles two gigs. Lewis’s material is played solo and is in a country blues vein, whilst Nix and Green’s material is much heavier, mostly with electric band backing and blues/rock and gospel influences. A few of the backing vocalists get to perform lead, including Brenda Patterson, who issued a few LPs of her own. Altogether, this is a good example of its style, and the concerts must have been great fun to attend. GRADE: C+.
See also Coon Elder Band Featuring Brenda Patterson, Brenda Patterson

Alas (USA/Austria): Absolute Purity (Hammerheart HHR069, CD, with poster and box, USA, 2001)
Metal
Martina Hornbacher (lead vocals)
With its combination of manic heavy rock riffing and (often mismatched) floating female vocals, this often reminds me of the late and unloved Leger De Main. Alas are much heavier than Leger De Main, however, and for the most part much better, though there are exceptions – the tempo changes on the chorus of ‘The Enchanted’ can only be described as a bloody mess and made me want to turn off the album then and there. Whilst this is an interesting and quite distinctive LP, it’s also a bit samey and relentless, and the relaxed instrumental that closes proceedings lightens the mood considerably. GRADE: C+.
See also Dreams Of Sanity, Korova, Therion, Underhill

Nairui Alaverdyan (Armenia): Poet (Melodiya C30-12597, USSR, 1979)
World Music
I had expected this to have rock or pop elements of some kind, but it’s resolutely traditional world music, with Alaverdyan’s pure soprano vocals placing it somewhere between folk and classical. In terms of style, it bears a strong resemblance to similar albums from Turkey, Greece or Egypt. GRADE: C.

Albany Folk (UK): 26 In Harmony (Warren WAR LP 191, 1969)
Folk
Susan Styles (joint lead vocals, guitar), Deborah Wood (joint lead vocals, guitar), Barbara Attwood (joint lead vocals, guitar), Susan Carter (joint lead vocals), Susan Donaldson (joint lead vocals), Janet Dust (joint lead vocals), Linda Guy (joint lead vocals), Susan Hockley (joint lead vocals), Sally Humphries (joint lead vocals), Elaine Jordan (joint lead vocals), Rosalyn Killingback (joint lead vocals), Valerie Leeke (joint lead vocals), Shirley Moore (joint lead vocals), Sandra Novels (joint lead vocals), Julie Peck (joint lead vocals), Christine Postles (joint lead vocals), Linda Rota (joint lead vocals), Barbara Spurgeon (joint lead vocals), Gillian Theobald (joint lead vocals), Susan Webber (joint lead vocals), Jayne Williamson (joint lead vocals), Mrs AS Barnes (joint lead vocals)
With its hand-assembled sleeve (complete with paste-on rear and band members’ names handwritten on the front) and undersized labels, this is among the most homemade of private pressings. Musically, however, it’s a rather average school project album, partly because the kids are fairly young and partly because they use massed vocals on most of the songs. The handful of solo performances are somewhat superior, and it’s a pity they didn’t choose to go down this avenue more of the time. GRADE: C.
Albany Folk (UK): In Concert (Warren WAR LP 227, 1971)
Folk
Barbara Spurgeon (joint lead vocals, guitar), Jackie Whittaker (joint lead vocals, guitar), Susan Carter (joint lead vocals), Cherie Ballard (joint lead vocals), Beverley Bridgeman (joint lead vocals), Susan Booker (joint lead vocals), Carol Clark (joint lead vocals), Janet Clarke (joint lead vocals), Denise Clewer (joint lead vocals), Valerie Cordell (joint lead vocals), Marion Drakes (joint lead vocals), Kim England (joint lead vocals), Wendy Gyoury (joint lead vocals), Lesley Kill (joint lead vocals), Julie Langley (joint lead vocals), Angela Matthews (joint lead vocals), Teresa Matthews (joint lead vocals), Deborah Somers (joint lead vocals), Lorraine Rooskey (joint lead vocals), Linda Starkes (joint lead vocals), Michelle Shead (joint lead vocals), Elizabeth Street (joint lead vocals), Elaine Stubbs (joint lead vocals), Paula Swain (joint lead vocals), Susan Walls (joint lead vocals), Christine Postles (joint lead vocals), Gillian Theobald (joint lead vocals), Barbara Attwood (joint lead vocals), Julie Peck (joint lead vocals)
Like their first, this is lovely when using solo vocals but sometimes borderline excruciating when the kids are singing together. The crackly, slightly distorted mono recording isn’t a bonus, sometimes making it sound as though the children are singing at the far end of a tunnel. GRADE: D+.
Albany Senior Folk Group (UK): The Original Albany Folk (Warren WAR LP 342, 1974?)
Folk
Barbara Attwood, Julie Carey, Susan Carter, Janet Dust, Cheryl Dye, Denis Hammonds, Sally Humphries, Wendy Holman, Margaret Lane, Helmoard Parkinson, Julie Peck, Christine Postles, Gillian Theobald, Vivian Taylor, Heather Thomas, Lynn Warman
This is the Albany Folk album that sells for big money, though it’s much less rare than their first two; perhaps it’s the eerie, gothic paste-on front cover that does it. Slightly better recorded and performed than their second, this is still basically a bunch of young children singing familiar songs to acoustic guitar backing rather than a Reality From Dream-style masterpiece. GRADE: C.

Albergo Intergalattico Spaziale (Italy): Albergo Intergalattico Spaziale (No label LDM 001, with inner and poster, 1978)
Progressive/Avant-Garde
Terra di Benedetto (lead vocals)
Using vocals and keyboards only, this interesting album offers some minimalist experimental meditations on the subject of nuclear power. Individually the tracks are impressive, especially the eerie opener ‘Live Pistoia’ (in the realms of Jacula or Celestial Ocean-era Brainticket) and ‘Variazoni Su “Angeli Di Solitudine”’ (an avant-garde vocal improvisation recalling Opus Avantra) but the LP as a whole is rather disjointed, making one wish they had crafted a continuous, flowing suite. GRADE: C+.

Albergo Intergalattico Spaziale (Italy): Angeli In Solitudine – Provini Inediti 1974-1996 (Giallo MMM115, CD, with digipak, 2009, recorded 1974-1996)
Singer/Songwriter/Progressive/Avant-Garde
Terra di Benedetto
Bizarrely, this tapestry of unreleased material – some recorded as late as 1996, with a drum machine – sounds more cohesive than their album proper. Whilst it’s all very weird and minimalist, it emphasises the duo’s roots in singer/songwriter music, with few rock edges. At times hinting towards their countrymen Jacula and Opus Avantra, it’s an intriguing and unusual set. GRADE: C+.

Albergo Intergalattico Spaziale (Italy): Cammino Sotto Il Mare – Idee Per Canzoni (Giallo MMM117, CD, with digipak, 2011, recorded 1978-2009)
Singer/Songwriter/Progressive/Avant-Garde
Terra di Benedetto (principal vocals, keyboards)
As the subtitle suggests, this is even more fragmentary than its predecessor. It’s also the best thing they ever did: an impressive tapestry of material blending chansons with pure avant-gardism, with backing mainly from piano and electronics. Anyone enjoying similar Italian adventurers will find plenty to admire here. GRADE: B–.
See also Telaio Magnetico

Albion (Poland): Survival Games (Art-Rock 0001, cassette, 1994)
Progressive
Ania Batko (principal vocals)
Heavily influenced by Marillion, this is pleasant, mellow neoprogressive with some nice melodies; on the downside, it’s pretty unambitious stuff and I’m not keen on the Tracy Hitchings-like singing. The cassette was reissued on CD the following year (Mellow MMP 276, Italy) although the band apparently regarded this version as little more than a bootleg. GRADE: C.
Albion (Poland): Albion (Sick SKCD 7030, CD, 1995)
Progressive
Ania Batko (principal vocals)
More than half the band’s second album consists of re-recordings of songs from their first, this time round with slightly improved sound quality and more assured performances. The new numbers are something of a step forward too, being more ambitious and progressive than the discarded material they replace, resulting in a solid and enjoyable album with a gentle, folk-tinged sound. Both discs were repackaged in 2006 as the double CD Remake, with five bonus tracks; ironically, this was misnamed as none of the previously released material had been re-recorded or remixed. GRADE: C+.
Albion (Poland): Wabiac Cienie (Lynx Music LM 015 CD, CD, 2005)
Progressive
Katarzyna Sobkowicz-Malec (lead vocals, guitar)
Returning after a ten-year absence with a new singer, Albion offered an album of heavier symphonic rock, with some strong guitar work and hints of Carol Of Harvest and Renaissance. Whilst not the world’s most original LP, this is extremely well put together and in parts mildly experimental, making it a very welcome return. GRADE: C+.
Albion (Poland): Broken Hopes (Lynx Music LM 025 CD, CD, 2007)
Progressive
Katarzyna Sobkowicz-Malec (principal vocals, guitar)
This is more far-reaching than its predecessor, taking in influences from everything from electronica to progressive metal. The end result is probably their most interesting and creative LP, but Wabiac Cienie remains their most consistent and listenable. GRADE: C+.
Albion (Poland): The Indefinite State Of Matter (Lynx Music LM 72 CD, CD, 2012)
Progressive
Katarzyna Sobkowicz-Malec (lead vocals)
More ambitious than any of their previous releases, this is presented as a continuous suite of music, with two ten-minute instrumentals bookending four symphonic ballads. That said, there is little complexity and far less variety than on Broken Hopes, with the emphasis on relaxed textures and gentle melodies. The instrumentals are decidedly better than the songs, with some lovely Mellotron lines, but this is an enjoyable record throughout. GRADE: C+.

Albion (Poland): You’ll Be Mine (Lynx Music LM145CD, CD, 2018)
Progressive
Ania Batko (lead vocals)
I thought Polish neoproggers Albion had gone the way of the dodo, but they’re back after a six-year absence, with original singer Ania Batko back on board after a couple of decades’ absence. However, they haven’t really changed much as a band: this is good modern prog – nothing spectacular, but accomplished, varied and always enjoyable, from folky to borderline metal passages, with lots of nice Dave Gilmour-esque guitar along the way. GRADE: C+.

See also Hipgnosis

Albion Country Band (UK): Battle Of The Field (Island HELP 25, 1976, recorded 1973)
Folk/Rock
Sue Harris (joint lead vocals, dulcimer, oboe)
Recorded in 1973 but inexplicably unreleased for three years, this excellent album builds on the template established by Ashley Hutchings’s Morris On project, but adds complex multi-layered vocals, stronger rock elements and a notable progressive edge in parts. The result is a muscular, accomplished electric folk LP with a superb line-up of musicians, including Martin Carthy, Sue Harris, John Kirkpatrick, Simon Nicol and Roger Swallow. GRADE: B–.
Albion Dance Band (UK): The Prospect Before Us (Harvest SHSP 4059, 1977)
Folk/Rock
Shirley Collins (joint lead vocals)
A logical follow-up to both Battle Of The Field and Son Of Morris On, this again focuses on electrified versions of morris tunes. With a few more delicate moments and some excellent vocals from Shirley Collins and John Tams, it’s a solid album, but the band would really show its mettle with the stunning follow-up Rise Up Like The Sun (recorded following Collins’s departure). GRADE: C+.
Keith Dewhurst & The Albion Band (UK): Lark Rise To Candleford (Charisma CDS 4020, 1980)
Folk/Rock
Valerie Whittington (joint lead vocals), Shirley Collins (occasional vocals)
Mixing music, dialogue and narration, this is an audio setting of the stage adaptation of Flora Thompson’s book. It’s excellent rustic folk/rock in the Albions’ usual style, with Shirley Collins singing (and, unusually, composing) the heavy, psychedelic ‘Witch Elder’, whilst Valerie Whittington contributes spoken vocals here and there. GRADE: C+.
Albion Band (UK): Light Shining (Albino ALB 001, with insert, 1983)
Folk/Rock
Cathy Lesurf (principal vocals)
The high-tech cover suggests that the Albion Band have gone techno-pop, but thankfully that’s not the case, although this is at the rockier end of their repertoire, with all-original material. The compositions are solid enough, but Cathy Lesurf’s voice fails to suit some of the songs (the difference when she beautifully sings her own ‘The Green Mist’ is striking) and the production is thin and unflattering. However, despite the terrible lapse in taste that is the ‘London Dance-Song Medley’, there is some very decent music on offer. GRADE: C.
Albion Band (UK): Under The Rose (Spindrift SPIN 110, 1984)
Folk/Rock
Cathy Lesurf (lead vocals)
A far superior album, this features more sensitive material that ideally suits Lesurf’s fragile voice; and since she gets to do all the singing, there are no Dick van Dyke Cockneyisms on offer. In short, this is a lovely, wistful LP whose only shortcoming is a slight lack of variety. GRADE: C+.
Albion Band (UK): A Christmas Present From The Albion Band (Fun FUN003, 1985)
Folk/Rock
Cathy Lesurf (joint lead vocals)
Christmas albums by folk bands tend to be better than those by their rock counterparts, and this pleasant set is no exception. Mixing varied songs, instrumentals and spoken word numbers (exceptionally well done, but my tolerance for this sort of thing is fairly short), this is an accomplished but also quite uneven piece of work. GRADE: C+.
Albion Band (UK): Stella Maris (Making Waves SPIN CD 130, CD, 1987)
Folk/Rock/Progressive
Cathy Lesurf (principal vocals)
The thin, weedy production does the band no favours, but this is one of their best – powerful, melodic folk/rock with lots of fresh ideas and an inventive closing suite ‘The Task’. Only the slightly cloying power ballad ‘’Til The Time We Meet Again’ fails to work for me. GRADE: B–.
Albion Band With Chris Baines (UK): The Wild Side Of Town (Celtic Music CMCD 042, CD, 1987)
Folk/Rock
Cathy Lesurf (principal vocals, percussion)
Issued to accompany the BBC wildlife series of the same name, this is unsurprisingly a concept album about nature and environmentalism. With Cathy Lesurf taking the dominant composer’s role, it’s a very varied set, from an eerie acapella piece to gentle acoustic folk, lively electric folk/rock and nostalgic whimsy. Not everything works brilliantly, but this is mostly a very good album that confirms Lesurf to be a talented songwriter as well as an excellent singer. GRADE: B–.
Albion Dance Band (UK): I Got New Shoes (Making Waves SPIN CD 132, CD, 1988)
Folk/Rock
Polly Bolton (joint lead vocals)
This varied set peaks on three excellent instrumentals (‘The Three-Toed Tumbler’, ‘The Gloucestershire Almain’ and the even better ‘The Leaving Of Wessex’). Elsewhere, Dando Shaft’s Polly Bolton joins the band on three cuts, which are lifted by her strong lead vocals.

GRADE: C+.
Albion Band (UK): Songs From The Shows (Albino ALB003, cassette, 1990, recorded 1977-1989)
Folk/Rock
Cathy Lesurf (joint lead vocals, bodhrán), June Tabor (occasional vocals)
This collection of performances from various theatrical shows, TV broadcasts and films is mildly interesting, but only contains two really essential songs (Cathy Lesurf’s ‘Lamb Of God’ and Phil Beer’s ‘Dominion Of The Sword’). It is, however, interesting to hear ‘Poor Old Horse’ sung by June Tabor rather than John Tams. GRADE: C+.
Albion Band (UK): Songs From The Shows 2 (Albino ALB005, cassette, 1991, recorded 1977-1989)
Folk/Rock
Cathy Lesurf (joint lead vocals), June Tabor (occasional vocals)
Surprisingly, the second and final volume is far better than its predecessor, containing some stunning music. The eerie, intense ‘Burning The Clavie’ from the Rise Up Like The Sun line-up is a definite highlight, as are stunning versions of ‘Bells Of Paradise’ and ‘Snow Falls’ fronted by Cathy Lesurf, but even the brief, whimsical instrumentals throw light onto an oft-neglected side of the band’s repertoire.

GRADE: B–.
Albion Band (UK): The Unreleased Radio Tapes (Albino ALB008, cassette, 1992)
Folk/Rock
Julie Matthews (joint lead vocals, guitar, keyboards)
As the title suggests, this obscure cassette compiled recordings from a short-lived transitional line-up featuring singer/songwriter Julie Matthews. The album was reissued with five bonus tracks (by a slightly different 1992 line-up without a drummer) as the CD Captured in 1994; that disc’s sleevenotes comment that ‘the first of the two line-ups featured here was generally considered to be one of the very best of many Albion outfits stretching back over twenty or so years’. Personally, I’d disagree: this is the side of the Albion Band I like least, offering a lively, tuneful blend of singer/songwriter, folk, country and rock ’n’ roll influences, sometimes recalling the less successful songs from the first couple of Richard & Linda Thompson albums. That said, the acoustic bonus tracks from 1992 are excellent, and the original cassette is solid and very listenable throughout. GRADE: C+.
Albion Band (UK): Acousticity (HTD CD 13, CD, 1993)
Folk/Singer/Songwriter
Chris While (principal vocals, guitar)
The Albion Band’s first all-acoustic album is a lovely affair, with Chris While providing both some beautiful singing and some excellent material. The propulsive ‘Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump’ is the best thing on here, whilst the instrumentals are rarely as good as the songs. Lovely as this is, a few moments of rock energy would have lifted it enormously, and it becomes a little one-dimensional by the end.

GRADE: C+.
Albion Band (UK): Albion Heart (HTD CD 30, CD, 1995)
Folk/Singer/Songwriter
Chris While (joint lead vocals, guitar), Julie Matthews (joint lead vocals, guitar, keyboards)
With Julie Matthews rejoining, this is another charming acoustic album. In particular, the bluesy ‘Gypsy’ is stunning, whilst ‘Close Your Eyes’ is hauntingly beautiful and ‘Long, Long Road’ is atmospherically winsome. Nothing else is as good, but this is an accomplished record throughout. GRADE: C+.
Albion Band (UK): Demi Paradise (HTD CD 54, 1996)
Folk/Singer/Songwriter
Chris While (joint lead vocals, guitar, percussion), Julie Matthews (joint lead vocals, guitar, keyboards)
Whilst the overall standard is perhaps slightly higher than on Albion Heart, really outstanding songs are conspicuous by their absence. Their forlorn interpretation of ‘Young Man Cut Down In His Prime’ is probably the best thing on offer, but nothing really sticks in the mind.

GRADE: C+.
Albion Band (UK): Happy Accident (HTD HTDCD82, CD, 1998)
Folk/Rock
Gillie Nicholls (joint lead vocals), Kellie While (joint lead vocals)
Returning to an all-male line-up (bolstered by two guest female singers, including Chris While’s daughter Kellie) and an electric folk/rock sound, the Albion Band turn in their best album since the nineties. The opening ‘Wings’ strongly recalls Richard Thompson, whilst ‘Hearts Of Coal’ is very much in the vein of the Home Service (hardly surprisingly, since it was written by John Tams). Elsewhere, there’s the delicate, classical-tinged ‘Death Is Just A Dream’ and a couple of excellent instrumentals recalling Peter Knight’s work with Steeleye Span. GRADE: C+.
Albion Band (UK): Before Us Stands Yesterday (HTD HTDCD 90, CD, 1999)
Folk/Rock/Singer/Songwriter
Gillie Nicholls (joint lead vocals, guitar)
Whilst retaining a dedicated drummer and some electric guitar leads, this marks a move back towards a more acoustic, singer/songwriter-oriented style. Pleasant as it is, it’s not as good as its predecessor, and nor does it come close to equalling the finest moments of Acousticity or Albion Heart. GRADE: C+.
Albion Band (UK): Christmas Album (HTD HTDCD105, CD, 1999)
Folk/Rock
Kellie While (joint lead vocals, guitar)
Their second Christmas album is vastly better than its predecessor from 14 years earlier, although with 18 cuts it’s a long and unfocused LP. The spoken-word tracks are mercifully brief, whilst the jaunty ‘Dad, Is There Really A Santa Claus?’ and ‘Scrooge Blues’ are pretty awful but thankfully uncharacteristic. For the most part, this is absolutely exquisite folk/rock with a haunting and wistful atmosphere and well-judged use of rock instrumentation – easily among their best. GRADE: B–.
Albion Band (UK): Road Movies (Topic TSCD523, CD, 2001)
Folk/Rock
Kellie While (joint lead vocals, guitar)
I loathe the jaunty, humorous ‘Cookery Is The New Rock ’N’ Roll’, but otherwise this is a fine folk/rock album with consistently strong compositions that intelligently and subtly weave in traditional and classical influences. The mournful ‘When My Son Is Grown’, eerily sung by Kellie While to baroque violin backing, is especially good, but there’s only one really weak song here. GRADE: B–.
Albion Band (UK): An Evening With… (Talking Elephant TECD041, CD, 2002)
Folk/Rock
Kellie While (joint lead vocals, guitar, drums)
The album is subtitled ‘Dangerously Live And Seriously Rockin’’, but of course the Albion Band aren’t either. Pete Zorn’s saxophone proves an unwelcome addition, lending a rather lugubrious edge to much of the material, but this is a solid enough live set, peaking on the excellent ‘Wings’ from Road Movies. GRADE: C+.
Albion Christmas Band (UK): An Albion Christmas (Talking Elephant TECD060, CD, 2003)
Folk
Kellie While (joint lead vocals, guitar, keyboards, percussion)
Issued under yet another variant name, the Albions’ third instalment of Christmas songs marks their return to an acoustic format for the first time since Demi Paradise. Whilst not quite as good as their last couple of studio sets, this is a fine album, lifted high by Kellie While’s gorgeous vocals and peaking on the stunning ‘Snow Falls’ and ‘Rejoice And Be Merry’. GRADE: C+.
Albion Christmas Band (UK): Winter Songs (Talking Elephant TECD103, with digipak, 2006)
Folk
Kellie While (joint lead vocals, guitar, keyboards)
Another year (another three, in fact), another Christmas album. Like its predecessor, this is pleasant enough stuff, once again peaking on Kellie While’s numbers. GRADE: C+.
Albion Christmas Band (UK): Snow On Snow (Talking Elephant TECD135, CD, with digipak, 2008)
Folk
Kellie While (joint lead vocals, guitar, shaker)
As the great philosopher Noddy Holder put it, ‘It’s Christma-a-a-a-a-s!’, which has to mean yet another festive set from the Albion Band. This one is largely business as usual, although ‘The Month Of January’ is utterly exquisite. GRADE: C+.
Albion Christmas Band (UK): A Sound In The Frosty Air (Rooksmere RRCD104, CD, with digipak, 2011)
Folk
Kellie While (joint lead vocals, guitar)
Surprisingly, the highlight this time around is a beautiful acoustic cover of Tears For Fears’ ‘Mad World’, superbly sung by Kellie While. Everything else is pleasant rather than exceptional, but this is another solid album. GRADE: C+.
Albion Band (UK): The Vice Of The People (Powered Flight Music POWFCD02, CD, with digipak, 2012)
Folk/Rock
Katriona Gilmore (joint lead vocals, mandolin, violin)
The first Albions album without Ashley Hutchings sees a radical change of direction, sounding more like a heavier Steeleye Span circa Please To See The King or Below The Salt than anything they had done previously. The opening double whammy of the acapella ‘Intro: A Quarter Hour Of Fame’ and a savage version of Richard Thompson’s ‘Roll Over Vaughan Williams’ is especially startling, not least for the male singer’s extremely unsettling voice (almost like a male Buffy Sainte Marie). Some of the numbers that follow are unremarkable jigs and reels, but most of the songs maintain a high level of intensity, with some very powerful lead guitar work. GRADE: B–.
Albion Band (UK): BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert (Windsong WINCD 041, 1993, recorded 1977 & 1982)
Folk/Rock
Cathy Lesurf (occasional vocals)
‘Gresford Disaster’ is as superb as ever, but there’s far too much morris-styled material here. Worse, drummer John Maxwell gets to do his cockney vocal turn on the excruciating ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’ and the ever-repulsive ‘London Dance-Song Medley’. GRADE: C+.
Albion Dance Band (UK): Dancing Days Are Here Again (Talking Elephant TECD106, double CD, 2007, recorded 1976 & 1983)
Folk/Rock
Shirley Collins (joint lead vocals)
The first half of this retrospective 2CD set is a live performance from 1976, featuring much of the material that would later appear on The Prospect Before Us (by which time they had temporarily become the ‘Albion Dance Band’). Like the studio album, it’s good electric folk stuff with a strong morris influence. The second half of the collection is 1983 studio recordings by an all-male, all-instrumental line-up.

GRADE: C+.
Albion Band (UK): The BBC Sessions (Strange Fruit SFRSCD 050, CD, 1998, recorded 1973-1978)
Folk/Rock
Shirley Collins (occasional vocals), Sue Harris (oboe)
A very worthwhile compilation, this gathers together four radio sessions of four songs apiece: the Albion Country Band from 1973 (with Sue Harris), the Albion Dance Band from 1976 (with Shirley Collins) and the Albion Band from 1977 and 1978 (with all-male line-ups). All four line-ups deliver fine performances, probably peaking on the excellent ‘Poor Old Horse’. The disc was reissued, with a few track substitutions, as the misleadingly titled Vintage II – On The Road 1972-1980 (Talking Elephant TECD167, CD, 2010); whilst less comprehensive and authentic, this adds some superb live cuts and is probably a B. GRADE: B–.
Albion Band (UK): Live At The Cambridge Folk Festival (Strange Fruit CAFECD 002, CD, 1998, recorded 1977 & 1987)
Folk/Rock
Cathy Lesurf (joint lead vocals)
This interesting archive release features two live performances: one from 1977 by the all-male line-up that would cut the stellar Rise Up Like The Sun and one from ten years later fronted by Cathy Lesurf. The seventies set mostly reflects the style of the preceding The Prospect Before Us but climaxes with a run-through of the magnificent ‘Gresford Disaster’ that would later close Rise Up…, whilst the even better eighties show features some superbly chosen material. GRADE: B–.
Albion Band (UK): Acousticity – On Tour (Talking Elephant TECD061, 2004, recorded 1993-94)
Folk
Chris While (joint lead vocals, guitar)
Surprisingly, this retrospective release of live performances by the Acousticity line-up includes virtually nothing from the album itself. Nonetheless it is a fine set in its own right, and despite the sleevenotes’ disclaimer regarding the sound quality, very well recorded too. GRADE: C+.
Albion Band (UK): Albion Heart On Tour (Talking Elephant TECD069, CD, 2004, recorded 1995)
Folk
Chris While (joint lead vocals, guitar), Julie Matthews (joint lead vocals, guitar, keyboards)
I like this a shade less than its Acousticity counterpart, but there’s not much in it. Highpoints include the lovely ‘Sister Moon’ and the haunting ’Young Man Cut Down In His Prime’, as well as a genuinely touching and hilarious monologue from Julie Matthews. GRADE: C+.

See also Any Old Time String Band, Shirley Collins, Fiddler's Dram, Gwydion & Sheela-Na-Gig, Ashley Hutchings, Cathy Lesurf, Oyster Ceilidh Band, John Renbourn Group

Aleanna (UK): Aleanna (Inchecronin INC.7421, 1978)
Folk
Angela Carthy (principal vocals, guitar), Pauline Mahon (occasional vocals, violin, whistle), Mandy Murray (occasional vocals, concertina)

This is a lovely, delicate album of traditional Irish folk, with more than half the tracks being instrumentals. At its best, this rivals the Dutch band Opo in creating spellbinding atmospheres, with some very intricate playing; with more songs and fewer jigs and reels it would have been a classic. GRADE: C+.

Alembic Virtual (Italy): Müsikaall (Pick Up PKPROG 1901, CD, 1994)
Metal/Progressive
Ega (lead vocals, keyboards, effects)
The early-to-mid nineties produced some genuinely odd Italian bands, and Alembic Virtual are certainly pretty strange. Their basic style is riff-driven heavy rock with progressive twists, melodic vocals and lots of jazzy dissonance, with the music being simultaneously complex and somewhat amateurish. The end results are interesting and quite distinctive, but too disjointed and messy to be satisfying, with the album often sounding like a collection of demos rather than a finished product. GRADE: C.

Aleph (Australia): Surface Tension (Atlantic 600029, with booklet, 1977)
Progressive
Mary Jane Carpenter (keyboards, backing vocals), Mary Hansen (keyboards, backing vocals)
How you feel about Aleph’s sole album will largely hinge on whether you like Yes, since singer Joe Walmsley has clearly modelled his vocal style on Jon Anderson. Aside from the 15-minute ‘Mountaineer’ (by far the best thing here), the music has little of Yes’s ambition, however, sounding more like late seventies Genesis in symphonic ballad mould. Ultimately, it’s all pleasant enough, but they weren’t the most varied band, and I would definitely have preferred this with a different vocalist. As a footnote, the group had an unusual line-up, with drummer Ron Carpenter (who was briefly a member of AC/DC) writing everything, plus two female keyboardists; needless to say, Mary Hansen is not the same person as in Stereolab (she was also Australian, but was 11 when this album was made). GRADE: C+.

Alésia Cosmos (France): Exclusivo! (Planétarium PLAN 01, 1983)
Rock/Avant-Garde
Marie-Berthe Servier (joint lead vocals)
Unlike most RIO albums, this one is only occasionally jazzy. Instead, it mixes funky post-new wave rock with lots of electronics, including extensive use of tape effects, plus borrowed elements of everything from opera to world music. With faint echoes of everyone from L Voag to Look De Bouk and the Residents, the album constantly surprises with its relentless creativity, but at the same time it’s light on the killer tunes that would have made it an all-time classic. GRADE: B–.
Alésia Cosmos (France): Aéroproducts (Hat Hut ART 2021, double, with box sleeve and postcard, Switzerland, 1985)
Rock/Avant-Garde
Marie-Berthe Servier (joint lead vocals)
This three-sided album is in a similar style to its predecessor, and is once again very weird and playful. Identifying the better of their two releases is difficult, as both are interesting and radical records that pull in all kinds of directions. GRADE: B–.

Alethians & The Right Angle With David Pope (UK): One Way (Myrrh MST 6506, 1972)
Folk/Rock
Diane Timmins (joint lead vocals, tambourine)
Whilst the Alethians and the Right Angle With David Pope get a side apiece, Pope is a member of both bands so this isn’t truly a split album. The Alethians offer acoustic folk ranging from the reflective (not bad) to the uptempo (not good), whilst the Right Angle are more jazz-oriented and competent enough if far from interesting. GRADE: C.
Alethians (UK): RSVP (Myrrh MYR 6506, 1972)
Folk/Rock
Diane Timmins (joint lead vocals)
Like its predecessor, this has a bit too much jolly, bouncy stuff, but it’s pleasant enough, including decent versions of Parchment’s ‘Light Up The Fire’ and the ubiquitous ‘Streets Of London’. Unusually for the era, the album had a female producer, Bobbie Graham, who also played the drums and percussion. GRADE: C.

Alexandrins (Canada): Les Alexandrins (Capitol T 70.001, 1966)
Chanson
Lise Cousineau (joint lead vocals)
The scarce first album by the duo of Luc and Lise Cousineau is a rather odd mixture of troubadour folk, chanson and nightclub sounds. It’s actually quite a refreshing LP after some heavy psychedelic or progressive rock, but I could imagine many listeners hating it. Most will agree, however, that the textured grey-and-black front cover is worth framing. Unusually for an album in this style, all the songs are self-penned; according to the sleevenotes, Luc Cousineau was also writing an opera at the time. GRADE: C.
Alexandrins (Canada): Les Alexandrins Volume 2 (Capitol ST 70.017, 1967)
Pop/Chanson
Lise Cousineau (joint lead vocals)
Dropping virtually all the folk elements from the first album, this is lush, orchestrated jazzy pop that should appeal to anyone with a fondness for French chart music of the era. Whilst there are no psychedelic or hippie elements, it’s not a huge leap of the imagination to say that those liking sophisticated period albums such as Daughters Of Albion could enjoy this too. GRADE: C.

Alexandrins (Canada): Les Alexandrins (Capitol SN 70.021, 1969)
Pop
Lise Cousineau
This is a big step forward from their first two, toning down the chanson and MOR edges considerably. The orchestrations are rather more subtle too, creating a nice period pop LP with some winsome moments. GRADE: C+.
Alexandrins (Canada): Les Alexandrins… Et…/Les Alexandrins Dans Double Jeu (Polydor 542.502, 1969)
Pop/Rock/Psychedelic
Lise Cousineau (joint lead vocals)
The duo’s fourth album has two titles, one for each side, so it appears to be some kind of concept work. It’s completely different from their first three, being contemporary hippie pop’rock with no orchestration. In particular, the lengthy ‘Djakarta’ is superb, with plenty of organ and some trippy synthesizer effects. Whereas their other albums are relatively easy to find, this one is quite rare – as well as being their best by far. Following it, the duo continued recording under various permutations of their own names. GRADE: C+.

Luc & Lise (Les Alexandrins) (Canada): Luc Et Lise (Les Alexandrins) (Polydor 2424 002, 1971)
Folk/Rock
Lise Cousineau
The packaging makes this look like a budget compilation of sixties Alexandrins material, but in fact this is a new album marking the duo's transition to using their own names. It's another strong album, with sparing orchestrations and a contemporary hippie feel like its predecessor. GRADE: C+.

See also Luc & Lise Cousineau, Toubabou, Ville Emard Blues Band.

Alexl (Brazil): Triz (Rock Symphony RSLN 101, CD, 2004?)
Progressive
Vani Ribeiro (occasional vocals)
This is a highly marginal case for inclusion, as it was cut by a male singer and multi-instrumentalist, with a female vocalist fronting just one cut. Musically, it’s a varied set, ranging from folky sympho-prog with a few traditional Brazilian touches to one jazz/rock number with elements of both RIO and Canterbury. For the most part, the music is quite complex and inventive, but it’s also rather thin-sounding and never very involving. GRADE: C+.