Alfa-Gungadin (Mexico): Un Hiperconcierto! (Opic 007, 1968)
This soundtrack to a psychedelic stage show directed by legendary avant-garde film-maker Alejandro Jodorowsky isn’t as tripped-out as its backstory and the stunning thick gatefold cover might suggest. Much of the music falls into the beat and bossa nova veins, including interpretations of material from everyone from the Beatles to Bach to Bacharach/David as well as some Latin American material. The version of ‘Purple Haze’ is certainly psychedelic enough, mixing ultra-fuzzed guitar, echoed vocals and orchestrations, and overall this odd mix of pop and classical music and sound effects achieves a trippy Swingin’ London (or should that be Swingin’ Mexico City?) mood. GRADE: C+.
Algebra (Italy): JL (Ams AMS 173 CD, with gatefold minisleeve and booklet, 2009)
Maria Giammetti (saxophone, flute)
Inspired by 'Jonathan Livingstone Seagull', this concept album offers a quintessentially Italian symphonic sound. Mellow and never ostentatious, with some lovely melodies and rich arrangements, it’s not the most gripping album in the world but it is wonderfully atmospheric and listenable. GRADE: B–.
Alhambra (Japan): A Far Cry To You (Black-listed BLRC-00003, CD, with obi, 2005)
Junko Nakagawa (lead vocals)
Junko Nakagawa and Tetsuro Nakagura’s new band isn’t far removed from Marge Litch, offering the same kind of symphonic prog/power metal crossover, once again with ostentatious playing, dense riffs and typically Nippon high-pitched vocals. Some sections work better than others, and it can all get a bit bombastic, but as with Marge Litch there’s an abundance of energy here and they’re clearly very good at what they do. GRADE: C+.
Alhambra (Japan): Fadista (Planet ZSCA-1003, CD, with digipak, booklet and obi, 2007)
Junko Nakagawa (principal vocals)
Typically for this crew, this is often a bit too bombastic for its own good, but it’s satisfyingly intricate and pleasingly varied, with several lovely symphonic ballads amidst the manic metal sections. At its best, it’s sometimes quite stunning, notably on the fusion-flavoured instrumental ‘Estación Abrasadora’, which is a superb piece of prog. GRADE: B–.
Alhambra (Japan): From Impressive Memory – Die Walküre (Planet ZSBA-2002, DVD, with booklet, 2008)
Junko Nakagawa (principal vocals)
They’re not the most theatrical band live, but they’re certainly the embodiment of Japanese prog bombast, so this DVD could certainly divide opinions. Whilst I have a few reservations – despite the complexity and energy of their music, there’s a definite lineage back to Nippon eighties neo-prog – there’s no doubting the quality of their musicianship or the extent of their dynamism. GRADE: B–.
Alhambra (Japan): Solitude (Aqua Cube DQC-443, CD, with obi, 2013)
Junko Nakagawa (lead vocals)
Aside from the opening instrumental, this is straighter than the band’s previous work, alternating frenetic power-metal numbers and ballads. It’s all nice enough, but Alhambra’s real strengths lie in their virtuosity and their typically Nippon propensity for going completely over the top, neither of which are in much evidence here. GRADE: C+.
Alhambra (Japan): Siegfried (BxTxHx BTH-049, CD, with obi, 2012)
Junko Nakagawa (progressive vocals)
Again, this is relatively straight for them, but it’s a better album than Solitude – richer, more symphonic and with some great melodies. Sure, it’s pretty cheesy, but it’s undeniably very tasty cheese. GRADE: B–.
Alhambra (Japan): A Far Cry To You (Walküre WLKR-002, CD, with obi, 2013)
Junko Nakagawa (lead vocals)
This re-recording of their debut album has much better sound quality and far greater dynamics than the original, revealing the full potential of the music. This may still be too bombastic, and too archetypically Japanese, for many ears, but there’s some very good music here. GRADE: B–.
Alhambra (Japan): The Earnest Trilogy (Walküre WLKR-020, CD, with obi, 2016)
Junko Nakagawa (principal vocals)
The problem here isn’t that the music is notably inferior to their earlier work, though it is certainly heavier, focusing on pummelling riffs rather than audacious tempo changes. The problem is the horrible mastering, which renders the whole thing a uniform wall of noise that blunts the power of the band’s playing and writing. GRADE: C+.
See also Marge Litch
Ali & Jem (UK): Memoir (Midland Sound Recordings L47, 10" acetate, 1972)
Coming in a plain white sleeve, this acetate-only folk album (of which two copies are known) features eight tracks, with a running time of around 28 minutes. I could have done without yet another version of ‘Streets Of London’, but most of the material is relatively obscure and all of it is gentle, tranquil and haunting. GRADE: C+.
Alice Island Band (UK): Alice Island Band (Warren WAR LP 341, with inserts, 1974)
Cinny Lawry (joint lead vocals, guitar, tambourine)
A studio-only aggregation, Alice Island Band was formed solely to record the material of songwriters Roger Moore (not the James Bond actor!) and Keith Hughes. Splendid Isolation is a curious album, falling midway between the singer/songwriter and acid-folk genres, with some quirky melodic progressions and basement electric backing. Overall, it resembles some of the folkier Holyground releases, at various times recalling moments from A-Austr, Astral Navigations or Jumble Lane. Only three copies have resurfaced from a numbered pressing of 50, one of which has a water-damaged cover. GRADE: C+.
Alice Through The Looking Glass (UK): Alice Through The Looking Glass (Sound News Productions SNP 11, 1969)
Recorded to accompany an amateur theatrical production of the Lewis Carroll work, the first musical project of Peter Howell and John Ferdinando offers a mixture of instrumental mood music and snatches of dialogue from the play. The result is quaintly charming and sometimes quite psychedelic, but every bit as parochial as the description would suggest. Whilst it’s pleasant enough and certainly quite fearsomely rare, I’m baffled as to why anyone would pay almost four figures to own this. Their later work as Ithaca and Agincourt is far more interesting. GRADE: C+.
Alicia May (USA): Skinnydipping In The Flowers (Golden Anchor GA 7777, with inner, 1976)
Alicia May Cory Bottoms (lead vocals, guitar, piano, percussion, concertina, dulcimer, autoharp, harmonica)
This obscure album offers lovely singer/songwriter fare with a gentle hippie feel and some very varied arrangements. The backing musicians include Carol Kleyn, who issued three very sought-after albums of her own, plus Joni Mitchell associate Henry Lewy on kazoo. Bottoms also had some tracks on the local compilation Guitar Picks And Roach Clips. GRADE: C+.
See also Various ‘Guitar Picks And Roach Clips’
Alive ’N’ Kickin’ (USA): Alive ’N’ Kickin’ (Roulette SR 42052, 1969)
Sandy Todler (occasional vocals)
This was produced by the prolific Tommy James, but it’s not bubblegum pop by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, Alive ’N’ Kickin’ offer lively, funky rock with bluesy, soulful vocals and some excellent guitar leads. Keyboardist Bruce Sudano, who co-writes just about everything, later went on to marry Donna Summer and co-author several of her hits. GRADE: C+.
Alive! (UK): Alive! (No label CRP 001, 1971)
Mairi McArthur, Cheryl Baker, Diane Brice, Denise Cooper, Gertie Harrison, Mary Mugliston, Margery Petrie, Linda Pope, Pat Truman, Jenny Tinker, Vi Thorp, Bernice Wisniak
This extremely rare private pressing (99 numbered copies) has sold for big money, but most of it is dialogue from a live recording of ‘a folk passion play of today’. The music, interspersed through the performance, consists of pleasant enough lo-fi folk. GRADE: C–.
All About Eve (UK): All About Eve (Mercury 834 260-2, CD, 1988)
Julianne Regan (lead vocals, keyboards, percussion, strings, horn, recorder)
With a unique career trajectory, All About Eve started life as a goth band before developing an interest in early seventies folk/rock and psychedelia. Whilst a few post-punk traces remain here (notably in the Siouxsie & The Banshees-like guitars on ‘Every Angel’), this is largely different from almost everything else issued in the eighties. But it’s not just their crystalline vocal and instrumental sound that makes them exceptional: it’s the superb songs. The singles included (‘In The Clouds’, ‘Flowers In Our Hair’, ‘Wild Hearted Woman’, ‘Every Angel’, ‘Martha’s Harbour’ and ‘What Kind Of Fool?’) are all classics, and the only really mediocre number among the remaining tracks is ‘Never Promise (Anyone Forever)’. What’s more, those who consider them fey will be astounded by the stunning ‘In The Meadow’, which develops into an acid-rock jam of considerable intensity. In fact, the only downside is that the album set a bar so high that everything else they ever did paled in comparison. GRADE: B.
All About Eve (UK): Live At Brixton Academy (No label, cassette, 1989, recorded 1987)
Taped in late March 1987 (when the band were supporting the Mission), these recordings precede the band’s debut album but were not released (as a 500-copies fan club cassette) until two years later. Featuring decent though not exceptional sound quality, it showcases stripped-down performances of seven tracks that would later appear on All About Eve plus the non-LP single ‘Our Summer’. Whilst I’d never choose these versions over the studio takes, the quality of their songwriting shines through and this makes a fascinating addendum to their first album. GRADE: B–.
All About Eve (UK): Scarlet And Other Stories (Mercury 838 965-2, CD, 1989)
Julianne Regan (lead vocals, keyboards)
Whereas their first album was packed with classic singles, this includes only two: ‘December’ and the sublime opener ‘Road To Your Soul’. Elsewhere, this largely retreads their debut, sometimes borrowing moods and riffs wholesale, particularly from ‘Wild Hearted Woman’ and ‘Every Angel’. But whilst they seem short of great material, they’ve gained in confidence: this is tighter and more rocking than their debut, with beautifully judged arrangements. GRADE: B–.
All About Eve (UK): In Concert – 471 (BBC Transcription Service 161148–S, with cue sheets, 1989)
This transcription disc captures the band’s performance at the 1989 Glastonbury Festival. The set showcases the best moments from All About Eve and a couple of the finer numbers that would appear on Scarlet And Other Stories, plus ‘Our Summer’ and the band’s best-ever B-side: the heavily psychedelic ‘Candy Tree’. With powerful performances throughout, it’s a superb live document and a testament to their high level of talent and individuality. The set received a full commercial release a few years later as BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert (Windsong WINCD0044, CD, 1993). GRADE: B.
All About Eve (UK): 13 (Mercury EVCDX 13, CD, 1991)
This 21-minute EP features live versions of ‘In The Clouds’, ‘Never Promise (Anyone Forever)’, ‘Scarlet’, ‘More Than The Blues’ and ‘Road To Your Soul’. Whilst this isn’t necessarily the track listing I would have chosen, it offers a good mix of singles and album tracks, rather than offering a condensed ‘greatest hits’, and the performances are generally excellent. The entire EP was included, along with lots of other live and non-album material, on the second disc of the Scarlet And Other Stories deluxe reissue. GRADE: B–.
All About Eve (UK): Touched By Jesus (Vertigo 510 146-2, CD, 1991)
Julianne Regan (lead vocals)
The law of diminishing returns continues for All About Eve: whereas this has the same appealing ethereal sound as their earlier work, the songs here are merely pleasant rather than memorable. In any case, the two best songs (‘The Dreamer’ and ‘Ravens’) are also the trippiest. GRADE: C+.
All About Eve (UK): Live In Bonn (Voiceprint VPDVD51, DVD, 2008, recorded 1991)
Julianne Regan (lead vocals, guitar, tambourine)
Although not released until 2008, this hour-long TV special was recorded on 5 September 1991, near the beginning of the Touched By Jesus tour. Whilst the music here is of a high standard, it’s visually less impressive – there’s not much in the way of lighting and even less in the way of interaction with the audience. Quickly deleted, this is now the rarest All About Eve item apart from their two transcription discs. GRADE: B–.
All About Eve (UK): In Concert-526 (BBC Transcription TCD 0184, CD, 1991)
This was recorded 10 days after Live In Bonn and has an almost identical track listing, yet it’s a more confident gig all round. In fact, their spirited approach makes renders of their more recent material nearly as effective as their early stuff, and overall this is almost the equal of their earlier BBC transcription disc. GRADE: B.
All About Eve (UK): Ultraviolet (MCA MCD 10712, CD, 1992)
Julianne Regan (lead vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, sitar, pipes)
Having largely shed their early seventies-influenced folk/rock style, All About Eve attempt to chase contemporary trends here by adopting elements of the shoegaze sound (especially on the impressive opener ‘Phased’). In parts they’re still recognisable as the same band, and they’re actually quite successful in their attempt to modernise, resulting in another solid album. GRADE: C+.
All About Eve (UK): Fairy Light Nights (Yeaah! 8, CD, 2000)
This collection of recordings from All About Eve’s unplugged reunion tour works surprisingly well for a couple of reasons. First, their material lends itself naturally to this kind of treatment (though I’d never choose these versions over the studio originals). Secondly, they eschewed a straightforward ‘greatest hits’ approach, so this offers a pleasing mix of singles, album tracks and new numbers. GRADE: B–.
All About Eve (UK): Fairy Light Nights Two (Jamtart AAEVP1, CD, 2001)
This second instalment is perhaps a shade less enjoyable than the first, and after a profusion of relatively obscure songs ‘Wild Hearted Woman’ and ‘Every Angel’ certainly add some impetus at the end. Nonetheless, this is a solid set of performances, and once again they sound refreshingly natural in an acoustic context. Both discs were compiled as the double CD set Acoustic Nights in 2003 (Snapper SMDCD464). GRADE: B–.
All About Eve (UK): Live And Electric At The Union Chapel (Jamtart aaevp4, double CD, 2001)
Julianne Regan (principal vocals)
Despite the title, this is largely semi-acoustic, so it certainly isn’t the psychedelic blowout I was hoping for (apart from the superb closing version of ‘Outshine The Sun’). The first pressing came with a bonus second disc featuring three additional songs totalling just over eleven minutes. GRADE: B–.
All About Eve (UK): Iceland (Jamtart aaevp7, CD, 2002)
This has to be one of the oddest reunion ventures I’ve encountered: a Christmas-themed set by Julianne Regan and Andy Cousin, performed almost entirely on synthesisers and drum machines. The track listing is even stranger than the concept: one new song, a new instrumental, a remake and a dance remix of ‘December’ and three cover versions (Queen’s ‘A Winter’s Tale’, Aled Jones’s ‘Walking In The Air’, and, would you believe, an utterly bizarre lo-fi take on Wham’s ‘White Christmas’). In fairness, the new pieces aren’t bad, but the dance remix is dreadful and overall I’m amazed they had the audacity to issue this baffling hotchpotch as All About Eve. GRADE: C.
All About Eve (UK): Cinemasonic (No label AAEDVD1, DVD, 2003)
Julianne Regan (lead vocals, synthesiser)
This is a much better DVD than Live In Bonn, with excellent performances and much more imaginative use of lighting. On the downside, any audience interaction is again minimal and the new songs they try out aren’t particularly memorable, but for the most part this is an excellent live document. Bonuses include a photo gallery and backstage footage. GRADE: B–.
All About Eve (UK): Cinemasonic (Jamtart aaevp8, CD, 2003)
Julianne Regan (lead vocals, synthesiser)
The CD version of Cinemasonic– whose sound quality is nothing to write home about, being more fat mono than stereo – features 11 of the original 18 songs. Bizarrely, it’s almost all the band’s best-known songs that have been excised, leaving the new and later stuff and their cover of ‘Life On Mars’. The result is an oddly conceived live document, but it’s all listenable enough. GRADE: B–.
All About Eve (UK): Return To Eden, Volume One – The Early Recordings (Jamtart aaevp5, CD, 2002, recorded 1985? to 1989?)
Julianne Regan, Manuela Zwingman
This fascinating compilation opens with the band’s rare first single ‘D For Desire’/’Don’t Follow Me (March Hare)’, featuring their original line-up including drummer Manuela Zwingman; they sound like a slightly more ethereal twist on Siouxsie & The Banshees or early Dead Can Dance, whilst also hinting towards the style they would later pursue on Ultraviolet. Three unreleased songs follow (the first two of which sound like they’re from the Zwingman line-up), then the set offers early demos for most of the All About Eve album, interspersed with a few singles and B-sides and culminating in the extended version of ‘Flowers In Our Hair’. Whilst I’d never choose the demos over the final versions, and whilst their first line-up wasn’t their finest, this is nonetheless a superb compilation and a worthwhile addition to their discography. No ‘Volume Two’ was ever released. GRADE: B.
All About Eve (UK): Keepsakes – A Collection (Mercury 983 733-1/983 778-2, double CD plus DVD, with slipcase, 2006, recorded 1987-2006)
This excellent compilation, which spans all four of the band’s albums, is included here due to the presence of a number of unreleased recordings (plus of course the DVD). Alongside a few single and 12" remixes, it features live versions of ‘Wild Flowers’, ‘Candy Tree’, ‘Wild Hearted Woman’ and ‘In The Meadow’, an alternate take of ‘I Don’t Know’, a demo of ‘See Emily Play’, a 2006 remake of ‘What Kind Of Fool?’ and three new songs. The live material is decent, the demo is unremarkable, the new take on ‘What Kind Of Fool?’ is dreadful (performed in a sort of industrial dance version) and the new songs are nothing to write home about. The bonus DVD mixes fairly low-budget promotional videos with TV appearances; whilst not that compelling visually, it’s a nice addendum to the set. GRADE: B–.
See also Eden House, Femme Verte, Hussey-Regan, Jules Et Jim, Mice
All Over Everywhere (USA): Inner Firmaments Decay (Emkog EMKOG 10, CD, 2010)
Megan Wheatley (lead vocals), Trinna Kesner (guitar, violin, viola), Natalie Hughes (bass, cello), Jennifer LaPlatnia (piano, accordion, vibraphone)
I originally downgraded this all the way to D due to the bizarre wall-of-sound production: that was probably unfair, as this is musically rather good, offering atmospheric, impressionistic folky sympho-prog drowned in layers and layers of Mellotron. That said, I was probably too kind when I described it as a ‘tiring listen’ – the level of compression means that it’s downright exhausting. As such, it’s musically just about a B– but more like an E– in sound quality, and is crying out for a decent remix and remaster. GRADE: C+.
See also Deluge Grander
Glenn Schwartz & The All Saved Freak Band (USA): My Poor Generation (Rock The World Enterprises 730605, 1973)
Kim Massmann (occasional vocals, guitar, piano, tambourine, violin, cello), Pam Massmann (occasional vocals, guitar, piano, tambourine, violin, cello)
The sinister, swampy mood of the opening ‘Elder White’ makes clear that this isn’t going to be just another Jesus rock LP. Sadly, it’s the album’s highpoint, though the rest is well above average, mixing delicate folk songs (with neoclassical edges from violin and cello) with electric rockers to pleasing effect. GRADE: C+.
All Saved Freak Band (USA): For Christians, Elves And Lovers (Rock The World Enterprises AFSB-1001, with insert, 1976)
Kim Massmann (joint lead vocals, guitar, keyboards, violin, cello), Pam Massmann (occasional vocals, guitar, keyboards, violin, cello), Carole King (occasional vocals, keyboards)
Like their first, this blends delicate folk/rock and light bluesy rock to create an enjoyable tapestry of material, although it’s all too unassuming to be truly world-class. That said, the moment when the fuzzed cello kicks in on ‘100th Psalm’ – the album’s first moment of rock aggression, following three dainty openers – is truly stunning. GRADE: C+.
All Saved Freak Band (USA): Brainwashed (Rock The World Enterprises NR 5974, with inner, 1976)
Kim Massmann (joint lead vocals, guitar, violin, cello), Carole King (occasional vocals, keyboards), Pam Massmann (keyboards, violin, cello, backing vocals)
They were never the most significant band in the world, but this is their best – bolstered by a superb production, it’s heavier, bluesier and more nimble, with plenty of psychedelic lead guitar. Even the haunting ballad ‘Let The Flesh Fly’ has apocalyptic lyrics and a trippy mood, presaging the work of bands like Revolutionary Army Of The Infant Jesus. GRADE: C+.
All Saved Freak Band (USA): Sower (War Again LH8188, 1980)
Kim Massmann (occasional vocals, guitar, violin, cello), Carole King (keyboards, backing vocals), Pam Massmann (keyboards, violin, cello, backing vocals)
The opening ‘Red Sea Rising’ is their finest recording – superb swampy psychedelic blues/rock, with phased guitars creating an eerie and trippy atmosphere. Nothing else here equals its impact, though the sole female-sung number ‘Prince Of The International Kaleidoscope’ is a beautiful and haunting folk ballad that contrasts effectively with the rock surrounding it. GRADE: C+.
All Sorts Of Folk (UK): All Sorts Of Folk (No label CH103/M, with insert, 1972)
Esther Cross (occasional vocals), Lydia Walters (occasional vocals), Valerie Parker (occasional vocals), Julie Ansley (occasional vocals), Suzanne Thomas (occasional vocals), Diane Long (occasional vocals), Jean Halstead (occasional vocals), Caroline Shepherd (occasional vocals), Anita Lane (occasional vocals), Elizabeth Sharp (occasional vocals), Louise Knight (occasional vocals), Alison Bland (occasional vocals), Cathryn Clegg (occasional vocals), Sally Terrett (occasional vocals), Sandra Jones (occasional vocals), Helen Lowden (occasional vocals), Julie Baker (occasional vocals), Karen Myles (occasional vocals), Jackie Hunt (occasional vocals), Stephanie Smith (occasional vocals), Julia Candy (occasional vocals), Hilary Newman (occasional vocals), Andrea Temlett (occasional vocals), Jill Berriman (accordion)
Despite a large number of featured singers, this school project LP was not a choral effort, nor a folk/rock opera, but a compilation of different combinations of pupils and teachers. Musically it runs the gamut from beautiful, spacy Reality From Dream-style material to traditional folk, and is worth hearing. GRADE: C+.
All Stars (UK): By Request (TM TM 2, 1974)
Denise Scott (joint lead vocals)
I'm not sure who requested it, as this lounge album is below average even for the genre, with its odd mix of MOR pop (‘You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me’), low-budget horn-led cocktail jazz (‘Midnite Choo Choo’) and borderline musical comedy (‘I Wanna Be Like You’). The more stripped-down songs are more palatable, however, and their weedy interpretation of ‘Hellraiser’ may have some appeal for ‘real people’ collectors. GRADE: D+.
All That The Name Implies (USA): All That The Name Implies (Oro ORO-4, with insert and sticker, 1968)
Marlene Ryan (joint lead vocals), Melinda Parkes (joint lead vocals)
This is hippie folk, with untutored harmony vocals backed by acoustic guitars and hand percussion. Despite the era, it isn’t particularly psychedelic, owing a debt to the protest folk movement, and with a very American feel. Despite some interesting ideas (one seven-minute number features three different songs performed simultaneously), I can’t imagine this ranking among anyone’s favourites in the genre. GRADE: C+.
All Traps On Earth (Sweden): A Drop Of Light (Ams AMS 300 CD, with gatefold minisleeve and booklet, Italy, 2018)
Miranda Brand (principal vocals)
I recently noted that Johan Brand and Thomas Johnson’s other project Thieves’ Kitchen had little of Änglagård’s wildness or dynamism: clearly they were saving it for All Traps On Earth. Änglagård fans will instantly be familiar with the rich symphonic textures and the constant shifts of mood and tempo in the mainly instrumental music, but All Traps On Earth have a slightly different musical palette: jazzier, more contemporary, decidedly darker. I can hear strong hints of Änglagård’s old rivals Anekdoten here, not to mention lots of Canterbury references, a hint of zeuhl, even a touch of Shub-Niggurath. The results are simply breathtaking. GRADE: B.
Allan Sisters (Canada): Jackie And Coralie (Sound Canada SC 7704, 1969)
Jackie Allen (joint lead vocals), Coralie Allan (joint lead vocals)
Backed by Rockadrome (who issued their own very collectable album), the sisters offer relaxed beat with folk and country tinges, sounding about three years earlier than the release date. With a definite Swingin’ London feel and lots of period organ work, this is a pleasant and unassuming LP that sells for big money. GRADE: C+.
Allan Sisters Featuring Cloudburst (Canada): Precious Moments (Ross Sound Corporation WRC6-699, double, 1977?)
Jackie Allan (joint lead vocals), Coralie Allen (joint lead vocals)
The sisters’ third and final album (I have never encountered their second, In Song) is very different from Jackie And Coralie. The music here could best be described as country-influenced MOR gospel pop/rock, and whilst this gruesome set is doubtless pretty rare these days, so is white dogshit. GRADE: E–.
Orlando Allen (UK): Living Midnight (Voiceprint VP407CD, CD, 2006)
Gilli Smyth, Navarina Falagiani, Beatrix Williamson
You can tell son Orlando has Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth’s genes: this is decidedly Gong-like, right down to Smyth’s ‘space whisper’ on ‘Time Dilation’. It also blends in some ethnic touches and a more modern acid-jazz sensibility to deliver a charming and atmospheric trip with just enough hooks and pop edges to enthral those who find Gong too formless. GRADE: C+.
See also Acid Mothers Gong, Glo, Goddess Trance, Gong, Invisible Opera Company Of Tibet, Mother Gong, Gilli Smyth, Harry Williamson & Friends
Almanach (West Germany): Acoustic Folk (Schlaffohr Schlaffohr 10040, with booklet, 1985)
Petra Remus (joint lead vocals), Martina Kuhn (percussion, flute)
This very obscure album offers beautiful acoustic folk with a delicate, crystalline flavour and a very Germanic feel. The highpoint is probably the long eponymous instrumental with plenty of rustic Jethro Tull-style flute, but there are no weak moments here. GRADE: B–.
Alms (Spain): An Irosmic Tragedy (No label BI-1672-2015, CD, 2016)
Noelia Fernández (occasional vocals)
Consisting of three linked numbers averaging 14 minutes apiece, this ambitious concept album about life and death was the brainchild of singer and multi-instrumentalist Aitor Lucena, who plays everything except the keyboards, drums and strings. Musically it’s rather good, with a suitably epic feel, and the spoken Spanish and Italian vocals work well too, but the English singing (from Lucena) and occasional English narration (from Noelia Fernández) is rather poor and heavily accented; Lucena actually sounds drunk on the opening number. GRADE: C+.
Alshia (USA): Alshia (No label, with insert, 1980)
Stephani Mac (occasional vocals)
This unusual album features elegant, slightly folky rock with ornate multilayered guitars (partly because there are no keyboards whatsoever) and occasionally ostentatious drumming. The band clearly has roots in progressive rock (most obvious in the closing instrumental, which is perhaps the best thing on offer) but also something of an AOR sensibility; the nearest comparison I can find is Fleetwood Mac circa Penguin or Mystery To Me if the band had no pop influences. Their sound is rather impressive, but is not matched by songs of comparable quality, although this is very listenable throughout. GRADE: C+.
Alta Tensión (Argentina): Alta Tensión (RCA LZ 1171, 1970)
Inexplicably dismissed in ‘The Magic Land’ as ‘a dancehall band’, Alta Tensión were effectively the Argentine equivalent of Aguaturbia (especially on side two’s opening cover of ‘Mississippi Queen’). Admittedly, some songs here are straighter, and there’s less heavy psychedelic guitar and more sixties beat group traces, but they’re definitely operating in the same territory (and both bands covered ‘Jailhouse Rock’). Their cover of ‘Piece Of My Heart’ makes clear their heavy influence from Big Brother & The Holding Company; another clear trait they shared with Aguaturbia. Alejandra Aldao had previoiusly been a member of Popsingers, although the lack of credits means that it’s not clear whether she appeared on their album. GRADE: C+.
See also Popsingers
Armande Altaï (Syria): Atavisme (Le Chant Des Sirènes PL 37329, with inner, France, 1979)
Armande AltaÏ (lead vocals)
Altaï was born in Syria but spent her musical career in France, where she appeared in 'Godspell' and issued an obscure single before featuring on Pascal Duffard’s acclaimed Dieu Est Fou. Her debut solo LP is an unusual affair: strongly Arabic-influenced, with quasi-operatic vocals, a polished feel and short, structured songs; in style, it’s closer to prog than anything else, but no label fits it exactly. She’s often compared to Catherine Ribeiro but there’s not much resemblance, and this is actually closer to Béatrice Tékielski, which isn’t surprising since she co-wrote everything with Tékielski collaborator Joël Dugrenot. At times the disc resembles a pop/rock twist on Magma, which again makes sense given the musicians. In any case, it’s an interesting and original debut with a distinctly French style. Le Chant Des Sirènes, incidentally, was an imprint of French RCA, as the catalogue number makes clear. GRADE: C+.
Armande Altaï (Syria): Informulé (Mercury 6313 180, with inner, France, 1981)
Armande Altaï (lead vocals)
This was produced by Philippe Quilichini, who also worked with Nico, so it’s not entirely surprising that it often resembles Drama Of Exile without the North African elements. Vocally Altaï operates more in the vein of Nina Hagen or Lene Lovich, with some nods towards Béatrice Tékielski. The result is intermittently interesting, but this is also a patchy record that’s likely to have limited appeal for prog fans. GRADE: C.
Armande Altaï (Syria): Nocturne Flamboyant (Mercury 6313 180, with inner, 1983)
Armande Altaï (lead vocals)
Whilst retaining some of the new wave touches of Informulé, this also reintroduces some progressive edges reminiscent of her debut. Overall, it’s a strong and dramatic album that doesn’t really sit comfortably within any genre. GRADE: C+.
Armande Altaï (Syria): Héroïnes Fantaisie (O+ Music OP 131 HM 87, CD, France, 2007)
Armande Altaï (lead vocals)
Returning after years in the wilderness (presumably to cash in on her fame as a tutor on the French reality TV show ‘Star Academy’), Altaï offered a decidedly strange fourth album. Subtitled ‘portraits féminins à travers les ages et les paysages’, this seems to be some kind of concept album, with each song showcasing a different style of world or classical music, sometimes with elements of electronic dance music and some avant-garde sound effects. The end result is interesting but not at all coherent, and seems mainly designed to showcase Altaï’s admittedly astonishing vocal range. GRADE: C+.
See also Pascal Duffard
Altair (Spain): Altair (Sirius SRS CD 001, CD, 1990)
Isabel Muniente (keyboards)
Dedicated to Keith Emerson, this is unsurprisingly an album of keyboard-led progressive rock, with drums being the only other instrument. It’s not as thin-sounding, nor as ostentatious, as that description would suggest, and covers a broad range of moods and styles. GRADE: C+.
Altair (Spain): Fantasías Y Danzas (GA 96, cassette, 1992)
Isabel Muniente (keyboards)
Second time around, the formula begins to wear a little thin: this is by no means bad, but it is a touch one-dimensional and they’re sounding rather more portentous than before. Indeed, the energetic drum solo is possibly the highpoint. The band continued with an all male line-up, cutting a further couple of albums. GRADE: C+.
Altaïs (France): Altaïs (No label 1021, 12" single, 1986)
Sandrine Fougère (joint lead vocals), Isabelle Nuffer (joint lead vocals, keyboards), Michelle Puttland (synthesiser)
This three-track 12" single, with a total running time of around 13½ minutes, was this zeuhl band’s only release. On the back cover, they thank the entire line-up of Eider Stellaire (whom Isabelle Nuffer would go on to join) and there’s a definite musical resemblance, though they’re more in the early Eskaton camp, with a powerful, modernistic, new wave-tinged twist on the classic Magma sound. That said, the third and final cut ‘Gravitation Zero’ is minimalist and foreboding, hinting towards the future Magma sound of Les Voix whilst owing an obvious debt to Ligeti. Altogether, it’s a great pity they never recorded again. GRADE: B–.
See also Eider Stellaire
AltaVia (Italy): Girt Dog (White Knight CDWK1110, CD, UK, 2012)
Betty Copeta (occasional vocals), Laura Monti (backing vocals)
This very pleasant album offers melodic neoprogressive with a procession of gentle, wistful songs featuring some excellent hooklines. Additional vocalist Betty Copeta and keyboardist Andrea Stagni also formed the enjoyable side-project Materya. GRADE: C+.
AltaVia (Italy): Live @ La Casa Di Alex (Download, 2013)
Betty Copeta (occasional vocals)
Issued as a free download, this live set features performances of virtually the entire Girt Dog album. With excellent sound quality, it’s an enjoyable enough collection of neoprogressive tunes. GRADE: C+.
AltaVia (Italy): Kreosote (White Knight CDWK1016, CD, with gatefold minisleeve and booklet, UK, 2016)
Betty Copeta (joint lead vocals)
Their first album – plus its live counterpart and their side-project as Materya – was pretty tame, but succeeded due to its mellow mood and memorable tunes. This is simply identikit soft rock and neoprog, and the two or three moments when it comes to life merely illustrate how dreary it is otherwise. GRADE: C.
See also Materya
Alternative Communication (UK): The Three Body Problem (No label, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2021)
Janette Kid (lead vocals, bass, keyboards)
According to their Bandcamp page, Alternative Communication were active in the early eighties before disbanding in 1985 and reunifying in 2019. However, there’s nothing eighties about the music here, which takes its influences from the Canterbury genre in general and Hatfield & The North in particular. It’s nowhere near as complex or as humorous as the Hatfields, of course, but then again, what is? Taken on its own terms, the music here is extremely satisfying, perfectly complemented by Janette Kidd’s understated vocals, which channel Richard Sinclair’s sardonicism with aplomb. GRADE: B–.
See also Not For Pussies
Alto (West Germany): Alto (Spiegelei INT 160.609, with insert, 1978)
Ellen Meier (principal vocals)
Alto was a vehicle for saxophonist Johannes ‘Alto’ Pappert, and it’s debatable whether this is a band project or a Pappert solo album with guests. Either way, it’s very much a collective effort, with Pappert’s saxophones not being that heavily featured. Musically, it’s polished, funky jazz/rock (though thankfully not jazz/funk) with quite a bit of variety and some pop, progressive, folk and experimental touches thrown in. Seven of the eleven short cuts are vocal whilst the other four are instrumental; all are pretty good, though this is not what you’d call a groundbreaking or memorable LP. GRADE: C+.
Alto (West Germany): Happy Ambrosia (Spiegelei INT 145.608, 1980)
Ellen Meier (principal vocals)
The second and final Alto album is clearly a band project: everybody is pictured on the front cover and the songwriting credits are shared among the members. Musically it’s a bit more commercial and pop-oriented than their debut and not quite as good, though it’s pleasant enough stuff, peaking on the enjoyably catchy ‘Outside’ and the proggy instrumental closer ‘Fiery Orbits’. As a footnote, in between the two Alto albums, Meier and Pappert fronted the song ‘Tipsy Ellen’ from Es’s Wham Bang (Fran FRAN L-00309); Meier had briefly been a member of that band between their two LPs, but does not appear on any of their other cuts. Musically, Wham Bang sounds rather like Alto, but is somewhat cheesier. GRADE: C+.
See also Pago Pago, Tomorrow’s Gift, Various ‘Love And Peace’
Alunah (UK): Call Of Avernus (Catacomb COMB006, CD, 2010)
Sophie Willett (lead vocals, guitar)
Following on from their single ‘Fall To Earth’ (released, for some reason, as ‘Aluna’), this is a slight step up but they’re still far from the first division of doom metal. The material is solid enough, but a bit short on great riffs and melodies, and I’m not that keen on Sophie Willett’s rather tuneless, semi-spoken vocal style. But ultimately, it’s the lack of really crushing, majestic material à la Blood Ceremony or Windhand that is the album’s undoing. GRADE: C+.
Alunah (UK): White Hoarhound (PsycheDOOMelic PSY 67, CD, with digipak, Austria, 2012)
They’ve certainly learned a few tricks in the intervening couple of years – this is truly majestic doom blending seventies and modern sensibilities and elevating them to the level of bands like Blood Ceremony and Windhand. The vocals, the riffs and the arrangements have a confidence and swagger missing from their debut, and the results impress from the first note until the last. GRADE: B–.
Alunah (UK): Awakening The Forest (Napalm NPR 561 LTD, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2014)
Sophie Willetts (lead vocals, guitar)
Again, this is powerful, melodic doom metal, doing more with the format of voice, dual guitars, bass and drums than one might expect. Fans of heavy acid-rock could find much to enjoy here too, though those with a taste for more experimental metal may find this a prime example of a band discovering its furrow and then ploughing it repeatedly. GRADE: B–.
Alunah (UK): Solennial (Svart SVART072CD, CD, with digipak and booklet, Finland, 2017)
Sophie Willetts (lead vocals, guitar)
This is subtler and sparer than their earlier work, with some cello adding folky, gothic counterpoint on the closing cut, though they can still manage some majestic walls of sound when required. Whether it’s quite the equal of their second and third is debatable, but they’re to be commended for exploring new territory, and, taken on its own merits, Solennial’s quality is not in doubt. GRADE: B–.
Alunah (UK): Violet Hour (Heavy Psych Sounds HPS112, CD, with digipak, Italy, 2019)
Siân Greenaway (lead vocals)
This isn’t what you’d call a substantial album, comprising eight mid-paced songs totalling 43 minutes, and doesn’t offer anything that might be described as artistic development. Nonetheless, I like Alunah’s straightforward brand of melodic doom and I like new singer Siân Greenaway, who proves a more than adequate replacement for Sophie Willetts, so this is still a B–, albeit a B– that isn’t likely to impress anyone who doesn’t already enjoy this particular brand of doom. GRADE: B–.
Alunah (UK): Strange Machine (Heavy Psych Sounds HPS223, CD, with digipak, Italy, 2019)
Siân Greenaway (lead vocals)
This is perhaps a touch more varied than its predecessors, with some swooshing synthesisers, a definite late sixties or early seventies vibe in parts, and Siân Greenaway demonstrating her full (and impressive) vocal range. But for the most part, it’s business as usual, and another very solid and consistent album. GRADE: B–.
Alva (Latvia): Ja Tik Butu… (Pennine PSS 151LP, UK, 1977)
Diana Abols (principal vocals)
After relocating to Yorkshire, these Latvian expatriates cut one of the rarest and most impressive British private pressings of the seventies. The Latvian vocals aside, it’s almost impossible to believe that this is not an American rarity from the very end of the sixties – the music is hard guitar-led garage psych, effortlessly wiping the floor with comparable big ticket items like Haymarket Square and Touch. For the most part, the singing is handled by Diana Abols, who has a soft but very effective voice, but on ‘Vilcienu Dziesma’ one of the male band members provides odd, growling cookie monster-style vocals that uncannily presage some of the death metal bands of the 1990s.