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Beam-Light (Poland): Beam-Light (Lynx Music LM43CD, 2008)
Rock/World Music/Progressive
Aleksandra Dudziak (lead vocals, keyboards)
The opening ‘Asking For The Promised Land’ is a wonderful fusion of progressive rock and ethnic music, at least until the rather cheesy saxophone kicks in, with outstanding production to boot. The rest of the album isn’t in the same league, with much stronger pop elements, but as a fusion of world music and rock this is pretty successful and Dudziak is clearly a songwriter of considerable talent. GRADE: C+.

Beatrix Players (UK): Magnified (No label BeaP001LP, LP plus CD, with inner and minisleeve, 2017)


Amy Birks (lead vocals), Jess Kennedy (piano, flute, backing vocals), Amanda Alvarez (cello)

This delicate singer/songwriter LP has bizarrely been fêted as progressive rock, possibly because it bears more than a passing resemblance to early Kate Bush or Iamthemorning without the occasional rock elements. But it’s those rock elements that make Iamthemorning so compelling, whereas the Beatrix Players use the same modus operandi (female harmonies, piano, strings, occasional drums and percussion) on every song. As for Bush, it was the brilliance of her compositions that made her early albums so compelling, whereas these are merely haunting and dainty. Come to think of it, early Bush used varied rock arrangements too, which also gave her a considerable lift. GRADE: C+.

See also Ms Amy Birks

Beau Dommage (Canada): Beau Dommage (Capitol ST 70.034, with inner, 1974)
Marie Michèle Desrosiers (joint lead vocals, keyboards)
This bestselling Quebecois band’s debut album has a nice laid-back sound typical of seventies records from the territory. On the downside, there are no truly killer tunes and it’s all a bit insubstantial and middle-of-the-road, though never less than listenable. The best cut is probably ‘Le Géant Beaupré’ where the band rock out (comparatively speaking) for once. GRADE: C.
Beau Dommage (Canada): Où Est Passée La Noce? (Capitol SKAO 70.037, 1975)
Marie Michèle Desrosiers (joint lead vocals, keyboards)
The first side consists of seven songs that represent a solid step on from their debut, with a slightly funkier edge. The dreamy ballad ‘Assis Dans’ Cuisine’ and the proggy instrumental ‘Bon Débarras’ are the best by some margin. The whole of the second side is given over to the twenty-minute ‘Un Incident À Bois-Des-Filions’, which is superbly structured and paced, with some excellent lead guitar work. The latter cut is by far the best thing the band ever did, and it’s a pity more of their work wasn’t in this vein. GRADE: C+.
Beau Dommage (Canada): Un Autre Jour Arrive En Ville… (Capitol ST-70.048, with inner, 1977)
Marie Michèle Desrosiers (joint lead vocals, keyboards, percussion)
This has nothing of the depth or complexity of ‘Un Incident À Bois-Des-Filions’ – it’s straightforward singer/songwriter-style fare and light rock. However, it is beautifully done and thoroughly enjoyable. GRADE: C+.
Beau Dommage (Canada): Passagers (Capitol ST-70.055, 1977)
Marie Michèle Desrosiers
In keeping with the times, the final album by the band’s original incarnation sees them moving towards a more polished soft-rock sound, sometimes resembling a Quebecois answer to Fleetwood Mac. They don’t have Fleetwood Mac’s brilliant songwriting talent, of course, but this is very pleasant stuff. GRADE: C+.

Beau Dommage (Canada): Beau Dommage (Audiogram ADCD 10081, CD, 1994)
Marie-Michèle Desrosiers
As their four albums from the seventies made clear, Beau Dommage were never really about big artistic statements or radical departures from the norm – the only really adventurous move they ever made was the side-long song on Où Est Passée Ls Noce? Seventeen years on and nothing has changed – just like their seventies albums, this offers beautifully crafted, unassuming singer/songwriter-styled material bridging folk, rock and pop – all very listenable and appealing but none of it truly memorable, though ‘Rive-Sud’ has some particularly good hooks. GRADE: C+.
Beau Dommage (Canada): Rideau (Audiogram ADCD 10089, triple CD, 1995)
Marie-Michèle Desrosiers (joint lead vocals, keyboards, percussion)
As its title suggests, this triple album (though the third disc is actually just a short CD single, and the whole thing could nearly have fitted onto a single disc) brought down the curtain on Beau Dommage’s career. Like everything else they released, it’s pleasant and engaging without being exciting and absorbing. GRADE: C+.
See also Marie Michèle Desrosiers, Yves Laferrièrre

Beautify Junkyards (Portugal): Beautify Junkyards (Metrodiscos METRO047.13, CD, 2013)
Riz Maslen (occasional vocals), Erica Buettner (occasional vocals), Karine Carvalho (occasional vocals)
Comprising covers of material by Vashti Bunyan, Nick Drake, Bridget St John, Linda Perhacs and others, this unusual album refracts late sixties and early seventies acid-folk through a modern indie-folk prism. The results are trippy, haunting and delicate, and sometimes quite stunning, though the LP is also quite precious and unlikely to appeal to anyone disliking modern indie stylings. The line-up was all-male, but the band used female guest singers on four of the nine songs. GRADE: B–.
Beautify Junkyards (Portugal): The Beast Shouted Love (Nos Discos 2015 #05, CD, with digipak, 2015)
Rita Vian
Unlike their first, this consists of self-penned material, and unlike their first there’s a female member in the band (a second vocalist and keyboardist). This is a bit of a step up musically too, dropping the indie tweeness for a more varied and experimental psychedelic sound that’s difficult to describe but could just about be compared to a more cosmic sidestep from Comus at their most melodic. GRADE: B–.

Beautify Junkyards (Portugal/USA): The invisible World Of Beautify Junkyards (Ghost Box GBX030 CD, CD, with digipak, UK, 2018)
Rita Vian (joint lead vocals), Helena Espvall (occasional vocals, guitar, cello, zither)
The indie edge from their debut is back, and overall this delicately straddles the line between ethereal and twee. Nonetheless, it’s not just atmosphere and mood – there’s some beautiful music here, and even the moments when they appear to drift aimlessly can be quite captivating. GRADE: B–.

Mike Beddoes & His Orchestra (Canada): Souvenir Of BC (Q RA 1002, with inserts, 1980)
Cyndi Mellon (joint lead vocals)
The odd artist credit might lead you to expect something in an orchestrated MOR vein, but it’s very misleading: Beddoes doesn’t have an orchestra or indeed any backing musicians as he plays everything (guitars, bass, drums) himself. However, he only sings one cut and only writes about half the material, with guest singers or singer/songwriters used elsewhere. One of the inserts describes this as ‘a relaxed, easy album that evokes a West Coast mood in the same way that CANO’s music evokes northern Quebec’, and that’s not far off the mark: this is light, breezy rock with intricate guitar work, even though it has none of CANO’s progressive ambitions. Cyndi Mellon fronts the opening and closing tracks and provides some backing vocals elsewhere. GRADE: C+.

Beggar’s Opera (UK): Act One (Vertigo 6360 018, with poster sleeve, 1970)
Virginia Scott
Taking their name from John Gay and two of their tunes from Romantic composer Franz von Suppé, Beggar’s Opera were a progressive rock outfit with high cultural aspirations. But they were very much a rock band too – Act One has a muscular organ-driven sound and plenty of strong post-psychedelic jamming, making for an accomplished and energetic debut. Although Virginia Scott was considered a full band member at the time, she is not credited with any instruments, so presumably contributed solely as a songwriter. GRADE: B–.
Beggar’s Opera (UK): Waters Of Change (Vertigo 6360 054, 1971)
Virginia Scott (Mellotron, backing vocals)
My initial reaction was that was a step down from their debut, but on further listening their first two albums strike me as roughly equal. Virginia Scott’s Mellotron certainly deepens the band’s sound, and this is far more atmospheric and carefully crafted than its predecessor, but with one or two exceptions this is nowhere near as energetic as Act One. GRADE: B–.
Beggar’s Opera (UK): Pathfinder (Vertigo 6360 073, 1972)
Virginia Scott (Mellotron)
Packaged in a giant poster sleeve, their third LP showed them attempting to move in a more mainstream direction by incorporating influences from melodic and hard rock. It’s nonetheless consistently good, peaking on the two long songs on the first side: the original ‘The Witch’, with its powerful organ riff, and a fine version of ‘MacArthur Park’ that’s radically different from Donna Summer’s equally proggy interpretation a few years later. Oddly, Virginia Scott seemed to have returned to ‘associate member’ status, as she’s not credited on the sleeve but co-wrote two cuts and (I presume) played the occasional Mellotron parts. GRADE: B–.
Beggar’s Opera (UK): Get Your Dog Off Me (Vertigo 6360 090, 1973)
Virginia Scott (Mellotron)
Aside from the brief instrumental ‘Requiem’ and their symphonic cover of ‘Classical Gas’ (easily the best thing on offer), album number four sees them abandoning prog for a mainstream melodic rock sound. It’s mostly well done, though they seem to run out of steam on side two (reaching a nadir with the chorus of the banal ‘La-di-da’) but it’s hard to see what they hoped to achieve with such a generic record. Once again, it’s unclear what Virginia Scott does: she’s the sole writer of the second best cut ‘Freestyle Ladies’ plus ‘Morning Day’ but is credited only for ‘her usual high standard contribution’. GRADE: C+.
Beggar’s Opera (UK): Sagittary (Jupiter 88907, West Germany, 1974)
Virginia Scott (keyboards)
The band broke up following the release of Get Your Dog Off Me but was persuaded to reform briefly (with Virginia Scott a full member) by a German-based label. The first of their two albums for Jupiter is very obscure today but is slightly better than its predecessor, containing two fine instrumentals and a number of solid hard rock songs with excellent guitar leads from Ricky Gardiner. GRADE: C+.
Beggar’s Opera (UK): Beggars Can’t Be Choosers (Jupiter 27702, West Germany, 1975)
Virginia Scott (keyboards, backing vocals)
The desperation implied in the title is borne out in the music ­– the glory days of prog a few years behind them, Beggar’s Opera issued a dull album of mainstream rock in an attempt to get gigs and a steady income. In fact, the only tracks to rise above the mediocre are the hard rocking opener ‘I’m A Roadie’ and the long, spacy closing ballad ‘Death’, making for their weakest LP. GRADE: C.
Beggar’s Opera (UK): Close To My Heart (Ricky Gardiner Songs RGS 9473, CD, with minisleeve, 2007)
Virginia Scott (lead vocals, keyboards)
Following the release of Beggars Can’t Be Choosers, the band broke up and Ricky Gardiner concentrated on session work for David Bowie and Iggy Pop. They briefly reformed in 1980, with an all-male line-up, to issue the album Lifeline (later reissued as The Final Curtain) before reforming again in 1997 and taking ten years to cut this comeback effort. The big change is that Virginia Scott is now singing as well as playing keyboards – her innocent, girlish tones will divide opinion, but I find her voice winsome enough. In some ways, this sounds like a slicker modern twist on Sagittary, with some powerful guitar-fronted arrangements and an almost Steve Hillage-like timbre to the leads (except on the sumptuous closing instrumental, where Ricky Gardiner imitates bagpipes). GRADE: C+.
Beggar’s Opera (UK): Touching The Edge (Ricky Gardiner Songs RGS 9475, CD, with minisleeve, 2010)
Virginia Scott (lead vocals, keyboards)
For the most part, this is in the same style as the previous LP, being catchy, slightly symphonic hard rock. However, the sixteen-and-a-half minute closer ‘Auschwitz’ has more of a new age-cum-classical feel, being a largely instrumental showcase for Gardiner’s atmospheric guitar work. GRADE: C+.
Beggar’s Opera (UK): Suddenly Ahead Ahead (Ricky Gardiner Songs RGS 9483, CD, no artwork, 2010)
Virginia Scott (lead vocals, keyboards)
This isn’t particularly different from the last couple of albums, offering sumptuous melodic hard rock. The album was issued only as a download or a promotional picture CD without any artwork. GRADE: C+.
Beggar’s Opera (UK): All Tomorrow’s Thinking (Ricky Gardiner Songs RGS 9484, download, 2010)
Virginia Scott (lead vocals, keyboards)
In the band’s familiar style, this is another solid, if short and fairly insubstantial, collection of songs, featuring some good guitar work by Ricky Gardiner. GRADE: C+.
Beggar’s Opera (UK): Lose A Life (Ricky Gardiner Songs RGS 9485, CD, with digipak, 2010)
Virginia Scott (lead vocals, keyboards)
This concept album about Ricky Gardiner’s electrosensivity is easily the band’s best work since Pathfinder back in 1972. The mainly instrumental opener ‘Electrofire Invasion’ is superb space-rock with heavy, metronomic drumming, and whilst the same standard isn’t maintained thereafter this is a solid and powerful LP throughout. GRADE: B–.
Beggar’s Opera (UK): Promise In Motion (Ricky Gardiner Songs RGS 9486, download, 2011)
Virginia Scott (lead vocals, keyboards)
This is similar to its predecessor – and indeed all the reincarnated band’s other albums – but whilst consistently enjoyable is much more song-based and lacking in standout cuts. GRADE: C+.
Beggar’s Opera (UK): Mrs Caligari’s Lighter (Ricky Gardiner Songs RGS 9494, CD, no artwork, 2012)
Virginia Scott (principal vocals, keyboards)
Once again very song-based, this is probably the reformed band’s second-best album after Lose A Life. Dynamic, powerful and superbly recorded, they really sound reinvigorated here, even if they’re not pushing any boundaries. As with Suddenly Ahead Ahead, the only physical format for the album was a promotional picture CD without a sleeve, booklet or inlay card. GRADE: C+.
Beggar’s Opera (UK): If We Couldn’t Speak (Ricky Gardiner Songs RGS 9495, download, 2013)
Virginia Scott (lead vocals, keyboards)
This short album (just under 29 minutes) consists of four long tracks recorded during the sessions for Mrs Caligari’s Lighter but not used for the LP proper. The mood is somewhat different, with an impressionistic feel and strong industrial (on the opening ‘Inverary Ave’) and ambient elements (on the ten-minute title track). GRADE: C+.
See also Kumara, Virginia Scott

Beggars’ Hill (UK): Beggars’ Hill (Moonshine MS60, 1976)
Jo Battley (joint lead vocals)
Beggars’ Hill was not really a band, but a collective name for a fluid pool of musicians who had worked together in various Surrey folk outfits during the early seventies. Female singer Jo Battley handles lead vocals on three tracks: an eerie interpretation of Ewan MacColl’s ‘Cannily Cannily’, a pleasant take on Bridget St. John’s ‘If You’d Been There’, and – best of all – a superb rendition of Fairport Convention’s ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’. This sparse yet rich rendition especially suits her warm, Sandy Denny-style voice, and is arguably stronger than the original. Elsewhere the album offers effectively melancholy acoustic folk/rock, with occasional electric guitar leads and similarities to Spriguns of Tolgus and Vulcan’s Hammer. GRADE: C+.

Bel Air (West Germany): A Golden Dream/In The Twilight/Emphasis (No label SSU 812, 1981)
Annette Kölbel (principal vocals)
I don’t normally review 7" records, but this is significant for two reasons: first, its two songs and an instrumental total nearly 15 minutes, and secondly it was the band’s only release with a female vocalist. Musically, this is typical of the softest end of German prog at the time: rich and delicate, with ornate keyboards, though undercut by a very low-budget recording. GRADE: C+.
Bel Air (West Germany): Welcome Home (No label 666, with insert, 1986)
Felicitas Oetinger (flute)
Aside from a re-recording of the short instrumental ‘Emphasis’, everything on their album proper is new. With better sound quality than the EP (though the same low-budget, washed-out feel) this confirms the impression that the band has real flair for melody and riffs, resulting in a charming and unassuming set. Both the album and EP were compiled, along with a bonus track ‘Memories’, as the CD A Golden Dream (WMMS 014, 1994); annoyingly, this drops the album version of ‘Emphasis’ and jumbles up songs from the EP and LP in a seemingly random order. GRADE: C+.
Bel Air (West Germany): The Sleeping Beauty (WMMS 001, CD, 1989)
Felicitas Oetinger (occasional vocals)
Their second and final album again has significantly improved sound, but is much straighter, offering fairly basic symphonic rock plus one long song and one instrumental. Nonetheless, this is very pleasant stuff, confirming that they are more than capable songwriters and instrumentalists. Whilst Felicitas Oetinger is credited with flute, I can’t hear any on the album, though I assume she provides the uncredited spoken female vocals on the opening cut. GRADE: C+.

Iris Bell Adventure (USA): The Music Is The Message (Rubaiyat RAA 139, 1969)
Iris Bell (joint lead vocals, piano)
For the most part, this is straightforward and not very exciting lounge stuff, ranging from trad jazz to rock to ballads and even blues. Unusually for the style, about half the material is self-penned, and there is one genuinely curious moment: ‘Turn Me On’, which starts out as a supperclub ballad and ends with all kinds of avant-garde electronics. GRADE: C–.

Madeline Bell (USA): Bell’s A Poppin’ (Philips (S)BL 7818, UK, 1967)
Madeline Bell (lead vocals)
This prolific session singer’s debut offers typical heavily-orchestrated late sixties pop/soul: pleasant and well-assembled, without being distinctive or interesting. Ironically, for a resident of New Jersey who’d emigrated to the UK, she initially gained no commercial success here, but scored a minor hit in the States with ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’. GRADE: C.
Madeline Bell (UK): Doin’ Things (Philips (S)BL 7865, UK, 1968)
Madeline Bell (lead vocals)
Her wild Afro and psychedelic kaftan on the cover almost make one expect a sleazy, stoned Betty Davis-style funk-fest. However, this is in the same vein as its predecessor. GRADE: C.
See also Blue Mink, Seven Ages Of Man

Maggie Bell (UK): Queen Of The Night (Polydor 2383 239, 1973)
Maggie Bell (lead vocals)
Following the break-up of Stone The Crows, Maggie Bell recorded two solo LPs that were rejected by her label and have never seen the light of day. Her third stab consisted entirely of cover versions, emphasising the soulful rather than the rock side of her repertoire. With backing from some of America’s top soul sessionmen, it’s undeniably good; but it’s also undeniably anonymous and Stone The Crows were undeniably great. GRADE: C+.
Maggie Bell (UK): Suicide Sal (Polydor 2383 313, 1975)
Maggie Bell (lead vocals)
Bell’s second solo album was recorded in Britain rather than the States, with the emphasis on rock rather than soul material. There are three obvious highpoints: a funky reading of ‘Wishing Well’, the catchy and powerful ‘Comin’ On Strong’ (with Jimmy Page on guitar) and, best of all, the stunning folk/psych number ‘I Was In Chains’. The rest is solid, and beautifully recorded to boot, but with Bell co-writing only the title track this again isn’t a record with a great deal of personality. GRADE: C+.

Maggie Bell (UK): Crimes Of The Heart (Cult 290-12-002, CD, West Germany, 1988)
Maggie Bell (lead vocals)
Recorded with an unknown line-up of German musicians, this is apparently a collection of demos that Bell did not authorise for release. Musically it’s identikit eighties rock with some hard rock leanings; not distinguished in any way, but no worse than her work with Midnight Flyer earlier in the decade. GRADE: C.
Jon Lord, Maggie Bell, Donovan, Pete York, Eddie Hardin, Graham Bonnet, Tony Ashton, Zak Starkey, Ray Fenwick, Don Airey, Joe Fagin, Val McKenna, Raphael Ravenscroft & Steve Richardson (UK): Wind In The Willows – A Rock Concert (Inakustik INAK 9010 CD, CD, Germany, 1992)

Maggie Bell (occasional vocals), Val McKenna (occasional vocals)
A rock opera based around 'The Wind In The Willows' didn't fill me with enthusiasm, and the childlike front cover confirmed my worst suspicions. However, given the personnel involved, I hoped this might turn out to be bluesy early seventies-style rock. There are certainly strong elements of the genre, but refracted through a MOR showtune prism, so this is more 'Starlight Express' than Stone The Crows. Add in lots of lugubrious supperclub saxophone and a few AOR edges and the results are pretty tedious, with only the heavier rocking 'The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' (complete with drum solo) being worth a second listen. Nonetheless, the live audience sound like they were enjoying it, so you could get something out of this if you have a penchant for stage musicals. GRADE: D+.
Maggie Bell (UK): Live At The Rainbow 1974 (Angel Air SJPCD100, CD, 2002, recorded 1974)
Maggie Bell (lead vocals, tambourine)
Concentrating largely on material that would later appear on Suicide Sal, this is a solid live set. That said, the difference in quality between this and the various Stone The Crows live albums is immense, the two medleys are exceptionally boring and the beautiful ‘I Was In Chains’ is poorly performed. GRADE: C+.
Maggie Bell (UK): Live Boston USA 1975 (Angel Air SJPCD129, CD, 2003, recorded 1975)
Whilst duplicating some material, this is rather superior to the 1974 live set. Thankfully there are no medleys this time around, and the guitar histrionics that introduce ‘Penicillin Blues’ are quite impressive (if ultimately overlong). GRADE: C+.
Maggie Bell (UK): The River Sessions (River RIVERCD016, CD, 2004, recorded 1993)
Maggie Bell (principal vocals)
This live set has good sound quality and is an important historical document of an obscure era in Bell’s career, but musically this isn’t especially interesting. Focusing on the soulful end of her repertoire, this mixes numbers from Queen Of The Night with a selection of covers, all performed with rather lugubrious saxophone, giving a slight cabaret vibe. GRADE: C.
See also British Blues Quintet, Jon Lord Blues Project, Midnight Flyer, Stone The Crows

Bells (Canada): Fly, Little White Dove, Fly (Polydor 2422-022, 1971)
I’ve inevitably seen this album promoted as psychedelic, but it’s actually folk and country-tinged soft pop, not dissimilar to the New Seekers. None of the songs is self-penned, and their version of ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ is among the worst Beatles covers I’ve ever heard. They issued several other LPs (including an earlier venture as the Five Bells) and enjoyed enormous commercial success, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to hear any more of their work. GRADE: D.

Susy Bellucci (Italy): Nel Paese Di Susy (RCA PL 31407, 1978)
Susy Bellucci (principal vocals, guitar, piano, flute)
This album was apparently aimed at children, and consequently some use of kids’ voices and some overly whimsical moments significantly break its flow. That’s a pity, because at its best it’s a lovely LP of mellow folk/rock with a very Italian feel and progressive edges, similar to Jenny Sorrenti’s seventies solo albums. An interesting line-up of musicians includes Pierrot Lunaire’s Arturo Stàlteri on keyboards.

See also Cartacanta

Belt & Braces Roadshow Band (UK): Belt And Braces Roadshow Band (No label, with insert, 1975)
Jeni Barnett (joint lead vocals, keyboards), Eileen Pollock (guitar)
A British equivalent to all the Swedish political rock outfits, Belt & Braces Roadshow Band offer an equally schizophrenic album – there’s everything here from progressive rock with intricate guitar and keyboard work to light jazzy pop, mournful electric folk and dark country. Musically, this is pretty good, with hints of everything from RIO to new wave, but it’s undercut by their attempts to be funny and theatrical – and of course by the idiotic lyrics. GRADE: C+.
Belt & Braces Roadshow Band (UK): Treasonous Thinking (MNW 79P, with booklet, Sweden, 1977)
Jeni Barnett (joint lead vocals, keyboards), Eileen Pollock (guitar)
Their second and final album was actually released on a Swedish label, with MNW providing a natural home for them both musically and ideologically. This time round, they devote the first side to a suite of songs about the Troubles, seen through the eyes of two characters, both of whom are ludicrous cardboard cutouts. Apparently one could order a book ‘Perspective On Ireland’ to accompany the album, but sadly I don’t possess it so I can’t benefit from any more of their stunning political insights. GRADE: C+.

Benediction Moon (New Zealand): Benediction Moon (No label GAP001, 1978?)
World Music/Folk/Rock/Progressive
This obscure hippie commune LP is very much a game of two halves. Side one offers fours songs: a soft progressive number with swirling keyboards and hand percussion, a mellow ballad with country tinges, a raga-like piece and a beautiful, mellow folk/rocker. Side two is a single long raga with lots of chanting, and more typical of what one would expect from a Hare Krisha album. Very little is known about the LP historically, although the commune is still active today; some sources on the web date it as early as 1971, although it certainly doesn’t sound early seventies to me. In any case, copies are known with both gatefold and single sleeves: most likely the gatefold version was the first pressing, although I’ve also seen it suggested that the single sleeve variant was the New Zealand original, with gatefold copies originating from Australia. GRADE: C+.

Fiona (UK): Fiona (Gwerin SYWD 233, 1982)
Pop/ Singer/Songwriter
Fiona Bennett (lead vocals, keyboards)
Music student Fiona Bennett had written and arranged material for BBC Wales productions and played keyboards on Diliau’s sole album; her solo debut is a pleasant and mellow piano-based set of light pop numbers. Frequent use of string synthesiser gives this a bit of a cabaret feel, whilst the funky and slight disco edges lend the lost-in-time, parochial feel typical of much Welsh-language music of the era. Three of the four songs had appeared on her 1980 EP Ti A Mi, though two of them are (notably inferior) re-recordings. GRADE: C+.

Fiona Bennett (UK): Moving On (Sain 2058, CD, 1993)
Fiona Bennett (principal vocals, bass, keyboards, percussion)
The sleeve notes state that this is Bennett’s fourth album, but was actually her third (there is also a cassette-only release that I have never encountered). This is slightly different, partly because it’s sung in English but largely because she’s moved towards the middle-of-the-road: her songs her have a slight showtune edge, complete with plenty of saxophone and even some key changes. It’s all decent enough for what it is, but this isn’t really my kind of music. GRADE: C.

Fiona Bennett (UK): Unawd (Elf ELFCD1, CD, 1997)
Fiona Bennett (lead vocals, keyboards)
The plasticky funk-soul passage that opened the album didn’t fill me with confidence, but overall this is a slight step up from Moving On. Sure, it’s still pretty middle-of-the-road, but she’s penned a pleasant collection of songs and arranged them well, with the modernistic elements blighting that opening cut mostly kept in check. An English-language version, All That You Need (Elf ELFCDs). also exists. GRADE: C+.
Fiona Ann Bennett & Her FABulous Jazz Trio (UK): New Life (Elf ELFCD004, CD, 2004)
Fiona Bennett (lead vocals)
Bennett goes trad jazz, and how much you like this will depend on how much you like gentle piano-based supperclub music. It would never be my genre of choice, but this is beautifully done and she’s in fine voice, bringing real sensitivity to a number of familiar standards (plus the self-penned title track). GRADE: C+.

Fiona Bennett (UK): A Country Suite (Elf ELFCD05, CD, with minisleeve, 2012)
Fiona Bennett (lead vocals, piano)
A complete change of direction for Bennett: this comprises eight short piano solos followed by a single song, with the whole thing totalling around 21 minutes. It’s lovely, delicate stuff that’s simultaneously melodic, delicate and atmospheric. GRADE: C+.

Fiona Bennett (UK): The New Lady Radnor Suite (Elf ELFCD006, CD, with minisleeve, 2015)
Fiona Bennett (principal vocals, piano), Janet Coxwell (occasional vocals)
Slightly longer than its predecessor, this again consists mainly of solo piano, though there are three actual songs (two sung by Bennett and one by classical soprano Janet Coxwell) and some French horn on one piece. As with its predecessor, this is lovely, virtuosic pastoral music. GRADE: C+.

Bent Knee (USA): Bent Knee (No label, CDR, with digipak, 2011)
Courtney Swain (principal vocals, keyboards)
I should in theory like Bent Knee’s unusual brand of experimental alternative rock, which borrows from prog (particularly RIO) and industrial music and delivers constant surprises. However, whilst their eclecticism is admirable, I find their differing styles curdle rather than complementing one another, with the heavy, distorted electronic drumming on several tracks making for a listening experience that is startling in all the wrong ways. GRADE: C+.

Bent Knee (USA): Shiny Eyed Babies (No label, CD, with minisleeve and poster booklet, 2014)
Courtney Swain (lead vocals, keyboards), Jessica Kion (bass, backing vocals)
This is a definite step up from their first, with the distorted drums and quasi-metal elements thankfully only putting in a fleeting appearance. But whilst it’s again a varied and adventurous album, I still find the idea of Bent Knee more engaging than the reality.

Bent Knee (USA): Say So (Cuneiform Rune 417, CD, with digipak, 2016)
Courtney Swain (lead vocals, keyboards), Jessica Kion (bass, backing vocals)
It’s no coincidence that Bent Knee have joined the roster of Cuneiform, a label known for its avant-prog output: Say So is a much more progressive and adventurous album that at times recalls everyone from Sleepytime Gorilla Museum to Thinking Plague. I’m still unconvinced about Courtney Swain’s girlish, all-American vocals, but with music this interesting it’s not a huge drawback. GRADE: B–.

Bent Knee (USA): Land Animal (InsideOut 88985420992, CD, with digipak and booklet, Germany, 2017)
Courtney Swain (lead vocals, keyboards), Jessica Kion (bass, backing vocals)
Again, this is impressive, eclectic stuff, referencing lots of other bands I love, but once again I find Bent Knee’s music more admirable than adorable. Maybe it’s Courtney Swain’s singing style; or maybe it’s the faint indie edge that underpins their music. GRADE: B–.

Bent Knee (USA): You Know What They Mean (InsideOut IOMLP 535, LP plus CD, some on pink and black splatter vinyl, 2019)
Courtney Swain (lead vocals, keyboards), Jessica Kion (bass, backing vocals)
There’s no doubt that this album is Bent Knee’s best. Whilst it superficially resembles their countrymen District 97 with its heavy riffs and quintessentially American style, their differences become more obvious – Bent Knee are less tuneful but more eclectic, adventurous and humorous, and it’s their sense of adventure that clearly lifts them from C+ to B–. GRADE: B–.

Bent Knee Trio (USA): Live And Nearly Unplugged (No label, download, 2014)
Courtney Swain (principal vocals, keyboards)
I struggled to imagine how Bent Knee would sound as a stripped-down trio – vocals, acoustic guitar, keyboards and violin– given their knotty electric music and Courtney Swain’s unusual voice. Yet they make the transition sound effortless, and the end results, with lots of neoclassical touches from the violin, hint vaguely towards Comus without any percussion despite the wildly differing song styles.

Bent Knee (USA): Frosting (Take This To Heart T3H2-096, CD, 2021)
Courtney Swain, Jessica Kion
As a genre, avant-prog thrives on surprises and Bent Knee certainly deliver one here, offering an album that virtually defies classification. At heart this is electronic pop – catchy and symphonic, complete with autotune and synth horns and fuzzy breakbeats, and the very last thing I would have expected from them. But whilst it could be viewed as a concerted move towards the mainstream – or perhaps more accurately what they imagine to be the mainstream – everything is drenched in effects and distortion and the resulting sonic stew is perplexing through and through. After two listens, it still doesn’t make much sense and is extremely difficult to grade, though in its own way it’s both original and interesting. GRADE: C+.

Cathy Berberian (USA): Revolution (Fontana MGF 27564/SRF 67564, 1967)
A famous opera singer, Berberian divided her career between mainstream classical works and avant-gardism. This album – which reinterprets Beatles songs in the style of Mozart with chamber orchestra accompaniment – falls squarely into the second category. It’s easy to dismiss this as kitsch or a mere cash-in, but Berberian’s talent as a vocalist and the quality of the arrangements creates a superb album that bridges eras and genres in a remarkable way. It was also issued in the UK as Beatles Arias (Polydor 583 702), with different artwork. GRADE: B–.

Pat Berg & Brenda Marian (UK/Australia): Brenda And Pat (No label 000001, with insert, Switzerland, 1980)
Brenda Marian (joint lead vocals, guitar)
Although this rare private pressing, housed in a paste-on sleeve, was released in Switzerland where the duo resided, Pat Berg was British (having appeared on the Sussex University private pressing Brothers & Sisters 12 years previously) and Brenda Marian Australian. Their album mixes traditional Scottish and Australian songs with a few originals by Berg, and whilst it doesn’t contain anything really special it’s pleasant enough acoustic folk, albeit occasionally a touch too whimsical. GRADE: C+.

Erik Berglund & Pat Barnes (USA): Vision (No label ES-1005, 1974)
Singer/Songwriter/‘Incredibly Strange Music’
Pat Barnes (joint lead vocals, tambourine, kazoo)
From the tripped-out cover, I expected this to be psychedelic or progressive, but it’s nothing of the kind. The album is actually a vehicle for the songs of Erik Berglund, who later went onto a lengthy career in new age music, and who performs his material in a troubadour style whilst co-vocalist Pat Barnes adopts a more classical approach. For most songs, the only accompaniment is piano, with the whole thing having an earnest, naïve vibe bringing to mind a school project. A couple of short uptempo cuts opening side two don’t work well: ‘New Day’ is simply excruciating, whilst on ‘Come Fly With Me’ Berglund appears to be channelling Flanders and Swann. For the most part, the material is gentle and sepulchral, however, with the pseudo-classical and MOR edges and cosmic lyrics (sample verse: ‘Draw in the light as a magnetic breath/Filled with love from the currents above/Back out through space, radiate harmony/To step Earth’s vibration in key’) heightening the weirdness quotient. In fact, the whole thing is so odd that it could have appeal for ‘real people’ collectors. GRADE: C.

Bermuda Triangle (USA): Bermuda Triangle (Winter Solstice SR-3338, 1977)
Wendy Becket (joint lead vocals, bass), Sam Becket (drums, percussion, violin)
Building on the style of the Roger & Wendy LP but with fuller arrangements, this is an unusual record indeed. ‘Nights In White Satin’ could have been tailor-made for their unique style, whilst ‘Right Track’ is a superbly atmospheric original. Elsewhere, there is an unusual Aerosmith cover (‘Dream On’), a brief foray into British-style folk/rock (‘Lark In The Morning/Swallow Tail’) and a remake of ‘Wind’ from the Roger And Wendy set. In every case, electric autoharp takes the role that would normally be filled by guitar, creating a woozy, almost mesmerising atmosphere. As a final strange twist, the band was apparently a lounge outfit, performing cabaret shows at Holiday Inns; an image that really boggles the mind. GRADE: B–.
Bermuda Triangle (USA): Bermudas II (Tribecket TR-0999, with insert, 1984)
New Wave/Pop/Folk/Rock
Wendy Becket (joint lead vocals, bass), Sam Becket (drums, violin)
To describe the band’s second album as peculiar would be an understatement. For the most part, it’s funky eighties pop of no distinction, with its only notable feature being their trademark use of electric autoharp instead of guitar. However, it also takes in a superb acid-folk number (‘Gypsy Man’), a fiddle hoedown (‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia’) and a bizarre version of Beethoven’s ‘Ode To Joy’. As a footnote, a 1983 acetate was offered on a prominent record dealer’s list, leading to speculation that there might be an unreleased Bermuda Triangle LP floating around. Not so: it contains the same music as this one. GRADE: C.
See also Euphoria, R&W Penney, Roger & Wendy

Karen Beth (USA): The Joys Of Life (Decca DL 75148, 1969)
The opening ‘It’s All Over Now’ is comparatively bouncy and even features some horns, but mostly this is an eerie and powerful singer/songwriter set with effectively melancholic atmospheres. Highpoints include the remarkable title track (uncannily presaging the sound of bands like Portishead at their most mournful) and the shimmering, psychedelic ‘Come December’. GRADE: B–.
Karen Beth (USA): Harvest (Decca DL 75247, with inner, 1970)
Karen Beth (lead vocals, guitar, piano, autoharp)
The title of Beth’s second album (and its cover, showing her in a cornfield) might suggest country/rock, and several songs here have a rural tinge. Overall, this isn’t as good or as atmospheric as its predecessor, although there are some nice tracks (especially the haunting ‘Last Time’ and ‘I’m No Good For You’, which would have fitted comfortably on The Joys Of Life). GRADE: C+.
Karen Beth (USA): New Moon Rising (Buddah BDS-5631, with insert, 1975)
Karen Beth (lead vocals, guitar)
Album number three mixes acoustic folk and country with numbers combining band backing and horns, often recalling a more rural Joni Mitchell. To my ears it’s a pretty inconsequential set with none of the highpoints of its predecessors, but anybody who idolises the Linda Perhacs album could like this a lot. As a footnote, this includes a cover of Barbara Mauritz’s ‘Flying’, although everything else is self-penned. GRADE: C.

Bethlehem Progressive Ensemble (USA): Mod Lit (Fortress 121-142-74, 1974?)
Nancy Desiderio (lead vocals)
This unusual album is a recording of a religious service (complete with sermons and congregation response) featuring modern jazz accompaniment. With vibraphone, marimba and piano the most prominent instruments, the disc is melodic yet somewhat avant-garde; it’s a pity that the rather tedious spoken word sections occasionally interrupt the music. GRADE: C+.

Betsy & Chris (Folk): Folk Album (Denon CD 4013, Japan, 1970)
Betsy Ko, Chris Rolseth
Betsy Ko and Chris Rolseth were a pair of young blondes (from the cover photograph, they appear to be in their late teens or very early 20s) who hailed from Hawaii, but this album was recorded and only released in Japan. Housed in an attractive thick book sleeve, it’s a stunning LP of crystalline folk music, with a sound similar to Folkal Point. Most of the material is American (‘Everybody’s Talkin’’, ‘The Other Side Of This Life’, ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ et al) but the vibe is decidedly English and pastoral. This is a rare LP, and could become extremely expensive once more people know about it. They issued several other albums in Japan, and Betsy later went solo. GRADE: B.

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