Ble-Bly

Blessed Oblivion (USA): Blessed Oblivion (Ventricle CD 14, CD, 2001)
Ambient/Psychedelic
Amandra Christina (lead vocals), Dana Devereaux (strings)
With sepulchral vocals delivering quasi-religious chants backed by swirling Mellotron, strings and electronics, all processed to the max, this could be seen as a latterday answer to Popol Vuh’s Hosianna Mantra. The difference is that whilst Hosianna Mantra had magnificent hooks that lodged in the brain and a genuinely sacred atmosphere, this is merely pleasant background music. GRADE: C+.

See also Mistress Of Strands

Carla Bley, Mike Mantler, Steve Lacy, Kent Carter & Aldo Romano (USA): Jazz Realities (Fontana 881 010, UK, 1966)
Jazz/Avant-Garde
Carla Bley (piano)
Although credited to all five participating musicians, this is essentially Carla Bley’s first album, as she composed the bulk of the material (with Mantler also participating in some of the writing). Musically, it’s good but not especially distinctive modern jazz with cacophonous elements, and gives no hint that she would go on to create a work as significant as Escalator Over The Hill. GRADE: C+.
Carla Bley (USA): Escalator Over The Hill (JCOA EOTH, boxed set with booklet, 1972)
Jazz/Avant-Garde/Psychedelic/Progressive
Carla Bley (joint lead vocals, keyboards, percussion), Viva (joint lead vocals), Linda Ronstadt (occasional vocals), Karen Mantler (occasional vocals), Jeanne Lee (occasional vocals), Jane Blackstone (occasional vocals), Eileen Hale (occasional vocals), Rosalind Hupp (occasional vocals), Sheila Jordan (occasional vocals), Pat Stewart (occasional vocals), Nancy Newton (occasional vocals, viola), Phyllis Schneider (occasional vocals), Sharon Freeman (occasional vocals, French horn)
This astounding triple album, recorded whenever Bley and her associates could afford studio time between 1968 and 1971, remains one of the masterpieces of the American avant-garde. Whilst rooted in free jazz, it draws influences from every kind of music, meshing mutant big-band jazz, weird electronics, Brechtian song, searing acid-rock, Indian influences and snatches of opera into six sides of completely unpredictable music that end in an almost ambient locked groove. The list of contributing musicians and singers is equally astounding, including Charlie Haden, Michael Mantler, ‘Warhol superstar’ Viva, Don Cherry, Jeanne Lee, Don Preston, Jack Bruce, John McLaughlin and Linda Ronstadt. It’s highly pretentious, of course, based on an elliptical narrative by the Canadian poet Paul Haines, and so diverse that many listeners will love some parts and hate others – but to my ears this is one of the most significant and rewarding projects of its era. Bley went on to cut many interesting and enjoyable albums, but perhaps inevitably she never equalled the impact of her initial magnum opus. GRADE: B.

Carla Bley (USA): Tropic Appetites (WATT WATT/1, 1974)
Jazz/Avant-Garde
Julie Driscoll (joint lead vocals), Carla Bley (occasional vocals, keyboards, percussion, recorder), Karen Mantler (occasional vocals)
Escalator Over The Hill’s more concise follow-up reunites Bley with lyricist Paul Haynes, but musically it’s a very different beast. With the wild psychedelic rock sections and electronic experimentation gone, this is a fusion of modern jazz and Brechtian song that often comes close to Slapp Happy or mid-seventies Henry Cow in style. However, from the 11-minute instrumental overture to the seven songs that follow, it’s spare and minimalist rather than fiery and intense, and to these ears only really catches fire during the long jam in ‘Indonesian Dock Sucking Supreme’. GRADE: C+.
Carla Bley & Michael Mantler (USA): 13¾ (WATT WATT/3, with insert, 1975)
Jazz/Classical/Avant-Garde
Carla Bley (piano)
This ambitious venture features side-long orchestral pieces by Bley and her then-husband Michael Mantler; oddly, Bley plays on both pieces whilst Mantler only performs on Bley’s. Mantler’s ‘13’ sits betwixt jazz and modern classical music, with an austere, formless feel that takes it close to the wildest fringes of RIO: I’m sometimes reminded of mid-period Art Zoyd on a more epic scale. However, whilst admirable and fascinating, like a lot of avant-garde music it’s completely lacking in melody or hooks, and I can’t imagine wanting to hear it repeatedly. Bley’s ‘¾’ is altogether more accomplished, with lots of naggingly catchy little hooks and quixotic diversions, though it can be atonal too. Overall, this is an interesting and admirable venture, and for that alone deserves a B–, but it’s certainly not among my favourite Bley LPs. GRADE: B–.
Carla Bley (USA): Dinner Music (WATT WATT/6, 1977)
Jazz 
Carla Bley (lead vocals, keyboards, saxophone)
This is the album with which Bley really developed her own style – smart, sassy and satirical; mellow and cheesy yet simultaneously weird; derivative of everyone and everything jazzy yet completely original. Seemingly a surreal soundtrack for an imaginary dinner party, this almost entirely instrumental set drops the austerity and atonality of her earlier work for a toe-tapping snappiness replete with insistent hooks. Like a lot of pure jazz (as opposed to jazz/rock), it’s strongly horn-led, with Bley’s own keyboards strictly secondary, so rock fans may find it a stretch and fans of her earlier work may consider it too safe – but if you listen carefully, this is subtly subversive stuff. GRADE: B–.
Carla Bley Band (USA): European Tour 1977 (WATT WATT/8, 1978)
Jazz 
Carla Bley (organ, saxophone)
Despite the title, this is a studio album, and it’s in the same satirical vein as Dinner Music, with the closing 19-minute suite based around parodies of patriotic songs. However, despite the presence of Hugh Hopper, whose fuzz bass lifts the music significantly, and notwithstanding some fine moments, I don’t find it nearly as compelling. Notably, whilst my aversion to excessive horns didn’t trouble me on Dinner Music, here I find myself wishing we could hear more from the rhythm section and Bley’s own organ. GRADE: C+.

Carla Bley (USA): Musique Mécanique (WATT WATT/9, 1979)
Jazz/Rock/Progressive
Carla Bley (keyboards)
Much more interesting than European Tour, this dials down the horns, abandons the most obvious satire and adds some progressive rock elements (especially on the three-part title track). Typically for Bley, this is all fairly melodic and catchy, but quirky and unpredictable at the same time, adding up to an absorbing and exciting listening experience (bolstered by superb sound quality). GRADE: B.

Carla Bley (USA): Social Studies (WATT/ECM ECM W 11, 1981)
Jazz
Carla Bley (keyboards)
By the standards of Bley’s earlier work, this is incredibly straight and sedate – a collection of half-a-dozen mellow jazz instrumentals that pass the time pleasantly enough. There’s nothing here that’s likely to displease, and the level of craft is impressive, but this is all a great deal more conventional than titles like ‘Reactionary Tango (In Three Parts)’, ‘Copyright Royalties’ and ‘Walking Batteriewoman’ would imply. GRADE: C+.
Carla Bley (USA): Live! (WATT/ECM WATT/12/ECM W 12, 1982)
Jazz
Carla Bley (keyboards, glockenspiel)
This is a bit livelier than Social Studies, but Bley has clearly settled into a comfortable groove. The audience clearly appreciate both the musicianship and the humour of her band, but much as I like this, I would have appreciated a little more of the devil-may-care spirit of her early work. GRADE: C+.
Carla Bley (USA): Extraits De La Bande Originale Du Filme ‘Mortelle Randonnée’ (Mercury 817 097-1, France, 1983)
Jazz
Carla Bley (keyboards)
Bley’s soundtrack to a French thriller recycles lots of old stuff: variations on the traditional ‘La Paloma’, re-recordings of excerpts from A Genuine Tong Funeral and a couple of pieces from Musique Mécanique and Live!. Typically for her, it’s quite whimsical, though notably darker and more intense than her last couple of albums, with a bit of a New Orleans feel. GRADE: C+.

Charlie Haden & Carla Bley (USA): The Ballad Of The Fallen (ECM 23794-1, 1983)
Jazz
Carla Bley (piano, glockenspiel)
This all-instrumental concept album about politics in El Salvador mixes traditional Spanish material with compositions from Haden and Bley. With quite a bit of variety, including some superb solo bass work from Haden, it’s Bley most intense and interesting LP since Musique Mécanique. GRADE: B–.
Carla Bley (UK): Heavy Heart (WATT/ECM WATT/14, 1984)
Jazz
Carla Bley (keyboards)
This is Bley’s mellowest album yet – often almost background music, sometimes almost lounge. That’s not to say it’s without interest, however – there are some pleasant melodies and some virtuosic performances here. GRADE: C+.

Carla Bley Band (USA): I Hate To Sing (WATT/ECM WATT/12½, CD, 1984)
Jazz
Carla Bley (occasional vocals, keyboards, glockenspiel)
‘Does humour belong in music?’ Frank Zappa asked, and you may well ask yourself the same question after hearing the first half of this, recorded live. On the plus side, the musical backing is more than competent, the lyrics are funny and the audience appears to enjoy it, but I can’t imagine any home listener wanting to hear this regularly. The second half, live in the studio, is straighter – and better. GRADE: C+.
Carla Bley (USA): Heavy Heart (WATT/ECM WATT/14, 1984)
Jazz
Carla Bley (keyboards)
This is Bley’s mellowest album yet – often almost background music, sometimes almost lounge. That’s not to say it’s without interest, however – there are some pleasant melodies and some virtuosic performances here. GRADE: C+.
Carla Bley With Steve Swallow (USA): Night-Glo (Watt WATT/16, CD, West Germany, 1985)
Jazz
Carla Bley (keyboards)
The deliberately cheesy photo of Bley and Swallow on the cover is no accident: this is Bley’s full-fledged foray into lounge jazz. For all that, it’s a lovely album – mellow, charming and relaxing. Just don’t expect Escalator Over The Hill or even Musique Mécanique. GRADE: C+.
Carla Bley (USA): Sextet (Watt WATT/17, CD, 1987)
Jazz
Carla Bley (organ)

Again, this is mellow in the extreme, and unlike Dinner Music would make extremely good restaurant music. However, the quality of the compositions and playing means that it never becomes restaurant muzak. GRADE: C+.

Carla Bley & Steve Swallow (USA): Duets (Watt WATT/20, CD, 1988)
Jazz
Carla Bley (piano)
This unusual album consists largely of older Bley compositions rearranged as duets for electric bass and piano. With no other instruments involved, this could quickly have become one-dimensional, but Bley and Swallow’s playing is supremely sensitive, resulting in a lovely and relaxing set. GRADE: C+.
Carla Bley (USA): Fleur Carnivore (Watt WATT/21, CD, 1989)
Jazz
Carla Bley (piano)
The title might make you think she’s reverted to the style of Escalator Over The Hill or Tropic Appetites, but this live set is pretty mellow. That said, it’s livelier than her last few albums, with more of a big-band feel, but it isn’t what you’d call challenging or invigorating. GRADE: C+.
Very Big Carla Bley Band (USA/Austria): The Very Big Carla Bley Band (Watt WATT/23, CD, USA, 1991)
Jazz
Carla Bley (piano), Karen Mantler (organ)
Bley’s big-band proclivities are given full reign here, and her 18-piece group seems to have revitalised her. For sure, this isn’t likely to rival Escalator… in anybody’s affections, and as the band name suggests it’s extremely horn-heavy, but the music here is lively and eclectic, and as such the most interesting thing she’s done in years. GRADE: B–.
Carla Bley & Steve Swallow (USA): Go Together (Watt WATT/24, CD, 1993)
Jazz
Carla Bley (piano)
Whether Bley and Swallow’s second album of bass and piano duets is better or worse than the first, but it’s certainly very similar and very pleasant. I was going to say that there’s only so much you can do with the format, but that would be untrue: they could have done some experimental or avant-garde. They didn’t. GRADE: C+.

Carla Bley (USA): Big Band Theory (Watt WATT/25, CD, 1993)
Jazz
Carla Bley (piano)
I definitely prefer latterday Bley in big-band rather than small-combo mode, but then latterday Bley isn’t my preference in the first place. Thus, whilst the music here is consistently well-crafted and varied, lifted by Alex Balanescu’s elegant violin, it’s ultimately high-class background music, like almost everything Bley has done since the seventies. GRADE: C+.
Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard & Steve Swallow (USA): Songs With Legs (Watt WATT/26, CD, 1995)
Jazz
Carla Bley (piano)
This live album features sparse instrumentation of bass, piano and saxophone. It also features some of the most mellow music of Bley’s career to date, making it a lovely listen but as far from the cutting edge as it’s possible to get. GRADE: C+.

Carla Bley Big Band (USA/Austria): Goes To Church (Watt WATT/27, CD, 1996)
Jazz
Carla Bley (piano)
I’m not sure what the difference is between Bley’s Big Band and Very Big Band, but there’s certainly a difference between this and her small ensemble work: it’s livelier, more varied and more engaging. When all is said and done, it’s not tremendously exciting, though, but the audience appear to enjoy her pisstakes on gospel music – as did I. GRADE: C+.

Carla Bley (USA): Fancy Chamber Music (Watt WATT/28, 1998)
Jazz/Classical
Carla Bley (piano)
No prizes for what she’s pastiching this time around – and I use that word advisedly, since this is too serious and too beautiful to qualify as a pisstake. Bley herself described as ‘dignified classical music written for earnest, well behaved, conservatively dressed musicians’. That’s a fair summation, though with added instrumentation including a whip and a starting pistol, and with the closing cut seemingly dedicated to murdered child beauty star JonBenét Ramsey, this superb light classical music isn’t as straight as it first seems. GRADE: B–.

Carla Bley & Steve Swallow (USA): Are We There Yet? (Watt WATT/29, 1999)
Jazz 
Carla Bley (piano)
The third bass-and-piano duets album from Bley and Swallow was recorded live during a European tour, though you would never notice this by listening. What you may notice is that this is their best yet – whilst there’s only so much you can do with bass and piano, they do it exceptionally well. GRADE: C+.

Carla Bley Big Band (USA/Austria): Looking For America (Watt WATT/31, CD, 2003

Jazz

Carla Bley (piano), Karen Mantler (organ, glockenspiel)

Another day, another set of satire from Ms Bley – this time the target is patriotic American music. In fairness, this is good fun and good music too, but I do find myself wondering whether she’ll ever get back to doing anything genuinely innovative. GRADE: C+.

Carla Bley (USA): 4 X 4 (Watt WATT/30, CD, 2000)
Jazz 
Carla Bley (piano)
It’s easy to be seduced by 4 X 4: the music is so beautifully recorded and so sumptuously arranged that it envelops you like a cosy blanket. This is also Bley’s most varied album in ages – fun, whimsical and surprising. But charming as it is, I just wish it were a little nearer the cutting edge. GRADE: B–.
Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow & Billy Drummond (USA/UK): The Lost Chords (Watt WATT/32, CD, 2003)
Jazz 
Carla Bley (piano)
This collection of Bley compositions, scored for bass, piano, drums and saxophone is unfailingly pleasant, and in parts quite lively too. But if you’re looking for anything more than decent background music, you’ll have to keep looking. GRADE: C+.
Carla Bley (USA/UK): The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu (Watt WATT/34, CD, 2007)
Jazz 
Carla Bley (piano)
Round two is as listenable as the first, but sadly no more invigorating. When the most amusing thing about a Carla Bley album is the track titles – including ‘The Banana Quintet’, ‘Death Of Superman’ and ‘Dream Sequence #1 – Flying’ – you know she and her collaborators aren’t firing on all cylinders. GRADE: C+.

Carla Bley Big Band (USA/Austria): Looking For America (Watt WATT/31, CD, 2003

Jazz

Carla Bley (piano), Karen Mantler (organ, glockenspiel)

Another day, another set of satire from Ms Bley – this time the target is patriotic American music. In fairness, this is good fun and good music too, but I do find myself wondering whether she’ll ever get back to doing anything genuinely innovative. GRADE: C+.
Carla Bley (USA): Carla’s Christmas Carols (Watt WATT/35, CD, 2009)
Jazz 
Carla Bley (keyboards)
I doubt that a Carla Bley Christmas album was high on anyone’s present list, but this is surprisingly enjoyable. Backed by a horn section, Bley and Steve Swallow perform a variety of Christmas numbers – from ‘Away In A Manger’ and ‘Jingle Bells’ to two of her own compositions – and create an accomplished and atmospheric record that effortlessly sidesteps the irritation common to most Christmas music. 

GRADE: B–.

Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard & Steve Swallow (USA/UK): Trios (ECM 2287, CD, with slipcase, Germany, 2012)
Jazz
Carla Bley (piano)
Saxophone isn’t a favourite instrument of mine – even when played by Andy Sheppard – and I generally prefer Bley in big-band mode, so this was never likely to figure among my favourites from her back catalogue. It’s beautifully put together, of course, and quite atmospheric, and it makes for pleasant background music – and if that sounds like damning it with faint praise, I probably am. GRADE: C+.
Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard & Steve Swallow (USA/UK): Andando El Tiempo (ECM 2487, CD, with slipcase, Germany, 2016)
Jazz
Carla Bley (piano)
Bley’s final album is another bass, piano and saxophone affair – perhaps marginally better than Trios, but very much in the same vein. It’s a sedate end to a solo career that started explosively with Escalator Over The Hill. GRADE: C+.

Carla Bley (USA): Armadillo World Headquarters Austin Texas March 27 1978 (Hi Hat HHHCD03112, CD, Cyprus, 2018, recorded 1978)

Jazz/Rock/Progressive

Carla Bley (keyboards)

This radio broadcast captures Bley and her band during one of the most enjoyable phases of her career. The drum solo may be dull, but everything else is inventive and virtuosic and full of fun, and Bley’s irrepressible personality really shines through every time she addresses the audience. GRADE: B–.

See also Jack Bruce Band, Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, Michael Mantler, Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports

Paul Bley (UK): Improvisie (America 30 AM 6121, France, 1971)
Jazz/Electronic/Avant-Garde
Annette Peacock (lead vocals, bass, keyboards)
Although credited as a Paul Bley solo album, this was more Annette Peacock’s project: she wrote the 24-minute ‘Touching’ on one side and co-wrote the 14-minute title track on the other, and handled the vocals, bass and some of the keyboards. Musically, it’s noodling, unmelodic free jazz improvisation with lots of electronics, and despite a few interesting moments is unlikely to appeal to anyone without a strong taste for avant-garde music. GRADE: C.
Bley-Peacock Synthesizer Show (USA): Revenge (Polydor 2425 043, UK, 1972)
Jazz/Rock/Electronic/Avant-Garde
Annette Peacock (lead vocals, vibraphone)
Whereas the other Bley/Peacock albums (Improvisie and Dual Unity) are avant-garde electronic jazz, this is avant-garde electronic rock. Like her equally excellent solo debut I’m The One, this features quirky, jazzy songs overlaid with all kinds of synthesised treatments and some superb vocals – Peacock has the kind of smoky tones that could make a recitation of the phonebook sound interesting. Some sources suggest that was recorded before Improvisie, back in 1969, although it certainly doesn’t sound like it. GRADE: B–.
Annette & Paul Bley (USA): Dual Unity (Freedom 2385 105, 1972)
Jazz/Electronic/Avant-Garde
Annette Peacock (lead vocals, bass, piano)
The first side consists of a single track, ‘MJ’, which neatly avoids the usual pitfalls of jazz improvisation and electronic experimentation. For the most part it’s a relaxed, minimal piece, with Peacock unusually playing bass rather than keyboards, with a haunting refrain hinting at a proto-new age sound. Most of side two offers the kind of rambling cacophony you’d expect, before reprising the theme from ‘MJ’, and is far less listenable, but as a whole the album is accomplished and adventurous. GRADE: C+.
See also Annette Peacock

Blood Ceremony (Canada): Blood Ceremony (Rise Above RISECD109, CD, UK, 2008)
Metal/Progressive
Alia O’ Brien (lead vocals, organ, flute)
Capturing the early seventies vibe perfectly, this brilliant Canadian band offers a superb pastiche of peak Black Sabbath with added Jethro Tull-like flute, progressive rock elements and understated female vocals. The great riffs and tempo changes are perfectly matched by the hilarious lyrics, which parody the portentous satanic nonsense favoured by early seventies metal outfits with real wit and style. GRADE: B.
Blood Ceremony (Canada): Living With The Ancients (Metal Blade 3984-14933-2, CD, with digipak and booklet, USA, 2011)
Progressive/Metal
Alia O’ Brien (lead vocals, organ, flute)
Their first was impossible to top within its genre, so the band sensibly changed direction. Whereas their debut was early seventies-style doom metal with progressive edges and a very British feel, Living With The Ancients is early seventies-style heavy progressive with doom metal edges and resembles several Scandinavian outfits from the era. Elements of Hawkwind and Jimi Hendrix can also be discerned in the sound, along with a fair bit of Black Sabbath as before. Perhaps even better than their first, this is a highly impressive album that could appeal to a slightly different audience. GRADE: B.

Blood Ceremony (Canada): The Eldritch Dark (Rise Above RISECD164, CD, with digipak and booklet, UK, 2013)
Rock/Metal/Progressive/Psychedelic/Folk
Alia O’ Brien (principal vocals, keyboards, flute)

For their third album, they yet again blend their early seventies influences in a slightly different way. For the most part, this is garage hard rock rather than metal, still with plenty of Jethro Tull-style flute, though with diversions into psychedelic folk (‘Lord Summerisle’), Steeleye Span-like folk/rock (‘Ballad Of The Weird Sisters’) and psychedelia (‘Drawing Down The Moon’). Some may find the slightly thinner (and somewhat variable) recording quality underwhelming, but this is another impressive set on which they continue to break new ground. GRADE: B–.
Blood Ceremony (Canada): Lord Of Misrule (Rise Above RISECD197, CD, 2016)
Rock/Metal/Folk/Progressive
Alia O’ Brien (lead vocals, keyboards, flute)
Leaving metal further behind, this incorporates everything from sixties pop (notably on ‘Flower Phantoms’) to Mellotron into their distinctive brand of flute-led garage hard rock and folk/rock. It’s hard to see exactly where they’ll go from here, but one could never accuse them of standing still. GRADE: B–.

Bloodstone (Czech Republic): The Awakening (Mediarex MEDIA 001-2, CD, 1994)
Metal
Vendula Kašpárková (keyboards)
This may feature Vendula Kašpárková (who co-wrote all the music) and drummer Klaudius Kryšpin from Stromboli, but superficially there’s no musical resemblance: this is AOR-oriented hard rock, complete with a leather-lunged vocalist. However, the riffs are heavier and more insistent than your average hard rock band and there are plenty of symphonic keyboard flourishes and unusual rhythm breaks, so it’s obvious that band members came from prog backgrounds. Whether that works in the song’s favour is debatable as this is an odd record that falls between two stools: too commercial to please prog fans and too quirky to be commercial. GRADE: C+.

See also Stromboli

Blue Apple Boy (UK): Salient (Somasound 002, CD, 2002)
Progressive
Rachel Theresa Hope (occasional vocals, keyboards, flute)
‘Featuring Tiny Wood ex-Ultrasound’ proclaims the hype sticker, but this is actually a reformation of his earlier band Sleepy People. With its quirky, slightly pastoral indie-tinged brand of prog, it’s a worthwhile follow-up to that band’s albums. It’s also a more worthwhile (and logical) follow-up to Everything Picture than the two much straighter Ultrasound reunion efforts that followed a decade down the line. GRADE: B–.

See also Sleepy People

Blue Cliff Ensemble (USA): Blue Cliff (Woofus 01, with insert, 1979)
Singer/Songwriter/Progressive
Karen Kitchen (principal vocals, guitar, percussion, koto)
With just four long songs – all slow and mournful, all sparsely instrumented, all concerned with environmental topics, some gilded with ethnic and mildly jazzy touches – this is an unusual album that falls between several stools. It’s not exactly singer/songwriter (though Joni Mitchell’s ‘Paprika Plains’ could have been a major influence), not really folk/rock, not quite progressive and not truly new age either, but blends all those influences into a serene and slightly eerie whole. In summary, it’s perhaps a little too precious for its own good, but the album certainly exudes a chilly beauty. GRADE: C+.

Blue Horizon (UK): Blue Horizon (Folk Heritage FHR022S, 1971)
Folk
Kath Williamson (joint lead vocals)
The sleeve notes claim that the four-piece band ‘between them… play some nine instruments ranging from mandolin to double bass’, but the only accompaniment on the LP is acoustic guitar, bass, banjo and tambourine. On ‘Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye’ they achieve a crystalline purity bringing Folkal Point to mind, but for the most part this is typical folk club stuff. This has not stopped the album from becoming one of the most expensive rarities on the very collectable Folk Heritage label. GRADE: C+.

Blue Mink (UK/USA): Melting Pot (Philips SBL 7926, UK, 1970)
Pop/Rock
Madeline Bell (joint lead vocals)
The naïve racial politics of the title track have dated badly, and the band is remembered only for its bubblegum hit singles, but this is as classy as you’d expect from the stellar line-up of Madeline Bell, Roger Cook, Barry Morgan, Roger Coulam, Herbie Flowers and Alan Parker. Admittedly, some tracks are utterly throwaway (‘Gimme Reggae’), but even they are enjoyable, and there are several excellent compositions, including three fine instrumentals that could appeal to psychedelic and progressive buffs. GRADE: C+.
Blue Mink (UK/USA): Our World (Philips 6308 024, UK, 1971)
Pop/Rock
Madeline Bell (joint lead vocals)
With their second album, their detractors’ criticisms start to make more sense. Whilst there are small pleasures here – the stomping glam-rock beat on several cuts, the gentle congas on ‘You Walked Away’, the bluesy guitar runs on ‘Cat House’ – they’re overshadowed by the contrived, soaring choruses, syrupy strings and silly and sometimes pompous lyrics (precisely what you’d expect from an album penned by professional hitmakers and performed by veteran session musicians). On the plus side, ‘Mind Your Business’ is an uncharacteristic and thoroughly enjoyable lightweight hard rocker. GRADE: C.
Blue Mink (UK/USA): A Time Of Change (Regal Zonophone SRZA 8507, UK, 1972)
Pop/Rock
Madeline Bell (joint lead vocals)
With just eight songs, A Time Of Change suggests that Blue Mink were either running short of inspiration or concentrating more on their other musical projects. Side one is pleasant rather than remarkable (despite some clever production touches that grab the attention when you least expect it), but side two starts with by far their finest song, ‘Warm Days, Warm Nights’, which begins as a stunningly beautiful Eastern-tinged ballad before going into a weird middle section with orgasmic sound effects and eerie chanting, and finally becoming an extremely catchy pop number. Had they maintained this standard throughout, this would have been a classic of underground progressive pop. GRADE: C+.
Blue Mink (UK/USA): ‘Live’ At The Talk Of The Town (Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1029, UK, 1972)
Pop/Rock/Lounge
Madeline Bell (joint lead vocals)
The combination of ‘Blue Mink’ and ‘Talk of the Town’ might lead one to expect a cabaret-style monstrosity – and indeed, the band tackles everything from ‘I (Who Have Nothing)’ and ‘Something’ to ‘Morning Dew’ and even ‘Whole Lotta Love’. But their sleazy, funky, loungy interpretations of the latter two are rather wonderful, as is the fuzz guitar and organ-driven instrumental ‘Aisles Of White’ (whose main melody appears to be based on the theme from ‘Z-Cars’). GRADE: C+.
Blue Mink (UK/USA): Only When I Laugh (EMI EMA 756, UK, 1973)
Pop/Rock
Madeline Bell (joint lead vocals), Ann Odell (keyboards)
With the addition of second keyboardist Ann Odell and well-travelled percussionist Ray Cooper, the band expanded to an octet for its penultimate studio album. However, it’s their most unambitious release yet, as lightweight funky pop songs and gentle ballads drift by pleasantly without ever meriting closer listening. GRADE: C.
Blue Mink (UK/USA): Fruity (EMI EMC 302, UK, 1974)
Pop/Rock
Madeline Bell (joint lead vocals), Ann Odell (keyboards)
Far punchier than its predecessor, this is a fine end to the band’s career, using the two new members to excellent effect. ‘Stop Us’ is a great funky opener, driven by propulsive percussion, while ‘Quackers’ is another highlight – a bizarre but complex instrumental led by banjo, synthesiser and duck impersonations and underpinned by a manic Ray Cooper deploying his full box of tricks. I also love the completely over-the-top version of ‘Morning Dew’ that closes the LP, driven by a repetitive funk guitar riff, flamboyant Hammond organ and multilayered percussion effects. GRADE: C+.
See also Madeline Bell, Chopyn, Ann Odell, Seven Ages Of Man

Blue Season (Germany): Secede (GreyFall GF 001, 2001)
Metal/Psychedelic
Natalie Pereira Dos Santos (joint lead vocals)
This unusual album blends quite a variety of styles: it’s probably best described as ‘melodic gothic metal’, but has a very psychedelic atmosphere too, some progressive moves and notable post-new wave tinges, as well as nods towards folk and electronica. For all that, it’s not a hugely original record, although it is consistently enjoyable, with well-composed and performed material. GRADE: C+.
Blue Season (Germany): Cold (GreyFall GF 002, CD, 2003)
Metal/Psychedelic
Natalie Pereira Dos Santos (joint lead vocals)
Their second and final album is in the same vein as their first, and again contains some fine atmospheric material. As before, there are notable shoegaze leanings, although the basic style remains gothic metal. GRADE: C+.

Blue Shift (USA): Levels Of Undo (Muséa FGBG 4852, CD, France, 2015)
Progressive
Denise Chandler (lead vocals)
Jazz-inflected vocals, interpolated classical piano runs, post-punk atonal riffing, sound effects, synthesised space-rock, a Rolling Stones cover and even a classical guitar version of an Irving Berlin number – Blue Shift throw all this and more into this completely unpredictable album. As that description suggests, the disc contains numerous brilliant moments. As that description also suggests, it’s frequently incoherent, occasionally resembling a hyperactive fusion of Renaissance and Yes, all delivered with typical modern American prog stylings. They also released a much earlier album with an all-male line-up. GRADE: B–.

Blue Voice (Sweden): Faller Regn (Vinylbolaget VIN 3, with inner, 1988)
Pop/Rock
Marie Ekström (lead vocals)
From the cover, I expected this duo’s album to be some kind of introspective folk. In fact, it’s eighties pop/rock, with a brash period production and some funky edges. Their songs – half in English, half in Swedish – are catchy enough and it’s all very well put together, but albums like this were ten-a-penny at the time and – despite the haunting symphonic ballad ‘As Simple As That’ – this one doesn’t have the X-factor to make it worth most people’s pennies. GRADE: C.

Blue Water Folk (UK): The Blue Water Folk (Folk Heritage FHR013S, 1970)
Folk
Rita Waring
All the early Folk Heritage releases are rare and sought-after, but not all of them justify their high price tags, as this proves. In fairness, the Blue Water Folk were a competent enough folk group, but they were also utterly generic, and hundreds of traditional folk albums indistinguishable from this appeared on a plethora of small labels throughout the seventies. GRADE: C.
Blue Water Folk (UK): All The Good Times (Folk Heritage FHR024, 1972)
Folk
Rita Waring (joint lead vocals, tambourine)
Their second album is in much the same vein as the first, but whereas on their debut the sound was muted and the band seemed tired and listless, this is a good deal brighter. The result is a much more enjoyable LP, with a less predictable selection of tracks and more varied instrumentation (mandolin, bongos, harmonium, accordion, glockenspiel, whistle), though they’re still not exactly original. Once again, the back cover shows the group in its natural habitat – a shabby-looking Northern pub. GRADE: C+.
Blue Water Folk (UK): A Lancashire Life (Hill & Dale HD 008, with insert, 1981)
Rita Waring (joint lead vocals)
The band’s third album, Bugs, Black Puddings And Clogs (recorded without Rita Waring, though she is pictured and credited on the insert) featured some dreadful comedy interludes with Lancashire accents à la Fivepenny Piece, so the title of their fourth filled me with dread. However, it’s actually the best of their releases, containing some genuinely touching moments. Around half the material is self-penned, with most of the compositions being of a high quality, and the band succeeds in creating an enjoyable document of traditional Lancashire life. GRADE: C+.

Blue Wave (USA): Didn’t You Go Far… (Country Kitchen LP2000, with inner, 1981)
Folk/Rock
Sharon Tews (joint lead vocals), Marcia Breaz (occasional vocals)
Issued in a run of 500 copies, this pleasant folk/rock album has electric band backing and a dreamy, blissed-out mood. With forays into country and good-time territory and some fairly sloppy harmonies, it vaguely recalls the Grateful Dead at their most insignificant and insubstantial. Sharon Tews of Simaril contributes lead vocals to a couple of cuts, plus prominent backing vocals elsewhere. GRADE: C+.
See also Silmaril

Bluehorses (UK): Cracking Leather, Skin And Bone (No label, CD, 1997)
Folk/Rock
Liz Prendergast (principal vocals, violin), Emily Grainger (violin)
Fronted by two electric violinists, one of whom also sings, Bluehorses were clearly not your typical folk/rock band. Their powerful and energetic music hints towards punk/folk (though thankfully without crossing over into it), but there are also psychedelic and progressive touches too, including a couple of relaxed and elegiac instrumentals. Overall this is an impressive debut that could satisfy listeners with quite diverse tastes. GRADE: B–.

Bluehorses (UK): The Live Album (Native Spirit NSBH CD002, CD, 1998)
Folk/Rock
Liz Prendergast (lead vocals, violin), Emily Grainger (violin)
They don’t bring much to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Rock And Roll’, but otherwise this live album is impressive, mixing material from their first LP with a few numbers destined for their second. Once again, the music is lively and spirited, with a couple of atmospheric instrumentals effectively varying the mood. GRADE: B–.
Bluehorses (UK): Dragon’s Milk And Coal (Native Spirit NSBH CD 003, CD, 1999)
Folk/Rock/Psychedelic/Progressive
Liz Prendergast (lead vocals, violin, mandolin, harp), Emily Grainger (organ, violin)
This is where it all came together for Bluehorses: blending in influences from hard rock, psychedelia, prog and more, Dragon’s Milk And Coal is an exceptional album packed with memorable songs. The twin highpoints are ‘Rabbit In The Headlights’ and ‘Goodbye’, sounding even better than they did on The Live Album, but there are few weak moments here despite some lingering punkish influences. GRADE: B.
Bluehorses (UK): Ten Leagues Beyond The Wild World’s End (Native Spirit NSBH CD 005, CD, 2001)
Folk/Rock/Psychedelic/Progressive
Liz Prendergast (lead vocals, keyboards, violin, mandolin, harp, programming), Deborah Peake (violin, backing vocals)
Their third studio album marks something of a change of direction, leaving their punkish roots behind and downplaying energetic dual fiddle-led jigs in favour of more atmospheric and tripped-out material. At the same time, traditional folk exerts a stronger influence than before, whilst the music displays a more pronounced early seventies influence, with hints of everyone from Curved Air to Gong. There are also some modernistic touches, especially in the funky bass work, and more than a dash of humour (particularly notable in instrumentals such as ‘O’Vivaldi’s Irish Italian Theme Bar’ and ‘Rhapsody For Fretless Bass And Crumhorn’) adding up to an album of considerable depth and diversity. GRADE: B.
Bluehorses (UK): Skyclad (Native Spirit NSBH CD006, CD, with minisleeve, 2004)
Folk/Rock/Psychedelic/Progressive
Liz Prendergast (lead vocals, synthesiser, violin, mandolin, harp)
With four numbers (three studio recordings and one live cut) totalling just over 20 minutes, this is more an EP than an album. Inevitably it’s less substantial than their last two releases, but it’s still an impressive set that covers most of the facets of their sound. GRADE: B–.
Bluehorses (UK): Live At Saul Festival (Native Spirit NSBH DVD 001, double DVD, 2005)
Folk/Rock/Psychedelic/Progressive
Liz Prendergast (lead vocals, synthesiser, violin, mandolin, harp)
The concert on the first disc is simply superb: the band display both intense energy and superb musicianship as they play a fine selection of their best material; excellent filming and recording is the icing on the cake. The second disc, with low-resolution video clips, interviews, a discography and a photo gallery, is less essential, but nicely rounds out this excellent release. GRADE: B.
Bluehorses (UK): Thirteen Fires (Native Spirit NSBH CD007, CD, with digipak, 2007)
Folk/Rock/Psychedelic/Progressive
Liz Prendergast (lead vocals, keyboards, violin, mandolin, harp)
The band’s final album is another impressive set – dynamic, majestic and raw in all the right places. That said, it doesn’t break any new ground for them – but when the music is this good, who cares? GRADE: B–.

Blues Pills (USA/Sweden/France): Blues Pills (Nuclear Blast 27361 31910, CD plus DVD, with digipak, booklet, autographed photo and slipcase, 2014)
Blues/Rock/Metal
Elin Larsson (lead vocals)
This Swedish band crosses early seventies heavy blues/rock with a more modern swamp or stoner sensibility; the results are enjoyable (and certainly better than the slightly underwhelming EP that preceded this) but there’s nothing new or startling on this LP. The accompanying DVD is a definite step up, showing them to be an excellent live act: perhaps one has to see them onstage to appreciate them to the full. With its oversized packaging and stunning psychedelic cover art, this is visually a beautiful album and well worth owning for the DVD, which I would graded as B– had it been a standalone set. GRADE: C+.

Blues Pills (Sweden/USA/France): Live (Nuclear Blast 27361 31621, CD, with digipak, 2015)
Blues/Rock/Psychedelic
Elin Larsson (lead vocals)
Beautifully packaged in an oversized digipak, this confirms my impression that Blues Pills are more effective on stage than in the studio. The metal edges apparent on the studio set are somewhat toned down in favour of a wild acid-rock sound, so this dynamic performance could have considerable appeal for fans of Big Brother & The Holding Company et al. GRADE: B–.

Blues Pills (Sweden/USA/France): Lady In Gold (Nuclear Blast 27361 34750, CD plus DVD, with digipak, booklet and slipcase, 

Germany, 2016)
Blues/Rock/Psychedelic
Elin Larsson (lead vocals, tambourine)
Nuclear Blast know exactly what they’re doing by packaging each new Blues Pills album with a live CD: the band are brilliant onstage but only adequate in the studio. The only surprise here is that the live set actually has better sound quality than its studio counterpart, making one wonder why they bother with the studio at all. GRADE: B–.

Blues Pills (Sweden/USA/France): Live At Deezer (No label, download, 2017)
Blues/Rock/Psychedelic
Elin Larsson
With Blues Pills, there are no hidden depths: you know they’re not going to surprise you, push any boundaries or leave their comfort zone. But with live Blues Pills, the music is so dynamic, effective and exciting – with Elin Larsson effectively channelling her inner Inga Rumpf – that it really doesn’t matter. In fact, my only complaint is that there’s only half an hour of music here. GRADE: B–.

Bluesmen (Czechoslovakia): Zpívej Mi Dál/O Velké Lásce/Kdo Pod Okmen Stává/Nevidomá Dîvka (Panton 03 123, 7", 1969)
Pop/Rock/Psychedelic
Hana Ulrychová
This pleasant and mellow 14½-minute EP marked the recording debut of the prolific Hana Ulrychová, who would go on to release numerous albums with her brother Petr. Despite the band name, this is closer to psychedelic pop than blues and has plenty of period charm and atmosphere. GRADE: C+.
See also Hana & Petr Ulrychovi

Blyndsyde (UK/Holland): Where Extremes Meet… (No label, cassette, 1991)
Rock/Metal/Progressive
Paulè Van-Wijngaarden (lead vocals)
This obscure cassette-only album blends hard rock and neoprogressive stylings into a rather odd whole. Although the band was clearly aiming for a quite technical sound, the tempo changes are rather clumsily handled and the LP as a whole has a rather listless, lukewarm feel despite some fairly intense moments. GRADE: C.
Blyndsyde (UK/Holland): Into The Storm Of The Eye (SI Music Simply 21, CD, Holland, 1993)
Metal
Paulè Van-Wijngaarden (lead vocals)
Their second and final album is more straightforward than their debut, being both slightly heavier and slightly less progressive. It also benefits from much more assured musicianship and far more dynamic recording quality, which is crucial to this kind of music. They’re still not particularly impressive songwriters, but this is a solid album with a decent level of energy. GRADE: C+.