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Kestrel: Kestrel [Remastered] [Expanded Edition]

Album Notes

The development of electronic keyboard instruments has been much like the fashion industry; it really is a shame that these two worlds can't be brought together, in which case Mellotron trousers and a Fender Rhodes sports shirt, both back in fashion, would be a perfect match. In the early '70s, the former keyboard was just about everywhere on the hit parade, supposedly on the verge of replacing entire symphony orchestras with the touch of a finger. Kestrel was a quintet from Newcastle, England that featured a keyboardist named John Cook on Mellotron, among other axes. He was not the only talent in the group, nor the only reason to listen to the only album the group ever made, originally released in the mid- '70s on the Cube label. But largely forgotten like many a progressive rock album from this era that enjoyed only piddling success, the Kestrel effort has become the subject of cult interest basically because there's a Mellotron on it. In 2000, a Japanese collector's label reissued the album on CD. In a somewhat superficial judgment of Mellotron playing from this period, Cook seems to suffer from the same problems everyone else did. The Mello-nauts were too busy listening to themselves, apparently soaking up the wonder of so much sound coming out of every touch. While it wasn't exactly a string section, it was pretty cool, maybe too cool. The instrument seems to run from subtlety, overemphasizing the inevitable piddling melodic content. If the comparison can be switched from fashion to cooking, the result would be a goulash in which somebody has poured an entire beaker of paprika. Still, the Mellotron does not fail to liven up some of the Kestrel tracks. The finale entitled "August Carol" has shown up on several lists of "greatest Mellotron performances ever," faithfully compiled by enthusiasts. The group also features an excellent singer, Tom Knowles, and a journeyman rocker named Dave Black who plays guitar and writes songs. He was a member of David Bowie's band for a few years and went on to form several other groups such as Goldie and 747. Black wrote all but one of the songs on Kestrel, none of the material being particularly original or absorbing. The overall sound is going to be what listeners will find either appealing or not, but either way there is no denying that as far as '70s progressive rock goes, Kestrel was the real thing. ~ Eugene Chadbourne


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