“The Nostalgia Factory” by John Mitchell is the first release by White Star Records. Aside from a couple of backing vocals by former Touchstone singer Kim Seviour. John Mitchell plays and sings everything on this record himself. The only thing he didn’t do this time is write the songs. Though he’s a songwriter so prolific other musicians can’t keep up with him, this four-song EP is a record of covers.
The record takes its title from the first song, a very early Porcupine Tree number from the days before they were a full band and releasing on cassette. This take is all 80-style shimmering guitars, with a vocal that sounds more Steve Wilson than Steve Wilson.
Next up is Justin Hayward’s ballad “It Won’t Be Easy”, the theme song of the short-lived 1987 TV series “Star Cops” (Anyone remember that one?), and up-tempo pop-rock of Phil Collins’ “Take Me Home” which he played live with Lonely Robot at their showcase gigs at the end of last year.
The final song, ELP’s “C’est La Vie” is the standout of the record. It was originally intended for a Prog Magazine cover disk that never saw the light of day. It’s a thing of beauty; a simple piano figure puts the emphasis on Mitchell’s vocal, and he takes the song and simply owns it. Much like Panic Room’s version of “Bitches Crystal” intended for that same ill-fated cover disk, it shows how good ELP’s songwriting can be when you strip away their bombast.
With material from the mid-70s to the early 90s, the record has a very strong mid-80s feel about it, although there’s none of the worst excesses of 80s pop-rock production to be heard. What comes over strongly across the whole record is John Mitchell’s skill at interpretation. If you’re not intimately familiar with the originals it’s not immediately obvious that this record is made up of covers. He takes each song and makes it his both vocally and instrumentally, which is always a sign of a great creative musician.