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ELO's Jeff Lynne revisits the past on two new albums

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ELO's Jeff Lynne revisits the past on two new albums photo by Mary Atkins

The first question many Jeff Lynne fans might ask after hearing his two new albums is, 'Where are the new songs?' Not that we aren't happy to finally have some new Jeff Lynne music 11 years after Electric Light Orchestra's 'Zoom' (essentially a Jeff album with cameos) and 22 years after his excellent 'Armchair Theatre' solo record, but fans who were hoping for an album of all-new Jeff Lynne compositions will need to wait until next year.

Jeff-Lynne---Long-WaveOn 'Long Wave,' Lynne pays homage to songs he heard growing up in Birmingham, England when distant signals crackled to life on his father's radio and made him fall in love with music. Performed with heart and produced with an aural touch that he alone seems capable of achieving, the album is a delight.

Sitting comfortably alongside standards like 'Smile,' 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered' and 'At Last' are Jeff's take on tunes from the early rock era including 'Let It Rock' (Chuck Berry) 'So Sad' (Everly Brothers) and 'Running Scared,' originally recorded by Lynne's beloved and belated Traveling Wilburys bandmate Roy Orbison.

The album opens with Charles Aznevour's 'She' (previously covered by Elvis Costello), the sound of which immediately puts the listener in mind of Lynne's years spent writing and producing pop standards of a slightly more recent era for Electric Light Orchestra.

'Long Wave' works on several levels. As a tribute, it's fascinating to hear Jeff's take on some of his favorite music brought to life with the same sonic signature that graced the two Wilburys albums, records by Orbison, Tom Petty and Brian Wilson and, perhaps most famously, The Beatles. In the '80s, Lynne began a long association with the former fabs, producing records for George, Paul and Ringo in addition to 'Free as a Bird' and 'Real Love,' the two 'new' Beatles songs from their mid-'90s 'Anthology' project.

For the most part, the arrangements on 'Long Wave' work. Equal parts tasteful, respectful, surprising and sweet, every sound (on both new albums) originated from Lynne.

mrbluesky_300dpi'Mr. Blue Sky The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra' contains newly recorded takes of songs made famous by Lynne's old band. The puzzler is the fact that unlike 'Long Wave,' in which Lynne applied new arrangements to the songs, 'Mr. Blue Sky' features versions sounding as close to the original as possible. It's been a very controversial move among some longtime fans.

Lynne has explained that the decision to re-cut some of his best-known material came from hearing the songs on the radio and playing the records at home. He claims he wasn't hearing what he wanted to hear from the old recordings.

If that were the case, why not access the multi-track tapes and turn in some fresh remixes? It might be because Lynne has always loved a recording challenge and the prospect of attempting to match or surpass his performance and production mastery of decades past probably sounded like too much fun to pass up. As an experiment, Lynn began with the title track and was so pleased with the result he kept going until an album's worth of material had been accumulated.

A notorious homebody and studio-hound, Jeff can be found most days hunkered over a mixing desk in the recording studio he built in his home overlooking Los Angeles.

I'm not suggesting that Lynne is being disingenuous in his explanation for having another go at songs that most people would already consider 'definitive,' but there is another possible motive to consider. When one of Jeff's ELO songs is used in a movie or on television, Sony, as copyright holder of the recording, receives most of the money for that license. This fact may have influenced Jeff's decision to recreate his classic songs.

Regardless of motive, Lynne mostly pulls it off. His ability to artfully recreate those wondrous sounds is astonishing. The title song is as delectable as ever and sounds even more 'widescreen' than the original. 'Turn to Stone,' 'Evil Woman' and 'Showdown' receive a fresh coat of paint while retaining their original vibe.

Not every track succeeds, though. 'Don't Bring Me Down' is missing the wall-of-sound impact of the 1979 version while 'Telephone Line' and 'Can't get it out of My Head' sound a little too synthetic especially when played back to back with the original.

Among the re-recordings lies one actual 'new' ELO song. 'Point of No Return' has a history dating back to 2005 and wouldn't have sounded out of place as a Traveling Wilburys B-side.

Jeff Lynne receives high marks for being able to sound much he like he did several decades ago, but it would have been a treat to hear him apply unique arrangements to his own classic songs, much like he adapted the chestnuts of his youth on 'Long Wave.'

An album of all-new Jeff Lynne songs is expected in 2013.

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