Lynne Me Your Ears: Tribute To The Music Of Jeff Lynne

Lynne Me Your EarsThe premise of this double-disc compilation is simple: various modern pop artists, most of them enjoying cult indie label status (and a few of them refugees from major labels too), revisit the songs of one of their musical heroes, ELO’s Jeff Lynne. Colorado’s own Not Lame Records has been teasing the heck out of this release for months, only to watch it be bogged down by politics (the father/son duo of Randy and Tal Bachman, each of whom were originally slated to contribute a song, pulled out) and delays (a printing error in the first run of liner notes booklets which caused the collection to slip well past its original pre-Christmas 2001 release date). And now that it’s here, was it worth the lengthy wait?

The answer is, in most cases, absolutely. The covers (which don’t limit themselves to ELO material but also cover Lynne’s contributions to the Traveling Wilburys, a 1960s U.K. group known as the Idle Race, and his solitary solo album) vary wildly, ranging from faithful homages to reinterpretations in a completely new style.

Some of the better “near-beer” covers include former R.E.M. producer Mitch Easter’s collaboration with Bobby Sutliff on the first ELO single, “10538 Overture”; Michael Carpenter’s near-carbon-copy of Lynne’s solo single “Every Little Thing”; Jason Falkner’s raw cover of “Do Ya”, a stripped-down, Buddy Holly-ized cover of “Rock ‘N’ Roll Is King” by Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings, and an accurate-down-to-the-overmodulation-distortion copy of the Idle Race’s “Morning Sunshine” by Jeremy.

The real triumphs of Lynne Me Your Ears, however, are those artists who took extensive liberties and created something completely new – Ross Rice’s hip-hop-ified cover of “Evil Woman” is both funky and up-to-date, and Tony Visconti (former Move and Moody Blues producer) turns in a tasty new take on “Mr. Blue Sky”, starting out as a rap and then tumbling through every style in the book by the end of the song’s lengthy instrumental coda. Prairie Sons and Daughters transform the eloquence of “One Summer Dream” into a spiky, guitar-drenched masterpiece that also takes a detour into “In Old England Town” from ELO’s second album. That multiple-song-tributes-in-a-single-track trick is repeated masterfully by Rick Altizer, who leaps from the soulful opening guitar solo of “Laredo Tornado” into a thundering modernized version of “Boy Blue”. Former Move vocalist Carl Wayne, ironically, takes the stage-musical feel of “Steppin’ Out” to its logical, grandiose conclusion (it was Wayne who stepped out of the Move in 1970, a departure that made way for Jeff Lynne to join the group). The Shazam squeezes the synths out of “Twilight” and turns it into a wonderful wash of electric guitar work (but keeps the harmonies intact), and “Turn To Stone” gets a similar treatment from Roger Klug. Sparkle*Jets UK turn the dreamy “Above The Clouds” into a cheerful, rockin’ power pop number.

Perhaps the most shocking transformation bestowed upon any of the songs here is “On The Run”, a rapid-fire techno-before-there-was-techno tune from 1979’s Discovery which is rendered here by Sixpence None The Richer as a relaxing acoustic piece with a slow, majestic gait and Leigh Nash’s always pleasant voice. It has to be heard to be believed – this may be the best example on Lynne Me Your Ears of a band taking one of the old ELO chestnuts and making it their own.

There are a small number of misses for all of those hits, however; Peter Holsapple’s cover of the Move’s “No Time” has yet to click with me – the harmonies seem to be a misfire in some places. The Heavy Blinkers’ cover of “You Took My Breath Away”, itself a Roy Orbison tribute penned by Lynne for the second Traveling Wilburys album, lacks the melancholy of the original and comes out sounding a little too sunny. And the “Sweet Is The Night” cover heard here seems to have lost a lot of what made the original so appealing.

4 out of 4Overall, however, a nice treat for ELO/Lynne fans, and hey, your mileage may even vary on which songs worked and which ones didn’t. Highly recommended – and, in the face of Sony’s recent reticence to continue the promised remastering of the entire ELO catalogue, it may be the last ELO related treat we fans get for quite a while. Soak it up slowly and enjoy.

Order this CD

    Disc one

  1. 10538 Overture – Bobby Sutliff & Mitch Easter (4:35)
  2. Ma Ma Ma Belle – Earl Slick (4:05)
  3. Telephone Line – Jeffrey Foskett (4:49)
  4. Do Ya – Jason Falkner (3:58)
  5. Sweet Is The Night – Ben Lee (3:28)
  6. Rockaria! – Pat Buchanan (3:49)
  7. Every Little Thing – Michael Carpenter (3:52)
  8. No Time – Peter Holsapple (3:59)
  9. Showdown – Richard Barone (4:26)
  10. Handle With Care – Jamie Hoover (3:25)
  11. Strange Magic – Mark Helm (3:54)
  12. Evil Woman – Ross Rice (4:51)
  13. Steppin’ Out – Carl Wayne (4:27)
  14. Don’t Bring Me Down – SWAG (3:13)
  15. One Summer Dream – Prairie Sons & Daughters (7:16)
  16. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head – Doug Powell (4:57)
    Disc two

  1. Twilight – The Shazam (3:11)
  2. Mr. Blue Sky – Tony Visconti (5:02)
  3. You Took My Breath Away – The Heavy Blinkers (3:07)
  4. Message From The Country – The Balls of France (4:28)
  5. The Minister – Ferenzik (4:43)
  6. Xanadu – Neilson Hubbard and Venus Hum (3:31)
  7. When Time Stood Still – Bill Lloyd (3:27)
  8. Above The Clouds – Sparkle*Jets UK (4:00)
  9. Rock And Roll Is King – Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings (3:14)
  10. Morning Sunshine – Jeremy (2:19)
  11. Boy Blue – Rick Altizer (3:45)
  12. Livin’ Thing – Pray For Rain (3:57)
  13. On The Run – Sixpence None The Richer (2:37)
  14. Bluebird Is Dead – Todd Rundgren (5:06)
  15. Turn To Stone – Ruger Klug (5:11)
  16. Eldorado – Fleming and John (6:41)

Released by: Not Lame Records
Release date: 2002
Disc one total running time: 69:04
Disc two total running time: 64:19

Jars Of Clay – Much Afraid

Jars Of Clay - Much AfraidIn an excellent follow-up to their debut album, Jars of Clay continue exploring their musical strengths, while moving their lyrics into a more mature and somewhere darker plane. The cutting “Crazy Times”, though it remains within the parameters of the band’s Christian rock obligations, also seems to be a little more judgemental than the first album’s material (“it takes more than your saline eyes / to make things right”). However, these lyrics add just a dash of realism to what could have instead been an increasingly happy and condescending tone that I sometimes find irritating in this particular genre. Jars of 4 out of 4Clay maintain their awesome gift for harmonies with songs such as “Fade To Grey”, “Overjoyed”, and “Truce”, my favorites from this album. The string section embellishments from their previous album can be heard again here, proving that this is one band that can find new approaches within the sound that made them popular. Definitely a good one.

Order this CD

  1. Overjoyed (2:59)
  2. Fade To Grey (3:34)
  3. Tea and Sympathy (4:52)
  4. Crazy Times (3:34)
  5. Frail (6:37)
  6. Five Candles (You Were There) (3:48)
  7. Weighed Down (3:39)
  8. Portrait of an Apology (5:42)
  9. Truce (3:11)
  10. Much Afraid (3:52)
  11. Hymn (3:56)

Released by: Essential
Release date: 1997
Total running time: 46:08

Jars Of Clay – If I Left The Zoo

Jars Of Clay - If I Left The ZooJars of Clay have always impressed me with their sound, and this album sees them venturing even further afield with their always admirable production values. Kicking off with “Goodbye, Goodnight”, If I Left The Zoo almost sounds like Jellyfish’s Spilt Milk in style (if not necessarily in content). The band vastly widens its spectrum of different vocal styles (a black southern gospel choir backing up on “I’m Alright”), instruments (“Goodbye, Goodnight”‘s banjo, among other things), and various effects and filters which can make the band sound 4 out of 4post-modern one second and 70’s-retro the next. If I’m not mistaken, I think the lyrics are growing more complex and mature as well. The better songs include the aforementioned first track, “No One Loves Me Like You”, “Can’t Erase It”, and “Collide”.

Order this CD

  1. Goodbye, Goodnight (2:53)
  2. Unforgetful You (3:21)
  3. Collide (4:46)
  4. No One Loves Me Like You (3:49)
  5. Famous Last Words (3:27)
  6. Sad Clown (4:27)
  7. Hand (3:37)
  8. I’m Alright (3:40)
  9. Grace (4:31)
  10. Can’t Erase It (3:35)
  11. River Constantine (4:50)

Released by: Essential
Release date: 1999
Total running time: 42:58

Jewel – Spirit

Jewel - SpiritWhen I picked up Jewel’s sophomore effort, I worried that it was bound to be affected to some degree by the success of her previous album, but pleasantly, though it echoes the same signature sound, it isn’t Pieces Of You, Part II. In a very short time, Spirit has earned my respect with such memorable songs as “Deep Water”, “Down So Long” (the closest this album comes to the grittier sound of “Who Will Save Your Soul?”, which is actually the song that made me sit up and pay attention to Jewel), and the first single, “Hands”. If anything, Jewel’s lyrical skill has intensified on this album, but in a few places it seems as though the edge of the music composition has suffered. Some of the songs are very predictable in the 3 out of 4instrumental department, and end up being carried by the vocal alone, which seems like a slight letdown after some of the well-composed music on Jewel’s first album. Though this is still a solid collection, I think Jewel will need to concentrate more on the music for the next album, and may have to invent a slightly new sound to avoid creating a sonic signature that makes every album or song sound the same.

Order this CD

  1. Deep Water (4:16)
  2. What’s Simple Is True (3:34)
  3. Hands (3:54)
  4. Kiss The Flame (3:17)
  5. Down So Long (4:13)
  6. Innocence Maintained (4:08)
  7. Jupiter (4:18)
  8. Fat Boy (2:54)
  9. Enter From The East (4:02)
  10. Barcelona (3:53)
  11. Life Uncommon (4:56)
  12. Do You (4:21)
  13. Absence of Fear (3:43)
  14. This Little Bird (2:43)

Released by: Atlantic
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 53:56

Schoolhouse Rock Rocks!

Schoolhouse Rock Rocks!This is a rockin’ selection of hysterically funny covers of the immortal tunes from those educational animated shorts that used to give ABC’s Saturday morning cartoons such a distinct identity. ABC tries to brand itself with an incredibly annoying series of banana-yellow graphics these days, but that will never even approach the popularity or instant recognition factor that ABC had with the Schoolhouse Rocks cartoons. Schoolhouse Rocks officially ascends to the status of cultural icon with this cover album, featuring a series of often faithful (and occasionally way-the-hell-out-there) covers performed by alt-rock and rap artists. The original Schoolhouse Rocks theme opens the proceedings, and Deluxx Folk Implosion promptly crashes the party with a very good copy of “I’m Just A Bill”, adding the modern touch of vocals dripping with thick, syrupy sarcasm. It’s hard to bang one’s head and laugh out loud at the same time, but this is a good song with which to try. Other standouts include a very good homage to “Electricity, Electricity” by all-girl band Goodness, and Ween’s very accurate rendition of “The Shot Heard ‘Round The World”. The more rap-oriented 4 out of 4covers, Biz Markie’s “Energy Blues” cover and Skee-Lo’s version of “The Tale of Mr. Morton”, weren’t really to my tastes, but I could actually see the wisdom of trying to introduce them to a new generation with a new idiom. And really, Biz Markie did pretty good with his tribute. I highly recommend this easy-to-find album for those in the mood for a nostalgic belly laugh!

Order this CD

  1. Schoolhouse Rocky – Bob Dorough and friends (0:14)
  2. I’m Just A Bill – Deluxx Folk Implosion (3:26)
  3. Three Is A Magic Number – Blind Melon (3:14)
  4. Conjunction Junction – Better Than Ezra (3:44)
  5. Electricity, Electricity – Goodness (3:22)
  6. No More Kings – Pavement (4:23)
  7. The Shot Heard ‘Round The World – Ween (3:09)
  8. My Hero, Zero – Lemonheads (3:05)
  9. The Energy Blues – Biz Markie (3:10)
  10. Little Twelvetoes – Chavez (3:51)
  11. Verb: That’s What’s Happening – Moby (4:29)
  12. Interplanet Janet – Man Or Astro-Man? (2:47)
  13. Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here – Buffalo Tom (2:14)
  14. Unpack Your Adjectives – Daniel Johnston (3:06)
  15. The Tale of Mr. Morton – Skee-Lo (4:05)

Released by: Atlantic
Release date: 1996
Total running time: 48:29

1996, B, C, D, G, J, L, M, Non-Soundtrack Music, P, S, W

Jewel – Pieces Of You

Jewel - Pieces Of YouThis girl’s just now hitting it big, and this album has been out for two years!? Amazing. Her presence on Atlantic seems to make it likely that the label sought her out as a kind of folksy Tori Amos clone, but Jewel is much more than that. I will admit that the single “Who Will Save Your Soul” mesmerized me into buying this album, and I’m glad it did. There are several live tracks that really come across as average, but the last song, “Amen”, is really where Jewel comes into her own and proves that she could indeed be the next Tori Amos without being a Tori clone. She abandons the folky style that has come to be her trademark and does 3 out of 4some truly beautiful singing, particularly as the tune draws to a close. Even if you don’t particularly care for her singles or her album so far, I think this is one to watch in the future. Highly recommended, even if only for the last track on the album!

Order this CD

  1. Who Will Save Your Soul (4:00)
  2. Pieces of You (4:15)
  3. Little Sister (2:29)
  4. Foolish Games (5:39)
  5. Near You Always (3:08)
  6. Painters (6:43)
  7. Morning Song (3:35)
  8. Adrian (7:02)
  9. I’m Sensitive (2:54)
  10. You Were Meant For Me (4:13)
  11. Don’t (3:34)
  12. Daddy (3:49)
  13. Angel Standing By (2:38)
  14. Amen (4:32)

Released by: Atlantic
Release date: 1994
Total running time: 58:56

Jars Of Clay

Jars Of ClaySo, here it is. My first conscious alternative music purchase. I suppose that honor could be bestowed upon the Finn album, but I bought that on the fine reputation of the artists concerned. I heard the single “Flood” from Jars of Clay on a long business trip (the alternative-ish radio station in Fayetteville was the only one that wasn’t driving me up the wall with redneck clichè) without realizing who had done the song. Now I’ve found the CD. And I’m amazed. These guys border on – hang on to your hats – Christian alternative! It wasn’t until I listened to all the words again that it dawned on me. In places, it’s obvious, and in others the references are quite subtle indeed. I wonder if anyone else has noticed this. But that aside, these guys are 4 out of 4great! In a way, their sound reminds me of a very raw incarnation of the Move, the avant-garde 60s band that spawned ELO. A small string section in nearly every number confers a bit of dignity to the otherwise raw, “alternative” atmosphere of acoustic guitars and some excellent vocal harmonies. I very highly recommend this.

Order this CD

  1. Liquid (3:31)
  2. Sinking (3:48)
  3. Love Song for a Savior (4:46)
  4. Like a Child (4:35)
  5. Art In Me (3:58)
  6. He (5:17)
  7. Boy on a String (3:30)
  8. Flood (3:33)
  9. Worlds Apart (5:18)
  10. Blind (3:59)

Released by: Silvertone
Release date: 1995
Total running time: 65:39