Kelly Groucutt – Kelly

Kelly Groucutt - KellyReleased on vinyl in 1982, and then reprinted on CD circa 2001 as a fan club exclusive and again as a general release in 2009, Kelly is the sole solo outing for the late Kelly Groucutt, whose musical claim to fame was as the bassist and soaring backup vocalist for ELO and, later, ELO Part II / The Orchestra. Groucutt had the help of most of his bandmates in recording his album, with the most conspicuous holdout being Jeff Lynne himself; perhaps not surprisingly, the entire album is very much in the style of ELO’s halcyon days (namely the mid/late 1970s). Groucutt was already an integral part of the ELO sound from that period, and Kelly can almost be seen – or heard – as an audition for the opportunity to take an even wider role creatively within the group.

As always, Groucutt’s vocal range is beyond merely impressive, and his singing voice doesn’t thin out when he edges toward baritone or falsetto. Having seen him play live with ELO Part II, I can vouch for the fact that the man could, quite simply, belt out a tune – and with his vocal abilities, he could belt out nearly any tune you can think of. But Kelly also shows off his songwriting abilities, and it’s quite evident that Groucutt was paying very very close attention to how songs were put together in ELO’s signature style; much of this album could fit in seamlessly on nearly any ELO album between Face The Music and Time (the ELO album whose release immediately preceded Kelly).

Songs like “Am I A Dreamer” (presented here in both demo and finished recordings) and “Sea Of Dreams” seem like they could’ve been strong candidates to become classic ELO songs. Groucutt also clearly shared Lynne’s love of classic ’50s rock – his background vocal arrangements are very reminiscent of Lynne’s work, but they also have just a hint of doo-wop to them. “Midnight Train” and “Black Hearted Woman” show ’70s roots, but the former especially highlights the unique rapport between Groucutt and ELO violinist Mik Kaminski, who provides hoedown-worthy fiddle work as well as coaxing “train whistle” effects out of his violin. The two would later form OrKestra, which would later be absorbed by ELO Part II.

There is, however, one huge problem with the re-release of Kelly that’s distressing: the sound quality. I’m assuming that the original vinyl release of Kelly didn’t sound like this does: the CD winds up sounding like it was mastered from a very well-worn cassette tape. Disappointingly, most of the songs sound tinny and hollow, with almost no bass frequencies… which is almost a slap in the face to the memory of someone who was, in fact, a bass player. Actually, I have a confession to make: back in the heady days of Napster, before this album was re-released, I downloaded several individual tracks from someone’s vinyl-to-CD-R copy of Kelly because I’d heard of the album but had never actually heard any of the songs… and to be brutally honest, the commercially-released CD sounds like it was mastered from those very badly-recorded, lo-fi MP3 tracks.

I give high marks for the music: Kelly Groucutt was willing, ready, and capable of taking a more direct creative role in the future of ELO, but – again, to be brutally honest – by this time Jeff Lynne had almost certainly realized that his future fortunes rested with holding the publishing rights to ELO’s output, and therefore wasn’t about to let go of the “central / sole songwriter” role. Which is unfortunate, because his sideman was clearly ready to help out. (I have to say that this also makes me reconsider Lynne’s more recent complaints, in some of the remastered ELO catalog’s liner notes, about bearing the heavy creative burden of the group alone; having heard Kelly, I call BS. More creative energy was there if he had only permitted it. I’m not going to say that a Lynne/Groucutt songwriting partnership would’ve 3 out of 4been another Lennon/McCartney, but it might have kept ELO on track or extended the group’s life span.)

Now I’d just like to see someone honor Mr. Groucutt’s memory by carrying out a proper remastering of his one solo album. These are great songs – I’d just like to hear them in a sound quality that befits the quality of the songwriting and performance on display here. (Feel free to do the same with OrKestra’s unreleased-on-CD album too, while you’re at it.)

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  1. Am I A Dreamer (3:45)
  2. Oh Little Darling (3:29)
  3. Dear Mama (4:33)
  4. You Don’t Need To Hold Me Tight (3:56)
  5. Black Hearted Woman (3:27)
  6. Midnight Train (3:52)
  7. Don’t Wanna Hear That Song Again (3:12)
  8. Anything Goes With Me (3:33)
  9. Can’t Stand The Morning (3:11)
  10. Old Rock & Roller (3:48)
  11. You’ve Been Telling Lies (3:10)
  12. Sea Of Dreams (4:47)
  13. I’ll Cry For You Tonight (4:06)
  14. Am I A Dreamer (3:42)

Released by: Renaissance
Release date: 1982 / reissued in 2009
Total running time: 52:31

Electric Light Orchesta – Out Of The Blue (remaster)

ELO - Out Of The BlueOut Of The Blue is, quite simply, one of the most iconic albums of the ’70s, hands-down. It seems that, despite its intricate arrangements and impeccable musicianship, this album will simply never have the rock critic cachet of, say, Dark Side Of The Moon. And yet these days, one hears more young artists coming out of the woodwork trying to achieve the sound of Jeff Lynne and company than one hears Pink Floyd sound-alikes. You can do the math there if you like.

This remastered edition adds only a handful of bonus material, largely because the original double LP takes up most of a single CD. (I would’ve been happy to go to two CDs, a la the remasters of ELO’s first two albums, but there’s not much indication that there was really enough material to go that route.) The one full bonus track that isn’t a demo or other form of outtake is the lovely “Latitude 88 North,” a song which, according to the notes, was partially written at the same time as the other Out Of The Blue tracks but just didn’t make the cut. Of the various bonus tracks that have come along since the Flashback box set ushered in this new era of “remastered with a few freshly recorded bonus tracks” activity, “Latitude 88 North” is the best one to come along since “Love Changes All” and “Helpless” (or, for that matter, Zoom). Even if it’s clearly a recent recording (at best, the song itself may be 30 years old, but the track itself is much more recent), it’s a great song that hearkens back to ELO’s glory days, and it at least sounds closer to that classic style than “Surrender” (from the remastered A New World Record) does. Bringing up the rear are an excerpt from a demo of “Wild West Hero” (which demonstrates great harmony, but lousy lyrics that were replaced in the final version) and the rousing instrumental “The Quick And The Daft”, which most certainly is a 1977 original – good material for serious fans and students of ELO’s work to chew on, but nothing that will really excite casual listeners.

Fortunately for casual listeners, one of the most iconic albums of the ’70s is still here, perfectly intact and remastered, and it’s never sounded better. The remastering isn’t so radical as to have me reassesing my favorite songs, but it’s nice to hear them cleaned up and sounding sharper than ever before. The booklet-style case is also a treat, with an extensive set of notes about the making of Out Of The Blue. There’s a standard version of this CD with a slightly pared-down version of that booklet, but the deluxe edition – bound like a little book, featuring the full liner notes and even a miniature replica of the original LP’s punch-out cardstock spaceship – is a real treat for fans of the band’s work. I’ll admit I just haven’t had the heart to punch out the spaceship and build it, though; I did that with the one that came with the LP, years and years and years ago, and lost track of that one; I think I’ll leave this one intact, and maybe when my own child is around the same age I was when I first heard this album, it’ll be punched out and put together.

Rating: 4 out of 4Not a bad package at all, celebrating an album that means a lot to quite a few people, even those who would never in a million years profess to be ELO fans. Though I’d wager that the original release of Out Of The Blue created plenty of those as well.

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  1. Turn To Stone (3:49)
  2. It’s Over (4:08)
  3. Sweet Talkin’ Woman (3:49)
  4. Across The Border (3:53)
  5. Night In The City (4:03)
  6. Starlight (4:31)
  7. Jungle (3:53)
  8. Believe Me Now (1:21)
  9. Steppin’ Out (4:40)
  10. Standin’ In The Rain (3:59)
  11. Big Wheels (5:32)
  12. Summer And Lightning (4:15)
  13. Mr. Blue Sky (5:03)
  14. Sweet Is The Night (3:27)
  15. The Whale (5:07)
  16. Birmingham Blues (4:23)
  17. Wild West Hero (4:45)
  18. Wild West Hero (alternate bridge – home demo) (0:26)
  19. The Quick And The Daft (1:50)
  20. Latitude 88 North (3:24)

Released by: Epic / Legacy
Release date: 2007 (originally released in 1977)
Total running time: 76:18

Electric Light Orchestra – Face The Music (remaster)

ELO - Face The MusicOne of the three most recently remastered ELO albums, Face The Music is long overdue for a fresh listen, being – arguably – the first album of the band’s golden years. It’s also the album with “Evil Woman” and “Face The Music” on it, which certainly doesn’t hurt. (Sadly, during the remastering process, nobody remembered to kick “Down Home Town” out of the original track listing.)

As with the other remastered titles from ELO’s back catalog, the sound has been sharpened up quite a bit, softening a few rough edges that had become noticeable with repeat listens. The obligatory bonus tracks are included as well, though they’re not much to write home about. In the liner notes booklet, Jeff Lynne says he prefers the slightly longer, stripped-down and orchestra-free new mix of “Evil Woman,” but even with that extra verse and chorus that we hadn’t heard before, something is just missing without that big string section adding to the song. Similarly, a series of demos for the menacing “Fire On High” intro will interest serious students of Lynne’s work, but maybe not anyone else, and the U.S. single edit of “Strange Magic” isn’t so staggeringly different as to be a real revelation.

That said, it’s surprising that a song that we have heard before turns out to be the real gem of the bonus tracks. Closing out this new edition of Face The Music is a completely instrumental mix of Waterfall, with the full-up instrumentation both from ELO’s rhythm section and from the studio orchestra – all that’s missing is the vocals. (Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I’m wondering if Lynne’s ever thought of re-re-releasing some of ELO’s material in this form, both for the karaoke fans out there and those of us who just love the intricate arrangements.) Heard in all of its vocal-less glory, “Waterfall” is an excellent candidate for this treatment, standing out as a fantastic performance even as an instrumental.

Rating: 4 out of 4Whether or not one really great instrumental of a song you’ve already heard is worth buying the album over again is up to you, but that alone is just about worth the price of admission for die-hard ELO fans – and in the end, “Down Home Town” aside, Face The Music is still a fine album and a prime specimen of early ’70s rock.

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  1. Fire On High (5:31)
  2. Waterfall (4:11)
  3. Evil Woman (4:29)
  4. Nightrider (4:26)
  5. Poker (3:32)
  6. Strange Magic (4:29)
  7. Down Home Town (3:54)
  8. One Summer Dream (5:51)
  9. Fire On High Intro (alternate mix) (3:23)
  10. Evil Woman (stripped-down mix) (5:00)
  11. Strange Magic (U.S. single edit) (3:27)
  12. Waterfall (instrumental mix) (4:15)

Released by: Epic / Legacy
Release date: 2006 (originally released in 1975)
Total running time: 52:28

The Orchestra – No Rewind

The Orchestra - No RewindAfter nearly ten years of touring and recording, Electric Light Orchestra Part II – which included original ELO veterans Bev Bevan, Kelly Groucutt, Louis Clark and Mik Kaminski – met its match. It wasn’t touring exhaustion – unlike the usually reclusive Jeff Lynne, these guys love playing live. In this case, it was Lynne himself, who was in the process of reclaiming the ELO name for an upcoming greatest hits box set and an all-new album of original Lynne material; Lynne wanted any other use of the ELO name dropped. Drummer Bev Bevan, who had been with ELO ever since the band evolved from The Move in 1971, decided not only to give up the ELO Part II moniker, but to retire from performing as well.

This left ELO Part II – now consisting of Groucutt, Clark, Kaminski, Eric Troyer and newly recruited guitarist Parthenon Huxley – with no drummer and no name. Huxley called on a friend of his, a fellow L.A. session player named Gordon Townsend, to audition for the open drum seat, and the rest of the band approved. Rechristened The Orchestra, the band continued touring, also booking studio time out of their own pockets on several tour stops to lay down tracks for a new album. The result, which the band proudly proclaims was created without a single cent of money from any labels or outside benefactors, is No Rewind, which marks an incredible reinvention of the group’s sound.

The band’s new blood – Huxley and Townsend – asserts itself right off the bat with “Jewel And Johnny”. Kicking off with a beat not a million miles away from the fun, jaunty gait of “Mr. Blue Sky” itself, Jewel and Johnny shows that the new recruits have, in fact, brought The Orchestra that much closer to the sound of old-school ELO. (It’s worth noting at this juncture that Huxley is from the same pool of reared-on-the-70s L.A. power pop talent that has also given us Jason Falkner and Jon Brion.) There were tracks on both of ELO Part II’s studio albums that faintly irritated me because they made it sound like the group was trying to bring a hard rock sound to the table; not so with No Rewind. The songs here are finely crafted pop-rock with a Beatlesque sensibility, which is, ironically, what Jeff Lynne was always trying to do with the original ELO. And the songs featuring Huxley on lead vocals are a real treat, because it sure doesn’t hurt that Huxley’s versatile baritone isn’t a million miles away from the voice of the aforementioned Mr. Lynne. Whether consciously or not, there seems to have been a reassessment of what made the original ELO what it was; the songwriting is sharper this time around, both musically and lyrically, with fantastic results.

Highlights include “Jewel And Johnny”, the mesmerizing and majestic “Let Me Dream” (co-written by ELO Part II veteran Eric Troyer and original ELO violin virtuoso Mik Kaminski), “Can’t Wait To See You” (another tune written and sung by Huxley, which is as close as one can imagine to a lost Jeff Lynne song), and the Troyer-written tracks “No Rewind” and “Say Goodbye”. The orchestral components of each song are several orders of magnitude beyond most of the output of ELO Part II – arranger Louis Clark is all over this album, imbuing the new songs with the densely layered string sound he gave to the classic ELO albums A New World Record and Out Of The Blue, but also wisely backing off and giving Mik Kaminski numerous opportunities to wow us with a single violin.

Curiously absent, however, are many frontman opportunities for classic ELO bassist/backup singer Kelly Groucutt; when he joined ELO Part II full-time in 1991, his distinctive background vocals brought the whole exercise much closer to being “real ELO.” He was all over the next studio album as both lead and background vocalist, as much as any one member of the band could be with the rotating-vocalist scheme, but he’s in the lead on only two out of ten songs here.

One of those two songs, incidentally, is a reworking of “Twist And Shout” which is almost funny in how it deceptively repaints the song as a downbeat dirge before allowing the original tune to emerge. Once we’re in familiar territory, however, it’s pretty much a pastiche of the Beatles’ cover of “Twist And Shout”, which is my one disappointment with No Rewind – all of the other songs are not only originals, but damned good originals. Ironically, the best of those originals sound more worthy of the ELO name than anything the band’s done before – so naturally, they’re no longer permitted to use the name.

No Rewind, whether in its limited (and now out-of-print) edition issued through the band’s official web site or in a real live label release from, of all places, Argentina, is worth a listen. When I first heard it, I was thinking rating: 4 out of 4“Dear Jeff Lynne, get back together with your old bandmates.” But having listened to No Rewind more and more, and taking into consideration that it’s taking a long time for either Lynne or his erstwhile bandmates to release new material, I retract that. There are now two entities turning out an increasingly uncommon kind of music that I love. And that’s not a bad deal.

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  1. Jewel & Johnny (3:56)
  2. Say Goodbye (4:25)
  3. No Rewind (4:07)
  4. Over London Skies (4:32)
  5. Twist And Shout (6:34)
  6. Can’t Wait To See You (3:28)
  7. If Only (4:38)
  8. I Could Write A Book (3:12)
  9. Let Me Dream (4:01)
  10. Before We Go (5:03)

Released by: ART Music (Argentinian release)
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 44:01

ELO Part II – One Night: Live In Australia

Electric Light Orchestra Part Two - One Night: Live In AustraliaJust as often as ELO Part II fails to live up to its ancestry in the studio, this band amazes me live. I mentioned earlier that Greatest Hits Live With The Moscow Symphony Orchestra is not an accurate reporting of ELO Part II’s live sound. On the other hand, One Night is good – it’s a true rarity, a live album I actually like. For all of the failings of the original material written by Part II, they do justice to Jeff Lynne’s classic ELO numbers that the original band simply never had the sheer number of performers to pull off. And to make this album even better, there’s a recording of “Ain’t Necessarily So”, a real humdinger of an original tune which is specially tailored to the new band’s strong points: harmony Rating: 3 out of 4and hard rock. I hope they commit this song to tape on their next studio album – they could actually turn into real contenders. I highly recommend this to you – or better yet, if ELO Part II comes anywhere near you, get some tickets and go see the show, and this album will make an excellent reminder of the group’s live sound.

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  1. Standing In The Rain (4:43)
  2. Evil Woman (4:01)
  3. Don’t Wanna (4:04)
  4. Showdown (4:55)
  5. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head (6:36)
  6. Whiskey Girls (3:47)
  7. Livin’ Thing (3:53)
  8. One More Tomorrow (5:11)
  9. Mr. Blue Sky (5:01)
  10. Telephone Line (4:49)
  11. Ain’t Necessarily So (4:02)
  12. Strange Magic (2:11)
  13. Sweet Talking Woman (2:04)
  14. Confusion (1:52)
  15. Do Ya (2:27)
  16. Rockaria! (3:15)
  17. Roll Over Beethoven (5:55)
  18. Don’t Bring Me Down (4:19)

Released by: CMC International Records
Release date: 1997
Total running time: 73:13

ELO Part II – Moment Of Truth

Electric Light Orchestra Part Two - Moment Of TruthPerhaps I’m always looking at ELO Part II from the wrong angle. I keep hoping that they might someday approach the artistry of the original ELO, and that must be too high an expectation. I used to refer to the “original” ELO as the “real,” ELO, but the band’s lineup on this album starts to erode my old argument/complaint that this isn’t the “real” ELO. Bassist Kelly Groucutt, whose backup harmony vocals complemented Jeff Lynne’s leads and overdubs so well from 1975 to 1981, has joined ELO Part II, and arranger/keyboardist Louis Clark and violinist Mik Kaminski, who played with the original ELO from 1973 right through the last album, have joined full-time. Of course ELO/Move drummer Bev Bevan is still there (when ELO Part II debuted in 1990 he was the only representative of the original band). Of the original Part II lineup, only Bevan and Eric Troyer (who once sang backup for John Lennon) have been retained, and if only for Troyer, this is good. The Troyer-penned songs on Part II’s first album were the closest the band came to the distinctive Jeff-Lynne-dictated ELO sound of old, and even Troyer’s best was none too close to that style. Signing on is gravelly voiced guitarist Phil Bates, whom I confess to never having heard of before. The album kicks off with a ponderous and predictable orchestral overture, a lot of which sounds synthesized. “Fire on High”, it ain’t. Then “Breakin’ Down the Walls” opens up and it’s apparent that the band has improved – if for no other reason than the addition of Groucutt and Kaminski – but its orchestra has been diminished. It’s sure not ELO. This song in particular is virtually indistinguishable from Tears for Fears’ “Sowing The Seeds Of Love”…just not as good. A nifty Troyer tune called “Power Of A Million Lights” follows, but the song suffers from some unimaginative arrangement. It’s clear that the entire pool of talent in ELO Part II lacks Jeff Lynne’s genius for classically Beatlesque twists in song structure. “One More Tomorrow” is a bland ballad; Troyer’s almost funky “Don’t Wanna” is a palatable no-strings rocker, and “Voices” sounds like a second-rate copy of Alan Parsons’ recent “You’re the Voice”, found on Parsons’ live CD which was released at around the same time. Following this is a rather pointless 4-second track called “Vixen”, which consists of someone saying “Hello, hello, you little vixen!” A Groucutt-penned tune called “The Fox” wades somewhat tiringly through a tale of a fox hunt from the fox’s point of view. “Love Or Money”, written by Troyer and Bates, improves on the unpredictability of song arrangements that the group should be concentrating on, but not by much. Then follows “Whiskey Girls”, a standard issue southern-fried rocker I could’ve done without. “Twist Of The Knife” is a nondescript collaboration between Groucutt, Bevan and Bates, and “So Glad You Said Goodbye” is a Troyer/Bevan/Bates number that doesn’t arrive at a distinguishable style until about three minutes into the song. Clark’s “Underture” continues the theme of the album’s opening track, followed by a soundbyte of the band in the studio.

“Breakin’ Down The Walls”, “Power Of A Million Lights” and “Don’t Wanna” are the best songs on the album, yet none of them are as close to the sound most listeners associate with ELO as the first album’s “Honest Men” and “Thousand Eyes”. I know, I know, it’s not the same band, and maybe they’re not trying to be the same band. If this continues to be the case, they need to change their name soon so there will be fewer disappointed listeners; if these blokes intend to continue passing themselves off as ELO they might do well to study what made the original incarnation of the band so outstanding and learn from it. I don’t think Jeff Lynne would’ve written a song like “Whiskey Girls”, or would written a song such as “Breakin’ Down the Walls” which constantly addresses its lyrics to an unspecified “girl.” And while someone will no doubt remind me that Jeff Lynne has nothing to do with ELO Part II, someone should also advise the band of this so they can hurry up and change Rating: 3 out of 4that name. ELO Part II may have all but a couple of key members of the original ELO – no, make that the real ELO after all – but without the caliber of songwriting, arranging and performing that Lynne brought to the group, they don’t even have half of what made ELO what it was. One thing that the real ELO was happened to be my favorite band of all time, hands-down; Part II…isn’t.

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  1. Moment of Truth – Overture (4:07)
  2. Breakin’ Down The Walls (4:27)
  3. Power of a Million Lights (4:54)
  4. Interlude 3 (0:32)
  5. One More Tomorrow (5:00)
  6. Don’t Wanna (3:41)
  7. Voices (4:27)
  8. Interlude 2 (0:20)
  9. Vixen (0:04)
  10. The Fox (4:35)
  11. Love Or Money (4:08)
  12. Blue Violin (1:10)
  13. Whiskey Girls (3:37)
  14. Interlude 1 (0:58)
  15. Twist of the Knife (4:30)
  16. So Glad You Said Goodbye (4:12)
  17. Underture (2:52)
  18. The Leaving (0:25)

Released by: Edel
Release date: 1995
Total running time: 54:15

ELO Part II – Live With The Moscow Symphony Orchestra

Electric Light Orchestra Part Two - Greatest Hits Live with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra“Well,” I thought, “that’s nice, it’s in the bargain bin.” Then I did a slight double-take. “What? This is new, and it’s already in the bargain bin.” This meant trouble. The fading remnants of my favorite band were fading really fast if their new release, even though it is a live album, was entering the music store shelves at rock-bottom. And I found out why (that’s the great thing about bargains, eh?). This is, at best, an excessively mediocre live album. Years later, in 1996, I saw ELO Part II perform live when they made a stop in my home town of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and I discovered that ELO Part II does a kick-ass live show, just not on this album. Perhaps the improvement in their live repertoire is that they’ve expanded their selection of post-ELO originals, which are better suited to their live performance needs because they know what they’re capable of on stage. This album is comprised entirely – with the singular exception of “Thousand Eyes” – of classic ELO songs which people have come to know with a full string section. The Moscow Symphony can deliver the goods most of the time, but even they have their off nights, as can be heard when somebody hits an outrageously, painfully flat note in the Rating: 1 out of 4Beethoven intro to “Roll Over Beethoven”. I think as ELO Part II expands their repertoire of original tunes, their live show will only get better and better, as the new songs are tailored to the new group’s strengths. In fact, I keep hearing about a new live album called One Night which has yet to make it to the States, and I’d love to hear it, because, even though this album fell seriously flat, ELO Part II really brings the house down live.

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  1. Overture (2:26)
  2. Turn To Stone (3:51)
  3. Evil Woman (4:20)
  4. Showdown (5:08)
  5. Livin’ Thing (4:04)
  6. Hold On Tight (2:58)
  7. Thousand Eyes (4:28)
  8. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head (6:46)
  9. Telephone Line (5:04)
  10. Roll Over Beethoven (6:05)

Released by: Scotti Bros.
Release date: 1992
Total running time: 45:10