Best of September 2011: Reader picks include Lindsey Buckingham, Thomas Dolby and Rockpile

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Here’s a look back at the Top 10 stories from last month on SomethingElseReviews.com, based on page views from our readers. Click through the titles for complete details …

No. 10 — THE MEKONS – ANCIENT AND MODERN: Only a band like the Mekons could make something like Ancient and Modern, this whipsawing triumph of country contemplation and righteous, guitar-banging indignation, work so completely. After all, that’s their story. The Mekons, formed in Britain in the late 1970s, can now be called not just one of the longest-lasting but also one of the most consistently intriguing of the first-wave British punk-rock bands. Originally a noise-loving loose-knit group, by the early 1980s the Mekons eventually coalesced into a backwoods-inflected amalgam, sounding something like Gram Parsons sitting in with the Clash.

No. 9 — BELA FLECK AND THE FLECKTONES – ROCKET SCIENCE: Sometimes old really is new again. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones existed as a trio for a handful of years after harmonica/pianist Howard Levy left, only to ask consistent fill-in saxophonist Jeff Coffin to join their ranks. When the Dave Matthews Band asked Coffin to join, the Flecktones were left once again as a trio. The funny thing is, it’s allowed them to go back to their roots. As a fan who found the band when they were a trio and genuinely enjoyed what followed, I found myself drifting away from the band since Coffin officially joined. No more.

No. 8 — SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: JAZZ GUITARIST BILL FRISELL: We might be tempted to take for granted quietly impactful triumphs like guitarist Bill Frisell’s forthcoming All We Are Saying, an Americana-infused tribute to John Lennon. After all, the prolific Frisell has made a career of deftly combining the distortion and verve of modern rock, the raw emotion of backwoods roots music and the sophisticated harmonics of jazz. But we shouldn’t. Not because of our familiarity with the subject matter, not because of the furious pace at which Frisell issues albums and certainly not because we’ve grown too accustomed to his particular brand of form-shifting musical genius. With All We Are Saying, Frisell has once again burrowed underneath the textures that make his work so identifiable to find a heartfelt place. He gets there — in an almost organically off-handed way, it turns out — by extrapolating on a series of musical shapes found inside the original tunes.

No. 7 — ONE TRACK MIND: TODD RUNDGREN, “LOVE IN VAIN”: There’s a loose, impromptu feel to this record, surprising considering how composed so much of Rundgren’s music has been. On Johnson, he just bangs the songs out. And I do mean bangs. Often, quite frankly, it seems too flipping loud to be just one guy. That made the space and poise of “Love In Vain,” with its moaning Diddley beat and sawing riff, particularly intriguing. Rundgren sings the familiar lines with a fierceness that might surprise anyone who hasn’t checked in on Rundgren since the AM hitmaking days of “Hello, It’s Me.” But, at the same time, he dials back into a slurred, moaning guitar sound that perfectly suits the moment when Johnson makes that desolate realization about his disappearing lover at a lonely rail station.

No. 6 — NICK LOWE – THE OLD MAGIC: Growing older has made Nick Lowe grayer, a little quieter, but no less clever, no less relevant, and certainly no less off-handedly absorbing. He is the living, breathing, guitar-playing, Buddy Holly shade-wearing embodiment of the old saw about getting better with age. If there’s anything different, beyond his shock of white hair, it’s that Lowe — the guy who once wrote the angry treatise “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” for Costello — has begun to work in a more wistful palette. A life now in its sixth decade has imparted a deeper wisdom and, if anything, a sharper lyrical eye.

No. 5 — YELLOW DUBMARINE – ABBEY DUB: If the idea of covering the Beatles reggae-style and covering only songs from one certain album may not be the most original one, it still took balls to undertake Abbey Road track-by-track from “Come Together” to “Her Majesty” and play it one particular style throughout. For a debut album, no less. It can only work if the musicians are good and the interpretations have some imagination, staying true to both the Jamaican style and the Beatles’ golden melodies. It’s fair to state that by and large they hit the mark on both counts. If Abbey Dub is a gimmick, then it’s a gimmick Yellow Dubmarine will get you coming back to more than a couple of times. At the least, this is one version of Abbey Road you could cue up with confidence at your next party.

No. 4 — SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: ROCK BASSIST TONY LEVIN: The latest incarnation for bassist Tony Levin, best known for his work with King Crimson and Peter Gabriel, is as part of a fearless new trio album with guitarist David Torn and Yes drummer Alan White. Part prog, part free-form improvisational music, part noise rock, Levin Torn White brings in each of their familiar textures and sounds, yet sounds somehow completely new. Both White and Levin have ties back to John Lennon, with the drummer performing on Live Peace in Toronto and Imagine in 1969-71, while Levin played with Lennon on his final two studio releases, Double Fantasy and Milk and Honey in 1980-83. Levin first met David Torn on the guitarist’s 1987 release Cloud About Mercury, then later worked with Torn as part of the Bruford Levin Upper Extremities project.

No. 3 — ROCKPILE – LIVE AT MONTREUX 1980: Rockpile (maybe the first neoclassicist rockers?) opened the door for every throwback moment of the coming decade — not to mention new wave. Yet this late 1970s-era rockabillying power-pop supergroup came and went so quickly, they rarely get their due. Led by Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe, Rockpile, at its essence, was a fizzy blend of pre-mop top rock and the rowdy, window-rattling bashings of punk, with a dash of the looming MTV generation’s urbane pop sensibility. They sounded like a band that knew all about the past, but wasn’t confined by it. That gives Rockpile and Live from Montreux 1980, then as now, this delicious brashness. It’s timeless.

No. 2 — ONE TRACK MIND: THOMAS DOLBY ON ‘SHE BLINDED ME WITH SCIENCE,’ “HYPERACTIVE,’ others: The synth-pop pioneer takes us inside sessions with Foreigner, where keyboard work on an early-1980s ballad helped fund Dolby’s debut album — home to his breakout moment, “She Blinded Me With Science.” Find out how a meeting with Michael Jackson inspired the song “Hyperactive,” and how his longtime working relationship with Mutt Lange led to an improbable sideman date with Def Leppard. Oh, and yeah, we talk about the weird dude yelling “Science!”

No. 1 — LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM – SEEDS WE SOW: Credit Buckingham for never trading true emotion for sentiment. Yeah, Seeds We Sow has its dark moments, culminating with the Rolling Stones album cut “She Smiled Sweetly.” Yet, there is a lasting transformative quality to tracks like “Gone Too Far,” this clanking piece of pop confection; and “End of Time,” a surprisingly upbeat moment of ambivalence that again belies its title. Taken together, they end up imbuing this project with a pleasing thematic rhythm, as Buckingham ultimately finds purchase somewhere between striving for community and feeling his oats. It’s a fine line, and Buckingham walks it standing upright. For all of the things he rejects, for all of the things that piss him off and make him play the guitar in a bloody-fingered rage, he was never about nothingness. Buckingham’s music, in a move that belied his era, didn’t settle for cheap thrills, quick answers — or something so obvious and easy as nihilism. And, lucky for us, it still doesn’t.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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