Readers' Top 10 for 2011: Favorites included Jethro Tull, Transatlantic, Paul Motian

Time to let you have your say. We made a series of lists, checked them twice, then published our best-ofs. But what better way to end things than with the annual SER Readers’ Top 10? Here are your albums of the year, based on page views in 2011.

Click through the titles for expanded coverage …

No. 10
THE ORIGINAL 7VEN (AKA THE TIME) – CONDENSATE

Prince memorably said the Time was so good that they scared him and, evidently, enough so that he took their name and went home. Whatever they’re calling the Time now (actually, it’s The Original 7ven), credit them for staying completely, utterly, deliriously unchanged — right down to their outsized lead singer’s memorable antics. Every great stage band has a great frontman, and there’s few better than Morris Day. The man who once sang that he was “Donald Trump (black version)” is really David Lee Roth (black version): a singer whose swagger makes him sound even better, and one who never takes himself too seriously. Old school, once again, ruled. – S. Victor Aaron

No. 9
LEVON HELM – RAMBLE AT THE RYMAN

We’re reminded again here that Levon Helm was the loamy voiced, rail-jumping rhythmic center point of the Band, its yearning storyteller and gritty soul. Their records were drawn from continuity, bringing in dizzyingly diverse, age-old influences and performed in a chorus as if by brothers. That has always made a treasure hunt out of selecting any individual triumph on their old records. Not here, as this Ramble becomes a showcase for Helm. It’s also an important reminder: The Band’s principal songwriting credits may have gone to Robbie Robertson, but they were then — and are here, again — often completely inhabited by Helm’s carnal Arkansas drawl. — Nick DeRiso

No. 8
NILS LOFGREN – OLD SCHOOL (2011)

This was his first studio album in five years, and you could forgive E Streeter Nils Lofgren for issuing something contemplative after such a difficult period. After all, as this project was completed, the future of Bruce Springsteen’s band — which had just lost Clarence Clemons — remained unclear. That left Lofgren alone with his thoughts about life, about growing older, about losing Clemons. The result was a well-conceived journey — not just through grief, and through anger, but also toward acceptance. Old School displayed a brilliant range of emotions, perfectly in tune with the times. — Nick DeRiso

No. 7
RUSH – TIME MACHINE 2011: LIVE IN CLEVELAND (2011)

The title is the concept — though isn’t every concert really an excuse to run through a band’s history? Well, in this case, Rush used this opportunity to rifle through the catalog and pull out some dusty old gems and even one bonafide “never been played before” fan favorite (“Presto”) but, most importantly, a run-through of their entire classic Moving Pictures album for its 30th anniversary. Some of those tunes have been played a lot (“Tom Sawyer,” “Limelight,” I’m looking at you) but others have disappeared for far, far too long. Welcome back to the stage “The Camera Eye” and “Witch Hunt.” Maybe you’ll stick around for a couple tours? — Tom Johnson

No. 6
SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: JON ANDERSON, FORMER VOCALIST WITH YES

Anderson spoke with us about a broad range of topics over a two-day SER Sitdown – from key musical memories with Yes to the recuperative qualities of painting, and the role the Internet might play in reviving rock music’s long-dormant progressive spirit – even as he began a period of furious creativity. (In a year’s time, Anderson has released both a studio and live collaboration with fellow Yes alum Rick Wakeman, a well-received solo project, and a long-form prog-rock composition.) Other highlights: Going inside the creative process for the epic opener to 1974’s Relayer, and, of course, the lasting mysteries of “Roundabout” … — Nick DeRiso

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No. 5
SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: ADRIAN BELEW OF KING CRIMSON

Adrian Belew, still at work then on a classical reformulation of his well-received 2009 trio project e, admitted that he was unsure when — or if — King Crimson would reform. “No word right now,” he says of the group, led since its late 1960s inception by Robert Fripp. “We’re just waiting on a word of encouragement from dear Robert.” In a two-part SER Sitdown, he also discussed ‘e’ for Orchestra — a project performed with the Metropole Orkest that Belew described as a dream project — as well as Crimson, his early-career stint alongside Frank Zappa, the Bears, and his ever-restless muse. — Nick DeRiso

No. 4
PAUL MOTIAN (1931-2011): AN APPRECIATION

We remembered the late Paul Motian — a noted sideman with Paul Bley, Keith Jarrett and (most famously) Bill Evans, but also eventually an important band leader in his own right — on the day of his passing by going back to one of the drummer’s most productive later periods, and the expressive 2006 recording Garden of Eden. Also included were links to nine other reviews of recommended Motian projects. (For more on notable deaths in music from 2011, see our tribute list here.)Mark Saleski

No. 3
TRANSATLANTIC – MORE NEVER IS ENOUGH (2011)

The modern-day prog supergroup Transatlantic was revealed — through antics both during sound check and on stage (Portnoy stage dives!) — to be big fans of their chosen throwback format. Over the course of this gala release, they reveled in all of progressive rock’s dizzying musical intrigues, but also all its fundamental (and, heck, still sometimes fun) excesses. This band has already done much to update a genre sometimes badly in need of a facelift. More showed they came into this with a deep understanding, and an even deeper appreciation, of its outlandishly imaginative, charmingly eccentric history. And they’re not afraid to celebrate that, too. — Nick DeRiso

No. 2
FOO FIGHTERS – WASTING LIGHT (2011)

This was a big album — a pure, straight-up rock record. The kind we so rarely see; the kind that needs no genre hyphenation to describe itself. Not alternative, not alt-rock, not metal. Just rock. I hesitate to say it for the associations some will make, but: Think 1980s rock, without the hair, makeup, or stupid lyrics, but keep the fun. That’s the primary factor here, it was a helluva lot of fun to listen to. Foo Fighters blew up years ago, making themselves a household name, but for the first time they created something beyond themselves. Wasting Light felt like reinvention of what the Foo Fighters are, and a triumphant one at that. — Tom Johnson

AND NOW … No. 1, the SER READERS’ ALBUM OF THE YEAR
JETHRO TULL – AQUALUNG (1971; 40th ANNIVERSARY EDITION)

Aqualung was — and still is — an album that’s simply bursting with strange, forgotten, sometimes unsavory characters (not least of which is the leering homeless man of its title track) as well as blunt questions about faith and its earthly trappings (“My God,” and the closing “Wind Up”). A highlight is “Locomotive Breath,” this chillingly prophetic indictment (recorded, mind you, four decades ago) of over population that kept building — relentlessly, improbably — towards popular music’s most distinctive flute solo. Ian Anderson completely rocks an aerophone on this one, making for a curiously involving, out-of-nowhere delight. — Nick DeRiso

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