Best of March 2012: Reader picks include Adrian Belew, Brad Mehldau, Adele (again)

Adrian Belew’s reflections on touring again with a pair of King Crimson bandmates led to some interesting comments on the future of that long-standing Robert Fripp-led amalgam — and a No. 1 vote from you in our monthly poll.

March 2012 also saw a swarm of reader interest in jazz recordings by Brad Mehldau and Jeff Parker; new features on the Doobie Brothers and the Who; a SER Sitdown with disco star and producing legend Nile Rodgers of Chic fame; and new concert souvenirs from Quiet Riot and Joe Bonamassa.

Two items from previous months continued to chart, as well — a rumination on why Adele’s 21 just wasn’t our record of the year, and the seemingly deathless argument over whether it was possible for the Beatles to have ever, ever, ever been off their game. Survey says: Aw, hell naw! You didn’t!

Welcome to the Top 10 items from last month on SomethingElseReviews.com, based on page views from our readers. Click through the titles for more …

No. 10

SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: DOOBIE BROTHERS: News that the rejuvenated Doobie Brothers would be joining Chicago on a summer tour sent us scurrying back to the stacks. And not just the Tom Johnston stuff, though his reunion with the band has sparked a third-act resurgence for the Doobies — one that included a return-to-form studio project back in 2010. We also gave a tip of the hat to second vocalist Michael McDonald, who moved the band into a smooth-as-glass hitmaking period by the end of the 1970s. — S. Victor Aaron, Glen Boyd, Kit O’Toole, Mark Saleski

No. 9

ONE TRACK MIND: NILE RODGERS ON ‘UPSIDE DOWN,’ “LIKE A VIRGIN,’ “RAPPER’S DELIGHT,’ OTHERS: The truth is, even if you never bought a record like “Le Freak,” Chic’s wall-to-wall late 1970s hit, this guy was all over your radio dial anyway. So we decided to pick his brain about some of the more notable contributions he and Chic made on other people’s records — from R&B to pop to blues to hip hop. Find out how Rodgers funked up the classically trained string section on a Diana Ross smash, why he doesn’t hold anything against sample-happy groups like the Sugarhill Gang anymore, how Chic helped create a seminal moment for Madonna, and what brought him to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s final sessions. — Nick DeRiso

No. 8

ON SECOND THOUGHT: ENDLESS WIRE (2006): Not everyone’s going to be convinced this is the Who. There were more shades of Townshend’s solo career than of his old band here, aside from obvious and questionable nods to “Baba O’Riley” in the album opener “Fragments.” And there were theatrical elements Townshend certainly would have liked to have pulled off with the Who but they wouldn’t have let him when all four were alive — such as the unintentionally comical vocals of “In The Ether,” where Townshend attempted to channel Tom Waits (and failed, miserably) and the overly emotive and, again, oddly sung “Trilby’s Piano.” But then there were songs where the spirit of the old Who shines through, such as on “Fragments” (after the “Baba”-derived opening, that is), and the “Who Are You”-ish “Mike Post Theme,” among others. — Tom Johnson

No. 7

QUIET RIOT – LIVE AT THE US FESTIVAL 1983 (2012): When the band took the stage for Heavy Metal Day at the U.S. Festival on May 29, 1983, Metal Health had been out for a few months and had yet to reach its full potential. Their cover of Slade’s “Cum on Feel the Noize” hadn’t become a metal anthem yet, and the record was yet to become the first metal album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts. It did that in November, knocking The Police’s Synchronicity out of that spot. I’m guessing that this monster crowd in San Bernardino, Calif., was the biggest the band had ever played in front of, and it shows in the performance on the DVD portion. The band is tight and sounds great. — Fred Phillips

No. 6

JOE BONAMASSA – BEACON THEATRE: LIVE FROM NEW YORK DVD (2012): Bonamassa is decked out in his usual low-key attire of a dark suit and open white shirt and the show is similarly no-frills and business-like. Serious musicianship ruled the night and Joe B. didn’t disappoint those in audience looking for him to burn up the frets. His style is really a composite of blues-rock and metal guitarists who came before him, and if that doesn’t make it sound like he’s terribly original, watching him play those licks is something else: he, to use a heavily used phrase, makes it look so freakin’ easy. — S. Victor Aaron

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No. 5

ADELE SWEEPS AT THE GRAMMYS, SO WE DIDN’T WE LOVE HER ALBUM MORE? We love Adele’s poise, her earthy attitude, the roiling emotion in her voice. So why don’t we love the newly crowned six-time Grammy winner’s album 21? Blasphemy, right? No question, Adele’s got the chops. Just not the material. Perhaps she is hampered by the time in which she lives. Maybe we give her too much credit for moving with startling ease past Madonna-bes like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. She also has an almost primal spiritual force that shames fly-away countrypolitan stars like Taylor Swift. Yet Adele’s music doesn’t always match that dizzying promise. — Nick DeRiso

No. 4

JEFF PARKER – BRIGHT LIGHT IN WINTER (2012): the album can be neatly summed up like this: mellow. Parker’s pillowy soft guitar tone permeates the record and his steady-tempered jazzy lines never go past 4 on the adrenaline knob, even when the rhythm section tries to coax him to do so on the rhythmically rambunctious “Swept Out To Sea.” But records deserve to be judged on their own terms, and as a mellow guitar trio jazz record, Bright Light In Winter remains a very interesting and cunning such record. — S. Victor Aaron

No. 3

GIMME FIVE: SONGS WHERE THE BEATLES, WELL, SUCKED: There is much about the Beatles that’s easy to love. The ornate pop, the long-haired peaceability, the arguments over which one’s your favorite. Still, lend them your ear and you’ll discover a few duds. Even a group as talented, and successful, as the Fab Four couldn’t help but round out a handful of albums with what could only charitably be called filler. Heck, they even had a few charttoppers that qualify. (Yes, we’re looking at you “Hello, Goodbye.”) We dug into the stuff that didn’t quite make their hall-of-fame resume — the ones where they took a bad song … and made it worse. (Originally posted on December 27, but still going strong with our readers.)S. Victor Aaron and Nick DeRiso

No. 2

BRAD MEHLDAU – ODE (2012): Mehldau began his career very much in the Bill Evans mode of contemplative piano examinations, but he’s become a much more propulsive player — with some credit, to these ears, going to his trio mates in Grenadier and Ballard. Tracks like “Ode” and “Dream Sketch” offer, sometimes quite literally, a river of ideas — with Mehldau furiously improvising with his right hand while the rest of the rhythm section adds their own perfectly placed asides. Inspired, Mehldau digs further back, past Evans to Lennie Tristano, on “Bee Blues” and unleashes a pounding, very Oscar Peterson-informed intro on “Stan the Man.” There are dark abstractions in “Kurt’s Vibe,” and rhythmic abstractions in “Wyatt’s Eulogy for George Hanson.” In some ways, Mehldau has never sounded so present, so unhurriedly creative, in the music. — Nick DeRiso

No. 1

SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: ADRIAN BELEW: Belew’s just-completed tour with Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto presented an opportunity to revisit their time in King Crimson. Unfortunately, Belew says, partial reunions are all that fans are likely to see for the foreseeable future. Those joint concert dates, which saw the Adrian Belew Power Trio headlining a combined bill with Levin’s Stick Men, were highlighted by a King Crimson-focused encore that saw Belew, Levin and Mastelotto making rare appearances together on stage. Belew told us that he feels that they’re still just scratching the surface of the 1990s-era Robert Fripp-led six-piece experiments. He also talks about the difficulties in relearning Crimson’s complicated catalog and the suddenly murky future of the band. — Nick DeRiso

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