Best of February 2013: Readers pick Henry McCullough, Justin Hayward, Levon Helm, Steven Wilson, Robben Ford

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Neo-progger Steven Wilson’s stirring new album spends a second month in the reader’s poll at Something Else!, joined by new tributes to Wings’ Henry McCullough and the Band’s Levon Helm.

An interview with the Moody Blues’ fair-haired frontman Justin Hayward, which focused on his first solo effort in some 17 years, held down the No. 2 spot.

Reviews of roots-rocking triumphs by Robben Ford, the Mavericks and Richard Thompson also finished in the February 2013 Top 10, based on page views for original content on our site.

A preview of Depeche Mode’s new single was, along with Wilson’s album, a hold-over from January polling. New music from Autechre also proved popular last month.

Meanwhile, the Beatles took up two spots in the hit parade, including a devastating update on McCullough, the former guitarist with Paul McCartney and Wings who suffered a heart attack last year. Kit O’Toole’s in-depth examination of “Savoy Truffle,” a standout George Harrison cut from the White Album, as part of the Deep Beatles series also made the February reader’s list.

What’s not here, for just the second time since it published in December of 2011 — a run of some 13 months: Our initial edition of songs we can’t stand by the Beatles, which somehow finished just out of the Top 10.

You heard we trashed “The Long and Winding Road,” right?

No. 10: THE MAVERICKS – IN TIME (2013): In Time runs nearly an hour in length, and in that time the Mavericks get to show what they’ve learned and developed since their last release. So, what have they learned in the last 10 years? Well, what one finds on this album is all the things that made the Mavericks such a great band: great song writing and arrangements; the ability as players to move effortlessly between many different styles; and an image that is easily marketed to the general public but appeals to critics as well. Hopefully, that long hiatus since the Mavericks’ last studio album will not affect the success of In Time, an album which should hold up on its own merits. — JC Mosquito

[BEYOND THE BEATLES’ HITS: Think you know the Fab Four? Kit O’Toole’s ‘Deep Beatles’ series takes you into some undiscovered corners of the group’s ageless musical legacy.]

No. 9: DEEP BEATLES: “SAVOY TRUFFLE” (1968): Many Beatles songs contain two key elements: wordplay and nods to their R&B roots. George Harrison is no stranger to either aspect, and few songs encapsulate these qualities like “Savoy Truffle,” the White Album track that salutes the sweet tooth. It also represents one of many times Eric Clapton influenced his songwriting. In his autobiography I Me Mine, Harrison recalled writing the song as a good-natured jab at Clapton’s penchant for sweets. Apparently Clapton suffered from multiple cavities, yet continued eating chocolate. “Savoy Truffle” encapsulates Harrison’s apparent glee in playing with language — his description of various candy immediately creates vivid images in the listener’s head. — Kit O’Toole

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Yardbirds co-founder Jim McCarty joined us for a talk about the band’s legendary guitarists, from Eric Clapton to Jimmy Page to Jeff Beck.]

No. 8: RICHARD THOMPSON – ELECTRIC (2013) Electric, produced by Buddy Miller and due February 5, 2013 via New West Records, makes good on the promise of 2010’s Dream Attic — which found Thompson recording stripped-down new originals in a live setting. The guitarist appears here, in a series of utterly concise Nashville sessions, with only Taras Prodaniuk (Elvis Costello, Lucinda Williams) on bass and Michael Jerome (John Cale, Better Than Ezra) on drums. Then, perhaps as expected with a title like Electric, he simply plugs in and speaks his mind — about love (or more particularly, love lost), politics, the work week’s grind. — Nick DeRiso

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Alterno-guitar god Bob Mould discusses his once-unrecognized musical debt to Richard Thompson, saying ‘it was sort of embarrassing.’]

No. 7: STEVEN WILSON – THE RAVEN THAT REFUSED TO SING [AND OTHER STORIES] (2013): Ambitious, connective and simply unforgettable, this new project is held together by Wilson’s passion for prog’s storied past. The Raven, even has it stuns and delights, unfolds like a road map through his influences. Across a six-song suite, Wilson references, by turns, the sweeping narratives of Yes’ signature projects (“The Watchmaker”), the spacey nihilism of Pink Floyd in all of its pre-Wall splendor (“Drive Home”), the boisterous musculature of classic Billy Cobham and Weather Report (“Luminol”), the nervy musical intellect of King Crimson (“The Holy Drinker”), and the literary aspirations of the Alan Parsons Project (on his title track). Yet, The Raven never sounds second-hand or pasted together. — Nick DeRiso

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Steven Wilson dropped by to talk about classic 1970s sounds, progressive rock’s rebirth and his amazing solo album ‘The Raven.’]

No. 6: AUTECHRE – EXAI (2013): Is there really any proper way to describe the music that Autechre makes? Could my description possibly mean anything to you? Autechre’s music is a Rorschach test of sorts; the audio equivalent of staring at patterns and discerning familiar shapes. If I hear tractor engines being chewed up to the beat of clanging metal pipes over a choir of stumbling angels, well, is that truly what you’ll hear? I can’t point to a great riff or a rockin’ beat. It’s organized forms of noise, sometimes chaotic, sometimes beautiful, often at the same time. It would make the perfect soundtrack to watching robots build more robots. — Tom Johnson

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No. 5: ROBBEN FORD – BRINGING IT BACK HOME (2013): Robben Ford’s most focused, unembellished album in like, forever, may have also been the easiest album the virtuosic blues/jazz/rock/you-name-it guitarist has made in a long spell, too. Playing only a ’63 Epiphone guitar kept exclusively on rhythm pickup mode, and no effects pedals or other modern day technological tricks that I was able to detect, this is the undiluted Robben Ford. He doesn’t play blindingly fast or outwardly flashy as he could have easily done, because his licks are so tasty. — S. Victor Aaron

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Robben Ford discusses this new album, joining Harrison and Davis on tour, and performing with Mitchell at her supernova moment.]

No. 4: REMEMBERING FIVE OF LEVON HELM’S MOST STIRRING MOMENTS: This year’s Grammy awards show gave us another chance to remember Levon Helm, as Elton John, Mavis Staples and others paid tribute to the rail-jumping, loamy voiced, rhythmic heart of the Band. Staples, who memorably guested as part of the Band’s swansong “The Last Waltz,” will also be joined by Mumford and Sons, T Bone Burnett, Zac Brown, and the Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard. They performed “The Weight,” just one of many signature moments for Helm with the Band beginning in the late 1960s. Helm would later return with a trio of Grammy-winning albums as a solo artist, beginning in 2008, though those third-act triumphs would be echoed pace for pace by his struggle with cancer. — Nick DeRiso

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Garth Hudson talks about his earliest musical influences, and how they flowed toward that rootsy amalgam that became the Band.]

No. 3: ONE TRACK MIND: DEPECHE MODE, “HEAVEN” (2013): Dimly foreboding, funereal in the most intriguing of ways, Depeche Mode’s new single “Heaven” moves with a delicious deliberateness. It’s all atmosphere, all feel, completely enveloping. And completely in keeping with some of their most celebrated work — from its pulsing melody, to those weird industrial sounds to Martin Gore’s majestically dark lyrics, as conveyed by that impossibly fragile nihilist Dave Gahan. Think “The Things You Said,” from 1987’s Music for the Masses, but with more of the well-placed guitar touches that propelled 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion.Nick DeRiso

[ONE TRACK MIND: Justin Hayward goes in depth with us on individual tracks from 2013’s ‘Spirits of the Western Sky,’ as well as a few key moments with the Moody Blues.]

No. 2: SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: JUSTIN HAYWARD OF THE MOODY BLUES: Justin Hayward, songwriter and lead singer with the Moody Blues, takes a rare turn away from the band with the release later this month of Spirits of the Western Sky, his first solo effort since 1996’s The View From The Hill. Some 10 years in the making, Spirits (due February 26, 2013 on Eagle Rock) is appropriately cinematic, touching on the Moody Blues’ signature classic rock-meets-classical sound — something Hayward himself had no small part in constructing — even while it takes in fresh new elements from bluegrass to dance music. — Nick DeRiso

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: In a talk just before the release of 2011’s ‘Unfinished Business,’ Henry McCullough recalled his time as a member of the first Wings lineup to mount a tour.]

No. 1: DENNY SEIWELL SHARES TRAGIC UPDATE ON FORMER WINGS BANDMATE HENRY McCULLOUGH: Guitarist Henry McCullough is unlikely to make a meaningful recovery after suffering a heart attack last November, says Denny Seiwell, his former bandmate with Paul McCartney and Wings in the early 1970s. “Unfortunately, we just got some bad news on Henry’s condition,” Seiwell told us in an exclusive SER Sitdown. “By the time the ambulance got there, because the lack of oxygen from that period of the heart attack through first treatment, he’s suffered some significant brain damage.” A benefit concert is also in the works. — Nick DeRiso

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