Jeff Lynne – Armchair Theatre (1990; 2013 reissue)

Perhaps, given its vintage, it’s no surprise that Armchair Theatre seems to owe so much to Lynne’s participation in the Traveling Wilburys, along with George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan.

Whereas his old band, the Electric Light Orchestra, most often focused on chamber music played to a rock beat, Lynne’s supergroup of roughly a decade later could be — in keeping with its various lead writers — much more idiosyncratic. There’s a similar sense of gumbo-pot stirring here, on a solo effort that had been out of print for a decade before Frontiers Records announced this new reissue.

This new version of Armchair Theatre, which also includes two previously unissued cuts from sessions in 1989, is due in the U.S. on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. It’s appearing alongside an expanded version of the Electric Light Orchestra’s Zoom, and a rare live date following that 2001 project’s release.

“Now You’re Gone,” with its curry-spiced cadence and swooning backing vocals, has the feel of an outtake — and a great one — from Harrison’s Cloud 9, which Lynne earlier produced. “What Would It Take” sniffs like the best Tom Petty, though — funnily enough — there’s nary a whisper of that dry wit on “Blown Away,” a straight forward, utterly heartfelt ballad which Petty actually co-wrote with Lynne for Armchair Theatre. Elsewhere, the erstwhile ELO frontman even tries out a Dylan-ish snarl on “Nobody Home.”

“Don’t Say Goodbye” seems to go further back into the Harrison oeuvre, to the 1970s-era Harrison recordings that were so plaintively conveyed that they occasionally became aural wallpaper — until Lynne soars into the darkly morose Orbison-esque vocal interlude.

That’s not to say Armchair Theatre manages the same smart consistency as the first Wilburys release. Not with a song like “Save Me Now,” Lynne’s crashingly over-earnest paean to environmentalism. Still, the album has a way of balancing the ledger, as it plays.

“Lift Me Up,” with its gurgling keyboard signature and curlicue guitar asides from Harrison, is a neat modernization of the Lynne aesthetic — part Beatles, part Dave Edmunds, part charming Tin Pan Alley hokum. When Lynne hurtles himself headlong toward that last impulse (in a harbinger of what was to come on 2012′s Long Wave), however, the results are uneven. You have a weirdly effective rockabilly redo of “September Song,” a not nearly so-successful “Stormy Weather,” and also “Don’t Let Go,” a lithe 1958 tune by Roy Hamilton given a sock-hop raveup.

In the end, Armchair Theatre probably would have been better had it not led with the titanic amalgam “Every Little Thing” — which is still a peak moment for Lynne’s post classic-era ELO career, in that encapsulates every lovable trick, every tick, every success, every cliche, ever unfathomably catchy element of his mixologist’s muse. How this wasn’t a hit back then, I’ll never know. But it seemed to set a standard that the endlessly amiable, occasionally overcooked, but more often entertaining Armchair Theatre struggled to consistently meet again.

[amazon_enhanced asin="B00BU2VSNU" container="" container_class="" price="All" background_color="FFFFFF" link_color="000000" text_color="0000FF" /] [amazon_enhanced asin="B008OJ291W" container="" container_class="" price="All" background_color="FFFFFF" link_color="000000" text_color="0000FF" /] [amazon_enhanced asin="B00BHXUC9I" container="" container_class="" price="All" background_color="FFFFFF" link_color="000000" text_color="0000FF" /] [amazon_enhanced asin="B008Y5OW20" container="" container_class="" price="All" background_color="FFFFFF" link_color="000000" text_color="0000FF" /] [amazon_enhanced asin="B00BU2QTAM" container="" container_class="" price="All" background_color="FFFFFF" link_color="000000" text_color="0000FF" /]

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock 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 nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.

Here's where you talk back ...