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ELO and Jeff Lynne still sailing on 40 years and counting

For fans of Electric Light Orchestra and its mastermind, singer/guitarist/songwriter Jeff Lynne, the last 12 years have been relatively quiet as far as new music is concerned. In recent years, Lynne has worked most notably as a producer whose credits have appeared on albums by Regina Spektor and Joe Walsh. Also during that period, several ELO reissues and compilations were released that still kept the British band's music from the '70s out there with hit songs such as "Turn to Stone," "Mr. Blue Sky," "Telephone Line," "Evil Woman," "Can't Get It Out of My Head" and "Don't Bring Me Down."

Last year, however, the ELO leader made up for lost time with two releases: "Long Wave," his second solo album in a career that dates back to the late '60s; and "Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra," which contains new re-recordings of the band's greatest hits. And continuing ELO's four-plus decades in music, the artist/producer now returns again this month with three new ELO and Lynne-related projects: a reissue of the band's 2001 album "Zoom"; "Electric Light Orchestra Live," a concert recording; and "Armchair Theatre," Lynne's first-ever solo album from 1990.

"It shot by basically, like everybody tells you," Lynne tells about the last 40 years. "As you get older, the days have gone, and the years have gone, and it's whoosh!"

First released in 2001, the somewhat under-appreciated "Zoom" was ELO's first new album following the band's breakup in 1986. It contains some wonderful tracks in "Alright," "Moment in Paradise" and "Lonesome Lullaby," and features guest appearances by George Harrison and Ringo Starr. "I was very pleased with that record when I made it," said Lynne. "But it didn't see the light of day really that much. "Hopefully this time when it gets out, maybe somebody will love it.

The new version of "Zoom" also contains a bonus track, "One Day," which was recorded back in 2004. "It just came about with me like normal," Lynne said about working on that song, "just piddling about on a guitar and just coming up with some nice chords. I try to find nice chord changes, that's how I love to start, and then I start trying to knock it into a song, knock it into shape."

Making its debut is "Electric Light Orchestra Live," recorded 2001 at CBS Television City for a PBS special. It features Lynne and his band performing a selection of ELO's greatest hits as well as deep album cuts like "Secret Messages," "Twilight" and "Confusion"-- songs that didn't make it on the initial broadcast. "It was nice to do them actually for a change -- I'd never done them before," said Lynne of that rare material. "When you do a song new live on stage, it's kind of a bit weird until it gets worn in, you know, like oiled up a bit. It's still a little bit stiff until you really thrashed at it for a few weeks."

After being out of print for so long, Lynne's 1990 debut solo recording, "Armchair Theatre," is back in circulation and augmented with some bonus tracks. With gorgeous pop hits in "Every Little Thing" and "Lift Me Up," the album was first released following the success of Lynne's work on George Harrison's "Cloud Nine," Tom Petty's "Full Moon Fever," and the debut record of the Traveling Wilburys, which Lynne was a member of along with Harrison, Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison.

"It was a wonderful album," Lynne said of "Armchair Theatre," "and the reason it was so special was because I'd already packed up doing ELO. I was with George, we went to L.A. and gave the record ["Cloud Nine"] to Mo [Ostin] and Lenny [Waronker] at Warner Bros., and they loved it. Within a week or so, they asked me, 'Do you want to make a record for us?' I got a brand new recording deal out of doing a good job on George's record. So that was a real treat for me to go and just have free rein...and just made the album that I wanted to make. They listened to it, they loved it, and they put it out, and that was it."

The new releases from ELO and Lynne in the last couple of months come on the heels of ELO's 40th anniversary of its formation and debut record. Ironically, ELO -- formed by Lynne, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Roy Wood, and drummer Bev Bevan -- started out as perhaps one of the first bands to incorporate a string section. The first two albums, "No Answer" and "ELO 2" were quite experimental, seemingly worlds away from the pop melodies and hooks that ELO would later be renowned for throughout the rest of the '70s.

"It was a total experiment," Lynne recalled about the band's early period. "The funny thing was that Roy was only in it for about three months and he was gone -- that was about 41 years ago. We didn't actually ever get time to actually to do the records that we were talking about doing. We did the one album, the first one ["No Answer"]. We didn't collaborate and I don't know why -- we weren't a good pair for collaborating. It was all very 'your tune,' 'my tune'. Anyway, he left and he gave me the opportunity to be the songwriter and producer."

From 1974 to 1981, ELO was at its creative and commercial peak with some magnificently-crafted records like "Eldorado," "Face the Music," "A New World Record" and "Out of the Blue." Of the 12 ELO studio albums, Lynne said his favorite is 1973's "On The Third Day," which contains the beloved "Showdown" and "Ma-Ma-Ma Belle." "It's really cheeky," he says of the record. "It's like pretending to be an orchestra when it's really only got two cellos and one violin. I love the sound, just the sparseness of the two cellos and one violin. So I enjoyed that. Then of course I went onto the 30 piece orchestra [for "Eldorado"], which I like as well. I just like the loneliness of 'On The Third Day,' I think."

Even after 40 years, ELO's catchy, Beatles-influenced hit continues to permeate pop culture, and Lynne admits it's astonishing that the band's music has lasted this long. "I'm thrilled to bits about it," he said, "because when you're doing the records in the first place, all you hope is that maybe it'll get into the charts -- the album chart or the single chart somewhere -- and you'd be like, 'Yeah, I got a hit! That would be such a treat.' When you're still getting popular requests for them 40 years later -- I would've never dreamed that would happen."

And Lynne doesn't appear to be stopping after this latest batch of upcoming ELO-related releases; he's already onto another project. "I'm busy working on my album -- this new album that's coming [of] all new songs. I've got about eight nearly finished," he said. "I probably need another three and that should be it. I'll mix them all nicely and have them ready."

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