Picks and Pans Review: Armchair Theatre

updated 07/23/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/23/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Jeff Lynne

The former Electric Light Orchestra leader has been working some inspirational magic in the studio over the past three years, but not for himself. He helped George Harrison craft 1987's Cloud Nine, and Lynne can take a good deal of the credit for pushing Tom Petty to superstar status with Full Moon Fever. He even sat in with Harrison and Petty among the Traveling Wilburys. Now it's Lynne's turn to shine.

How good is his first solo album? Without getting hyperbolic about it, most of these songs have all the smooth pop resonance of many of Paul McCartney or Harrison's contributions to the Fab Four. Sure, the single "Every Little Thing" is as fluffy as a goose-down pillow, and Lynne apparently just had to throw in some of those cotton-candy keyboard swirls left over from his ELO days. But some punchy horns and a driving bass save the song from sappiness.

Away from that semigratuitous, over-popped track, Lynne finds the true heart of his songwriting. He moves easily from the rockabilly rouser "Don't Let Go" right to the buoyant "Lift Me Up." complete with Harrison's signature slide guitar solo. Maybe it was Harrison's presence here (he adds some vocals too) that gives a song like "Don't Say Goodbye" its airy, Beatlesque qualities. The late Del Shannon sings backup on "Blown Away," and the track becomes all the more poignant because Lynne's voice displays many qualities reminiscent of such crooners as Shannon and Roy Orbison.

Lynne even takes a stab at a couple of standards with some success. He swoons on the Maxwell Anderson-Kurt Weill classic "September Song," and while Lena Home's "Stormy Weather" reigns as the definitive rendition. Lynne shows more vocal dexterity than you might expect. But that's just one more surprise to discover about a guy who has been in the shadows too long. (Reprise)

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