News for the ‘Elvis Costello’ Category

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 9/26/13 – “Wake Me Up” by Elvis Costello & The Roots

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Wake Me Up” by Elvis Costello & The Roots

After the release of Elvis Costello’s last two T. Bone Burnett-produced albums, he was ready to throw in the towel on his recording career seeing no point in going back into the studio to create new records that nobody would hear. And as a long-time Costello fan of 36 years who suffered through those albums, I was beginning to sadly think that it might’ve been the right decision.

Fortunately, inspiration struck in the oddest of places while guesting on the Late Night With Jimmy Fallon TV show where The Roots have been the house band since the show’s inception. With a college of musical knowledge and a mutual love and thirst for all things sonic between Costello and Roots drummer, ?uestlove, a collaboration between the two seemed to be a match made in hipster heaven.

So, is this Costello’s hip hop album? Is it The Roots’ foray into punk rock?

Neither is true, but with his fedora tipped oddly to one side, Costello and The Roots have fashioned a narcotized, off-beat and off-kilter record drawing on both artists’ signature sound, while creating a groovy new sonic palate for all to taste.

Elvis: “It seemed like a good playground, a fabulous ride, to go in and play with a great band that has a broad-minded view of music. It felt like anything was possible.” ?uestlove: “We recorded a lot of it in our tiny little dressing room at 30 Rock, not a traditional studio, but Elvis had no hang-ups about that.”

In the spirit of sampling no doubt influenced by The Roots, Costello revisits his back catalog and repurposes lyrics from past songs for Wise Up Ghost’s tune stack. Once the novelty of playing spot the reference wears off, you’re still left with one of his strongest collections of songs in over a decade.

Today’s Song Of The Day (shown here from a the album’s kickoff concert in Brooklyn last week) plunders Costello’s 2004 track “Bedlam” from The Delivery Man and mingles it with the 2006 title track from his collaboration with Allen Toussaint The River In Reverse. “Stick Out Your Tongue” revisits the 1983 Imposter single “Pills And Soap” while incorporating “Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs Are Taking Over)” from his overlooked 1991 collection Mighty Like A Rose.

In the song “Refused To Be Saved” Elvis spits out lyrics from Mighty Like A Rose’s “Invasion Hit Parade,” as he approaches a rapper’s cadence accented by sharp horn blasts, and the stunningly beautiful urban doo wop of “Tripwire” hearkens back to the song “Satellite,” from Costello’s 1989 album Spike. One of the most beguiling tracks on the collection is “Cinco Minutos Con Vos,” a sinuous horn-infused duet with singer La Marisoul of the band La Santa Cecelia.

Elsewhere, The Roots’ influence shines through on the woozy funk of “Sugar Won’t Work” and the Princely soul of “Viceroy’s Row.” Their use of string arrangements to create a sonic tension in “Refused To Be Saved” and “Wise Up Ghost” create a symphonic funk sound reminiscent of classic Isaac Hayes.

And if to reassert his influence on the proceedings,  ?uestlove’s drums introduce many of the album’s songs including “(She Might Be A) Grenade,” “Walk Us Uptown,” and  “Viceroy’s Row,” exposing The Roots’ penchant for building songs up from the rhythm tracks first.

Costello and The Roots have created a soulful socially conscious musical bouillabaisse with Wise Up Ghost; a kind of a What’s Goin’ On and Superfly for the twenty-teens…and a record for the ages by both artists.

Edited: September 25th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 12/9/12

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Good Year For The Roses” by Elvis Costello & The Attractions

They were young, drunk, marketed as punk rockers and cut loose in Nashville, Tennessee, behaving very badly. Such was the backdrop for Elvis Costello and the Attraction’s album-length foray into straight-ahead Country music back in 1981. Costello was coming off a white-hot streak of records including 1977’s “My Aim Is True,” followed by “This Year’s Model” in 1978, “Armed Forces” in 1979, and both “Trust” and the 20-track “Get Happy” record in 1980, all stuffed to the gills with self-penned classic songs. Add to that the 20-track “Taking Liberties” album that gathered up the rest of the stray British singles and B-sides, and Costello fans had a ton of consistently great material to sink their teeth into. Although the idea and reality of Costello releasing a full-blown Country collection, especially one of covers, came as a shock to his fans in 1981, it really shouldn’t have. Right from the beginning, Costello had flirted with Country music, recording songs like “Alison” on his debut album in 1977, “Different Finger” for “Trust” in 1980, “Motel Matches” on “Get Happy,” (also 1980) and “Stranger In The House,” which was originally recorded for “My Aim Is True” and left off only to turn up on a bonus single included with first pressings of the British version of “This Year’s Model.” He’d also recorded a duet version of “Stranger” with the song’s composer, country legend George Jones, for a TV special called “My Special Friends.” (The footage of their duet shows a very under-the-weather Elvis Costello deep in the throes of the mumps with glands that are visibly swollen.) When “Almost Blue” was unleashed onto an unsuspecting public, it was met with utter disbelief that Costello would do something that seemed so radical. And, indeed, the record was pretty unfairly shrugged off by much of his fan-base, becoming the black sheep of his catalog for many years (only later to be replaced by “The Juliet Letters,” but that’s for another time). For the album, Legendary producer Billy Sherrill (best known for his string-laden production work with Tammy Wynette) was brought in to helm the project, and the Attractions were augmented by pedal steel player, John McFee, who had sessioned on a whole host of records by the likes of Van Morrison, Steve Miller Band, Grateful Dead, The Doobie Brothers (where he replaced Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter in 1979) and numerous others. McFee had also previously played the pedal steel with Costello on his first U.S. hit, “Alison.” The album included credible and inspired cover versions of songs by Gram Parsons (“I’m Your Toy” and “How Much I Lied”), Hank Williams (“Why Don’t You Love Me”), Merle Haggard (“Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down”), Patsy Cline (“Sweet Dreams”) (written by Don Gibson), Charlie Rich (“Sittin’ And Thinkin’”) and George Jones who wrote this song, which was one of the album’s singles. On tour for the album, Costello performed the single “I’m Your Toy” at The Royal Albert Hall backed by a full orchestra and released the resultant recordings on British 12” and 7” singles for the F-Beat label. I caught the “Almost Blue” tour on New Year’s Eve 1981-1982 at the now-defunct Palladium in New York City. Elvis and the Attractions came out for the first set and played 90-minutes of Country hits with John McFee on pedal steel, and then came back at the stroke of midnight launched into “Lipstick Vogue” and followed it with a 90 minute set of solid rock ‘n’ roll…a great way to begin 1982. When the album first came out, it was accompanied by a promotional vinyl version with Elvis offering spoken introductions to each song. Almost Blue” has been reissued on CD several times over the years with incarnations on Columbia, Rykodisc, Rhino and Universal Music. The Rhino two-disc version is the one to own because it includes 27 bonus tracks, easily tripling the length of the record. Costello would dip his toes into Country Music many times over the years, most recently on his “Secret, Profane and Sugarcane” album in 2009.

Edited: December 8th, 2012

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 7/2/12

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “New Lace Sleeves” by Elvis Costello & The Attractions

Most people’s introduction to Elvis Costello on American shores occurred with a late 1977 appearance on “Saturday Night Live” when he and The Attractions were asked to fill in as a last minute replacement for The Sex Pistols whose visas would not let them into America. It was during this performance that EC and company launched into the song “Less Than Zero” only to abruptly stop it after a few bars in order to powerhouse through their latest British hit “Radio Radio,” much to the chagrin of the NBC TV censors. The result was that Elvis would not be asked back onto the show until 1982. Between his persona as an angry young man and the abrupt quick-change of song that played out in front of American TV audiences, Elvis got lumped into the Punk Rock movement which he really never was a member. Between 1977 and 1981, Elvis Costello & The Attractions released five back-to-back albums chock full of amazingly articulate songs that established him as one of the leading British songwriters not heard since the days of Lennon & McCartney. Those albums were “My Aim Is True” (1977), “This Year’s Model” (1978),” Armed Forces” (1979), “Get Happy” (1980) and “Trust” (1981)…add to these another 20-track album, “Taking Liberties” (1980), released only in America that gathered the stray b-sides and album off-cuts, and you had the beginnings of a stunning career that still continues today. All the above albums were produced by Nick Lowe and all of them were distinctly British, typified by songs like this one from “Trust.”

Edited: July 2nd, 2012

Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – 2/27/12

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “So Like Candy” by Elvis Costello

By 1991, Elvis Costello released “Mighty Like A Rose,” his second album for the Warner Bros. label. It was the follow-up to the critically hailed yet relatively flat album “Spike” and hits big hit song “Veronica” co-written by Paul McCartney. Costello and McCartney had also written a clutch of songs that turned up on Macca’s “Flowers In The Dirt” album from around the same time. For album number two on the contract, Costello once again teamed with producer Mitchell Froom for an ornate collection of songs. Whatever he was going though in his personal life didn’t bode well for the record, and what we got was a decent collection of songs that suffered from too much production and arrangements that were as bloated as our beloved bearded Elvis himself. But like every Elvis record, there were gems like this one also co-written by Paul McCartney. Here he is performing the track on Saturday Night Live.

Edited: February 27th, 2012

Song Of The Day – 10/23/11

Song Of the Day – “I Wanna Be Loved” by Elvis Costello and the Attractions

The first line of the liner notes written by Elvis Costello for the reissue of this album reads: “Congratulations! You’ve just purchased our worst album.” An accurate assessment due mostly to the then-trendy production by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. However, it is a good collection of songs as evidenced by the demo versions released on the reissue.

Edited: October 23rd, 2011

Song Of The Day – 8/4/11

Song Of The Day – “You Hung The Moon” by Elvis Costello

This track from Elvis’ latest album “National Ransom” is one of his best intimate ballads. I’m not a big fan of recent T Bone Burnett productions for Jakob Dylan, Robert Plant and Elton John/Leon Russell where he’s rendered them all dull. Elvis’ latest is a good collection of songs, but also suffers from its claustrophobic production.

Edited: August 4th, 2011

Song Of The Day – 1/26/11

Song Of The Day – “Tart” by Elvis Costello

This one comes from one of EC’s most underrated records, “When I Was Cruel,” released in 2002. Backed by The Imposters who are the Attractions (Steve Nieve – piano, Pete Thomas – drums) with Davey Faragher taking the bass duties. While the video for this song was not meant to be matched to the song, looking at Marilyn Monroe pictures for four minutes doesn’t hurt either.

Edited: January 26th, 2011

Song Of The Day – 12/26/10

Song Of The Day – “TKO (Boxing Day)” by Elvis Costello and the Attractions

What seemed like sound production decisions made 27 years ago, do not always hold up today. Case in point is Elvis Costello’s 1983 album “Punch The Clock.” Featuring then-trendy production by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley (known for their work with Madness and Dexy’s Midnight Runners), the addition of a horn section in the form of the TKO Horns and female backing vocals by Afrodiziak, practically sank what was a pretty strong collection of Costello tunes.  That leaves us with the tunes, including “Everyday I Write The Book,” “Shipbuilding,” “Mouth Almighty,” “The Invisible Man,” “Shipbuilding,” and this song chosen more for its relationship to the day of the year than any other reason.  Boxing Day, of course, is the day after Christmas in England… All in all, the album hasn’t aged so well…but the songs still hold their own.

Edited: December 26th, 2010

Song Of The Day – 11/6/10

Song Of The Day – “She’s The One” by Elvis Costello from the TV show “Spectacle”

The King meets The Boss!  One of Springsteen’s finest songs performed by Elvis Costello on his “Spectacle” TV show.  Part homage…part introduction of special guest Bruce Springsteen.  Two of the all-time greats on stage at the same time.  I would have donated my children to be there…well maybe not my children…but you get my drift.  Love Costello’s impassioned intro of Springsteen here.  Elvis released a new album this week called “National Ransom.”  Stylistically, it’s all over the map…but like every album he’s released, there are great songs to be heard…and of course there is “The Promise” from Bruce Springsteen coming out in a few weeks examining the “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” sessions in all their glory.  Can’t wait to watch the 1978 concert DVD in that box set!  A plethora of goodies this holiday season!

Listen: “She’s The One” by Elvis Costello

Edited: November 6th, 2010

Costello & Colbert! The new Everly Brothers! 11-5-10

Listen: “All I Have To Do Is Dream” by Elvis Costello & Stephen Colbert

Edited: November 5th, 2010