August 2006

Elvis Costello - My Flame Burns Blue
Deutsche Grammophon B0005994-72
Format: CD
Released: 2006

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint - The River in Reverse
Verve Forecast B0006801-10
Format: CD
Released: 2006

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

by Joseph Taylor

Elvis Costello’s amazing productivity continues with these two very different examples of his restless, challenging musical imagination. On My Flame Burns Blue, he joins Holland’s Metropole Orkest for radical interpretations of some of his better-known songs, as well as arrangements of songs he wrote for other projects. The Metropole is a jazz orchestra with a string section, and when Costello performed with them for this recording at the 2004 North Sea festival, he brought along arrangements he had developed in collaboration with others over the years.

Highlights of the disc include a witty, Latin-jazz influenced "Clubland" and a version of "Watching the Detectives" that sounds as it might had Henry Mancini arranged it. But it is the unique, hard-to-find titles that will draw Costello’s fans to My Flame Burns Blue. He added lyrics to Charles Mingus’s "Hora Decubitus" and Billy Strayhorn’s "Blood Count" (retitled "My Flame Burns Blue"), and both demonstrate Costello’s talents as lyricist and singer. The Metropole is impressive throughout this beautifully recorded disc.

Costello shares billing with Allen Toussaint on The River in Reverse (a limited-edition DVD included with the disc documents the sessions). He collaborated on four tunes with the great New Orleans songwriter, producer, and pianist and wrote one himself for the disc. He brings to them all the passion and precision that has marked his singing in recent years. Costello’s band, the Imposters, proves once again that it can play anything, but it’s Toussaint, with his fine New Orleans-style piano playing and his arrangements for the Crescent City Horns, who is the strong foundation of this disc. Joe Henry’s production is suitably funky.