Review ·

After
your career has spanned nearly thirty years, there are only so many
directions you can wander without getting lost. But Elvis Costello is a
connoisseur of finding ways to swing himself into the right direction.
Although he got a little lost in the mid-'90s with the likes of G.B.H. (1994) and Kojak Variety (1995), he's managed to pull a trick or two from his sleeve since then. For My Flame Burns Blue,
he was obliged to wipe the dust off his dancing shoes and swing his way
into a collaboration with what he says is the "world's only full-time
jazz orchestra with a string section": the Metropole Orkest.

[more:]

 

Their performance together at the North Sea Jazz Festival during the summer of 2004 is the source for My Flame Burns Blue, Costello's fourth release on Deutsche Grammophon, the classical label he seems to reserve his artsy projects for. Il Sogno, his orchestral work created to score an Italian dance company's adaptation of Midsummer Night's Dream, was released on this label in 2004 (and is included here on a bonus disc), but don't be fooled; My Flame Burns Blue doesn't
crossover anywhere into classical territory. It's equal parts R&B,
swing and rock 'n' roll, and it also puts the electric guitar back into
Costello's hands. The album presents his classics in a new light, with
full-orchestrations from the Metropole Orkest that Costello claims to
have been twelve years in the making. And it shows: This is one of the
most delightful listening experiences I've had for a record released
this year.

 

The
album opens with a composition written by the late Charles Mingus
("Hora Deubitus"). If you're trying to present yourself as an arranger,
there is no better way to do it than to open your set with a Mingus
tune (Costello did actually sit in with the Mingus Big Band on several
occasions). "Favorite Hour" takes on a novel down-tempo face and smiles
relatively larger than it did on The Juliet Letters
(1993), and "Almost Blue," the title track from the 1981 album, pushes
Costello's voice into a sophisticated, finessed manner that would be
unrecognizable if you were to listen to it next to some of his 1970s
work.

 

Some of the tracks began to mesh together ( "Can You Be True?" and "Episode of Blonde") as My Flame Burns Blue continued,
and my enthusiasm waned as the set began to wind down. But the man
always finds a way to compensate for a wrongdoing, and he did plenty of
sucking up by including "God Give Me Strength," the last track off his
1999 collaboration with Burt Bacharach. That song that makes me fall
apart each time it graces my company.

 

Even
this long into the game, Costello is one of the few songwriters who
hasn't left me skeptical about each of his new releases. That feeling
is reinforced by My Flame Burns Blue. In continuing to make a conscious effort to push his music forward, he has regained my complete reverence.

 

 

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