Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What I've Been Listening To

Okay, so it's been a really long time since I've posted anything. It seems like May just flew away from me. And now June is half over! I was thinking about posting tonight anyway, but then when I read Uncle E's shout out for this blog, I realized I need to post something! I've been listening to a whole bunch of stuff lately, but I haven't listened to any one thing enough to write something semi-intelligent about it. So, what have I been listening to, you might ask? Well, a ridiculous amount of Chris Isaak and Elvis Costello, as they are the next concerts I'm going to see. Chris Isaak is at Mystic Lake Casino, which is actually a pretty decent place to see a concert, I've seen Tony Bennett there twice. I missed Chris last summer when he was at the Minnesota Zoo, so I'm very happy that I'll catch him this summer. And Elvis is headlining at the Taste of Minnesota. Which is odd, because this year it's all washed-up metal bands. And Elvis. Taste of Minnesota, which happens over July 4th, is kind of like a crappy dry-run for the State Fair, which takes place in late August. It's also odd that Elvis is at Taste of Minnesota, because he still actually has a career, as opposed to most of the bands that play there.

So in preparation for seeing Chris Isaak, I went back and re-listened to all of his albums again. I was struck by how consistently great he is. Really, every album of his is pretty good, although my favorites are "Baja Sessions," "Speak of the Devil," and "Always Got Tonight." (His new CD, "Mr. Lucky," is also really good.) Isaak has a beautiful, haunting voice, and he's a great songwriter. He's like Elvis, if Elvis could have written a song. (Okay, so Elvis did write one song. It's called "You'll Be Gone." Really!) Isaak's album "Forever Blue" is a brilliant, heartbreaking look at a relationship gone wrong.

And I have been listening to a bewildering array of Elvis Costello albums:

Imperial Bedroom (2-Disc Rhino edition)
The River in Reverse (with Allen Toussaint)
This Year's Model (2-Disc Hip-O edition from 2008)
My Flame Burns Blue
Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane
and I've listened to the first half of Spike

So, yeah, a bit eclectic! I like all of these albums so far, but I don't know that I have a lot to say about them yet. Suffice it to say, Costello's versatility just blows me away. It's difficult to believe that the same guy put out all these different albums. I really like the songs on "Imperial Bedroom," what a brilliant, dark album. "Beyond Belief" is simply staggering, how do you write something like that? "This Year's Model" is all full of piss and vinegar, an angry young man railing at the world around him. "The River in Reverse" is a beautiful album, and it shows that Elvis still has some piss and vinegar left in him. Collaborating with Allen Toussaint was a smart move. And so was collaborating with the Metropole Orkest on "My Flame Burns Blue," on which Elvis re-arranges a bunch of his old songs for a jazz orchestra. Sounds weird, I know, but Elvis pulls it off. Oddly enough, this is Elvis's only official live album! "North" is a subdued song cycle about the end of one relationship and the beginning of another. It's a very restrained album, but well-written. And Elvis's latest CD, "Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane," what to make of it? It's a bit of a patchwork quilt of an album, with some old songs like "Complicated Shadows," last heard on 1996's "All This Useless Beauty," songs from Costello's unfinished "Secret Songs" commission, and some new stuff thrown in. It's all given a bluegrass/Americana makeover, and again, like everything else I've mentioned, it works for some reason. I can't really say why it works, but I like it.

And, a note about Elvis, last week "Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane" entered the Billboard 200 at number 13, which is Elvis's highest placing since...wait for it..."Get Happy!!" peaked at number 11 in 1980! Isn't that crazy?


Uncle E said...

Welcome back to the land of the living! Like you, I don't know what to make of the new EC CD, it's got me stumped. But, even a mediocre Elvis record is better than 9/10 of the stuff out there, and I agree with ya on Beyond Belief. What a great, odd, terrific little psychedelic number, eh?

Holly A Hughes said...

I dig Sacred, Profane, and Sugarcane -- but then I always like the country side of Elvis. You're right, Mark, you did have a grab-bag of EC records there! I love North especially, though I know it baffles a lot of Costello fans. Flame Turns Blue is, well, let's just call it a noble experiment...