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Elvis Costello

Live With the Metropole Orkest -- My Flame Burns Blue (Deutsche Grammophon)

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If North was Elvis Costello's complement to Frank Sinatra's Sings for Only the Lonely, My Flame Burns Blue is a counterpart to the Chairman's Songs for Swingin' Lovers. Recorded live, accompanied by longtime keyboardist Steve Nieve and a full orchestra, Costello reworks and reinvents songs from his voluminous catalog in a kitsch-free, hard-swinging, jazz-oriented context.

The New Orleans R&B of "That's How You Got Killed Before" becomes a limber, punchy Count Basie-style swinger with buoyant, snappy horn solos and plenty of ring-a-ding-ding swagger. The sardonic "Clubland" is reinvented as a surreal Desi Arnaz/Tito Puente cha-cha, while "Watching the Detectives" is transformed from ominous roots reggae to a cosmopolitan Stan Kenton/ Leonard Bernstein-type panorama. The poignant ballad "Almost Blue" finally gets the grandiose treatment it deserves (shame Sinatra never covered this), with swelling, end-of-the-world strings and tenderly soulful trumpet and harmonica soloing.

This set concludes, appropriately enough, with Costello's collaboration with Burt Bacharach, "God Give Me Strength," wherein he gets a tad overly melodramatic, just as that other Elvis became in his later Vegas years. While no Chairman, Costello is most assuredly a senior board member.

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