Friday, April 13, 2012

Spinning Songbook Countdown: My Flame Burns Blue

I really meant to listen to this stunning live album all the way through but I couldn't managed to get past track two for much of the day.

"Favorite Hour" is in my opinion the best song off 1994's Brutal Youth but this version rivals the original with a new arrangement by Steve Nieve and the grand participation of the Netherlands' Metropole Orkest.

The song's lyrics, described by Costello in the liner notes as "about the anticipation of an execution," could also be applied to whenever you dread an upcoming unpleasant event. Today was one of those days.

Today was the last day for several of the journalists I work with. They each had more than 25 years of experience with the newspaper and they were offered a buyout. They are glad to retire but their service to the paper and the community is unmeasurable. It's a loss for an already thinned newsroom and we had to say goodbye today.

Along with the execution imagery, somewhat gruesome for such a lovely melody, there a lots of descriptions of time passing. The brutal youth being wasted, "bejeweled movement" measuring lost time, and then there's the desire to "arrest the time." I felt like that all day today. Some of the people I learned from the most are leaving and I have a feeling that it's only gonna get worse. There will always be times when you want things to stay the same and this song is perfect to hear when they won't.

That's my melodramatic rant for today, let's get back to the music.

2006's My Flame Burns Blue is actually Costello's first official full-length release and it showcases his prowess as a big band leader. The set, which combines two performances during the North Sea Jazz Festival, features some incredibly interesting versions of Costello classics as well as some of his artier projects.

Among the highlights is a version of "Watching The Detectives" that turns one of his best known songs into the soundtrack for a witty detective film. "Clubland" gets a somber start before it plays up the party atmosphere and turns into a dizzying operetta. "Episode of Blonde" benefits from the bolder horn arrangements and "God Give Me Strenght" gets even more dramatic.

Still, my favorites off this marvelously sounding live album are the quieter songs like "Favorite Hour." "Can You Be True," from North manages to be even more touching. "Almost Blue" from 1982's Imperial Bedroom is gorgeous.

Another song that stands out is "Almost Ideal Eyes," an out-take from the recording sessions from All This Useless Beauty that ended up as a killer B-side.

I wouldn't recommend this album to someone just diving into Costello's sprawling output, unless they were a Jazz fan, but it's definitely worth a listen - not only for the incredible live performance that it captures but how perfectly these songs work with a big band arrangement.

Also, you'll end up listening to "Favorite Hour" over and over.

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