Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spinning Songbook Countdown: North

It's very rare that you hear a concept album built with jazz ballads but that's exactly what I think of whenever I listen to North.

This 2003 album features eleven moody and intimate performances, beautifully sung by Elvis Costello and driven by Steve Nieve's eloquent piano. Each song seamlessly segues into one another as musical themes reappear throughout the album. All the songs are love songs, some without a happy ending.

The lyrics are so candid and vivid that I just can't help but imagine a story around them; they even seem to appear in a specific order, from the tragic beginning in "You Left Me In The Dark" to the hopeful conclusion in "I'm In The Mood Again."

The album starts at the end with "You Left Me In The Dark," a song about a dissolving relationship. "Someone Took The Words Away" continues with the subject being struck, "tongue-tied" with a new feeling. Still, he's conflicted.

"Fallen" tries to reconcile this new feeling in the face of that other relationship, lamenting "the moment when love went wrong."

The next few songs see that infatuation turn into full-fledged love. "When Did I Stop Dreaming," "Still" and "Can You Be True are some of the best love songs Costello's ever written. "Still" features the Brodsky Quartet and is possibly the loveliest tune in the album.

The tempestuous song-cycle closes with "I'm In The Mood Again," a Manhattan-set epilogue with the better man out subject has become. He's happier, carefree and hopeful. The journey was worth it.

The album coincides with the end of his relationship with Cait O'Riordan and the beginning of his relationship with jazz vocalist Diana Krall. I'm sure Costello would say that any similarities would be purely coincidental.
Classics: "Someone Took The Words Away," "Fallen," "Still," "Can You Be True," and "I'm In The Mood Again"
Songs I'd like to hear live: "Still," "When it Sings," "I'm In The Mood Again" and

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