Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Spinning Songbook Countdown: The River In Reverse

One week left!

Next Tuesday is Elvis Costello's concert at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater and I can't wait. Until then I got four great Costello albums to get me through the work week, starting with The River In Reverse.

This joint effort with New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint is my favorite of Costello's three collaborative releases. It features the Imposters as well as the Crescent City Horns for an album steeped in the rich sounds of the Big Easy.

The album was recorded just a few months after the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe in 2005 and features several songs influenced by the disaster as well as a few classic Toussaint compositions.

"The River In Reverse" specifically revolves around the tragedy. A much darker composition than the other songs on the record. Costello's sings about how the betrayal in the response to the storm and its aftermath while the band plays a nearly broken rhythm with an eerie piano melody surging in the background. It's a stunning song, one that takes a while to warm up to.

"Broken Promised Land" and "International Echo" follow up on the Katrina theme, the lack of response and the choices residents had to make."Ascension Day" is the most affecting of these songs though. Almost like a requiem for the 1,500 lives lost. Led by a majestic piano performance by Toussaint, Costello solemnly describes the most vivid images from the storm.

Thought the subject matter of these songs seem a bit too serious, they never cease to be a joy to listen to and fit perfectly well with the more popular subject matter through the rest of the album.

"On Your Way Down," "Who's Gonna Help A Brother Get Further" and "Freedom For The Stallion" are all Toussaint originals from decades before Katrina that specially apt.

Costello is a big fan of Toussaint, the two have worked together since the eighties, and the rest of the album shows that admiration with the selection of songs.

"Nearer To You," "Tears, Tears and More Tears" and "Wonder Woman" are great love songs featuring solid performances by the band but the stand out for me is "All These Things."

Costello first recorded a version of this beautiful song in 1986. It was officially released in the Blood & Chocolate reissue, which was where I first heard it and how I first knew I was in love.

I was driving on an scenic road lined with palm trees, on my way to meet the woman who would become my wife. I had just picked up the reissue and was listening to the bonus disc for the first time when this gem came along and I knew that I could never let her go.

The version on that reissue is good but the one in this album is so much better. From the band's dramatic performance to Costello's finest vocals, "All These Things" is the highlight of the album for me. I couldn't help but be floored again by this song.

Classics: "The Sharpest Torn," "Who's Gonna Help Brother Get Further?," "The River In Reverse," "Ascension Day"

Songs I'd like to hear live: "Own Your Way Down," "Tears, Tears and More Tears," "All These Things"

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