ELVIS COSTELLO & THE BRODSKY QUARTET : The Juliet Letters LP

ELVIS COSTELLO & THE BRODSKY QUARTET : The Juliet Letters LP

$39.95

ELVIS COSTELLO

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Looking back on it, it’s remarkable that Warner didn’t sue Elvis Costello for making deliberately noncommercial, non-representative records, the way Geffen did with Neil Young in the ’80s. After all, it’s not just that he made a record as anti-pop as Mighty Like a Rose, it’s that he followed it with a full-fledged classical album, The Juliet Letters — “a song sequence for string quartet and voice,” recorded with the Brodsky Quartet.

[The Juliet Letters was the last of Elvis Costello’s albums from 1977 to 1996 to receive an expanded double-disc treatment in Rhino’s extended reissue campaign, finally appearing on its own in March 2006. Given the unusual collaborative nature of the project, there wasn’t as much unreleased music and rarities as there were for other Costello albums, so this second disc winds up as a clearing-house for highlights from Costello’s art projects of the ’90s. Eight of the 18 tracks date from the Meltdown, there are the three non-LP songs from the 1993 promotional EP Live at New York Town Hall: Jerome Kern’s “They Didn’t Believe Me,” Tom Waits’ “More Than Rain,” and Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows.” Also included is “She Moved Through the Fair,” a Costello-sung traditional folk tune that appeared on the Brodsky Quartet’s 1994 album Lament, and another Costello/Brodsky collaboration on “Lost in the Stars,” plucked from the 1997 tribute album September Songs: The Music of Kurt Weill, plus three parts of “Fire Suite” that were recorded with the Jazz Passengers and released originally on Roy Nathanson’s 2000 LP Fire at Keaton’s Bar & Grill. Considering the variety of sources, spanning the better part of the decade, it’s not a big surprise that this disc isn’t particularly cohesive — particularly in comparison to its parent disc — but there’s a good batch of interesting music here. Not always good — the version of “God Only Knows” is awkward, for instance — but even the stumbles are worthwhile listening for those who appreciate The Juliet Letters, and the best of this, like “Fire Suite,” is quietly sublime.]