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Elvis talks about his 2 new albums, The Delivery Man and Il Sogno
Reno Gazette-Journal, 2004-09-13
- Elysa Gardner


Elvis Costello talks about his 2 new albums

Elysa Gardner
USA Today
9/13/2004 03:29 pm

He has been called an angry young man, a post-punk poet and an heir to pop bards from Cole Porter to Lennon and McCartney. But until recently, few would have thought to compare Elvis Costello to Claude Debussy or Leonard Bernstein.

Both revered composers were cited by critics reviewing Costello’s first full-length orchestral work, “Il Sogno,” commissioned four years ago by Italian dance company Aterballetto for its adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The rock veteran, who turned 50 in August, shrugs off the praise. “But I’m flattered they said that,” he concedes, “rather than saying it sounds like Lawrence Welk or something.”

Fans will have an opportunity to judge when a new recording of “Sogno,” performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, arrives Sept. 21. That same day, Costello and his band, The Imposters, will unveil “The Delivery Man,” a narrative-based song cycle conceived on “that place on the road where soul and country meet.” “Delivery Man” also features vocals by Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams.

For Costello, who has collaborated with artists ranging from Burt Bacharach to classical mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter to jazz singer/pianist Diana Krall, whom Costello married last year, the diverse twin releases aren’t creatively out of character.

The singer/songwriter allows that his restless eclecticism “sets me up in my competition with myself. You reach a point where there’s this unstated question of ‘which (project) is really you?’ Of course, the answer is they’re all me, at different times.”

“Sogno” is itself stylistically diverse, nodding — as Bernstein did — to jazz and show music in its orchestrations, which Costello penned with Shakespeare’s “Midsummer” characters in mind. “The people from the court have typically classical-sounding gestures. The workers have folk dances and marches, and the fairies are jazz fairies — they’re swinging fairies.”

Costello considers the recording a logical successor to his last studio effort, 2003’s “North,” though that collection of starkly intense ballads was written later.

“But if I just followed ’North’ with this instrumental, orchestral record, people would have thought I was going away from the other things I love.”

So “Delivery Man” took shape. Costello already had the songs and the title character, inspired by a true story he had alluded to in an earlier song, “Hidden Shame,” written for Johnny Cash. “He’s an enigmatic presence who comes to this small town. He carries the secret of having committed murder as a child, though it’s not stated anywhere on the record.”

In the end, Costello decided to leave out some of the more character-specific songs “because I wanted to admit other things happening in the world.”

Among the added tracks is a new version of the Oscar-nominated “The Scarlet Tide,” which Costello co-wrote with T-Bone Burnett for the Civil War epic “Cold Mountain” — a film that, Costello says pointedly, “proposes women have to put the world back together after the foolishness of men to wage war has destroyed it.”

He expresses similar reverence for Krall: “I’m not a little bit bashful about saying that I’m as happy as I’ve ever been.” Of his wife’s acclaimed 2004 CD “The Girl in the Other Room,” for which the couple wrote songs together, Costello says, “I got a kick out of some pompous reviews that said the songs were obviously all my doing. She wrote all the images and lines; she just didn’t have experience editing them. That was my job.”

Costello hopes that their artistic partnership will evolve. “It’s great to work with someone with whom you share your life. Of course, the influence you have on each other is subtle and hard to define — and it’s not really anybody’s business.”

Speculating on his professional future, Costello is similarly blunt.

“My vocation is to follow my curiosity and my passion,” he says. “I have no other responsibility — none to the record company, none to the audience, certainly none to critics. If I disappoint someone who expects something different, they can just buy one of my other records — or wait for the next one.”

Copyright © 2004 The Reno Gazette-Journal


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