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Review of Painted From Memory
Stereophile, 2000-02-01
John Atkinson

ELVIS COSTELLO with BURT BACHARACH: Painted from Memory: The New Songs of Bacharach & Costello

Mercury 314 538 002-2 (CD). 1998. Burt Bacharach, Elvis Costello, prods.; Kevin Killen, eng.; recorded, mixed at Ocean Way Studio. AAD? TT: 52:26

It's easy to become so familiar with greatness that you fail to recognize it. Thus it was with Elvis Costello when he blossomed out of the English pub-rock scene in the mid-'70s. Sure, I'd heard the carefully crafted Attractions singles, but it was just AM-radio fare, know what I mean? Then I heard Elvis' "Shipbuilding," sung by ex-Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt, and his "Girls Talk," sung by Dave Edmunds. To my shame, I had missed a major talent. I hastened to play catch-up, following Mr. MacManus' ventures through the next 20 years into country, string quartets—you name it, he tried it.

And then came this collaboration with one of the finest tune crafters of the second half of the 20th century, a CD that has hardly left my player since I bought it. Bacharach's intricate yet hummable melodies and Costello's thoughtful lyrics are allied to sparse, intelligent arrangements that couple an understated rhythm section with occasional highlighting and coloring instruments, and a sympathetic recorded sound quality. But it is the vocal risk-taking that had me coming back for more. Whatever musical talent Mr. C. has in his genes, he didn't inherit the voice of his dance-band singer father. But he wends his way along these melodically wide-ranging vocal lines, sometimes only just in tune, with surprising sophistication. My only regret is that the duo's superb excursion on Bacharach-David's "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" is not on this album. For that, you have to buy the soundtrack to the awful The Spy Who Shagged Me.