Recorded in five cities over nine days in May, this collectible, color-coded palette of five EPs features new-wave king Elvis Costello and sideman/pianist Steve Nieve in live acoustic duets. Not surprisingly, the performances seem to get better as the twosome travels east.
Disc 1, cut in Los Angeles on May 14, sounds like Costello reaching for a Broadway songbook. You get the feeling, halfway through a high-pitched reading of Temptation, that somebody's serving cocktails off a tray while the "talent" plays for tips.
Disc 2, from San Francisco, is an improvement. Just About Glad hints at the nasty, fun Elvis, who is easy to miss on some of these tracks. His cover of Ship of Fools, written by late hometown hero Jerry Garcia, has a generous but nicely unsentimental ring.
The duo hits Chicago, Boston and, lastly, New York on May 22, recording some excellent moments along the way. Highlights include the Costello classic "Watching the Detectives," and two bittersweet rags, "Just a Memory" and "I Want to Vanish."
Costello and Nieve don't always achieve the telepathy one looks for in duets, but they have enough instinct between them to fake it when it counts.