Even though Paul Bellows' new album Tape Deck Classics is filled with the same vigour that earned his 1998 debut, Juliet Pauses, a top-12 DIY album from Performing Songwriter magazine, Bellows admits that his conservative upbringing has him behind the times; when asked what album he would pick as the one that most influenced his musical career, he chose Elvis Costello's All This Useless Beauty. No surprise, really — a lot of singer/songwriters see Costello as an icon. But what might surprise Bellows' fans is that he first got into Costello after he was basically shamed into listening to his work.
"I grew up in a pretty religious family, and pretty much stuck to the party line all through high school and beyond," says Bellows. "I listened to a lot of Bruce Cockburn and other great songwriters, but I didn't really have friends or go to parties, so I didn't have anyone to teach me about rock 'n' roll. I don't think I even tasted beer until after I was 20 — and by then I was married.
"But halfway through my divorce, someone gave me All This Useless Beauty," he continues. "I'd been playing some of my music at open stages in Winnipeg, where I was living at the time, and one of the other musicians asked if I counted Elvis Costello as an influence. I said I'd never listened to him, and no one believed me. So they made me sit down and start listening. It was like a doorway into a world of songwriting that I didn't know existed; I felt like I'd found a new family."
Released in 1996, All This Useless Beauty is a collection of songs that Costello had sitting around for years. Some of them were composed for other artists and ended up not being used; others were collaborations that never saw the light of day. Because of this, it offered the first-time Costello listener the chance to hear him through the various stages of his career.
Notable on the album are "The Other End (Of The Telescope)" (co-written with former Til Tuesday chanteuse Aimee Mann) and "Shallow Grave," which Costello co-wrote with Paul McCartney. While this collection doesn't really address the New Wave portion of Costello's career (there's nothing like "Pump It Up"
here), it does offer a worthy look into a man who has transformed into a living legend.
Originally released by Warner, the album was actually one of Costello's poorest sellers, and it went out of print without a lot of fanfare. But Rhino Records has since re-released the album with a bonus disc that includes demo versions of tunes and "My Dark Life," a collaboration with Brian Eno.
Although Costello currently occupies the throne as the most influential musician in Bellows' career, Bellows admits there's a chance that Costello might get unseated as he frantically tries to play catch-up with all the important musical artists of the last several decades.
"From that album, I've started working my way backwards in time, and then once I hit the early '70s I started moving forwards again," he says. "I'm hoping that by the time I'm 40 I understand what is happening in music today. Right now I'm still in the mid- to late-'80s. Just give me some time; I'll get there."
To find out about Bellows' latest album, or to check out when he will be playing in town next, surf over to www.paulbellows.com.