Oops, he's done it again.
A mere 18 months after the simultaneous release of a fine rock record, The Delivery Man, and a full-blown orchestral piece, Il Sogno, Elvis Costello is back with My Flame Burns Blue. The bespectacled one claims his new live album "may explain what I've been doing during the last 12 years when I haven't had an electric guitar in my hands." And that, of course, can mean only one thing: buyer beware.
Though the guy is supremely talented, Costello's non-rock output tends to be, shall we say, smug, humorless, oversung and pedantic. And as anyone who's ever heard The Juliet Letters — his 1993 collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet — knows, that's putting it charitably.
The good news is that this Flame — which Costello recorded with jazz collective the Metropole Orkest and his longtime keyboard companion Steve Nieve — really does burn. Fueled by ambitious reinterpretations of classics such as "Almost Blue," "Watching the Detectives" and "Clubland" — whose bitterly punning lyrics remain required reading for all would-be rock wordsmiths — the album is a rare find: a concert disc that isn't superfluous.
Indeed, replete with swaggering, big band rhythms ("That's How You Got Killed Before"), sweet 'n' melancholy strings ("Speak Darkly My Angel") and effortlessly impressive crooning ("My Flame Burns Blue"), it's easily one of Costello's most likable albums since, well...
Actually, there's nothing comparable in the man's canon — which means that for newcomers and acolytes alike, My Flame Burns Blue is essential listening.
Elvis Costello is scheduled to perform with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on April 20 at Strathmore.