Rhythm and Views
NOVEMBER 23, 1998:
ELVIS COSTELLO WITH BURT BACHARACH
Painted From Memory
WHEN ELVIS COSTELLO was perfecting his angry young man routine on the streets of London 20-odd years ago, did he harbor dreams of making music with the man who made Dionne Warwick famous? Well, the '90s have seen stranger pairings--Bono with Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash with Glenn Danzig--and the result in any event is a surprising excursion into trademark Bacharach territory, with its pah-pum pah-pum flugelhorns and bass flutes, mixed with lyrics of lost love and broken Middle American/Midlands dreams. Bacharach has always placed great demands on his singers, and he gives Elvis a workout that has the grizzled pop star straining for notes, so that he occasionally sounds like Bert Lahr, the vibrato-heavy Cowardly Lion of The Wizard of Oz. Even so, the disc pays off with world-weary, after-hours tunes like "This House Is Empty Now" and "God Give Me Strength" that showcase both collaborators' considerable skills, and that bear repeated playing.
Like A Hurricane
THE MOST MEMORABLE theme in group Pamela De Barres' book I'm With The Band is Hillman's refusal to bed the hot blonde who placed him above loads of more accessible, notable rockers. Decades later, that same disciplined, Christian-soldier mentality permeates intense cuts like "Forgiveness," where Hillman writes/sings, "forgiveness is a word I want to live by." Hillman is a bluegrasser above all else, and his Sugar Hill releases do his specialty justice. The Dylanesque "I'm Still Alive" features David Crosby--unquestionably the perfect background vocalist for that particular song, dontcha think? Hot as the Byrds and Desert Rose Band were, Hillman's solo albums shine through with a personality that both of his previous bands somewhat dampered. Come to think of it, none of the other Byrds have done nearly as well with their solo careers, and this disc serves as further proof.
CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVISITED
LIKE ANY GOOD restaurant reviewer, I gave this one a lunchtime spin and then a subsequent one around the dinner hour. Here's how it stacked up. The midday session, held at the record store, provoked a mixture of foot-tapping and grimacing. The former response was due in no small part to the rock-solid rhythm section (more on that in a sec) and, quite naturally, the familiarity of the tunes. Like a toasted reuben sandwich dripping with sauce, there just ain't nothing tastier than some good ol' swamp-fried boogie, CCR style: "Born On The Bayou," "Green River," "Run Through The Jungle," "Suzie Q"--all the hits are present and accounted for on this live double album, and they rock the bar (more on that also). But when the band tries to pull off a 15-minute version of "Heard It Through The Grapevine" and the long guitar solo starts to turn into a tapping/hammering Eddie Van Halen wankfest (courtesy of, get this, ex-Cars Elliot Easton), well, you begin to understand why John Fogerty got so indignant over the way his estranged former bandmates, drummer Doug Clifford and bassist Stu Cook, were exploiting his franchise. (And as one listener pointed out, there's an additional, painful, irony in a cover band doing a cover of its own cover.)
Later, that evening, over a bottle of red wine and sprawled under the moonlight, I wasn't nearly so analytical and Recollection went down quite nicely. CCR has hired a scab, John Tristao, to cross Fogerty's picket line and assume mic duties. In truth, he's got a gritty, tuneful set of pipes, even convincingly channeling the other John for certain tunes ("Lodi" especially). Only on occasion does he lapse into Elvis-in-Vegas shticky vocal tics.
Just the same--the album may be live, but it's not even Memorex. At the end of the day, CCR is just another bar band doing Creedence songs (admittedly, fairly well). The group's aesthetic falls somewhere in between that of the honest, wage-earning efforts of an aging '60s rocker reviving his old band's glory days via the theme park circuit, and of the pathetic, masturbatory spectacle that is one of those ubiquitous "A Tribute To..." groups.
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