In April, for Record Store Day, Elvis Costello and The Imposters (Steve Nieve - keyboards, Davey Farager - bass, and Pete Thomas - drums) released the four song EP Purse (“where the secrets are kept”). These are the last tracks from the sessions for Elvis and the Imposters’ excellent LP Look Now, released last year and very well produced by Sebastian Krys. These four songs offer two amazing tracks, and two that are more like songwriting exercises. Let’s open the Purse.
The first track, ‘Everyone’s Playing House’ is co-written with Burt Bacharach and has that classic Bacharach sound. Meaning that, you can immediately hear Dionne Warwick singing this one. This is a strong cut that would have been a standout on Painted From Memory, the Bacharach-Costello album-length collaboration. It’s given a light, classy keyboard-heavy touch by Sebastian Krys’ production. Elvis himself wrote extensive notes for these songs, and he explains better than I could.
Astute listeners may detect a thematic musical link to the Look Now song, "Don't Look Now," this is because they were originally written to be successive numbers, in a stage adaptation of Painted From Memory. To carry the story forward I wrote a variation based on Burt Bacharach's open melody leading to a refrain of my own invention that had something of the schoolyard taunt about it.
It appears that Elvis and Burt were working on a Broadway adaptation of Painted From Memory, but apparently the book didn’t have enough dancing cats, or animatronic apes, or whatever is big on Broadway now. Imagine that.
The second cut, ‘The Lovers That Never Were’ was co-written with Paul McCartney and demoed for McCartney’s Flowers In The Dirt. This track, Elvis’ version, is the true standout on Purse. It was recorded (and over-produced) by Macca for his Off The Ground LP, the original demo version with Paul on guitar and Elvis on piano was released recently from the extras on the re-release of McCartney’s Flowers In The Dirt and is a revelation. This is in the mold of their co-written ‘So Like Candy’ (which appeared on Elvis’ Mighty Like A Rose LP) featuring a stately ascending progression and a killer chorus. It seems working with Sir Paul has toned down Costello’s wordiness, and that is a good thing. Here are some of Elvis’ comments:
I played piano on that cut, so when it came to working out this arrangement, I felt most at home on the Wurlitzer electric piano while leaving the more expansive, orchestral flourishes of grand piano in the more capable hands of Steve Nieve.Sebastian Krys recorded and mixed this cut in "hard stereo," that is more radically panned than most other Look Now recordings, leaving space for the vocal parts and guitar figures that give our version a character and dream-like mood distinct from Paul's unbeatable one-man and his guitar, (with his mate playing piano) version or his later more elaborate rendition on the album Off The Ground.
‘If You Love Me’ by Johnny Cash is the third song, a previously unreleased song, that I believe was a fragment of a Johnny Cash song completed posthumously by Costello. It totally sounds like a King Of America out-take, full of driving acoustic guitar, Hammond organ, and backing vocals. Not his strongest effort, but a darker production take on this might have yielded a song for Blood And Chocolate.
The last song features ‘Down On The Bottom’ (words Bob Dylan, music Elvis Costello). This comes from the Basement Tapes sessions, where a number of artists, led and produced by T-Bone Burnett and including Jim James, Rhiannon Giddens, and that Mumford guy, take unused Dylan lyrics and set them to their own music. Costello’s arrangement is almost a gospel approach. This is not my cup of tea. I’m sure Elvis was thrilled to put a tune to the Great Man’s words, but in my opinion (kind of like Adrienne’s take on Steve Earle covering Guy Clark, see tinyurl.com/zubtinyearle) Elvis himself has eclipsed the master. It’s a bit of a throwaway.
There you have it One amazing song, one great song, and two exercises in see-what-I-can-do. I’ve included a playlist so you can hear Purse, the various McManus/McCartney demos, and Jim James’ take on ‘Down On The Bottom.’