Elvis Costello will release a new album, Hey Clockface, on October 30th. It’s been over 40 years since the release of his first, 1977’s My Aim Is True, and two years since his most recent, 2018’s Look Now. Hey Clockface was mostly recorded in the before times at studios in Helsinki, Paris and New York, though some tracks were assembled in pieces post-quarantine. The different recording locations brought different musicians into the project, promising a wide spectrum of sound for the album’s fourteen tracks.
Costello has already released the three tracks recorded in Helsinki, where he worked on his own, playing all the instruments. All dish up social and political commentary against edgy instrumentals. Here are “No Flag” and “We Are All Cowards Now”.
If you want to hear the final track from the Helsinki trilogy, check out “Hetty O’Hara Confidential.”
Thinking back to My Aim Is True, every track was a classic in my book. Here’s a 2011 performance of the romp, “Mystery Dance”, by Elvis and The Imposters.
In an online article in Variety, Costello mentions that while it didn’t work out for Hey Clockface, he’d like to get back together with Nick Lowe at some point. Sounds like more albums to come. “Don’t bury me ’cause I’m not dead yet.”
On occasion a singer-songwriter becomes so identified with a song written by another singer-songwriter that the ownership of the song seems to transfer. This came to mind when John Prine passed away a couple of weeks ago. Early in her career, Bonnie Raitt made Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” her own. Enjoy this early performance by Bonnie and take a look at this poignant duet from just a few months ago.
Another classic example is Patti Smith’s version of “Because the Night”, written by Bruce Springsteen. You get the same feeling watching Patti and Bruce perform the song together that you do when watching Raitt and Prine – this is Patti’s song.
And then there’s Elvis Costello’s cover of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”. A Costello performance staple for decades, the history of the song is particularly interesting. Lowe originally released it with his band Brinsley Schwarz in 1974. Lowe became Costello’s producer a couple of years later, working on his first five albums, and Costello’s version of the song was first released as the B-side of a Nick Lowe 1978 single. When it became a hit, the track was added to the American release of Armed Forces. Lowe generally performs softer acoustic versions of the song these days, but when he gets on stage with Elvis, it’s the Costello version they’ll do (drop into this video at 3:00). Enjoy Costello’s comic intro below, or go straight to the song at about 1:00.
This week we indulge in a bit of nostalgia for a true rock hero, Nick Lowe. One of the central figures of New Wave music in the late ’70s, Lowe is a musician, singer, songwriter, producer who’s done great work for decades.
In 1979 Lowe wrote a song that became a big hit for Elvis Costello, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”. The track appeared on the U.S. release of Costello’s third album “Armed Forces”, one of five albums that Lowe produced for Costello. The video below includes Lowe sitting in with Costello in 1987. The lyrics are for all time.
Lowe also wrote “Cruel to Be Kind” in 1979, and it appeared on Lowe’s second album, “Labour of Lust”. The video is apparently a reenactment of Lowe’s wedding to Carlene Cash (playing herself in the video), granddaughter of Johnny Cash. Dave Edmunds, another icon of New Wave and bandmate of Lowe’s in Rockpile, plays the limo driver.
Fun fact: both of Lowe’s songs were among the videos played on MTV’s first day of broadcasting on August 1, 1981.
In 1987 Nick played on John Hiatt’s album “Bring the Family”, a recording that marked the beginning of the upward trajectory in Hiatt’s tremendous career. The other musicians who played on that album were guitar virtuoso and musicologist Ry Cooder, and session drummer extraordinaire Jim Keltner. That lineup came together again to release an album as “Little Village” in 1992. Here’s a performance of “Fool Who Knows” featuring Lowe on vocals.
Lowe’s latest effort, released in October 2013, was a Christmas album. His voice is clear as ever. While it’s a bit late (or early) to play Christmas music, file the thought away and just listen to a bit of this track.
Since his first single was released in March 1977, Elvis Costello has remained a prolific artist ranging all over the musical spectrum. His new album “Wise Up Ghost” is due out in mid-September, and it’s a collaboration with hip hop legends The Roots. The collaboration was conceived when Costello performed on the Jimmy Fallon late-night TV show, where The Roots gig as the house band.
The first track from the new album, “Walk Us Uptown”, will certainly whet your appetite to hear the full release. Costello’s sinister vocals coupled with Questlove’s drums and jazzy Roots bass lines are an intoxicating mix.
The title of Costello’s first album “My Aim Is True” was drawn from the 5th track “Alison”. While “Alison” was not a hit single at the time, it’s become a favorite in Elvis’ catalog. Give a listen and then listen to “Less Than Zero”, his first hit from that same album.
And finally, Questlove published a memoir in June 2013 titled “Mo’ Meta Blues”. Here’s a link to the New York Times review The Big Man Under the Afro, and His Music.