One of the more eclectic figures on the music scene for the last nearly four decades is the former computer programmer named Declan Patrick MacManus. Unless you dutifully recognize that name from studying songwriting credits, you know him as Elvis Costello. He poked his head out of the original mid 70s British punk scene, chained himself to a post outside of the London record company that eventually signed him and started down the road of exploring every nook and cranny of the musical landscape. I have on cassette a great FM radio show from 1977; Costello snarls his way through a bunch of his brilliant early tracks. I later saw him at Royce Hall singing opera with a string quartet; the lyrics were from letters written by the lovelorn to Shakespeare’s fictional Juliet.
Costello was a Lennon-esque foil for McCartney, an unlikely collaborator with Burt Bacharach and he has dabbled in N’Awleans gumbo musical stew with Allen Toussaint. And the efforts have gone in the other direction; Costello’s songs have been covered by George Jones, Chet Baker, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Dusty Springfield, Robert Wyatt, Charles Brown, No Doubt, Solomon Burke, June Tabor among many others.
Costello’s latest foray is part of producer T Bone Burnett’s recent gathering of musicians. They are putting music to lyrics penned by Bob Dylan during his famous woodshedding period that resulted in The Basement Tapes. Recorded with The Band in Woodstock in 1967, the album took on mythical proportions via bootlegging, until finally being released nearly a decade later. More recently, Elvis Costello was joined by Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Rhiannon Giddens of Carolina Chocolate Drops, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes and Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons to tackle Dylan’s previously unheard lyrics. Set for release 11/11/14, Lost on The River: The New Basement Tapes should prove to be an intriguing effort. Burnett and Costello have shared time around the sound booth, and the former introduced himself onstage as ‘Ogden Nashville’ about the time the pair toured together a few decades back. Costello will be appearing at the Hollywood Bowl with the LA Philharmonic, which opens the door for a panoply of musical stylings. Fans will hear old favorites like “Allison” in jazz-inflected rearrangements.
Expect some eyebrow raising input from the ever-intriguing Ben Folds, who opens both evenings. A Nashville resident, Folds owns and operates the historic RCA Studio A, where legends of all genres of music (Elvis Presley, Monkees, Eddy Arnold, Dolly Parton, Tony Bennett, Beach Boys) have recorded. Folds has been dabbling in the orchestral world, and he is no dilettante.