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Anne Sofie Von Otter meets Elvis Costello | For The Stars (Deutsche Grammophon)
When the time comes to compile Elvis Costello's 4-CD box set retrospective the disc devoted to the 90's is going to be a hard one to fill - and even harder to work up any enthusiasm for - compared to the joys of the earlier discs. He spent the decade collaborating like crazy (Brodsky Quartet, Bill Frisell, Burt Bacharach) and produced a CD of cover versions, of course. That this disc, one of his recently rare releases, should be yet more covers, and even sung by someone else, doesn't look good. But it does sound good. You know the story: Elvis goes to hear Berlioz, hears Anne Sofie, gets moved, becomes mates with her, suggests she makes an album of popular songs with him. After much cassette swapping they do, and then appear on the South Bank Show smiling a lot. There is much lovely stuff on here, written by the likes of the Beatles, Ron Sexsmith, Kate McGarrigle, and Abba, but with Elvis himself involved in the writing of nearly half. They do Elvis' old Baby Plays Around much more than justice and one of the best of his Bacharach collaborations, This House is Empty Now, sounds fine here, piano-lead and lightly strung. Tackling the Beach Boys' Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder) seems like an act of hubristic folly, though, but it works shockingly well, with a non-dense backing and a spine-tingling vocal performance. With the piano and string dominated arrangements, the Tom Waits covers, and the musicians with funny accents over their names, it's very reminiscent of the albums of Mathilde Santing, who also knows a good song when she's covering it. Some musicians' names you might recognise are Steve Nieve, Billy Bremner, and Benny from Abba, whose keyboard help on one of his old band's less bouncy tunes passes by unobjectionable enough. There are 18 songs here (more than enough for you to be unmoved by a few and still get your moneys worth) and they don't all work - the title track duet with Elvis, being more upbeat, doesn't suit Anne Sofie's voice. It's the slowies that do suit, and the ones that move most. Songs by The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Abba, Ron Sexsmith, Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach, all together, and on the Deutsche Grammophon label - weird.

Jeff Cotton
June-July 2001