Review: Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello Paint the Music of Memory

Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello/The songs of Bacharach & Costello/UMe
Four Out of Five Stars

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There’s a certain poignancy accompanying the expanded four CD/2 LP reissue of the album Painted From Memory, the product of that seemingly unlikely pair, Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello. That’s hardly a surprise considering Bacharach’s recent passing, but it also reflects the obvious affection the two had in common, even despite an age difference of over 25 years.

In the book of liner notes that accompanies the box, Costello explains that in many ways he was reared on the pop-perfect melodies Bacharach wrote for others, and then how they came to reside in his own musical mindset once he came into his own. Indeed, one could trace the sentiment of a song like “Allison” to the parade of hits Bacharach was so famous for.

Consequently, it ought to come as little surprise that when the two originally joined forces in 1989, the musical foundation that evolved from that partnership mostly fell within the confines of Bacharach’s traditional turf. Costello, a competent crooner in his own right, adapted easily to Bacharach’s proven pop formula, courtesy of songs that flowed flawlessly and freely between them. So too, the arrangements seemed plucked from a classic template, with the orchestration and brass recalling the sounds that Bacharach made his trademark early on. The songs themselves—“God Give Me Strength,” “Painted From Memory,” “This House Is Empty Now,” “My Thief” et. al.—could easily have found a fit on the hit parade throughout Bacharach’s peak of prowess in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Those elements come into play with the additional offerings as well—a second album Taken From Life, which was apparently recorded but never released—and two discs boasting live recordings. The latter includes several selections that found Costello in concert with Bacharach and replaying such standards as “My Little Red Book,” Anyone Who Has a Heart,” “Make It Easy On Yourself,” “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again,” and “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself.”  The aforementioned booklet which has Costello detailing Bacharach’s early influence and the story of a partnership that lasted over 30 years, provides additional insight.

All in all, it’s a sumptuous box set and one that’s mined with obvious depth and devotion.

Photo by Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images

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