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Elvis Costello: North

Elvis Costello

Among Sinatraphiles, it’s generally agreed that of his 16 or so career-defining Capitol albums, 1955’s darkly reflective In the Wee Small Hours was the high-water mark. A notable departure from the finger-poppin’ hipsterism that defined so much of his mid-’50s sound, Wee Small Hours (widely assumed to be a brokenhearted valentine to Ava Gardner) is Sinatra laid bare, wounded and vulnerable. Similarly, Elvis Costello’s North (Deutsche Grammophon), his first full-length foray into jazz crooning, should eventually be regarded as the apex of the 49-year-old musical chameleon’s mid-career.

Like Hours, this CD is, quite purposefully, painfully slow. Also, as Hours was to Sinatra, it is Costello’s most deeply personal and introspective album to date. North, too, is a valentine, though a more cunningly crafted one. Where Hours was gorgeously, relentlessly gloomy (a dejected “Can’t We Be Friends?” and a plaintive “I’ll Be Around” are as upbeat as Frank could manage), Costello shapes a more intriguingly shaded, and ultimately quite joyful (almost to the point of giddiness-surely a first for the perennially somber Elvis) story arc.

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