Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Couple of Cowards

When nothing nothing comes to mind to write about, I usually end up saying to myself, "Well, there's always Elvis Costello." Actually, this one was inspired by the Swede a couple of weeks ago when he remembered T-Bone Burnett on his birthday. Costello and Burnett have worked together often and are probably most known for their single "The People's Limousine", recorded under the pseudonym the Coward Brothers. Costello was Howard Coward, and Burnett went by Henry Coward. Burnett should be thanked, I think, for helping Costello break out of the malaise that was the period around the album 'Goodbye Cruel World'. The duo played quite a bit in late '84, and the noise they made together had quite an influence on Costello's next move, 'King of America', which Burnett co-produced.

There are plenty of songs to illustrate their time together, and I'm half tempted to play Burnett's guitar work on the cover of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" or the '86 appearances when Burnett was part of Costello's live band the Confederates, Instead, here is the single version of "Blue Chair". It's a more raw and raucous take than the one Costello did with the Attractions on 'Blood and Chocolate'. It was produced under Burnett's alter ego Henry Coward, and he played guitar on the song as well but is credited as Burnett. Confused? How about this? Many of the instruments were played by another T-Bone... this time Mr. Wolk. Wolk is all over 'King of America', and it must have been quite a time for all with two T-Bones in the studio. The lone Attraction on this recording is Steve Nieve.

I have this single as a 12", and it includes a couple of other Burnett sightings, including "Shoes Without Heels" and "American Without Tears". If you find this one in a used bin for a few bucks, I would say it's well worth picking up. Of course, with all of the reissues and reissues of reissues of Costello's work, chances are you may already have these songs on the shelf.

"Blue Chair" (single version)


JTFL said...

One of my very favorite EC tunes. I know it's sacrilege but, if we were over at JC's place, I'd quietly suggest that this was the beginning of 'lost it' phase for Elvis after having it for so long. I know I'm in the minority about King of America, which I think had its moments but has a lot of forgettable songs. I remain a big fan of Blood & Chocolate two cents is it's EC's Last Great Album. He did a lot of interesting things afterwards but none that compare to his Attractions period. That's not to say his post-Attractions stuff isn't 10 times better than what everyone else ass doing. Just an admission that if I'm listening to Elvis, which I do all the time, 99 times out of 100 it was released between '77 and '87.

Brian said...

JTFL, King of America is one of my favorite Costello albums. In all other areas of your comment we are in agreement. The switch to Warner Brothers marked the end of an incredible run. That’s when I started describing his albums as too busy and/or too long. You should never think a hero’s album is too long. There were a few more fine moments after Blood and Chocolate but they could be counted on fingers. Tough to believe we are talking about 30 years of mediocrity. Wow!

The Swede said...

I saw The Coward Brothers at the Royal Festival Hall in London. When would that have been? 1985, 1986? Crikey, that's a scarily long time ago.

The Swede said...

By the way, the link is down Brian.

Post-Punk Monk said...

"Almost Blue" was the chink in Costello's artistic armor. Of course, he bounced back brilliantly with "Imperial Bedroom" which was his last 4.0 album for me. "Punch The Clock" and "Blood + Chocolate were both 3.0 with "Cruel World" a 1.0 grade. The solo material I've heard since then? 0.5-1.5 at best… with the singular exception of "The Deliveryman!" This one came out of nowhere to slay me and I actually obsessed on that one for a week or more. Naysayers [and it looks like a convention of the E.C. Naysayers club here today…] should give that one a try since I was another seriously lapsed fan who had thought he gave me nothing on disc in over 30 years after an all time great artistic arc on those first five albums; comparable to that of Simple Minds.

I have really enjoyed EC live in those years, though. Even music you hate on disc is great from him live! Quite the paradox. That Spinning Songbook show in 2011 was worth three times the ticket price. And we saw T-Bone Burnett for a few songs onstage in Asheville since he was working in town on a soundtrack project at the time.