Music

Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... - Episode 4

Spectacle

Airtime: Wednesdays, 9pm
Length: 60
Subtitle: Elvis Costello With...
Network: Sundance Channel
First date: 2008-12-03
US release date: 2008-12-03
Website
Amazon

James Taylor: isn't he supposed to be the antithesis of a songwriter like Elvis Costello? Isn't that what we were once taught, those of us who grew up seeking alternatives to the hold-overs of AM radio's "soft rock" rein -- Taylor, the sanitized, mother-approved opposite of a dangerous, subversive character like Costello?

I've been guilty of thinking this way before, of championing something that skirts outside the mainstream's straight-and-narrow merely to satisfy my own contrarian agendas. And yet, this isn't a healthy way to think, nor a healthy way to absorb music (or the possibilities offered by any experience, for that matter). There is room in our lives for both the James Taylors and the Elvis Costellos of this world: this is a truth that should be self-evident, but is not, and so it is a truth that the fourth episode of Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... (airing Wednesdays at 9pm EST/PST on the Sundance Channel) makes ringingly clear.

This is probably my favorite episode of Spectacle so far -- Taylor is a profound thinker and humble performer, a great imitator of George Jones (whose voice Taylor describes as "sorta like a singing fist"), and a quick assessor of contemporary American politics and life (he aptly equates Sarah Palin with Annie Oakley, adding, "she's the American frontier"). Speaking of George Jones, Taylor and his band perform a killer cover of Jones' "Why Baby Why", the juicy Jones-ian pronunciations smoothed out by Taylor's sweet delivery. And speaking speaking of the Jones-Taylor connection, Costello opens the show with a solo acoustic performance of Taylor's excellent "Bartender's Blues", which Taylor wrote with Jones on the brain (Laura Cantrell provides the Emmylou-esque harmonies). It's a whole master-and-student full-circle that opens up new appreciations of songs that you thought you knew.

Later, Taylor performs a few of his best-known hits, "Fire and Rain" and "Sweet Baby James", and they suddenly seem heavier than I would have ever believed, the sadness at the core of the former smacking upside the lullaby of the latter. Taylor, who spends a good deal of the episode dealing with the true meanings of the dreaded "introspective" descriptor, gets in deep here -- plumbing depths with surprising looseness.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

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