Chat Worth a Listen

TV: Spectacle: Elvis Costello with … — This new Sundance Channel series promises to be possibly one of the best music and interview shows I’ve ever seen if the first episode is any indication. Host Costello proves to be a quite good interviewer, and his comprehensive knowledge of music brings an extra depth to the discussions. Debuting with guest Elton John—also an executive producer of the program—the discussion of John’s influences touched on such notable musical artists as Leon Russell, Laura Nyro and the all-but-forgotten David Ackles. John demonstrated both Russell’s and Nyro’s impact on his style at the piano, which was a real treat, and he and Costello also performed an Ackles song to round it out. Costello opens each show with his rendition of one of the guest’s song, and on this episode his backing band featured such notable guest musicians as the great Allen Toussaint on piano and organ and twang guitar king James Burton. Upcoming episodes will feature Lou Reed and artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel, Tony Bennett, The Police, James Taylor, Rufus Wainwright, Smokey Robinson, Herbie Hancock, opera singer Renee Fleming and others as well as Bill Clinton. If you’re a music buff and don’t get Sundance this is one to definitely seek out on DVD.

Books: Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö, Martin Beck Police Mysteries — This Swedish husband/wife team wrote 10 novels together from the mid-1960s to the mid ’70s centered around Stockholm police detective Martin Beck. Two of them had been sitting on my bookshelves unread for well over a decade until I recently picked up The Singing Detective and couldn’t put it down. Balancing police procedural with mystery fiction, the duo create concise, tight and quite gripping realist scenarios and settings that will charm any fan of those genres and are well worth seeking out.

CD: keep the babies warm by The Service Industry — This conglomeration of veteran Austin, Texas, musicians (some of them friends of mine) started out to skewer the lousy day jobs they have to work, and now on their third album, they’ve transcended that into a greater look at the struggles of being part of the American proletariat on their third release. The songs are witty, smart, sharp and catchy as hell, played with a pop-rock panache that their label website aptly plugs as “Bolshevik Psychedelia.” All three releases provide a delightful and uplifting soundtrack to this new era of a sagging economy and lessened expectations, and it’s rock’n’roll that addresses common life with a populist bent in the most utterly charming way. Agitprop as pop music.

From The Progressive Populist, Jan. 1-15, 2009

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