Deep Dead Blue: Live at Meltdown

Elvis Costello / Bill Frisell

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Deep Dead Blue: Live at Meltdown Review

by Steve Huey

A lovely, understated exercise in minimalism, Deep Dead Blue documents a set of otherwise unaccompanied guitar/vocal duets between Bill Frisell and Elvis Costello, recorded live at the Meltdown Festival in London's Queen Elizabeth Hall on June 25, 1995. Although the performance isn't even quite half an hour long, it's the perfect length for holding a listener's attention. Frisell co-wrote the title track, one of the five songs bearing a Costello credit; the others are underexposed items from Costello's mid- to late-'80s catalog, plus selections by Charles Mingus ("Weird Nightmare") and Lerner & Loewe ("Gigi"). Costello is once again the refined, mature vocal stylist of Painted from Memory, but Frisell holds the real key to the collaboration with his impeccably restrained support. He expertly controls the dynamics of each piece, often stripping his part down to single-note lines, which lends surprising emotional impact when he allows full chords to wash over Costello's voice; his articulation is crisp and clean, his chordal voicings often novel and unexpected. It's no real surprise that the two work well together, given the musical affinity demonstrated on Frisell's masterful reinterpretations of Painted from Memory material on his own album The Sweetest Punch. The pleasures of Deep Dead Blue are, to be sure, much subtler than either of those recordings, but they make an elegant and fascinating supplement.

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