Written by 4:46 am Audiophile Music

Brilliant Detours, American Kings and Imperial Bedrooms

Mark Smotroff catches up with Elvis…

I didn’t go out of my way to see Elvis Costello’s current solo tour as I’ve seen him perform that way many times before.

Or so I thought.

AR-ECDetourBluray Cover.jpgI wasn’t surprised to hear good reports from people who saw the show. But I was surprised to find a Blu-ray Disc from the tour-in-progress documenting the man’s return to his hometown of Liverpool, England. 

Intrigued, I picked up the disc — Detour Live at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall — and realize that I missed a great tour that was quite a bit different than previous solo performances I’d seen.

Well, in the first place, it wasn’t completely solo. He was playing with two sisters who sing fabulously and play Mandolin ‘n some killer electric lap slide guitar…

The Blu-ray looks and sounds great with a nice sense of concert hall ambience when you engage the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack option. The show offers up a great song selection, with Elvis delivering plenty of fan favorites (“Alison,” “Peace Love & Understanding,” “Red Shoes”), a wealth of nuggets from deeper in his catalog (“Ghost Train,” “45,”  “Love Field”) and some newer gems (“Jimmie Standing In The Rain,” “Down on the Bottom”). 

There is a fabulous rapport with Elvis from his periodic backing duo on this session, sister singers from the group Larkin Poe (Rebecca and Megan Lovell).  I am assuming Elvis befriended these great singers when they were involved with the T-Bone Burnett-produced super-group session called The New Basement Tapes; this was new music written for unused Bob Dylan lyrics, compiled on the album Lost On The River, which I reviewed here last year.

AR-ECDetourCloseUp.jpgMost importantly it is the performances on Detour Live that stand out. There is a wonderful sense of presence in Elvis’ demeanor, a most genuine confidence which I first noticed emerging when he hosted his own TV show on HBO called Spectacle, no doubt enhanced by his guest hosting shows like The David Letterman Show over the years.  

Reading between the video-scan lines, Elvis seems to be falling into a comfortable role as a senior statesman of his generation. So its really nice to see him seemingly happy and enjoying himself on stage here. 

He’s accomplished a lot in his career and has a lot to be proud of… I’m glad Elvis was able to rise to the occasion as not every rock star can transition to that sort stature. EC seems to handle himself fine alongside everyone from early appearances with Tony Bennett to later appearances alongside Elton John and Bruce Springsteen.  Really, folks, you should go watch his Spectacle show for an idea of what I’m talking about here.  I’ve been a fan of Costello since 1978 and I saw my first show in 1979, so I’ve followed his transition from bitter young punk new waver to honky tonk country crooner to mainstream pop singer to Americana roots rocker. 

AR-GuitarCloseUp2225.jpgI knew around 1982 that Elvis was going to be around for a long time and can even pinpoint the moment of transition on that year’s tour — I saw the show at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium and when he put down his guitar to sing “Town Cryer” from then-new Imperial Bedroom that was the first surprise indicator…. As he went for a high note toward the end of the song, he pulled back off the mic to let his voice soar on its own and all of us in the crowd were wow’d with the power of his performance… and we realized at that moment that this was way more than just another passing rock star we had on our hands here…

Speaking of Imperial Bedroom, that album has been reissued by Universal Music as part of the restoration of Elvis’ catalog to its original state on vinyl.  This album posed issues back in the day for some audiophile listeners as it was a very early example of digital mastering; the back cover notes say it was “mastered at CBS Recording Studios, N.Y.  on the CBS Discomputer System….” 

Personally, I never really noticed that detail until someone pointed it out to me recently…  

Imperial Bedroom has always been a pretty impressive sounding record, arguably Elvis Costello’s first attempt at a real big production style (it was recorded at George Martin’s AIR Recording Studios in London and produced by Geoff Emerick, who worked on The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album, among many others…).  I’m not going to go into any speculation as to whether this was an analog or digital recording or whatnot. 

Bottom line, this new reissue sounds very true to the original US promo pressing I have (I would have compared it to the UK LP but that seems to have been mis-filed in my collection somewhere when I moved — I know I’ll come across it at some point when I least expect!).  Given that the intent of this reissue series was pretty much to restore the albums to their former glory, improving select albums on a case by case basis (such as Taking Liberties and Get Happy which I have reviewed here on Audiophilereview previously), I think Universal Music has succeeded on that front.  The new version of Imperial Bedroom may have an edge in terms of brightness and clarity, but that is an issue of hair-splitting.  

]]>The pressings are real clean. The cover art true to the original for the most part — the inner sleeve is printed reversed with white text on black instead of the black-on-grey of the original but I don’t view that as a negative — this makes it actually a little easier to read the lyrics given the continuous text design.

AR-KOA225.jpgAnother album from Universal’s reissue series, King of America fares about the same. I’m a bit torn on this one actually. Don’t get me wrong: it sounds good. The 180-gram vinyl pressing is real nice, perfectly centered, quiet and well made.

The cover art is a little different in that it bears something of a sepia-tone look instead of pure black and white photo on the original pressing (not sure which I prefer, honestly). 

Sonics-wise, the album has a bit of extra sparkle on the high end. I’m not entirely sure if I like that compared to an original US pressing.  I always felt this album might benefit from an expanded presentation on vinyl, say stretched out across 3 or 4 sides, maybe even spinning at 45 RPM. I personally would like to hear more of the woody acoustic guitar richness here; for the most part that sound is there but with constraints of having seven or eight good-length songs per side, I suspect that some sonic compromises were made along the way.  

It just feels a hair extra bright to my ear… 

Some of you may prefer that, however… 

AR-ImperialBedroom225.jpgSo, wrapping up? Do you need to get these reissues? Well if you already have good originals, you’re probably be fine with those. If you are starting fresh or want to get the latest 180-gram pressing that is reportedly remastered off the original master tapes, then these new reissues will not disappoint. 

And you should definitely pick up Detour Live at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall — its a fun and enlightening show!

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