Tag Archives: Bruce Thomas

Elvis Costello • Live at the El Mocambo [CD]

[Reviewed 11/19/2009 in Skratchdisc; the concert on this disc is from 1978]

My relationship with ELVIS COSTELLO has been a rocky one. I wrote a piece on him for my 9th grade newspaper, based solely on taking my journalism class teacher’s copies of My Aim Is True and This Year’s Model home for the weekend and coming up with what I’m sure is a shoddy little piece of writing. (Thanks Mr. Bishop!) Next thing, Armed Forces comes out with that bonus 7″ of Live At Hollywood High. I ride my bike to some local record store, buy it, strap the bag to the rack on the back of my ten speed, and off I go. Next thing you know I’m his biggest fan. I buy everything. Every import single, 12″, CD single, everything. Then things changed…

Nowadays the guy drives me crazy. He tries too many genres, collaborating with just about everyone who’ll have him. And he’s married to Diana Krall! How’d he manage that? Well, it’s not germane to this review so I’ll move on. The only releases of his that I’ve bought in the last decade or so have been the reissues and the ones where he’s actually playing ROCK ’N’ ROLL. So here’s Live at the El Mocambo, which was originally released as a Canadian promo album, then as a bootleg (that’s what I had back in the day), then came out as part of a Rykodisc box set. Now he’s put it out as part of a live series of value priced CDs. And I come a-runnin’! This March 1978 show was just after he’d put together The Attractions, the best band he ever had (and with the best bass player he ever had, Bruce Thomas). It’s a fiery, ragged set, recorded for a Canadian radio station (so the sound quality’s a bit compressed and flattish), and features the band doing songs from the first two albums. It’s great to hear the band tear into tunes from My Aim, since they didn’t play on that one, and it’s great to only pay ten bucks for it. Again, audiophile sound quality is not what we’re after here, it’s great performances. And that they are.
4/5 (Hip-O B0012380-02, 2009)

 

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Spencer Brown & Bruce Thomas • Back to the Start [CD, DD]

Bassist BRUCE THOMAS is best known as the 4-stringer in The Attractions, the band that backed Elvis Costello on his earliest (and best) recordings. His unique bass playing has also graced records by Suzanne Vega, Peter Case, Duncan Dhu and John Wesley Harding. SPENCER BROWN is a bit harder to background. Apparently, he is “a songwriter friend” of Thomas’s, and the two decided to collaborate on Back to the Start once Thomas heard the demos of the songs that eventually were completed for the album.

Made up primarily of pleasant, pseudo psychedelic pop tunes, the album – available via Amazon as a digital download or made to order CD – Back to the Start’s arrangements include backwards guitar, descending/ascending chord progressions, harpsichord and other hallmarks of mid/late ’60s pop. Brown’s tunes remind me of those of The Rutles (that fictitious British band that might have been big had The Beatles allowed them to take over). Yet they’re not exactly parodies or send-ups because they don’t seem to completely ape the core facets of their foundational genre. Clearly, Brown is accomplished enough as a multi-instrumentalist (I’m pretty sure he plays everything here except bass) to be able to add his own stylistic flourishes and lift the tunes out of that likely morass; there is no denying, however, that the Sixties is his decade of choice when it comes to music. Lyrically, the songs are of the usual subject matter, though there are numerous turns-of-phrase that keep things from going too moon/June/spoon.

But back to the start of this review: Bruce Thomas plays the bass here, and as you’d expect, his fundamental style is well-suited for the project. His florid bass lines add a McCartneyesque vibe to the tunes, which almost sounds like lazy journalism except that it’s true. On the other hand, there’s no mistaking that this bass player is the same guy who propelled Elvis Costello’s late ’70s/early ’80s output with gutsy, over-the-top or under-the-radar bottom, depending on what the tune called for. I always suspected Thomas had more of a respect for Macca’s playing than he ever let on, and hearing Bruce in this context shows it to be true. And that’s not even considering the cover of “There’s a Place,” which closes out the album. It makes sense that Brown and Thomas would throw a Beatles tune into the mix, though it comes from a previous era than the one the rest of the album is concerned with, and thus ends the affair on a questionable note. (Or were they going, uh, back to the start?)

I’d say Back to the Start is worth a shot if either of these are true of you: a) You enjoy psychedelically-inspired music, and/or b) You’re a big fan of Bruce Thomas. I can answer affirmatively to both, and I’m glad to hear my second most favorite bass player back in the groove. Who knows? Maybe Spencer Brown and Bruce Thomas will get together for another go-round, go more grandiose and give us something really, truly fab.

2.75/5 (no label; available to order via Amazon)

 

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