Rhino Revisits Costello's 'Juliet Letters'

Continuing its Elvis Costello catalog reissue campaign, Rhino has revamped the artist's collaboration with string ensemble the Brodsky Quartet, "The Juliet Letters."

Continuing its Elvis Costello catalog reissue campaign, Rhino has revamped the artist's collaboration with string ensemble the Brodsky Quartet, "The Juliet Letters." Originally released in 1993, the collection was composed by Costello and can be considered a pre-cursor of sorts to "Il Sogno," his inaugural full-length orchestral work, commissioned in 2000 by Italian dance company Aterbaletto.

The two-disc reissue is due March 21 in the United States, with a U.K. release arriving a day earlier. The first disc is a remastered version of the original album. As with each previous Costello Rhino reissue, the second disc consists of rare and previously unreleased material -- perhaps the most eclectic yet. Costello offers track-by-track commentary in the package's liner notes.

Live appearances in support of "The Juliet Letters" were scant, so the inclusion here of such recordings is especially apt. But rather than repeat with concert versions of the album tracks, Costello and Rhino add other songs from those performances, including renditions of Tom Waits' "More Than Rain," the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" and the Jerome Kern/Herbert Reynolds song "They Didn't Believe Me" recorded at New York's Town Hall. These tracks previously appeared on a promo-only disc that has made the rounds among fans and collectors, but were not commercially released.

Also included are a pair of collaborations with the Quartet's Michael Thomas -- "King of the Unknown Sea" and "Skeleton" -- and a rendition of his own "Pills and Soap" (from 1983's "Punch the Clock"), recorded during the 1995 Meltdown festival in London. These have been previously unavailable in any form.

Other bonus tracks are a version of the Irish traditional "She Moved Through the Fair" that appeared on the Brodsky Quartet's 1994 release, "Lament" and their collaboration on "Lost in the Stars" for the 1994 film "September Songs -- The Music of Kurt Weill." The expansion of the Brodsky Quartet with seven additional musicians became the one-off Punishing Kiss Band, which joined Costello for a performance during the Meltdown festival, and is here represented by "Upon a Veil of Midnight Blue."

As Costello was extremely busy during the 1995 Meltdown festival, the multi-night event yields several additional non-Brodsky-related tracks. There are two collaborations with guitarist Bill Frisell ("Gigi," "Deep Dead Blue"), both of which previously appeared on the Meltdown live album "Deep Dead Blue." An appearance with Fretwork adds the previously unreleased "Put Away Forbidden Playthings" (Costello) and "Can She Excuse My Wrongs," written in the 16th century by John Dowland.

Shakespeare is the source of "O Mistress Mine" and "Come Away Death," both of which appear on John Harle's "Terror and Magnificence," his interpretation of the Bard's "Twelfth Night" that featured Costello singing these two songs and another not included here.

Lastly, the bonus disc sports Costello's contributions to Jazz Passengers saxophonist Roy Nathanson's 2000 concept album "Fire at Keaton's Bar & Grill," one of which includes jazz pianist Cyrus Chesnut.

As previously reported, Costello will launch a 10-date U.S. tour next month that will find he and frequent collaborator Steve Nieve backed by local orchestras. They will perform a suite from "Il Sogno" and material Costello played with the Metropole Orkest at the Netherlands' North Sea Jazz Festival in 2004. That performance will be released Feb. 28 via Deutche Grammophon as "My Flame Burns Blue," along with a bonus "Il Sogno" Suite disc as recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra in 2002.