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Almost Blue

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Almost Blue

Chesney Henry "Chet" Baker, Jr. (December 23, 1929 – May 13, 1988) was an American jazz trumpeter, flugelhornist and vocalist. Baker earned much attention and critical praise through the 1950s, particularly for albums featuring his vocals ('Chet Baker Sings', 'It Could Happen to You'). Jazz historian David Gelly described the promise of Baker's early career as "James Dean, Sinatra, and Bix, rolled into one."

"Almost Blue" is a song by Elvis Costello that appears on his 1982 album Imperial Bedroom. It is said to be inspired by Chet Baker's version of the song "The Thrill Is Gone". Baker closed the circle by recording the song for 'Let's Get Lost,' a documentary film about Baker's life. Baker also performed the song at concerts and it was recorded for his live album Chet Baker in Tokyo (recorded 1987, released posthumously 1988).

Elvis Costello took the literacy of folk music and broke it wide open against the ragged edges of punk. He was one of the best and most consistent songwriters of his generation, but he never used that as an excuse to get repetitive—Elvis Costello has experimented with everything from punk to opera.

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Elvis Costello

 

Elvis Costello’s remarkable career spontaneously kicked into gear in 1976. According to a record-company bio, “An unknown and unannounced Elvis Costello walks into the offices of Stiff Records, strikes up an instant rapport with Stiff’s then-supremo Jake Riviera, and is signed immediately.” Thus began a career in song that has been almost unmatched in its reach—from furious, biting punk-era nuggets to art-minded collaborations with an opera singer and string quartet—and consistency. Costello has been called “the finest songwriter of his generation,” and he ranks among the most prolific, too.

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Almost Blue

 

Born Declan Patrick McManus, Costello had the audacity to adopt “Elvis” as a stage name (at manager Riviera’s suggestion) and the talent to live up to such a scandalous appropriation. Greil Marcus profiled him in 1982: “He combined the brains of Randy Newman and the implacability of Bob Dylan, the everyman pathos of Buddy Holly and the uniqueness of John Lennon.” Indeed, every one of those figures exerted some degree of influence upon the broad-minded Costello.

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Elvis Costello

 

In 1981 Costello released 'Almost Blue,' an album of favorite country tunes cut with legendary Nashville producer Billy Sherrill. After this labor of love for a form of music one might not immediately associate with Costello, he embarked on the hugely ambitious Imperial Bedroom (1982). Produced by former Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick during a three-month period, it has been described by Costello as “the album on which the Attractions and I granted ourselves the sort of scope that we imagined the Beatles had enjoyed in the mid-‘60s.”

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‘Imperial Bedroom’, 1982

 

To the hype-wary Costello’s consternation, the word “masterpiece” appeared in the ad campaign for and many reviews of 'Imperial Bedroom'. Yet it was a masterpiece. Costello’s switch from guitar to piano as his main composing instrument could be detected in the more ornate arrangements of “Man Out of Time,” “Town Cryer,” “Shabby Doll” and “The Long Honeymoon.” The song “Almost Blue”—an 'Imperial Bedroom' original unrelated to Costello’s previous country album—was later covered by jazz trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker, who had inspired its composition.

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Chet Baker - Almost Blue

 

'Imperial Bedroom' is full of manic energy and it is subdued, as it is animated, by a saturnine sensibility seeking to extract life from a comatose of disordered experiences. (This seems to engender anger less than on past Costello albums.) This is most clearly illustrated by “Almost Blue,” by its narrator’s evocation of his dead past, a dead relationship, through comparison to the present. As he expresses it, “There’s a girl here and she’s almost you…all those things your eyes used to promise, hers promise to.” The despondence of the song comes with the understanding that the vitality of the narrator’s present has been sapped by his consciousness of its swift dislocation into past occurrence, and as such, lifelessness.

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Alyson Moyet sings Almost Blue

 

'Imperial Bedroom' was the record where Elvis Costello spread his wings as a songwriter. On this record and specifically the song "Almost Blue," he ambitiously takes aim directly at the same level of songwriting excellence as such icons as Cole Porter and George and Ira Gershwin. Only time will tell, but "Almost Blue" was written with timelessness in mind and has already become a jazz-pop vocal standard. Costello sets the tone, which sinks lower than melancholy to almost full-blown sorrow. The singer here is a man who has loved and lost, and is wallowing in his own helplessness, while facing the end of a relationship that was doomed from the start: "Flirting with this disaster became me/It named me as a fool who only aimed to be/Almost blue."

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Elvis Costello

 

This was a breakthrough of sorts for Costello in that it gained respect from a lot of musicians who ordinarily didn't care much rock and roll - "Almost Blue" has become a jazz standard in the more knowledgable circles. Costello divorced his first wife around this time, and the lyrics are some of his most wounded and bitter - though it's not a concept album per se, the cumulative effect is the story of a failed marriage.

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Diana Krall sings Almost Blue

 

Elvis Costello - Almost Blue, lyrics


Almost blue
Almost doing things we used to do
There's a girl here and she's almost you, almost
All the things that your eyes once promised
I see in hers too
Now your eyes are red from crying

Almost blue
Flirting with this disaster became me
It named me as the fool who only aimed to be

Almost blue
It's almost touching; it will almost do
There's a part of me that's always true, always
Not all good things come to an end now; it is only a chosen few
I have seen such an unhappy couple

Almost me
Almost you
Almost blue

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Almost Blue

 

Last Updated (Monday, 15 October 2018 12:20)

 

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