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Posted: July 19, 2011

The other Elvis plays host to Bruce, Bono and the Edge

Plus: Terry Adams revives the NRBQ; blues history revived

Mike Cote

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ELVIS COSTELLO Spectacle: Elvis Costello with .... Season 2 (MVD Visual)

Thank god for shingles. If David Letterman hadn't gotten sick a few years back, Elvis Costello might never have tried his hand at being a talk show host. His successful stint inspired him and Elton John, now his executive producer, to create this amazing music-geek celebration of great musicians, great music and great songwriting.

Season 2 of the Sundance Channel series is briefer than the first, but history-in-the-making episodes still rule, including a two-part meeting with Bruce Springsteen - their duet on "I Can't Stand Up (For Falling Down)" is stunning - a summit with Bono and the Edge from U2; and a songwriters' salute that features Lyle Lovett, John Prine and Ray LaMontagne.

And Costello gets his own episode, with actress Mary-Louise Parker taking the interview chair, and the regular host reminding us why we loved him in the first place as he and his band tear into some choice tunes from his catalog like "Shabby Doll" and "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea."

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NRBQ Keep the Love Goin' (Clang)

The first album released under the NRBQ moniker in seven years certainly is cause for celebration, but this is a new version of the fabled band, as evidenced when the CD player in my rental car identified the artist as "Terry Adams."

The eclectic and immensely talented keyboard player, songwriter and singer is the sole remaining original member of the fabled roots rock band. Recovering from cancer and moving on after most recent lineup members Joey and Johnny Spampinato formed their own band and drummer Tom Ardolino quit the touring life, Adams has assembled new a quartet. This is actually the band's second disc -- the first was a concert recording -- but the first to reclaim the NRBQ name.

These guys do more than just fly under the banner. Scott Ligon and Pete Donnelly contribute to the songwriting in addition to singing and sharing bass and guitar duties. And drummer Conrad Choucroun shows great taste at the kit.

Adams sings lead on the album opener "Boozoo and Leona," a glorified instrumental with some brief vocals about the late zydeco king, but he lets the new guys handle most of the vocals. NRBQ, now more than 40 years as a brand, still delivers pretty pop songs. The title track, about recovering from a broken romance, is as sweet and innocent as a Beach Boys song, with school boy vocals from Ligon and a garage band-style organ solo from Adams. "Here I Am" covers similar terrain. "I'm Satisified," sung by Donnelly (also a member of the band the Figgs), rocks a bit harder but still has that power pop vibe.

As with any NRBQ album, there are some oddball high-jinks. The award here goes to "Sweet and Petite," a goof of a country song with deliciously dopey lyrics, tasty rockabilly guitar, swinging piano and cow-chippy vocals. And Terry Adams can't resist including a jazz piano instrumental. In other words, this is NRBQ by the book, new guys and all.

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Chicago Blues: A Living History: The (R)evolution Continues (Raisin' Music)

The double-disc volume in this series - we certainly hope there will be a third volume - celebrates the evolution of the blues through several decades without ever sounding like a museum exercise. Yes, these are classic blues songs by icons like Muddy Waters, Lonnie Johnson, Howlin' Wolf and Elmore James. But these brand-new recordings by a stellar cast make them sound brand new all over again.

Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Billy Branch, Lurie Bell and Carlos Johnson tear into songs like Waters' "Canary Bird" and Jimmy Rogers "Chicago Bound" and make them sound 60 years young with vibrant, hard-driving performances.

Guest stars dropping in are marquee names like guitarist Buddy Guy (reprising his version of "First Time I Met the Blues"), harmonica king James Cotton ("Rocket 88") and guitarist Magic Slim ("Keep a Drivin'"). Beautiful packaging and a great liner notes make this another contender for a Grammy nomination. Maybe the second time will be the charm.
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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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