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SOUND CHECK.

ELVIS COSTELLO WITH THE METROPOLE ORKEST: ``My Flame Burns Blue'' (Deutsche Grammophon) - Three and one half stars

How boring - another first-rate Costello album. This live package recorded in The Hague two years ago brings together previously unrecorded Costello numbers and some well-known titles in imaginative settings. Accompanied by long-standing keyboardist Steve Nieve and a full orchestra, Costello recasts the 14 songs as artful big-band/swing-jazz numbers.

``Clubland,'' then, becomes an atmospheric cha-cha, while ``Watching the Detectives'' moves from roots reggae to a full-blown cinematic piece reminiscent of parts of ``West Side Story,'' and it's one of the most exciting arrangements we've heard in ages. Equally fine is the tender ``Almost Blue,'' a gorgeous old-school ballad complete with cloudy strings and haunting harmonica and trumpet, and the set-closer, Costello's epic Burt Bacharach collaboration, ``God Give Me Strength.''

The package, in stores Tuesday, also includes a bonus disc of a 46-minute suite from ``Il Sogno,'' Costello's score to an Italian dance adaptation of Shakespeare recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra.

C'mon, Elvis, make a lousy album for a change.

- Fred Shuster

DR. JOHN: ``Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack - The Legendary Sessions Vol. 2'' (Clean Cuts) - Three and one haf stars

Around 25 years ago, Rebennack, aka New Orleans gris-gris man Dr. John, cut two spectacularly soulful solo piano discs that channeled thrilling Big Easy keyboard styles from Fats, Toussaint, Booker and Longhair. This welcome repackaging puts forth ``The Brightest Smile in Town,'' the second of those well-received efforts, with the addition of six extra tracks. The 18 funky instrumental and vocal tracks here cover blues, boogie-woogie and jazz standards with no overdubs, no voodoo and no frills. We love the gospel medley ``Just a Closer Walk with Thee/Didn't He Ramble,'' the monster ``Key to the Highway'' and the jaunty ``Your Average Kind of Guy'' - something this doctor could never be.

- F.S.

VARIOUS: ``A Tribute to Nicolette Larson: Lotta Love Concert'' (Rhino) - Three stars

NICOLETTE LARSON: ``Live at the Roxy'' (Rhino Handmade) - Three stars

Harmony singer Larson is best remembered for her version of Neil Young's ``Lotta Love,'' which she made into a soft-rock hit in 1979. She had a lovely, warm voice that epitomized Southern California's country-pop-rock vibe in the 1970s. After her untimely death in 1997,Larson's friends - Bonnie Raitt, Carole King, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and the like - gave two tribute concerts at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. The live disc, held up for years in legal wrangling, is finally here, and contains several beautiful moments, most notably Browne's heart-rending reading of ``For a Dancer'' and Emmylou Harris singing ``Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.''

The limited-edition Roxy disc is taken from a 1978 concert and only saw release as a promotional record. It captures Larson joyfully hopscotching through a variety of styles, comfortable and capable in each one. Available at rhinohandmade.com.

- Glenn Whipp

MARLEY'S GHOST: ``Spooked'' (Sage Arts) - Three and one half stars

The cover art is by R. Crumb. Van Dyke Parks produced the disc and plays keyboards on a bunch of cuts. The band turns Pentecostal staple ``Old Time Religion'' into a pagan rave-up. Yup, Marley's Ghost couldn't be bigger hipster geeks if they tried. But their graying flower child eclecticism would just be a goof if this wasn't also a crack old-timey string band, great at harmonizing, phrasing and arranging everything from sea shanties to freedom hymns to yodeling lullabies, with one of Bob Dylan's stranger chestnuts, ``The Wicked Messenger,'' tossed in for good measure. Or for nerdnik nirvana's sake. Whatever, they can make anything with frets sound lively and immediate no matter how studiedly archaic the material may be.

- Bob Strauss

RAY DAVIES: ``Other People's Lives'' - Three stars

Being compared to yourself ain't easy. The best of this long-awaited solo album from the former Kinks frontman doesn't approach his best with that great band, but it's still pretty good. Songs like the spirited ``Run Away from Time'' or the cheerful ``Is There Life After Breakfast?'' deal positively with the boomer generation getting older. (He smartly stayed away from a remake called ``All Day and All of the Night on Viagra.'') There are memorable cutting personal observations, like the rock ballad ``Creatures of Little Faith.'' And you have to cheer Davies' wryly humorous social jabs, like ``Other People's Lives'' - on the inanity of our fascination with gossip, and ``Stand Up Comic'' - on what passes as humor these days (``The clown belches and we belch back''). There are the familiar Kink elements of power chords, jangly guitars and horns on the arrangements, but it's Davies' warm and distinct voice we welcome back most.

- Rob Lowman

CAPTION(S):

6 photos

Photo:

(1) no caption (Elvis Costello)

(2 -- 6) no caption (CD covers)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 24, 2006
Words:786
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