Originally created 01/17/97

Costello refines technique in release of old favorites



Elvis Costello's latest recording, a five-EP box set titled Costello & Nieve (Warner Bros.), is a live and unplugged collection of songs spanning his 19-year career - hardly a revolutionary concept.

But instead of acoustically rehashing old ground, he has once again charted wonderful new turf, adding odd twists to old tunes and polishing jagged edges from more recent releases, including tracks off last year's album, All This Useless Beauty.

There's all the minimalist urgency of his early work here and all the cynicism, too. But Mr. Costello's phrasing is subtler, in keeping with his 42 years. And with only his guitar and Steve Nieve's elegant piano as backup, his wounded, off-kilter crooning sounds more introspective than ever.

Costello & Nieve, which contains about two hours of music, was recorded during the duo's acoustic club tour in May.

The discs are sprinkled with sentimental favorites, including Watching the Detectives, which the duo reshaped from reggae to boogie-woogie, and a rousing The Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes. But many new songs shine just as bright, such as The Other End of the Telescope, a haunting waltz that Mr. Costello co-wrote, and the bittersweet Poor Fractured Atlas.