I listen to only a fraction of the music that is on my shelves, particularly now that I have children who go through phases of listening to the same album over and over again, so I decided to go through my collection and listen to some of my old favourites yesterday morning, since it was too cold and rainy to do anything outside anyway. I had already selected some Count Basie, some Mississippi John Hurt, and some Robert Johnson, when I saw The Juliet Letters, which is a collaborative album by Elvis Costello and The Brodsky Quartet. I have already mentioned this album once, in my post on developing musical taste, and I praised it then for its lyrical originality, but I must confess that it is something like two years since I have actually listened to it. I decided to rectify this situation, and I found myself delighted with the album all over again.
Though the idea of a collaboration between a pop musician and a classical string quartet would seem to have as much potential for disaster as for success, The Juliet Letters is much more than a mere curiosity. It is a concept album that uses Shakespeare’s Juliet as a metaphor of a world in which circumstances sometimes overwhelm fragile human relationships, and each song represents a letter that explores this theme from a particular narrative voice, man or woman, old or young. The result is a tremendous variety of narratives, lyrical styles, and musical sound. Though there is a definite musical and thematic unity to the album, no song is like another, and the album itself is unlike any other I have heard.
I had intended just to have it playing as I prepared for the day, but I listened to it from the couch in its entirety, jacket notes in hand, and my kids listened also. I am not sure why The Juliet Letters was never able to find a wider audience, but it certainly deserves a place in your collection.