Friday, June 5, 2009

Elvis Costello album review

Elvis Costello
Secret, Profane and Sugarcane
(Hear Music)

Elvis Costello has practically defined the term “eclectic” in a 30+ year career where he deftly tackled blue-eyed soul (Get Happy!!), country covers (Almost Blue), folk and blues (King of America), classical (The Juliet Letters, Il Sogno), singer/songwriter pop with Burt Bacharach (Painted From Memory), New Orleans R&B with Allen Toussaint (The River in Reverse) and more.

Now the British singer/songwriter reunites with producer T Bone Burnett, who helmed America and Spike, for an Americana collection. With the exception of Bing Crosby popularized waltz “Changing Partners,” the mostly wry, laid back tunes here are originals. Jim Lauderdale provides welcome harmony vocals throughout, while a barely discernable Emmylou Harris guests on the upbeat “Crooked Line.”

The album was recorded briskly using such unamplified instruments as dobro, mandolin, fiddle, accordion and double bass. Four songs were adapted from Costello’s unfinished Royal Danish Opera work about Hans Christian Andersen. They fit in with the others moderately well. “Complicated Shadows,” all twangy bits and a washboard rhythm, has a new dusky feel compared to the rocking version first heard on 1996’s All This Useless Beauty.

A feisty “Hidden Shame,” written for and recorded by Johnny Cash, revolves around guilt over an accidental death. Other standouts include the sinister “My All Time Doll” and “Sulphur to Sugarcane.” Elsewhere, Costello does tunes written for and with Loretta Lynn. Starbucks denizens (the coffee giant’s record label is putting this out), country enthusiasts and diehard fans should dig Costello’s latest Nashville excursion.

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