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The Independent Culture
Elvis Costello

Kojak Variety (Warner Bros 9362-45903-2)

Dashed off in the couple of weeks following the Mighty Like a Rose sessions, while Costello still had the band and studio hired, Kojak Variety comprises 15 of his favourite R&B songs and "popular ballads", few of which form part of the common cultural currency the way the songs on Annie Lennox's Medusa do.

Mostly, it's a case of Elvis ferreting out obscurities like Screamin' Jay Hawkins's "Strange" and Jesse Winchester's "Payday", and letting loose a first-rate band. The better known songs are handled tenderly, with Ray Davies's "Days" suffused with an oceanic yearning, and Larry Knechtel's dark organ shadings underlining the melancholy of Dylan's "I Threw It All Away"; while the double-whammy guitar combination of rockabilly virtuoso James Burton and angular auteur Marc Ribot lends a spine-tingling thrill to several tracks. Ribot is on terrific form here, delicate and dark by turns, and taking on a solo in "Hidden Charms" which comes close to the astonishing sprung-steel marvel that is Hubert Sumlin's break on the Howlin' Wolf original. Moreover, it's the crystalline drizzle of Ribot's guitar and Knechtel's piano, brilliantly suggesting a slow frosting of emotion obscuring sense, that makes Randy Newman's "I've Been Wrong Before" the high point of the set.