Album: Elvis Costello, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane (Hear Music)
Friday 29 May 2009
Elvis Costello albums seem to arrive with increasing frequency these days, their diversity appearing more like compensation for their patchiness.
If you didn't like him singing with a string quartet, maybe you'd care for him in a jazz suite? No? How about collaborations with Burt Bacharach? Allen Toussaint? Anne Sophie von Otter? Or, as here, hooking up with T-Bone Burnette for some of those rootsy string-band settings that proved popular for Plant & Krauss? Though far from the most daunting prospect in his sprawling catalogue, this proves no better in practice, partly because Costello's voice has a mean-spirited tone devoid of the siren lure of Plant & Krauss's harmonies, and it's a rag-bag of material that simply doesn't hang together. There's a bluegrass cover of "Complicated Shadows", from 1996's All This Useless Beauty; a fast string-band shuffle of "Hidden Shame", written for Johnny Cash; several tedious, self-pitying romantic country pastiches, one ("I Felt The Chill") co-written with Loretta Lynn; and four tracks written for an abortive opera project about Hans Christian Andersen's love affair with singer Jenny Lind. But it's a shoddy set of barrel-scrapings overall, lacking both focus and impetus.
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