Album: Elvis Costello, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane (Hear Music)

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.

Download this: 'Red Cotton', 'The Crooked Line'