|The Elvis Costello
Review of TV show taped on 2001-11-06 with Lucinda Williams;
CMT, Crossroads; recording of session
Elvis Costello and Lucinda Williams help the Country Music Television network launch an intriguing new series.
At first glance, it seemed an unlikely pairing: the queen of alt.country and a legendary rocker from England.
But when Lucinda Williams and Elvis Costello met onstage at New York Citys Sony Studios this past November 5th, it was clear to all present that theirs was a match made in heavencountry heaven. The two had come together to inaugurate CMT Crossroads, an ambitious new series produced by the cable network Country Music Television (CMT), which gives prominent country artists and rock stars the opportunity to play together, swap stories and discuss the impact of country music on their songwriting. The premiere episode, featuring Costello and the Louisiana-born Williams, will be broadcast on CMT on Sunday, January 13, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.
For his part, Costello seized the opportunity to present a side of his artistry that is often ignored. Not only has country music considerably influenced his songwriting, but the one-time punk rock icon is also deeply steeped in country lore and history. In 1980 he and George Jones released a version of "Stranger in the House," a tune Costello wrote for the country great. The following year, he traveled to Nashville to make an album of country standards, Almost Blue, with renowned Music City producer Billy Sherrill. In 1986 he once again demonstrated his talent for original country-inspired songwriting on his acoustic-guitar-driven album King of America.
Costellos devotion to the sounds of Hank Williams, the Louvin Brothers and Webb Pierce is particularly surprising for someone born and raised in the industrial seaport of Liverpool, England.
"Obviously, country is not so much a geographical matter for me," said Costello a few days after the shows taping. "But when I want to write a direct narrative or a simple heartbreak song, there is really no better class of song than what you might call a country ballad. In the end, no matter where you come from, it is all folk musicmusic by folks."
At the Crossroads taping, Costello, backed by Williams touring band, played acoustic guitar through most of his performance, demonstrating a solid grasp of various country accompaniment styles. He opened with a few of his own country-accented compositions, including "Motel Matches," from 1979s Get Happy!!, and "Ill Wear It Proudly," from King of America. While he peppered his performance with crowd-pleasing reminiscences and spontaneous witticisms, he turned dead serious once he began singing, delivering the music with unbridled passion and technical brilliance.
The far more subdued Lucinda Williams provided the perfect foil to Costellos exuberance. While she limited her banter with the audience, Williams led her band through searing performances of "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road," the title track from her 1998 Grammy Awardwinning album, and "Get Right with God," from her 2001 album, Essence.
The latter songs brawny rhythms set the stage for the two songwriters to perform together. Williams and Costello, both playing acoustic guitars and backed by her band, performed several of the formers painfully honest, country-inflected tunes, including "Drunken Angel" and "Greenville," both from Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. These, in turn, were followed by two from Costellos King of America album, "Indoor Fireworks" and "Poisoned Rose." The highlight of their set was an emotionally charged version of the Rolling Stones "Wild Horses"a fitting choice, considering that while written and performed by an English rock band, the music was inspired by Gram Parsons, father of the alt.country movement.
Williams shyly acknowledged her delight at appearing on a show that gave her a chance to perform with an artist she has long admired. During a question-and-answer session with the audience, she said of Costello, "Hes written, like, 300 songs. Ive written, like, 50."
Costello said his performance with Williams not only gave him the opportunity to indulge his country leanings, but also taught him an important lesson. "Lucinda is one of the great singers and songwriters around today," he said. "When she sang a verse of Poisoned Rose, I realized that this was the way it is supposed to sound. Any song can be a country song, if a great country singer sings it."
From Guitar World Acoustic No. 49