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Review of The Delivery Man, Il Sogno, Almost Blue re-issue and Goodbye Cruel World re-issue
Montreal Gazette, 2004-09-18

A Whole Lot of Elvis

With two new discs due Tuesday and a couple of recent double-CD reissues containing unheard material, there'll be a lot of Elvis Costello in the new-release sections this week (a third double-disc reissue, the 1995 covers album Kojak Variety, has been delayed but will be out soon). So where to start?

The Delivery Man
Lost Highway/Universal
Rating 4 1/2

From the throat-shredding aggression and band-challenging discord of Button My Lip to the stark and touching The Scarlet Tide, this is Costello's strongest album since Blood and Chocolate in 1986. There's a wide range of styles here, but the country-soul of Either Side of the Same Town and the understated gospel of The Judgement come closest to defining the disc's spirit. Not that the rockers get short-changed, though. New bassist Davey Faragher earns his studio stripes here, too, helping the Imposters deliver some of the most satisfying and confident backup in their boss's career so far.

Il Sogno
Deutsche Grammophon/ Universal
Rating 3 1/2

This ballet based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, written by Costello and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra under Michael Tilson Thomas, is rich in robust melodies like State of Affairs and the opening theme of Oberon and Titania. Elsewhere, Mancini-esque and Gershwin-style jazz and evocations of vintage Hollywood soundtracks play tug of war with triumphant flourishes, sentimental passages and judiciously placed tension - but don't worry, it's an easy listen.

Almost Blue
Rhino/ Warner Bros.
Rating 3 1/2

This country album from 1981, consisting entirely of cover versions, wasn't as radical a departure as it seemed to many at the time: Costello's love of Gram Parsons and George Jones was implicit in several songs that predate it. The performances have aged well, and a blistering seven-song live set from the Palomino Club, recorded in 1979, makes the 27-track bonus disc a must-have.

Goodbye Cruel World
Rhino/ Warner Bros.
Rating 3

Costello has judged this 1984 release harshly, although Home Truth, Worthless Thing and Peace in Our Time rank among his stronger efforts. The hit-and-miss bonus disc is meant to suggest the album he might have preferred to make.