While Elvis Costello's conceptual reach on Il Sogno (Deutsche Grammophon) is admirable, the musical might and vocal charm on The Delivery Man (Lost Highway) prove far more enjoyable. Certainly there are plenty of impressive arrangements and lots of dense, rich orchestration provided from the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas on Il Sogno. It is a ballet after William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and includes contributions from percussionist Peter Erskine, saxophonist John Harle and bassist Chris Laurence. Though some segments include improvised sections, it is a predominantly symphonic/classical work and often sounds breathtaking. Still, from the first choruses Costello & the Imposters hit on "Button My Lip" from The Delivery Man, the joyous mood and rollicking sensibility immediately take over and make this a delight.
If "Button My Lip" seems like a retreat from involvement by lyric implication, he comes right back with more vivid, passionate pieces like "There's A Story in Your Voice," where he's joined by Lucinda Williams, as well as "Either Side Of the Same Town" and "Needle Time" that deliver stirring and direct messages and feature equally energetic lead vocals and group interaction. The disc also contains another magnificent duet "The Scarlet Tide" that matches the great Emmylou Harris with Costello in a piece augmented only Costello's by ukulele backing, and she also joins him on "Nothing Clings Like Ivy." Il Sogno is a release that will be admired, but The Delivery Man is one that will be constantly replayed.