Back in the new-wave heyday of the late '70s and throughout the '80s, the incredibly prolific Elvis Costello was indeed the reigning King of Rock. My friend George and I used to buy every UK and domestic single (including B-sides) we could get our grubby hands on. At the same time, we also were buying records by The Clash and the Police. Ironically, all three acts were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.
It seemed Costello and The Attractions (his longtime backing band) had peaked musically around the time of Armed Forces (1979) and Get Happy! (1980). He then went to Nashville and recorded the country album Almost Blue (1981), covering songs by George Jones and Gram Parsons. A year later, he recorded his most grandiose, ambitious and experimental masterpiece, Imperial Bedroom (1982).
The follow-up, Punch The Clock (1983), was somewhat of a disappointment in comparison, but it yielded his biggest American hit single "Everyday I Write The Book," introducing him into the mainstream and making him a household name.
Costello's latest, The Delivery Man (Lost Highway), features Pete Thomas on drums and Steve Nieve on piano and organ (both from The Attractions), along with newcomer Davey Faragher on bass. This time around, Costello and his band went down South and holed up at Sweet Tea Studios in Oxford, Miss., for a single weekend to record the 13 songs that make up The Delivery Man. Upon first listening to the album, the immediate impression is it sounds like it was recorded in a juke joint. The loose and live-in-the-studio feel of the album is the result of being recorded quickly and spontaneously.
Album opener "Button My Lip" is a raucous, improvisational number featuring Steve Nieve's honky-tonk piano. Costello sounds like the angry young man of yesteryear when he declares: "Don't want to talk about the government/Don't want to talk about some incident."
"Country Darkness" follows with its smooth, slow-burn shuffle. This is a classic Costello crooner ballad with drippy, pedal steel guitar courtesy of John McPhee.
In addition, Costello decided to invite some friends along for the ride.
Lucinda Williams trades verses with him on the rockin' "There's a Story In Your Voice" and Emmylou Harris lends vocal harmonies to "Heart Shaped Bruise," "The Scarlet Tide" and "Nothing Clings Like Ivy" (a beautiful, slow country ballad). "Monkey To Man" is the swinging new single and sounds like something from My Aim Is True (1977). However, it's "Either Side Of The Same Town" that really showcases Costello's vocals, which sound better and stronger than ever before.
Perhaps at the age of 50, Costello is getting better with age, like a fine red wine.
At any rate, in this case, The Delivery Man delivers.