New Wave pioneer Elvis Costello famously dipped his toe in country music with his 1981 release Almost Blue, an album of covers by the likes of Hank Williams and George Jones.
At the time, the switch in musical genres by Costello was considered so shocking that the first pressing of the record bore a sticker in the UK: "WARNING: This album contains country & western music and may cause of fence to nar row-minded listeners."
But after adopt ing var ious musical identities over the past 28 years, there's no need for any warning on Costello's latest album, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, in stores tomorrow.
The 12-track collection sees the 54-year-old Englishman backed by some of bluegrass and country music's finest musicians -- Jerry Douglas (dobro), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Mike Compton (mandolin), Jeff Taylor (accordion) and Dennis Crouch (double bass) -- on 10 previously unreleased songs, including his second songwriting effort with Loretta Lynn, "I Felt The Chill." Two more tunes, "Complicated Shadows," from Costello's All This Useless Beauty, and "Hidden Shame," recorded by Johnny Cash for his 1990 album, Boom Chicka Boom, were given string band reworkings.
Producing is previous Costello collaborator T Bone Burnett (King Of America, Spike), who also co-wrote two new tunes.
"We'd written a couple of songs in recent times and I said, 'I really think this sort of style of song, I'd really like to do an acoustic guitar record, maybe even a solo acoustic guitar record," said Costello, down the line from the New York City apartment he shares with Canadian wife and jazz-pop singer-pianist Diana Krall and their twin boys, Frank and Dexter, aged 21/2.
"And then the more I talked about it, the more it seemed I wanted to have this other instrumental voices and (Burnett's) very good at casting and we just booked three days in Sound Emporium in Nashville and did it."
Costello also pulled four other songs out of his back pocket he had written for an unfinished Hans Christian Andersen opera, The Secret Songs, and gave them the twang treatment too.
"It didn't seem too wrong to me that the sounds of this (Nashville) ensemble were the sounds that supported these songs," said Costello. "In fact, the more we played, the more they sounded like that's the absolutely ideal sound, the mandolins and the fiddles and the dobros. And the grace with which the ensemble played these relatively more intricate songs gave the record another dimension."
Meanwhile, Costello's time spent with Lynn dates back to when they wrote another tune, "Pardon Me, Madam, My Name Is Eve," which was included on his 2008 disc, Momofuku.
The two were introduced by Cash's son, John Carter Cash, who has been one of Lynn's producers on a yet to be released new album. Lynn has also recorded Costello's "Down Among The Wines And Spirits," although its fate remains up in the air.
"She's a wonderful, wonderful person to work with. She's really funny. I think the fact that we didn't write 12 songs is because we were laughing all the time," said Costello. "When I first went to Nashville, the very first song I recorded -- before we did even Almost Blue in '81, or when I went for a tryout session, I think it might have still been '79 -- was 'She's Got You,' which although it's really a Patsy Cline song, I'd learned it from the Loretta Lynn record, I Remember Patsy. To work with her, of course, was an absolute gas."
Canadian tour dates scheduled so far include stops in Winnipeg at the Folk Festival July 8; Vancouver Aug. 24; and Toronto Aug. 28.
Costello road-tested some of the new material in 2007 on a six-week late fall road trip with The Bob Dylan Show, including the song, "Sulphur To Sugarcane," which includes the incredible line, "The women in Poughkeepsie, take their clothes off when they're tipsy, but in Albany, New York, they love the filthy way I talk."
"It's amazing that amount of applause you can get for suggesting the ladies of these towns you are visiting are of loose morals," said Costello. "The weird thing is that it's the girls who are cheering."