It should be no surprise that the first "bad boy" of new wave rock would turn out an LP devoted entirely to straight ahead country music. What is surprising is that Costello, the most prolific songwriter in contemporary pop music, chose not to include any of his own compositions.
His "Stranger in the House" (on his Taking Liberties album) and "Different Finger" (on Trust) could stand up to almost anything on this record, but perhaps the British rocker wanted to keep his tribute to his American roots pure.
By working with Nashville producer Billy Sherrill, Costello plunked himself down squarely within the mainstream of modern Country & Western.
Fortunately, Sherrill does not overly embellish the direct and authentic instrumental treatments provided by Costello's band, The Attractions. Pedal steel player John McFee, fiddler Tommy Miller, and backing vocalists The Nashville Edition are called in effectively, but the most valuable player award goes to The Attractions' Steve Nieve whose piano and organ fill in the emotional nuances beneath Costello's vocals.
The rate at which Costello has cranked out records brimming with excellent songs over the past four years has often overshadowed the expressive range of his singing. From the venom of "Honey Hush" and Hank Williams' "Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used to Do)" to the boozey laments of "A Good Year for the Roses" and Charlie Rich's "Sittin' and Thinkin'," Costello demonstrates an emotional power absent in the stylizing of many new wavers and country poppers alike.