When Elvis Costello last came to Australia he said that the most impressive local band he saw was The Black Sorrows — a marvellous but under-rated musical combination headed by the masterful Joe Camilleri.
Now Costello has put out a new album — King of America — and it has dark shades of The Black Sorrows. There is a lightness of beat that is sometimes a skip and a mood in the music set by throaty piano accordian.
I have confessed my devotion to The Black Sorrows in the past and have always admired Costello. A cocktail of the two is a delicious, heady experience. Costello and Camilleri performing together would be as smooth as Kalua and cream.
King of America has held fast to all the cleverness of "Watching the Detectives" and "Everyday I Write The Book" but it marks a departure from style at the same time. The new face of Costello should not leave his old fans behind.
"Brilliant Mistake" and "American Without Tears" are splendid and would sit comfortably in a Black Sorrows repertoire. And Costello's devastating pen is as thoroughly perfect as ever:
"She said that she was working for the ABC News
It was as much of the alphabet she knew how to use
Her perfume was unspeakable
It lingered in the air
Like her artificial laughter
Her mementos of affairs."
"Brilliant Mistake" features piano accordian, Hammond organ and harpsichord — there is a gentility about those instruments that makes music more musical. They lend grace.
The King of America album features Costello's regular trio, The Attractions — whose talent is what is needed to give vigour to Costello's music. But Costello uses other brilliant veteran musicians too. Ron Tutt, who played with Elvis Presley, plays brushes and drums on several tracks and Michael Blair, from the band that backs Tom Waits, is also featured on the single, "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood."
Costello's personal performance, as always, is good. I like this new sound — and it is a pleasure to sec Costello heeding the example of what I consider to be one of the most startling and fresh Australian sounds.
Elvis Costello has changed his style before. According to the record company release, he has "developed into the consummate new-wave artist; unwilling to remain working within the same musical confines for too long and breaking new ground with total confidence and immense style.
"The story of Elvis Costello's career so far has been, amongst other factors, a combination of inspired judgment, fierce commitment, faultless taste and sheer inspiration ... The story from then on reads like a catalogue of success upon success. Talent, vision panache."
Costello signed his first major recording contract in 1976 and by 1977 he had made three singles, "Less Than Zero," "Alison" and "Red Shoes." His first album, My Aim Is True, excited critics and set him on a yellow brick road to adventure and discovery.
Costello has kept up momentum for 10 years. His concert tour of Australia in 1984 reaffirmed his standing and it would be marvellous if he came back as King of America.
Elvis Costello's diversions have not done him any harm and in the past, his admirers have done more admiring because of the changes. Get hold of this album and listen to it — and just to satisfy your curiosity listen to Joe Camilleri's Black Sorrows too. The similarities, the sounds, are remarkable.