King of America is the crowning achievement of Rykodisc's two-year reissue-rollout of Elvis Costello's 11-album Columbia catalog.
Like the previous reissues, this country-flavored 1986 recording is enhanced with bonus tracks, surprisingly frank liner notes and improved sound quality.
The first 15,000 copies also include a 24-minute CD of six live songs recorded on Broadway in 1986, including ferocious covers of Percy Sledge's "It Tears Me Up," Waylon Jennings' "The Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line" and Dave Bartholomew's "That's How You Got Killed Before" (which Costello later sang with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band).
Co-produced by T Bone Burnett and unfashionably unplugged for its time, King of America marked Costello's roots-rock reawakening after sleepwalking through the overly polished pop of Goodbye Cruel World. Costello has chided Columbia for originally sweeping the album under the corporate carpet.
These 15 songs hold up well, partly because of the infusion of new blood (Mitchell Froom, jazz bassist Ray Brown, former Elvis Presley guitarist James Burton) and mostly because they find him drawing from a broader palette of music and emotions.
His wordplay is alternately pointed and poignant as he skewers TV journalists in "Brilliant Mistake" ("She said that she was working for the ABC News / It was as much of the alphabet as she knew how to use"), examines domestic unrest in "Indoor Fireworks" and wards off his nightly hangover in "The Big Light" (with a hilarious reference to looking in the mirror at his "Haggard face").
But listen to his poise on the jazzy "Poison Rose," his passion on "Sleep of the Just" and his scotch-fueled abandon on J.B. Lenoir's "Eisenhower Blues" and you'll hear a reformed new-waver.
Rykodisc will cap its Costello reissue program Tuesday with Blood and Chocolate. In addition to six bonus tracks, the first 10,000 copies will come with a free interview disc.