Elvis Costello is getting better at this country shtick.
With an intense and long-abiding interest in rootsy American twang, Costello first surprised critics way back in 1981 with Almost Blue, his take on material by Hank Williams, George Jones and the like. As a rocker bowled over by Costello's new wave bite, I must concede Almost Blue befuddled me.
But that's Costello, who would also go on to tackle classical, pop-soul, chamber opera and other genres in side projects in a perpetual quest to push boundaries and test new territories.
Perhaps it's that experience that's served him well, because the T Bone Burnett-produced Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, sounds as authentic in its country approach as anything Costello has done as one of rock's most influential personalities.
Costello's songwriting, vocals and supporting cast — Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Jim Lauderdale, Emmylou Harris — make this 13-track project (often historical in nature, including songs about the life of Hans Christian Andersen) a reasonable, legitimate entry in the traditional country and alt-country catalog.
And the classic "Complicated Shadows," "My All Time Doll" and "Sulphur to Sugarcane" deftly incorporate rock sensibility with rootsy acoustic elements, a testament to Burnett and Costello's musical prowess.
This album doesn't match the delightful romp of last year's Momofuku (recorded with the Imposters), but it's a charming Nashville social call.