The music industry has finally made a connection that was forced on me years ago. The obsessively melancholic lyrics of certain new wave artists finds its perfect counterpoint in (sit down now), classic country-western.
Elvis Costello's Almost Blue is a collection of country western songs sung by this usually new wave artist. Costello makes this connection stick, sometimes brilliantly, sometimes just oddly.
Costello is a George Jones buff who performed in a tribute to the "Possum" last year. Costello showed up despite a case of the mumps, and announced to the audience "I'd have gotten up out of my deathbed to sing with this man."
And with Jone's classic, "Why Don't You Love Me Like You Used To Do," Costello begins his slightly schizoid endeavor with a country-riffed, new waved explosion of anxiety. This number in particular may put off fans of traditional country, but Costello's "Sweet Dreams About You," will win them back. Despite a somewhat limited vocal range, Costello's version is very nearly as full of heartache as the Patsy Cline original.
Costello fares best with the rueful numbers. "A Good Year For Roses" is also well-done. Who but George Jones or Elvis Costello could linger so effectively over such agonizing detail as "I can hardly bear the sight of lipstick on your cigarettes there in the ashtray / Lying cold the way you left them, but at least your lips caressed them while you passed." Such lines sound positively silly when quoted, and indeed, too often sound silly when sung, but Costello handles the maudlin lyric with the maudlin tang of real life. Therein lies the essence of country music, and on numbers such as "Too Far Gone," he proves he can descend into country's desolation with the best of them.
It must be admitted that Costello has a few more lessons to learn. His version of "Success" is far from being one. "Brown to Blue," another of those wonderfully awful country gems that either soars or sours, does the latter.
Still, the good numbers alone would make this album worth the price of admission for any open-minded C&W or Costello fan. His Honky-Tonk versions of "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down" and "Sittin' and Thinkin' " also shine. Costello understands both angles of a "Good-old-boy-gone-wrong" number, and he performs with both humor and desperation.
"I'm Your Toy (Hot Burrito No. 1)" though, is easily the best number on the album. The combination of the Burrito Bros., subtle lyrics with Costello's aching, knowing, and lonely vocal is not to be missed by anyone who loves a sad song.
Costello's offering to C&W is an acceptable one. If you like Elvis Costello or Country-Western, keep an open mind and listen to Almost Blue. It is a treat for those who can appreciate such bizarre syntheses.