ICE, March 2005

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A royal upgrade for Costello's King of America


Gene Sculatti

The third time might well be the charm for Elvis Costello's King of America. His adventurous, roots-leaning first album without the Attractions barely nudged the Top 40 of Billboard's album chart when it was released in 1986. In 1995, it was reissued by Rykodisc, with a second disc of rarities. On April 26, Rhino takes a crack at the King, loading up two CDs with the original album's 15 tracks and a whopping 21 bonus cuts from 1984-85.

Originally intended as part of the label's Costello reissue program, which for the last four years has released his catalog in groups of three albums, King of America will arrive as a stand-alone. But that's no accident. Co-producer (with Val Jennings) and iTunes Chief Music Officer Gary Stewart gives two reasons why KOA is swinging solo.

"First," Stewart tells ICE, "it's coming on the heels of The Delivery Man [last year's Costello set on Lost Highway], which is kind of a roadhouse, roots-rock, country-meets-soul record. King of America is the first time he tried this approach with his own material. You hear him working with T-Bone Burnett, [Los Lobos'] David Hidalgo and the other Elvis' "T.C.B. band" [guitarist James Burton, bassist Jerry Scheff, drummer Ronnie Tutt].

"Second, it's Elvis' favorite album, and it's often cited by fans of his as one of their favorites. It's really the album that in many ways rehabilitated the term "singer-songwriter" [from its association with more sedate autobiographers] and brought back that sort of literate element of Costello, his love of American music and his storytelling."

For the fans, already familiar with the original album (which contained "Brilliant Mistake," "Sleep of the Just" and a cover of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"), the big news is the new set's second disc. Eleven of its cuts appeared on the Ryko reissue, most notably the solo demo "Suffering Face," KOA outtakes "King of Confidence" and "Shoes Without Heels" and both sides of Burnett and Costello's Coward Brothers single "The Peoples' Limousine"/"They'll Never Take Her Love From Me." Six live covers of songs previously done by Mose Allison, Waylon Jennings, Percy Sledge and others were performed by Elvis Costello & His Confederates (Burton, Scheff, keyboardist Mitchell Froom and drummer Jim Keltner).

Rhino's reissue adds the solo demos of KOA songs "Indoor Fireworks," "Poisoned Rose," "I'll Wear It Proudly," "Jack of All Parades" plus "Having It All" (intended for KOA but unused), "Deportee" (a rewrite of "Deportee's Club from 1984's Goodbye Cruel World) and a demo of that same LP's "I Hope You're Happy Now." Elements of "Betrayal," heard here in demo form, wound up in "Tramp the Dirt Down" on 1989's Spike.

"Then there's a gorgeous cover of Richard Thompson's 'End of the Rainbow,'" says Stewart. "The only way people could have heard that was on an anti-drug benefit record [1986's It's a Live-in World], where the producers added a bass and background singer without Elvis' permission." Rounding out the bonuses is a live version of the Confederates doing Buddy Holly's "True Love Ways."

The complete track list for Disc Two: "Having It All," "Suffering Face," "Deportee," "Indoor Fireworks," "I Hope You're Happy Now," "Poisoned Rose," "I'll Wear It Proudly," "Jack of All Parades," "The Peoples' Limousine," "They'll Never Take Her Love From Me," "King of Confidence," "Shoes Without Heels," "End of the Rainbow," "Betrayal," "That's How You Got Killed Before," "The Big Light," "It Tears Me Up," "The Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line," "Your Mind is on Vacation/Your Funeral My Trial," "That's How You Got Killed Before (Reprise)," and "True Love Ways."

"The quality of the bonus material," Stewart concludes, "is so good that the five grade-A songs on there, if they'd been added to the original album, could have made King of America a double album on a level with Blonde on Blonde, Exile on Main Street or London Calling."

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ICE, No. 216, March 2005


Gene Sculatti reports on the the Rhino reissue of King Of America.

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