ELVIS COSTELLO & THE IMPOSTERS
The Delivery Man
You never know what to expect from Elvis Costello. The erstwhile angry young tunesmith of the new wave/punk explosion has offered a wildly varied palette since then - everything from Nashville country, classical suites and crooning balladry to pop collaborations with Paul McCartney and Burt Bacharach.
Considering 2002's energetically rocking When I Was Cruel and last year's followup - the decidedly non-rock, piano-based North - it was anyone's guess what this year's model would sound like. Costello satisfied his creative impulses by simultaneously releasing two separate discs - the classical Il Sogno to challenge those fans who like to see him tackle out-of-the-ordinary genres, and The Delivery Man - Costello's most satisfying disc in years.
When I Was Cruel was touted as his return to his former fighting self, but The Delivery Man really delivers on that promise. Reminiscent in style and tone to a cross between 1986's stunning one-two punch of Bread and Chocolate, and King of America, The Delivery Man finds Costello ensconced in the American south. And for a Brit (as he's proven time and time again), he can do Americana as well as any country or R&B bar band. But when combined with his biting lyrics, undiminished knack for pop hooks and arrangements, and his historical grasp of American roots rock, he goes where no bar band has dared to go.
Backed by the versatile and telepathic Imposters (The Attractions, with bassist Davey Gallagher replacing Bruce Thomas), Costello effortlessly maneuvers his Gibson and Telecaster guitars through the loping cacophony of "Button My Lip" and "Bedlam" with hair-raising intensity.
He can then turn around and offer a tribute to classic Nashville songwriters such as Dan Penn ("Dark End of the Street") with breathtakingly soulful balladry on "Either Side of the Same Town," "Country Darkness" (which borrows the groove and melody from his own "Little Triggers"), and "Heart Shaped Bruise" - the latter being one of three duets with the incomparable Emmylou Harris.
But that's not even the best part. A rousing raveup duet with Lucinda Williams on "There's A Story in Your Voice" is guaranteed to elicit a smile and get your toes tapping. And the title song is one of those sinister, southern sagas based on guilt and revenge that Costello has the patent on.
If Elvis Costello has to blow off steam by singing in Italian or conducting an orchestra in order to be able to focus on producing an album as cohesive and sublime as The Delivery Man, then bring on the arias.