Costello takes a chance but as ever doesn't put a foot wrong. He's never hidden his love for country music, and after providing a song for George Jones to record it was obvious that sooner or later he'd indulge in a country album of his own.
It's been a year in which post-punk celebrities have been taking musical holidays with Joe Jackson reviving Forties big band jazz and Ian Dury recording with reggae stars in the West Indies, so why shouldn't Elvis Costello take his band off to Nashville to record a full album of other people's country songs, using Billy Sherrill himself as producer? The results should provide the biggest boost for country music among rock fans since Dylan recorded Nashville Skyline.
Costello handles the material superbly, singing in a dry, no-nonsense voice that works best against a simple pared-down backing (though strings are added on some songs). There is no mawkishness or cloying country sweetness or emotion added, which is just as well when most of the songs are tear-jerkers with titles like "Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down" or "Success (Has Made A Failure Of Our Home)."
The weepies (mostly with wailing steel guitar added) are interspersed with a surprisingly lively version of "Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used To Do)?," and "Honey Hush," which sounds more like an R&B stomper.