Recorded at Sweet Tea Studios in Oxford, Mississippi, with guest appearances by Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams, The Delivery Man initially looks like a bold attempt to assert Elvis Costello's authority as the godfather of alt.country. It's actually something much grander and more dramatic.
Rather than just re-ploughing the same Nashville furrow as he did on 1981's Almost Blue (in the way that Neil Young's Harvest Moon looked back to Harvest), Costello uses this return to rhinestone country as a springboard for his most dynamic and affecting work in more than 20 years. From "Button My Lip"'s ferocious beginning — in which Steve Nieve's piano and Davey Farragher's bass engage in a thrilling battle — to "Scarlet Tide"'s hushed finale, The Delivery Man's grip never slackens.
It gleefully transcends years of under-achievement on Costello's part in a welter of raucous blues and euphoric cow-punk. His backing band have never sounded better, and his voice — revitalised by the strength of this material — leaps and bucks like a colt freshly turned out into the field.
With his first full-length orchestral work also just released — to be reviewed in our classical pages next week — Costello seems to be in the midst of a full-blown renaissance.