Milwaukee Journal, November 1, 1981

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Junking Costello

Joel McNally

Of all the memorable all-time greats of country music who will live In our hearts forever, perhaps none is so universally revered as the legendary Elvis Costello.

So, okay, maybe he doesn't go back quite so far as the old Singing Brakeman or Yodeling Yahoo or whatever.

But then who wants to listen to a bunch of old moany junk anyway? Give me the wonderful, brand-new junk on Elvis' new Nashville album, Almost Blue (Columbia).

What Costello has done is take good old country songs by good old country songwriters like George Jones, Charlie Rich, Merle Haggard and Don Gibson and make them fun to watch.

This isn't parody, except to the extent that Elvis himself already is. And to the extent that gut-wrenching country blues always is.

Consider Elvis singing about his tears falling or the courtroom floor as "they changed your name from Brown to Jones and mine from Brown to blue."

Anyone who could keep from cracking a little smile at that would have to have a heart of stone.

Let's face it. Tammy Wynette singing about the slops of life being poured over her head has always been pretty hilarious.

When Costello sings "I'm Your Toy," his melodramatic emotion-soaked voice, complete with quivering lower lip, is just exquisite.

That song, by the way, and "How Much I Lied" are old Flying Burrito Brothers tunes by Gram Parsons, a reminder that Costello is not the first creative rock musician to work this territory.

Songs such as "Sweet Dreams," which was recorded by Patsy Cline, and "Too Far Gone," which should have been, are similar cracking vocal. delights.

(Travel Note: While in Nashville, visit the wig of Patsy Cline in the Country Music Hall of Fame.)

Costello's voice goes off in the usual strange directions, around corners and all. It is fascinating to track him through a song such as "Sittin' and Thinkin'," which is, of course, about drinkin'.

His band, the Attractions, is aided by an outstanding guest appearance by John McFee of the Doobie Brothers on lead and steel guitar and suitably hokey harmony by the Nashville Edition.

The album's single, "A Good Year for the Roses," puts all of those things together on one of those addictive melodies that sticks in your head whether you want it to or not.

The band blasts out of the predominantly bluesy mode of the album with an old Johnny Burnette rockabilly tune, "Honey Hush," and a similar rip-it-up version of Hank Williams' "Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used to Do?)"

Someone who grabbed me in a parking lot once wanted to know when I was going to admit I had been wrong about Elvis Costello.

Well, I suppose right now is as good a time as any.


Milwaukee Journal, November 1, 1981

Joel McNally reviews Almost Blue.


1981-11-01 Milwaukee Journal clipping 01.jpg


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