Milwaukee Journal, November 26, 1981

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Elvis Costello bucks trend,
but it shouldn't be a surprise


Divina Infusino

Well, Elvis Costello Is bucking everyone again.

With his all-country album, Almost Blue, Costello has dashed CBS's annual hope to break him as a big star. Comprised of many whiney country ballads, Almost Blue attracts little rock radio airplay and the country radio stations just son of grin, nod and toss the album into the throw away pile.

Nor will Almost, Blue please some old Costello fans. "Warning!," shouts the record's cover sticker, "This album contains country and western music and may produce radical reaction in narrow-minded people."

Costello won his following as new wave's angry young man. But Almost Blue Is one sentimental crying towel after another and the record sidesteps his greatest ability songwriting.

None of this is really so surprising. Costello has made his bows to success in his image and promotion, but never comprised in his music.

Nor is the album's weepy sadness out of character. Isn't this the man who wrote to "Allison" that "His Aim Was True." Isn't this the guy whose recording pleaded "don't change a hair for me" on his version of "My Funny Valentine?"

Besides, Costello has cited Hank Williams and George Jones as influences. Previously, Costello wrote and recorded a really pretty country ballad, "Stranger in the House," which Jones later recorded.

Writing a full album in this vein may have proved too self-revealing for Costello. Yet his venture into country is a logical extention of the painful romanticism that has always penetrated his work.

He also has conflicted with trendy tastes before, While most of England's music scene scoffed at '60s ideals, Costello wrote and recorded. "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" — an effort, it seemed, to put popular sentiments into perspective.

Recently, Costello has put popular music's roots into perspective. He paid homage to Motown on Get Happy, to the '30s and '40s Tin Pan Alley on Trust, and with Almost Blue, he goes all the way into country.

He recorded the LP in Nashville, under famed country producer Billy Sherrill's watchful ear. He brought in the Doobie Brothers' John McFee to play a crying slide guitar.

Then, he picked old-time country tunes like Merle Haggard's "The Bottle Let Me Down" and Hank Williams' "Why Don't You Love Me (like you used to do)" — one of the albums two rockers. All the songs are about love gone wrong as the album's title suggests.

Costello treats the material with respect and sincerity. He particularly shines on "A Good Year For The Roses," "Sweet Dreams," George Jones' "Brown To Blue," and Gram Parsons' "I'm Your Toy (Hot Burrito No. 1)" and "How Much I Lied." As on "Honey Hush," Costello avoids slavish readings of the original arrangements and they all work.

Yet, no one song leaps forth as a knock-out. The Attractions, Costello's marvelous back-up band, play the music like they were born in Nashville. Steve Neive's piano is perfect throughout the LP.

It's Costello vocals that limit the songs' impact. Costello wrenches feeling from every lyric, but he just doesn't have the vocal facilities of the country singers he admires.

With Almost Blue, Costello may be fulfilling his own debt to the country form. But for his listeners, his career is constructing a personal vision of popular music's history. Through it all, Costello is not only emerging as one of today's leading talents, but one of the finest and most adventurous musical articulators in the last 26 years.

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Milwaukee Journal, November 26, 1981


Divina Infusino reviews Almost Blue.

Images

1981-11-26 Milwaukee Journal clipping 01.jpg
Clipping.

1981-11-26 Milwaukee Journal page G1.jpg
Page scan.

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