New Musical Express, October 24, 1981

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NME

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Sometimes a great notion...

Elvis Costello And The Attractions / Almost Blue

Paul Du Noyer

"Warning!" shouts the sticker that's stuck on the cover that covers the record that Elvis made in Nashville. "This album contains country & western music and may produce radical reaction in narrow-minded-people."

Country 'n' western — phew! It's one small step sideways in Costello's career, perhaps, at least where his song writing goes (though not his singing). But Almost Blue, these 12 interpretations of other people's work, is a richly satisfying sidestep. It has the feel of being both a homage and a holiday... so enjoy it, maybe get enlightened, and let's watch how the experience inspires the man's own creative muse when next they get back together.

Country music, mind, has never been too far below the surface in the Costello catalogue — like his own "Stranger In The House" and in the feel of nearly all his more mournful, reflective material. For anybody true to their Liverpool-Irish roots, It could barely be otherwise: that culture's steeped in it, and always will be.

The tone of Almost Blue's treatments is respectful, therefore, but never slavish. It's a contemporary album, and it's an Attractions album; producer-Billy Sherrill seems to have ensured that the set's authenticity rests with content, not with the form. The one major concession to trad sound is the addition to the band of guitarist John McFee, who supplies a lot of sad, sweet pedal steel.

There's no perversion of the songs' intentions, either. It might be the sophisticated view that country is trite, and maudlin and sentimental. But Elvis still plays it straight. The easy option of exploiting the coy, camp and kitsch angles — which would overcome most English rock artists — isn't entertained for a moment. Costello and company cut through the layers of smart prejudice to find the music's enduring values: its sly humour, its lyrical craftsmanship (more echoes of EC's own approach), its melancholy dignity.

Down to detail. Side one opens with a brash rock work-out, in the Rockpile vein, "Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used To Do)?": it's the noise of a group enjoying itself, and not to the exclusion of our enjoyment, The remainder of the side is calmer — like "Success" (“has made a failure of our home”), Merle Haggard's "Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down", and the beautiful "Brown To Blue", all about the divorce that "changed your name from Brown to Jones / And mine from Brown to Blue...". If you've just opened a beer, stand by to cry into it.

Flip across and there's the year's best-deserved hit, "Good Year For The Roses," a poignant George Jones lip-trembler. The easy-rocking "Sittin' And Thinkin'," "Colour Of The Blues" (yep, that colour again) and Billy Sherrill's "Too Far Gone" lead up to the pumping beat of the Jerry Lee/Joe Turner number "Honey Hush," then finally, "How Much I Lied" — more of that grief inhibited by the stern necessity for manly appearances.

If you can find it in your moralistic modern heart to forgive the music's frequent lapses of character — the fatal tendency to take consolation in booze, the frankly reactionary sexist stereotyping (She hasn't made the bed! Our relationship's on the rocks!) — you'll be rewarded by the very-human realism of country's emotional power. The tunes are lovely as well.

Seek out the best, bury the rest. Let Almost Blue be your primer, and Elvis Costello your guide. You know something? This is the kind of country where a man could build himself a home.

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New Musical Express, October 24, 1981


Paul Du Noyer reviews Almost Blue.


NME previews the Almost Blue, Almost '82 tour.


A full page ad for Almost Blue runs on page 24.

Images

1981-10-24 New Musical Express page 37 clipping.jpg 1981-10-24 New Musical Express page 24 advertisement.jpg 1981-10-24 New Musical Express photo 01.jpg
Clipping, advertisement and photo.


Elvis plays the Albert Hall
— with Royal Philharmonic


NME

1981-10-24 New Musical Express page 03 clipping.jpg

Elvis Costello & The Attractions are playing three special concerts to showcase material from their much-publicised C&W album Almost Blue, which was recorded in Nashville during the spring and finally sees the light of day tomorrow (Friday) on F-Beat Records. Their first two dates are pre-Christmas shows at Guildford Civic Hall {December 21} and London Rainbow (23) then — after a brief visit to the States — Costello and the band team up with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to play London's Royal Albert Hall on January 7.

The new LP, produced by Billy Sherrill, also features pedal steel guitarist John McFee — and he'll be joining them on three major U.S. Concerts at Los Angeles Sports Arena (December 29), New York Palladium (31) and Nashville Grand Ole Opry (January 3). McFee then accompanies them to Europe for the Albert Hall show and a subsequent Paris concert — at the Theatre Des Champs Elysee on January 10.

Costello will be the first rock star to appear at the Albert Hall since the ill-fated Frank Zappa show, though the actual rock 'n' roll content is likely to be minimal — the first half will be devoted to country music and, in the second set, Elvis will perform with the 86-piece RPO. The material in this second half will be varied but, said a spokesman, "will be maximized to use the full scope of the orchestra".

Meanwhile on November 8, London Weekend's South Bank Show screens an hour-long documentary — networked nationally — about the making of Almost Blue. Directed by Peter Carr (who made the City programme about Malcolm Allison and Manchester City), it was shot mainly in Nashville, but also includes footage of the country show which Costello and the band played in Aberdeen earlier this year.

The LP contains 12 tracks, none of them Costello compositions, several of them country standards — "Why Don't You Love Me" (Hank Williams), "Sweet Dreams" (Don Gibson), "I'm Your Toy" (Gram Parsons), "Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down" (Merle Haggard), "Sittin' And Thinkin'" (Charlie Rich) and "Honey Hush" (Joe Turner), as well as Costello's current chart single "Good Year For The Roses."

Tickets for the Albert Hall concert cost £9.50, £8.50, £7.50, £5.50, £4.50, £3.50 and £2.50, and they're available by post from the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London SW7 (the box office doesn't open to personal applications until November 9). And audience members are requested to dress "formally," as the show is being filmed and recorded for posterity.

For the more usual Costello style, with a liberal dash of country music, Guildford tickets are on sale now all at £4. The Rainbow box-office opens this Saturday (24) with tickets at £5.50 and £5 — also available by post from the theatre, 232 Seven Sisters Road, London N4.

Inclusive tickets for the UK and Paris dates, as well as details of booking for the US shows, may be obtained from Elvis Costello Tickets, PO Box 281, London N15 5LW — Enclose S.A.E.



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Cover.

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