While Elvis Costello no longer is the "angry young man" he was when he first aimed true in the late '70s and early '80s, his output over the last several years has been just as rewarding.
His first proper album since 1996's All This Useless Beauty, 2002's When I Was Cruel, was a shot in the arm for the artist, who, save for Painted From Memory, a best-forgotten collaboration with mellow god Burt Bacharach, spent the time between albums M.I.A.
A year later saw North, a gorgeous chronicle of loves lost and found and everything that Painted should've been. Next came The Delivery Man in 2004, which found Costello and his backing Imposters embracing American roots music better than they did two decades earlier with Almost Blue and hands down his best album in at least a decade.
This year has seen Costello make his way to record-store racks twice: February's My Flame Burns Blue, an adventurous set, features him performing both his vintage pop and recent classical efforts with the Dutch classical-jazz ensemble Metropole Okrest; even better is June's The River in Reverse, in which Costello and his Imposters share studio space with New Orleans institution Allen Toussaint and his crew.
Like his Delivery two years ago, Costello puts his own stamp on Toussaint's timeless songs, which include "On Your Way Down" and the post-Katrina-appropriate "Who's Gonna Help a Brother Get Further," without bastardizing the source material. And with Toussaint and his crew on board, this "River" becomes all the more magical.
Yet it's a safe bet that the magic from River, or anything from Costello's catalog past or present, will be lost well before the nosebleeds at Soldier Field Wednesday when he opens for the rock legends-turned-nostalgia-milking money-grubbers known as the Rolling Stones.
And while the joint billing looks good in theory, Costello live has never matched well with the arena setting, and compromising his recent glories for expected favorites in such a setting such as "Allison" or "Pump it Up" won't help matters much.