Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 21, 2005

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The Delivery Man, King Of America, Piano Jazz


Ed Masley

The Delivery Man [Deluxe Edition] ★★★★
King of America [Deluxe Edition] Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar half.svg
Piano Jazz Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar half.svg

Elvis Costello fans won't have to wait for Rhino to reissue last year's model, The Delivery Man, to get the full "deluxe edition" treatment. It's already out there on Lost Highway a two-disc version boasting seven bonus tracks, a few of which actually add to the charm of the album. Consider "The Monkey" a lead-off track that shares a premise with the proper album's most inspired garage rocker, "Monkey to Man," The rhythm is woozier here, as the monkey speaks his mind on evolution. "There's a certain rumour that just can't be true," he splutters, "that man descended from our noble race/Why the very idea is a big disgrace. ... No monkey ever deserted his wife starved her children and ruined her life."

It's hard to fathom how a track as strong as "In Another Room" became an unused track. It even fits the mood, a soulful ballad steeped in heartache and regret, with a singer obliged to wait in another room while he becomes the man you barely tolerate. And hearing Elvis make the most of "Dark End of the Street," you have to wonder — why he didn't get around to trying that soul classic sooner (even if the fadeout is a little disappointing).

Other tracks are less essential, if no less enjoyable, ranging from a grittier, more soulful version of the aching ballad "Country Darkness" to a bluesier less rocking swagger through the hate-fuelled "Needle Time."

As for the proper album, it's held up surprisingly well these past 10 months or so, a head-on collision of spirited rockers, tortured soul, stuttering "p-p-p-p-peppermint gum" and pedal-steel fuelled country noir, although I still can't stomach what Lucinda Williams does to "There's A Story In Your Voice."

They've also squeezed another highlight called "She's Pulling Out The Pin" into the middle of the proper disc. It's a shape-shifting ballad recalling the headier moments of Goodbye Cruel World. And there's a live performance video of "Bedlam" marked by a fairly impassioned performance by Elvis while the greatest sideman ever, Steve Nieve makes magic on theremin, hooter and keys.

But this year; the Elvis reissue to beat is undoubtedly King of America, a 1986 release on which he joined the American roots-rock revolution with David Hidalgo of Los Lobos chiming in on "Loveable" and some ringers whose previous gigs included working with another Elvis (Jerry Scheff, Ron Tutt, James Burton) at his back. His most well-mannered effort at the time, it still sounds pretty tame today despite all the bitterness, guilt and revenge, but in a good way with under-production by T-Bone Burnett of O Brother. Where Art Thou fame and a creepy marimba-fueled take on the Animals' hit "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" to satisfy the rockers in the Elvis camp.

The 21 track bonus disc includes the Dylanesque "The People's Limousine" (a country flavored 45 he cut with Burnett as the Coward Brothers), seven live tracks from a 1986 gig with the King Of America band at New York's Broadway Theater, and no shortage of outtakes and demos. In addition to intimate solo recording of King of America highlights such as "Indoor Fireworks," "I'll Wear It Proudly," "Jack of All Parades" and "Poisoned Rose," the bonus disc includes a mournful, drastic rewrite of a rocker from Goodbye Cruel World ("Deportee") and an equally downbeat reading of "I Hope You're Happy Now," a song that turned up in a full-band treatment on the even better 1986 release, "Blood and Chocolate" (on which he's listed in the credits as Napoleon Dynamite, although I've yet to see him dance).

Other highlights here are rarer still. This marks the first release of "Having It All," a gorgeous Cole Porter-esque track that finds Elvis alone on piano. And "Suffering Face," an aching acoustic-guitar-driven ballad, makes its first appearance here, although at times it does recall the melody to "Worthless Thing" and the guitar riff to "Brilliant Mistake," while Elvis would rework a portion of the lyrics into "Crimes of Paris." Other outtakes range from Elvis making honky-tonk his own ("King of Confidence," "Shoes Without Heels") to an impassioned "Betrayal," the only bonus track to feature the mighty Attractions (whose lone contribution to King of America was "Suit of Lights") The live tracks are primarily covers, including Buddy Holly's aching "True Love Ways" and "That's How You Got Killed Before," a jumping highlight written by New Orleans R&B great Dave Bartholomew, who also co wrote a track on the other deluxe edition; "The Monkey."

The newest Elvis disc to hit the streets finds him exchanging quips, talking at length about his dad and Georgie Fame and swing standards backed by NPR host Marian McPartland on Piano Jazz. The set list ranges from "My Funny Valentine," "At Last" and "My Gloomy Sunday" to two future standards of his own — the brilliant "Almost Blue" ("the one that's most obviously indebted to what we would call the standard format," says Costello) and the North track "In the Mood Again," which actually sounds better here, as performed by Costello alone on piano and vocals. The conversations are frequently interesting despite a rather awkward interviewing style, and the vocals bring what soul they can to what at times amount to supper-club arrangements. "Gee," McPartland says, "I've never heard 'Funny Valentine' sung like that before? Costello fans have heard him sing it better, though. But there are reasons the serious fan should consider this record, from the insights Elvis volunteers in conversation with McPartland to a heartfelt, understated "Almost Blue," a devastating "You Don't Know What Love Is" and a gloomy "Gloomy Sunday" performed by Costello alone on tear-stained vocals and downbeat jazz guitar. "Boy," responds McPartland, coming out of "Gloomy Sunday," "that might be the all-time miserable song. Do you get some kind of kick out of doing those?" The conversation that follows is a hoot, with Costello at one point boasting, "I can make 'On the Sunny Side of the Street' sound dark I've had this face for 48 years now."

Elvis Costello brings his band, The Imposters (Steve Nieve, Pete Thomas, Davey Faragher) to the Chevrolet Amphitheatre Sunday for a show that finds him joining forces with Emmylou Harris. The show begins at 7. Tickets are $36 -$60.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 21, 2005


Ed Masley reviews The Delivery Man (Deluxe Edition), King Of America (Rhino Deluxe Edition) and Piano Jazz.

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2005-07-21 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette pages W16-17 clipping composite.jpg
Clipping composite.

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