Record Collector, November 1995

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Record Collector


King Of America

The Costello Show

Peter Doggett

Sometimes history doesn't make sense. If a visiting alien with a working grasp of rock history was asked to place Elvis Costello's back catalogue in chronological order without any clues but the music, then King Of America would be sat alongside Spike and Mighty Like A Rose as proof of the man's musical eclecticism and latent fascination with the United States. It certainly wouldn't be positioned between the ill-focused pop of Goodbye Cruel World and the psychic carnage that was Blood And Chocolate.

The latter's release just four months after King Of America, plus problems with Demon's major-league distributor, condemned this record to the cult ghetto. Most outsiders ignored its sense of liberation after the glitzy claustrophobic of Elvis's recent albums, and failed to notice that transplantation across the Atlantic hadn't just allowed Costello the freedom to work with musicians like James Burton and Jerry Scheff, but also exposed a fresh set of cultural icons to confront.

The process of self-discovery is documented with Elvis's customary candour in the lengthy liner notes. Equally lengthy is this reshaped CD package, which not only adds a clutch of out-takes — the Coward Brothers' collaboration with T-Bone Burnette, plus two unissued songs — but slips in a brief but compelling live album as a bonus with early copies.

Recorded in New York in 1986, it explains more eloquently than any words what it felt like for Elvis to escape from the straitjacket of the Attractions and his 'new wave' persona. He skips from Dave Bartholomew's R&B through Dan Penn's soul to Waylon Jennings' country, and somehow drags them all into a style that isn't American roots music, but couldn't exist without it. Consider the appetite for a forthcoming live retrospective whetted.

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Record Collector, No. 195, November 1995

Peter Doggett reviews the Ryko/Demon reissue of King Of America.


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Cover and page scans.


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