It isn't only his expanding girth that suits Costello to the country idiom. Ever since '78's "Stranger In The House" — not to mention recording his debut album with Clover the year before — it has been obvious that behind those computer clerk glasses there's a redneck dying to get out and here he is in all his maudlin glory.
Elvis as lover as loser has always been his favourite recurring obsession so enter Costello the country boy with a suitcase full of standards in which he can indulge his heartaches to the limit.
Inevitably, it doesn't end there. At a time when few alleged singers can actually sing, he stands as one of the few British singers of repute. And if there's one sound where you can't get away with a bad set of pipes it's ye olde country style music.
Then ensuring that every detail is just so, he's hightailed off to Nashville with The Attractions, recruited the services of good old producer Billy Sherrill and annexed the expertise of slide guitarist John McFee, usually a Doobie Brother but we won't hold that against him.
Which leaves us with the material. All but two of the dozen cuts fit the familiar country format — slow, romantic drawls chock full of pleasant harmonies and tinkling piano. Lyrically, the sentimental ironies of the genre have hardly escaped Costello and his
choice of songs is shrewdly credible.
"Brown To Blue"'s tale of divorce boasts the kind of word-play Elvis himself excels in whilst "Success" is a masterpiece of role reversal. A la Costello it is the wife who has made the bright lights, much to the old man's chagrin:
"You've had no time to love me any more / Since fame and fortune came to knock on our door.
And I spend all my evenings all alone / Success has made a failure of our home."
Along with the unsurpassable "Good Year For The Roses" it's the highlight of the LP, though they ain't the only goodies. Sherrill's "Too Far Gone" enjoys a similar degree of wistful deliciousness as The Beatles' "Till There Was You" whilst Gram Parsons' "I'm Your Toy" is so Costello it's difficult to imagine the two of them didn't write it together.
None of the other tracks plumb a similar depth of complexity and I suppose If there's one fundamental criticism of the record it's just that: As far as Costello fans are concerned, this album nowhere near approaches the intricate assortment of painstaking miniatures that comprise his usual collections, simply because he hasn't written any of the songs.
But taken on its own terms, as a selection of country tunes with Elvis as mouthpiece, it's as flawless an LP as has been released all year. As authentic and sincere as Joe Jackson's Jumpin' Jive and one that's already booked itself a residency on my turntable for the forthcoming fireside evenings.