"I've crossed the United States a number of times over the last 30 years," wrote Elvis Costello in production notes accompanying the June release of his new album, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane. Costello appears at the Chateau Ste. Michelle Sunday.
"There are towns I look forward to visiting again," he says. "I'm not going to say their names."
Well, we hope one of them is Seattle, where Costello's first appearance — at the Paramount Theatre in 1978 — was an unforgettable night that helped usher punk rock's initial vitality, irony and humor into the Emerald City.
At the same time, it was apparent to everyone there that Costello was beyond labels, a major, protean talent whose sound and songwriting were not going to sit still even for ardent fans.
They never did. The cynical, satire-laced pure pop of This Year's Model (1978) and Armed Forces (1979) was quickly supplanted by the rhythmic exuberance of Get Happy!! (1980), country music on Almost Blue (1981) and studio experimentation on Imperial Bedroom (1982).
Costello's ambitions have led him to collaborate with Burt Bacharach, Paul McCartney, George Jones, jazz guitarist Bill Frisell and pianist Marian McPartland. Detractors express weariness at his genre-hopping, but Costello has always had a way of tying up loose ends in his career.
Secret, Profane & Sugarcane and Costello's current tour are perfect examples. The CD largely consists of songs repurposed from earlier projects, this time through the filter of a rootsy, folk-country sound that sometimes evokes a revival meeting, at other times a small-town dance.
Reviews from other cities suggest Costello's show at the Chateau will sound much the same. Traveling with an all-acoustic sextet of Nashville session musicians billed as the Sugarcanes, Costello is performing most of the songs on Secret. He's also reaching deep into older material, including "Alison" (from 1977's My Aim is True) and "Brilliant Mistake" (from King of America, a 1986, all-acoustic album produced, as with Secret, by T-Bone Burnett).
The strength of Costello's back catalog will no doubt shine through even in new, sometimes radically different arrangements.
But the songs on Secret, for the most part, have a unique power, a middle-of-the-night honesty that is alternately prayerful, lustful, mournful or desperate.
The fact that some are culled from Costello's disparate activities over the years, yet sound as if they belong together, is testament to the artist's voice and personality.
Two songs originally intended for Johnny Cash, "Complicated Shadows" and "Hidden Shame," benefit from the ensemble approach of Secret, especially the nuances of Jerry Douglas' dobro and Jim Lauderdale's harmony vocals.
"She Handed Me a Mirror," "How Deep is the Red?" and "She Was No Good," all excerpted from a chamber piece commissioned by the Danish Royal Opera, are also given the folk-form treatment.
Hearing Costello's re-imagined takes on these songs may very well keep the Chateau audience on its toes — and excited.