Sydney Morning Herald, September 18, 2004

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The Delivery Man

Elvis Costello

Bernard Zuel

In the past few years, Elvis Costello has given us an album aimed slightly more at the head (When I Was Cruel, with its tricky rhythms, sharp wordplay and even sharper sounds from his new "beat group," the Imposters) and an album set strongly for the heart (the subdued, orchestrated but intensely felt pre-rock romanticism of North).

Like a boxer working you over completely, with The Delivery Man, his second album with the Imposters — Steve Nieve, Pete Thomas and Davey Farragher — Costello turns his attention as much to the body as head and heart.

The rhythms are direct and away from some of the electronic excursions of Cruel; the sounds, but not the structures, are coarser, with more pronounced drums and guitars, and the roots are deep in rhythm 'n' blues and country.

The territory for long-term fans (and, at this point in his career, it's really the various shades of the converted we're talking to here) is somewhere between the slide guitar-peppered Almost Blue, the rough and ready covers album Kojak Variety and the flaming burst of Brutal Youth.

There's New Orleans funkiness in the overflowing ire of Bedlam that is neatly matched later by the nagging pre-Presley groove of "Monkey To Man," and the stylistic triumvirate is completed by the busy hustling blues of "Needle Time." (It's a trio with a serious political hue to the lyrics, incidentally.)

You can trace a similar journey with the country/soul in "Country Darkness" that prepares the way for the title track's torch song moves and the way the Deep South soulfulness of "Either Side of the Same Town" (with some great backing vocals from Farragher) naturally segues into the gospel sound of "The Judgement," a song recently recorded by the Reverend Solomon Burke.

A couple of guest appearances are worth noting. While Lucinda Williams brings some trailer-park wildness to "There's a Story In Your Voice" that suggests a gin-fuelled Saturday night bar, Emmylou Harris soothes all wounds in a series of increasingly gorgeous duets.

Costello and Harris warm up with "Nothing Clings Like Ivy" (with its echoes of both "Love Field" and "The Other End of the Telescope)," reach deep into the Harris and Gram Parsons dress-up box with the breaking-hearts-at-dawn country weepie Heart Shaped Bruise and then close the album with an Appalachian-styled two-hander, "The Scarlet Tide," featuring their lonely voices entwining, joined only by a ukelele.

It doesn't always work, mind you: the clattering opening "Button My Lip" has intent but is more a palette cleanser than satisfying, and "The Name of This Thing Is Not Love" strains. But a couple of missed punches don't stop Delivery Man being declared a clear points victory.


Sydney Morning Herald, September 18, 2004

Bernard Zuel reviews The Delivery Man.


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