Elvis Costello has been taking a this-year's-genre approach to album making in recent years, darting from the art songs of North to the Southern soul of The Delivery Man to this folk-and-bluegrass tinged, all-acoustic affair.
(If you're keeping count, this now leaves metal, hip hop and soca as the only styles he hasn't attempted. Yet.)
Of course, Costello has done this all along - think back to This Year's Model ('60s punk) or Armed Forces (Abbaesque grandeur). But those were starting points, not destinations.
Costello's insistence on staying in musical character is what kept The Delivery Man from being flat-out great. The sticking point here, though, is the often awkward match of Costello's arch-literate lyrics with music that practically demands directness and simplicity.
Oblique numbers such as "Complicated Shadows" (resurrected from the little-loved All This Useless Beauty) and "How Deep is the Red" are meant for chin-stroking contemplation while the music tries to engage the heart.
Occasionally, he gets it right. "Hidden Shame" is identifiably a Costello lyric but still has the mystery of a public domain ballad. "Sulphur to Sugarcane" is a funny, self-effacing tall tale along the lines of Dylan's "Wanted Man."
Overall, it's a flawed but credible diversion on Costello's way to whatever's next.