UC Berkeley Daily Californian, June 4, 2009

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Secret, Profane & Sugarcane

Elvis Costello

Bryan Gerhart

In a world where Starbucks is — I shit you not — one of the top 40 music retailers in the country, nothing seems to make sense anymore. While it's hard to imagine the bitter, young Elvis Costello that his 1977 debut My Aim Is True presented ever having anything to do with a corporate behemoth like the aforementioned coffee shop, times have changed, and so has he.

But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Secret, Profane and Sugarcane, Costello's newest release and first with Starbucks' Hear Music label, finds the once-new-wave, now-whatever-the-hell-he-wants musician teaming up with producer T-Bone Burnett and a gaggle of other Southern "legends" (most of whom are absolute strangers to me, but hey! Everyone's heard of Loretta Lynn, right?) for a full album of country, bluegrass and blues.

And it works!

While it most closely resembles his 1986 LP King Of America, even that's a bit of a stretch. America utilized country and bluegrass influences to craft the tunes on the record; Secret, Profane and Sugarcane attempts to recreate these genres as genuinely as possible.

From the straightforward blues of "Sulfur and Sugarcane" to the mopey country of "I Felt the Chill Before the Winter Came," the album is devoid of any true missteps. The record is essentially unblemished; each song is as good as it's preceding tune, yet it's still hard to imagine casual fans latching on to the work as much more than an intriguing listen.

Rather than manifesting itself as a cheap novelty-a ditch that a coffee-shop bluegrass album could easily have fallen into-the album is a testament to the seeming fact that Elvis Costello can play just about any style of music he chooses and make it sound both authentic and strikingly original.

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The Daily Californian, June 4, 2009


Bryan Gerhart reviews Secret, Profane & Sugarcane.


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