To fans who didn’t expect it and to those who can’t open up their minds to his experiment, Elvis Costello’s latest LP, Almost Blue, will be a disappointment.
It has been Costello’s dream for some time to record a country-music album, and he finally accomplishes his goals here. Surprisingly, Costello is quite a capable country singer, and some strong material makes the album quite pleasurable.
Country music is a great departure from what Costello normally docs. The angry voice and the urgent new wave material is absent from Almost Blue. Yet, if the LP is taken on country music terms, it turns out to be pretty good.
Costello has said that he never recorded country music before because lie feared that an Englishman could not be taken seriously by Nashville fans. He felt that his voice would not go over well enough on the country material. It is Costello’s emotional vocal treatment of the songs that is the highlight of his new album, however.
Almost Blue is all country standards, highlighted by "A Good Year for the Roses" and Merle Haggard’s "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down." "Roses," a sad tale of a broken marriage, is the archetypical country song, perfectly sung by Costello.
Unfortunately, Costello chose not to write any new material for Almost Blue. Songs such as "Radio Sweetheart" and "Stranger In the House" that appeared on Costello’s Taking Liberties album and "Different Finger" on Trust are some of the best songs Elvis has written and show his potential as a country songwriter. Perhaps if he had written a few tunes for Almost Blue, the LP might be stronger.
After "Roses," "Sweet Dreams" and "Bottle," the LP falls a bit flat. The material and the renditions are thoroughly acceptable, but with the bright potential of someone as brilliant as Costello, more is expected.
At worst, Almost Blue serves as an introduction to some of the higher points of country music for fans of new wave rock. At best, Almost Blue is a bold experiment by a thoroughly imaginative songwriter.