Dig this. Elvis Costello, a pioneering artist in the New Wave style, famous for his impeccable compositions and punchy delivery, has crossed over to achieve the seemingly impossible. Yes, all the talk is true. El has recorded an album full of Country Music standards — without a single original tune — and has pulled it off. Almost Blue is quite an achievement and as entertaining an album as can be found.
The reasons for recording this album may have included Costello's much publicized friendship with country great George Jones (two of Jones' songs are included) or maybe Elvis just needed the challenge. It doesn't matter. Fun was reason enough to make Almost Blue — and fun it is.
Side one opens with a raveup version of Hank Williams' "Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used to Do)." Elvis and his band, the Attractions, let loose a lovingly rowdy rendition of this classic. Hank would have been proud. "Success," "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down," and Jones' "Brown to Blue" are other standouts on side one. The band's performance and Costello's vocals shift from song to song without apparent effort. By the final strains of "Brown to Blue," I began to marvel at Costello's newfound dimension.
The flip side begins with a remarkably beautiful version of "A Good Year for the Roses" and surges into Charlie Rich's "Sittin' and Thinkin'" which, of course, Costello embellishes with a unique charm. The boys get a chance to pick up the beat toward the end with a rollicking "Honey Hush." Doobie Brother John McFee adds his talent here, and throughout the record, on pedal steel and lead guitar. His delightful play makes it seem as if McFee were one of the Attractions all along.
Elvis Costello has made his versatile talent manifest with the release of Almost Blue. I must admit to having greeted the record with a fair amount of skepticism, being a fan of the creations of Costello's other personality. Elvis does, however, deliver these 12 country cryin' songs to the delight of this reviewer and, I am sure, soon to that of America. I've figured out why the word "blue" was qualified in the title — I never realized feeling sorry for oneself could be so much fun.