The Attractions, the Imposters, the Brodsky Quartet, the Confederates and now the Sugarcanes. Is Elvis Costello finally going sweet on the world. Or perhaps just letting his old-timey bluegrass love blossom.
His latest project, Secret Profane & Sugarcane finds the bespectacled Brit reconceiving a group of previously released or written tunes tracked into a loose concept of tales of old-time carneys and bizarre love triangles such as the one between Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, the Swedish opera diva Jenny Lind and Mr. Circus himself, P.T. Barnum. Working with a better-than-fine band including Nashville session legend Jerry Douglas on dobro, the fantastic Jim Lauderdale on harmony vocals (and opening most of the tour) and other glitter-city session aces such as Dennis Crouch on double bass, Mike Compton on mandolin, fiddler Stuart Douglas and accordionist Jeff Taylor, Costello is at his most melodramatic and folkie on the album.
It appears to be exactly the formula that the fans were looking for from the once-angry Mr. Diana Krall. The album entered the charts at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, the highest chart position of any Costello release since — brace for it, as I still can't believe it — 1980's still awesome Get Happy. Perhaps this is due to the deep American roots of both the song's content and the musical style invoked in delivering them. Or maybe Costello was dead on the mark with Almost Blue and it just took a long time for his fans to come around to the new-wave artist as a country crooner.
He certainly has proved he has the pipes to do almost anything in concert, and reviews of the shows along this tour suggest that it is one of the loosest and most laid-back that he's ever done. Also, for fans of acoustic slide, rags from the New York Times to online country fanzines can't shut up about how much great jamming time is allotted to Douglas, in particular, and the rest of the band. You may never have thought of "Watching the Detectives" as a square-dance tune; think again.