Elvis Costello’s career has spanned across four decades and probably quadruple that many genres. While he made his name with the highly-melodic, energized New Wave/Rock/Pop sound of his “angry young man” years (and his subsequent, more mature Pop), he's never shied away from a musical challenge, exploring various styles, recording with string ensembles, Jazz artists and Pop songwriting maestro Burt Bacharach.
Costello, never a stranger to industry conflict, found himself juggled around during the great “label consolidation” clusterfuck and took it upon himself to wait out his record contract by recording a bunch of unexpected projects. He made a Gershwin-styled “Classical Pop” album, a set of mostly standards with singer Anne Sofie Von Otter, a Classical music album, a collaboration with R&B legend Allen Toussaint, a live album featuring a 52-piece Jazz orchestra and a couple of searing Rock n’ Roll records. This was all in the span of about eight years.
The thing about Costello is that even while exploring a style that wouldn’t necessarily be associated with him, the results are usually spectacular and unique. Credit that partly to his amazing songwriting ability, but also his scholarly knowledge of music. Costello understands the craft of composition inside and out and he seems to study intently the process and output of others, no matter what type of music they play. Anyone who caught Elvis’ Sundance Channel chat/music show, Spectacle, got to see this all first hand, as Costello worked with a wide range of special guests on covers, the guests’ own material and reworkings of his own hits.
Costello’s latest project is an acoustic, Bluegrass/Country-tinged offering, Secret, Profane and Sugarcane, which — to absolutely no one’s surprise — is another fantastic piece of work. Cut in Nashville with T Bone Burnett in just three days, EC is joined by an all-star team of Bluegrass and Country players, including Jerry Douglas and Stuart Duncan. The songs are all Costello originals (with help from Loretta Lynn and Burnett on a few tracks) and once again he manages to sound perfectly comfortable in the setting.
Early reports from the current Elvis Costello & The Sugarcanes tour (with many of the new album’s players making up the ’Canes) have been enthusiastic. The band is playing much of the new material, as well as several cover songs (everything from Velvet Underground to Merle Haggard) and some of Costello’s most famed material reworked, including “Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes” done Tex-Mex style and a slow ballad version of “Everyday I Write the Book.”
(Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.)