Black Music Matters Festival

Elvis Costello

Secret, Profane & Sugarcane – 2009 (Hear Music)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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CDs by Elvis Costello

When Elvis Costello released "King of America" back in 1986, he spoke as an enlightened European. ("He thought he was the King of America/Where they pour Coca Cola just like vintage wine."). Now, more than 20 years later, Costello once again revisits Americana music with producer T Bone Burnett, who also produced "King of America."

But instead of looking down his nose at the America's poor white trash, he sometimes puts himself into the ragged shoes of the Dirty South. He's an itinerant Lothario in Sulphur to Sugarcane and appalled by slavery during Red Cotton.

Costello's first attempt at country, 1981's "Almost Blue," was a mixed bag, at best, whereas "King of America" was a smashing success. From the rambunctious Glitter Gulch to the powerful pity expressed via Little Palaces, this was Costello at the top of his game, while set to a traditional beat. But "Secret, Profane & Sugarcane" highlights are much harder to come by. Granted, Hidden Shame gallops along nicely, while I Felt the Chill is yet one more heartbreaking Costello ballad. Yet too many of these songs come off like filler - albeit better than average filler. A propensity to escape fidelity, as expressed via I Dreamed of My Old Lover for instance just doesn't contain the same immediate lyrical bite as found on older, but better, Costello music. Costello is just too innately sharp to come off so alternately dull.