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Elvis adds Worcestershire sauce.

Byline: Craig S. Semon

COLUMN: Tracks

"Secret, Profane & Sugarcane"

Elvis Costello (Hear Music)

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Worcester girls are easy, so says Elvis Costello. But they are not as easy as the women in Poughkeepsie.

On his playfully scandalous, speakeasy romp, "Sulphur to Sugarcane," Costello delivers a politically incorrect travelogue of hot-to-trot trollop stops across the United States, including our beloved Wormtown. Inspired by cities he played at during his opening slot on Bob Dylan's fall 2007 tour, Costello whimsically weaves together salacious couplets of the willingness of women in some overnight destinations to drop their knickers. In actuality, Worcester gets off easy, so to speak, as evident in the lines, "Down in Bridgeport/The woman will kill you for sport/But in Worcester, Massachusetts/They just love my sauce/The woman in Poughkeepsie/Take their clothes off when they're tipsy/But I hear in Ypsilanti /They don't wear any panties." Anyone for a road trip?

The caddish Costello is an irresistible rascal on "Sulphur to Sugarcane," but it is not all fun and games on his latest "Secret, Profane & Sugarcane." Whether it's a lousy decision we have made, a lover that we have lost who haunts us or a would-be lover who we wish would find us, Costello masterfully examines those things that have a stranglehold on one's heart, one's soul and even one's existence.

Recorded during a whirlwind three-day session in Nashville with ace session players well-versed in traditional country music and bluegrass, "Secret, Profane & Sugarcane" is Costello's first disc predominantly rooted in acoustic music since 1986's "King of America," both of which were produced by Americana roots music virtuoso T. Bone Burnett.

Falling somewhere between Bruce Springsteen's "The Hitter" and "The Wrestler," Costello weaves his impeccable storytelling skills to tell the tale of a punch-drunk palooka called back into the ring on the leadoff track, "Down Among the Wine and Spirits." In a song that could be renamed "O, Mickey Rourke Where Art Thou?," Costello's rootsy, hands-on treatment gives a stinging authenticity to this bruised knuckles, battered ego and broken dream saga.

Originally written for but never recorded by Johnny Cash, the stripped-down, chug-a-lug, reworking of "Complicated Shadows" still resonates as a compelling, cautionary tale of vigilante justice. With plenty of angry-young-man vigor and authoritative vocals, Costello is at his trigger-finger best as the jittery, out-of-time and in-your-face narrative unfolds.

The Man in Black did get to record Costello's American gothic tale "Hidden Shame." In the guise of a small-time career criminal, Costello takes us to the height of anxiety and to the heart of the action in this long-overdue, low-life confession. Accompanied by a lively, barn burning melody, Costello cathartically purges his deepest, darkest and most troubling secret, one which the listener is not prepared for.Represented in four stellar tracks, Costello's unfinished commission for the Royal Danish Opera about the life of Hans Christian Andersen focuses on the beloved fairy tales writer's feelings for 19th century, world-renowned singer sensation Jenny Lind (who was apparently the Beyonce of her day), as well as Lind's 1850 U.S. tour, put on by promoter P.T. Barnum (who was the Live Nation of his day).

"She Handed Me A Mirror" is a poetic and poignant tale of unattainable beauty and unrequited love, in which Costello has his heart crushed after hearing the object of his affection utter that dreaded word, "friend." The tension on "How Deep Is the Red" reaches perfection with its deafening silence that is so quiet and unnerving that you can hear what's left of Costello's shattered heart drop.

Inspired by an out-of-print book about Lind's 1850 All-American Tour, "She Was No Good" is a larger-than-life story that unfolds on a Mississippi riverboat with a colorful array of ruffians. Unfortunately, the song sounds too somber (and sober) for its own good, coming off as a dirge rather than the rowdy drunken tale it cries out to be. Proving once again to be a master of juxtaposition, Costello imagines Barnum reading an abolitionist pamphlet while manufacturing cheap souvenirs on "Red Cotton."

Costello joins forces with Emmylou Harris on "The Crooked Line," which, according to the artist, is the only song he has ever written about fidelity that is without any irony. Bringing the disc to an appropriate close, Costello resurrects the timeless, lovelorn waltz, "Changing Partners," which was a hit for both Patti Page and Bing Crosby in the '50s, and makes it his own.

Key to the Stars

* * * * ... Hot Stuff

* * * ... Good Job

* * ... Not Bad

* ... Never Mind


CUTLINE: Elvis Costello
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jun 25, 2009
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