REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Pretty self-explanatory
Neil.
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REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby Neil. » Wed May 06, 2009 5:58 am

Hi all,

I'm not one who minds 'spoilers' of a new album - I don't think music is the same as movies, where there's not the same concept of plot points being given away before you've seen the film.

However, some people don't want to know anything before hearing an album themselves, which is fair enough.

For those of us who don't mind, would anyone who's heard the new album post their reviews here? Thanks! John Foyle, you said you've heard it - so come on: I want the full lowdown!

Cheers,

Neil

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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby Neil. » Wed May 06, 2009 6:04 am

By the way, Buzz posted this review in an earlier thread, but I'm placing it here in the 'spoiler' thread to kick things off!

"Thanks Neil for your prompting but like good wine these things take time to listen and digest. So here's my offering of a review of the new album, don't forget I have no credits or lyrics to go by (other than what you good people online have already ascertined) So here's my first ever album review, enjoy!

When EC included the brilliant Impatience as the throw away bonus track of North it was clear that he was a musical craftsman who could turn his hand to any musical genre. We may still be awaiting the great Latin album but with Secret, Profane & Sugarcane he shows that an attention to musical detail can reap enormous dividends. The prospect of songs spanning 10 years, recorded in 3 days was unnerving (could these songs hold together as a single work?), songs that were further divided by culture as well as style. However it is this division and contradiction that makes this a quintessentially EC album as well as breaking new ground with a sonic harmony that is a T-Bone’s speciality (Scarlet Tide would not be out of place here).

The orchestral crafting of the 4 secret songs included here (She Handed Me A Mirror, How Deep is the Red (without Andersen’s opening verse), She Was No Good, Red Cotton) is used for all compositions and show great thought and planning and nothing left to chance. The playing and use of the instruments to colour the composition is exquisite. His voice is prominent throughout, leading the melody and the accompanying musical performances highlight and contrast moments in the narratives as they unfold. Within these stories there are the usual cast of miscreants and the lovelorn that are close to or well past the limit of self control. The sin of the individual (Hidden Shame, I Felt the Chill) and the guilt of the collective (Red Cotton) are ingrained in this work, with these themes spanning continents and time. His descriptions of slavery and the association of England and the American South with the crime offer deep regret without becoming preachy or shallow.

All this is encapsulated in a thoroughly Southern American sound of country, cajun and rootsy rock. The Crooked Line makes me want to yee-ha well before EC goes for broke and conjures up an image of music out of doors pleasing the dancing folk. Passion is never far from his mind, be it murderous (Complicated Shadows) or romantic (My All Time Doll) but the characters find themselves locked in self-imposed (I Dreamed Of My Old Lover) or literal prisons, ambivalent about escape or liberation from their demons. Never does EC depart from the script to rant and rave, no Button My Lip or Dissolve here to cause any dissonance; he keeps it all in control showing mastery and self awareness.

Fans can also be harsh critics and there are brief moments of disquiet. There a couple of tracks when his voice weakens and maybe the 3 day recording time was too much for his vocal chords as time drew to a close. Thankfully Emmylou in The Crooked Line saves the day as her vocal fades in mid phrase. Furthermore She Was No Good opens like a nursery rhyme ends abruptly without conclusion.

SP&S is a thoroughly satisfying listen and the culmination of many years of hints and aspirations, with the colour red and its symbolic resonance appearing continually. The predominantly acoustic sound should soar even further when taken to a live stage with Down among the Wines and Spirits and Sulphur to Sugarcane (Oh the women in Columbus!) expanded from their solo performances previewed in recent shows. Do I hear the Archies in there? The upcoming gigs with the Sugarcanes should be highly enjoyable as this is music meant to be played live. His quote of ending his shows with Changing Partners would be a fitting round up and one in which the love filled EC lets his feelings truly show."

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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby johnfoyle » Wed May 06, 2009 6:19 am

My words of wisdom will be forthcoming - when I get the time!

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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby johnfoyle » Thu May 07, 2009 7:02 am

Costello biographer Graeme Thomson is trying to get into 'Secrets...' -



http://ishotamaninrenobook.blogspot.com ... f-new.html

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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby johnfoyle » Sat May 09, 2009 6:08 pm


Jim Lauderdale
is singing close vocal harmony on every song this record. He's mastered that art of singing the second line without ever pulling attention from the narrator of the tale. I can't say enough about the tone and timbre that he adds to mine on every line he hits.



It's proving difficult to write about this album. My excessive familiarity with Elvis' work means it's hard to step back from it and regard it as merely a collection of songs. All I can offer, as a result, is an attempt at an instinctive response.

I like it. Elvis sings quietly and the musicians paint a pretty sound picture. What really engages is Jim Lauderdale's vocal contribution. Quoted above is Elvis' journal comment about Jim's contribution. 'Close vocal harmony' is a bit excessive as description. Jim kind of mutters along. It kept reminding me a hearing audience members singing the occasional line or two of a song as it's being performed. In this case the effect is kind of subliminal. If the song is making someone sing along, a casual listener may think, it must be good.

Other aspects become apparent when the listener gets distracted, increasing concentration on something being read , noticing someone passing outside the window etc. What draws you back is some semi-scat singing by Elvis towards the end of a few tracks, particularly My All Time Doll and How Deep Is The Red. It's easy to conjure up a sense of the artists in the studio just going for it, getting lost in the song.

The many themes in the album are encapsulated in Elvis' journal -

http://elviscostello.com/news/journal.php

Sometimes I think it actually steals a little from the listener to say exactly what a song contains.

There are undeniable threads and themes of rivers and oceans traveled, of bondage and guilt, of shame and retribution, of piety, profanity, lust and love, though only the last of these is absolute. There are always contradictions. The music offers the way out. It offers the way home.


My , yet again, 'excessive familiarity ' allows me to agree with this. The fact that the compositions date back over a c.15 year period means it is possible to marry up many of the themes with more soap opera elements of Elvis' life in that period. I Dreamed Of My Old Lover is especially intriguing , given it's debut in 1999 , parallel with the demise of his then relationship. Armed as it is with an intention as a narrative for a female character it needs only a change of gender to make it especially poignant. Or maybe I'm just seeing too much in it. Now, maybe, you see my point about not being able to step back etc.

The one track that just doesn't work,for me, is She Was No Good . It's rather abrupt ending tells the tale, in that the song is really an extract from a longer song in the Secret Songs show. The memory of that more substantial piece just will not allow a ready acceptance of this version. It's puzzling that Elvis didn't feel able to tidy up , as it were , this song. He does with Red Cotton , the last four lines of which were not in the version done in Denmark in '05.

And that , for the moment , are my thoughts on the new album.

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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby Neil. » Mon May 11, 2009 6:53 am

Thanks John - a pretty low-key response. Any standout tracks? Any classic ballad to stand with his greats?

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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby johnfoyle » Mon May 11, 2009 5:02 pm

'Low-key' as it may be it's as honest a response as I , right now, can provide. I'm just too imbued in the work. Having been listening to it for a few weeks I'm - whisper it! - getting a little bored with it. It got that way with Momofuku. Then, after not hearing it for a few months , I played it in full a few weeks ago and I found myself hearing and liking sounds that I just did not remember.

Such a seemingly cavalier attitude to Elvis' work is , in a way , something that a Costello fan should feel able to adopt , most likely with the man himself's blessing. For a long time his work has not been my primary listening. Sure I listen to at least one of his albums at some point during a week. Strewn , however, in the debris around the various sound systems I use ( I still don't use a ipod)are the works of many others. At work, this week, I have the first two Soft Machine albums, Mundy's new album and a Rudy Van Gelder remaster of some Jazz album from the 1950's. At home you'll see John Barry's Hanover Street soundtrack, a Frank Sinatra ep. I got in a junk shop , a Ravel collection, Dublin group The Villagers debut 4 track release , a Merge records tribute compilation and a pile more that I'm afraid to touch in case it topples over! Many of these releases are by artists that Elvis has lead me too. Soft Machine via Robert Wyatt , Sinatra via a early 'fave album ' feature etc. Just like the line some fast food outlets give about ensuring their product is incorporated into a balanced diet it's good to listen as widely as you can.

Standout tracks ? Right now lines My All Time Doll and How Deep Is The Red are repeating themselves in my head and I haven't had a chance to listen to the album today - so something about them must be catchy!

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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby Otis Westinghouse » Tue May 12, 2009 3:47 pm

Full page Paul Du Noyer review in new Word. Can't scan, I'm afraid. Pretty positive. Some very funny stuff about the town name rhyming bit he changed nightly when touring in the US, Poghkeepsie rhyming ewith Tipsy, etc., and suggestions about doing this in the UK, 'Aberystwyth' and 'pissed with' etc. 'Down Among the Wine and Spirits' a welcome inclusion on accompanying CD, and very wonderful it sounds too. It has the T Bone seal of quality and authenticity all over it.
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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby martinfoyle » Wed May 13, 2009 10:13 am

John Kelly just played She Handed Me A Mirror. The show should be streaming again some time after 16:30 BST at

http://www.rte.ie/lyricfm/player_av.htm ... yr-jk.smil

and will be repeated at 01:00 BST tomorrow morning.

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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby sweetest punch » Wed May 13, 2009 12:08 pm

martinfoyle wrote:John Kelly just played She Handed Me A Mirror. The show should be streaming again some time after 16:30 BST at

http://www.rte.ie/lyricfm/player_av.htm ... yr-jk.smil

and will be repeated at 01:00 BST tomorrow morning.


The song is at 01:13:15 in the show.
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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby johnfoyle » Thu May 14, 2009 6:46 am

The Word review, by Paul Du Noyer, starts ' Elvis Costello has made an immaculate piece of Deep South " Victoriana"...' so he seems to like it. T Bone says the usual stuff , including the news that after recording the album last April ' we put it away and I didn't listen to it again for a year'. Since some of us got preview copies at the start of April this year, perhaps it wasn't an entire year but it's an interesting way of doing things. It seems the mixing etc. only happened this year.

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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby Butts » Fri May 15, 2009 3:28 pm

and the free Word CD contains "Down Among The Wine and Spirits".

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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby Ypsilanti » Sat May 16, 2009 7:18 pm

The Word review, by Paul Du Noyer, starts ' Elvis Costello has made an immaculate piece of Deep South "Victoriana"...' so he seems to like it.


I remember when I saw Elvis with the PECO Pops Orchestra in Philadelphia in 2007--right before he sang the un-amplified version of Couldn't Call it Unexpected #4, he talked about how his "next album" was going to be like that--as free from technology as possible, like something from the 19th Century.

I guess he got sidetracked by Momofuku, but it seems that he's been thinking about this kind of album for quite a while.
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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby johnfoyle » Wed May 20, 2009 4:54 pm

Acting on the assumption that anyone who really wants this magazine will have ordered/received their copy , here's the first print review of S,P&S-


The Word , June '09

Our Man In Savannah


By Paul Du Noyer

Elvis Costello has made an immaculate piece of Deep South "Victoriana". Which prompts the question: when you go off-piste so often, is there any such thing as a side project?

ELVIS COSTELLO CAME UP WITH a great ruse on his recent US tour. He has a new song, called Sulphur To Sugarcane, about a philandering politician, the sort of sweating good of boy that Randy Newman used to specialise in. Every night Costello would add new lines, impugning the morals of each town's ladies. Women in Poughkeepsie, for example, "take their clothes off when they're tipsy". (It helps if you know how to pronounce Poughkeepsie.) Meanwhile, in Ypsilanti, "they don't wear any panties". The girls in Iowa City "form a welcoming committee." And those of Albany, New York, "love the filthy way of talk". There are plenty more. Apparently it always went down a storm.

Which makes you wonder: could he do the same on a British tour? The females of Bude, one imagines, would be guaranteed to feature, should his schedule stretch to the north Cornish coast. And in the town of Aberystwyth, no doubt, "there are girls you can get pissed with". And so we ask: will Costello rise to the challenge?

Anyway, Sulphur To Sugarcane is probably the jolliest Costello song ever, not that jollity was ever his trademark. Its gently honky-tonk rhythm feels a t home on what is basically a country record. Which means that Secret,Profane & Sugarcane isn't quite a"standard" Costello release – but what is, these days? Collaborations with Allen Toussaint and Anne Sofie van Otter, with Burt Bacharach and the Brodsky Quartet, have taken him to nearly every corner of musical possibility. When he made his first career detour, going to Nashville for 1981's country LP Almost Blue, it seemed like a side-project. But given the sheer range and workrate of latterday Costello, there really are no "side-projects" now. The journey is the destination.

He's back in Nashville this time, with a rag bag of songs (a Bing Crosby cover, an old song of his own, some pieces for an unfinished chamber opera, other stuff for other artists). There unified, though, by the small group of plyers the fact that he bashed it all out in just three days It’s coherent and vigorous, and never sounds labored. Its lyrics are clever, but not too dense. Actually this is some of the easiest listening he's ever come up with. It helps that it's largely an acoustic record, the first he's done since King of America in 1986. His producer, then as now is T Bone Burnett, while the musicians are from the same pool of rootsy expertise that makes America the only proper place to record Americana.

But it's a rather Victorian Americana . The Dobro guitar, the mandolin, some fiddle and double bass, are very old-time touches. The songs are as sepia-toned as The Decemberists . I'm only sorry that HBO have cancelled their, splendid Wild West series Deadwood., for these tracks would have sounded fantastic over the closing credits, amid that 19th-century frontier world of half-remembered British folk songs, carefully formal language and uncomfortable London clothes.

More explicitly there is the American South with tales of riverboats and slave plantations and songs written for Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash (including a re-worked version of Complicated Shadows), mostly stuffed with Biblical guilt and washed down with alcohol. Hidden Shame is a typical instance, serving us guns, the gallows and Judgment Day. It's not entirely backwoods gothic, though, for on the lighter side are some romantic charmers, including an old Bing Crosby waltz called Changing Partner. It’s possibly the sort of number Costello would have witnessed from the wings of the Hammersmith Palais, where as a child he watched his father sing with the Joe Loss Orchestra.

The country tag may lead some fans to avoid Secret, Profane & Sugarcane. Which would be a pity, as it offers some of Costello's most touching songs in years. Especially poignant are four tracks from an unfinished song cycle for the Royal Danish Opera, concerning the 1850 visit to America of Sweden's famed singer Jenny Lind, who left behind her lovelorn admirer, the writer Hans Christian Anderson.Among these four is the exquisite She Handed Me A Mirror, inspired by the legend that Lind made Anderson look at his own ugly reflection to understand why she would never be his. The tongue-tied misfit and the unattainable woman were once a staple Elvis theme, but the tenderness of feeling is quite different here.Just to finish poor Anderson,Jenny Lind adds "the crushing word... Friend”.

The unfortunate Andersen sought solace in his strange world of fairy tales. Perhaps he just couldn’t find a rude word that rhymed with Sweden.

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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby johnfoyle » Thu May 21, 2009 12:58 am

http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment ... 06518.html

May. 20, 2009

New music: Country-flavored Costello on ‘Secret, Profane & Sugarcane’

By TIMOTHY FINN
The Kansas City Star

Elvis Costello’s new album, “Secret, Profane & Sugarcane,” has a warm and organic sound. It was produced by T Bone Burnett, the mastermind behind “Raising Sand” by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant.

Secret, Profane & Sugarcane” is technically a country album — in the way a lot of albums produced by T Bone Burnett are country.

The arrangements are rustic, the instrumentation says bluegrass or country blues (dobro, double bass, mandolin, fiddle, accordion) and the list of guests includes Jim Lauderdale, Jerry Douglas and Emmylou Harris. And Loretta Lynn’s name is in the liner notes.

“Sugarcane” is the latest Elvis Costello album, and it’d be nice to report that Burnett has repackaged him as he did Alison Krauss and Robert Plant on “Raising Sand,” which won a Hummer-full of Grammys this year. But that’s not the case.

“Sugarcane” sounds like an Elvis Costello album, just one flavored with some appealing acoustic country, blues and near-jazz refinements. Of all the albums in his vast catalog, it most resembles “Almost Blue,” his homage to country music, and the sparkling “King of America,” though it’s not quite as excellent overall as either.

The album has 13 songs. Costello and Burnett co-wrote two (“Sulphur to Sugarcane” and “The Crooked Line”); so did Costello and Loretta Lynn (the lovely waltz “I Felt the Chill”). And it ends with a cover of “Changing Partners,” which was written by Lawrence Coleman and Joseph Daron but made popular by Bing Crosby.

Several of Costellos’ songs have been hanging around for a while. Johnny Cash recorded “Hidden Shame” for his “Boom Chica Boom” album in 1990. And four other tunes, including “How Deep Is the Red,” are affiliated with “The Secret Songs,” his musical about the life of Hans Christian Andersen and his love affair with the opera soprano Jenny Lind.

The music here is the primary attraction. Burnett has performed his usual magic, concocting a sound that is warm and organic — melancholy with sweetness and soul. Costello’s voice is also true throughout. He has written better, or at least tighter, songs, however. Nothing here pops and crackles like his best earliest material.

Only once, during the bluegrass tune “Hidden Shame,” does the pace reach a gallop. Most of the rest is midtempo balladry that casts a soothing, lambent mood — and none better than “The Crooked Line,” featuring harmonies from Lauderdale and Harris.

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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby johnfoyle » Thu May 21, 2009 12:59 am


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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby sheeptotheslaughter » Thu May 21, 2009 1:48 am

johnfoyle wrote:http://dylanisbell.blogspot.com/2009/05/elvis-costello.html

Sounds like Elvis has been on the helium.


The Album received 4/5 in the OMM last sunday. Only a very small review

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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby Ypsilanti » Thu May 21, 2009 6:03 am

Wow!
OK. So Timothy Finn of the Kansas City Star is an idiot. That was a lazy, bullshit review and it really pissed me off when I read it. Maybe he's a high-school kid interning at the newspaper.

Really? It would have been better if Elvis had been "re-packaged" like Robert Plant? First of all, I don't even know what that would consist of. And it's not like Elvis has been running around in purple spandex pants and elf boots, squealing about Hobbits for the last 30 years.

He actually makes it seem like a negative that the record sounds like an Elvis Costello Album. What????

And this thing where reviewers constantly compare Elvis to himself in 1978...that just really bugs the crap out of me.
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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby johnfoyle » Thu May 21, 2009 6:26 am

The Hot Press ( Dublin) , June 3 '09

(scanned from print edition)

COLM O'HARE

4/5 stars

Twenty-five years after they first toured together as The Coward Brothers, Elvis Costello and T-Bone Burnett re-unite for what is widely being flagged as a natural successor to the Burnett-produced 1986 album King of America.

However, anyone expecting King Of America part two is in for a disappointment, albeit a pleasant one. With no electric instruments - at least none that can be heard - or drums, this is as pared-down, acoustic and intimate as it gets. Recorded over just three days in Nashville with the cream of the city's bluegrass players, including Alison Krauss-sidekick Jerry Douglas (dobro), Stuart Duncan (fiddle & banjo), Mike Compton (mandolin), Dennis Crouch (bass) and Jeff Taylor (accordion), it comes across as a live album without an audience. While the songs are written and performed in a traditional country style, this being Costello, there's a sting in the tail. 'I FeltThe Chill', a dark ballad (written with Loretta Lynn), is Costello at his biting best, while 'She Handed Me A Mirror' is described by the writer as,"for any misfit in love with an unattainable woman."

He has rarely sounded as angry and bitter as on 'My All Time Doll', which recalls the mood of 'l Want You' (from Blood & Chocolate): "You're not there, you're never around or is it mee... my heart is beating like a whip on a hide and it's raining outside." A couple of songs will be familiar - he resurrects 'Hidden Shame', written for Johnny Cash's 1989 album Boom Chicka Boom, while 'Complicated Shadows' (also written for Cash but never recorded) appeared on All This Useless Beauty.
The musicianship and arrangements are immaculate throughout and Costello's vocal performance is what we have come to expect. Jim Lauderdale adds close harmony on every song, with Emmylou Harris joining the ensemble forthe jaunty, Cajun-sounding 'The Crooked Line', another highlight on what is arguably his best album in years (depending on how you like your Elvis Costello).

Sure to be in the top ten lists at the end of '09.

KEY TRACK: "MY ALL TIME DOLL

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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby Butts » Fri May 22, 2009 5:11 pm

4 stars out of 5 from Phil Sutcliffe and Mojo.

Costello takes his mighty word power back to Nashville

Tough to match his Noughties triumphs When I Was Cruel, North and The Delivery Man, but Costello has again hauled material from diverse regions of his writing life - including the Hans Christian Andersen folk opera, naturally - into a strangely cohesive cornucopia. This time his verbal deluge is embraced by a traditional (drum-free) group of great Nashville acoustic players. They listen their way into a beautiful, self-effacing country-folk accompaniment that sustains whatever Costello's harsh voice throws at it. So, together, they delicately plumb the deep, veiled uncertainties of I Felt The Chill or I Dreamed Of My Old Lover, but then step lightly into Bing Crosby's sweet 1954 waltz, Changing Partners, or Costello's coarse travelogue, Sulphur To Sugarcane.

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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby KLynB » Sat May 23, 2009 12:58 am

7/10 from Shannon Zimmerman of Spin (June 2009, not on line yet):

Caffeinated polymath pays visit to Nashville

Elvis Costello has always been an idiom savant, pinballing through arsenic-laced pub rock (My Aim Is True), amphetamine-addled soul (Get Happy!!), and highbrow chamber pop (The Juliet Letters). His latest showcases another readymade style: dirt-floor Americana. Pairing with producer T-Bone Burnett (who helmed 1986's rootsy antecedent King of America) and a distinguished pickup band of country heavyweights, he gives his typically fussed-over tunes a tent-revival authority. With alchemical highlights that include back-porch foot-stompers ("Hidden Shame"), torchy weepers ("I Felt The Chill"), and a tenderhearted, set-closing waltz ("Changing Partners"), Secret testifies to the merits of aging gracefully.

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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby johnfoyle » Sat May 23, 2009 6:51 am

http://www.uncut.co.uk/music/elvis_cost ... iews/13117

Uncut June '09

BUD SCOPPA


When Elvis Costello and T-Bone Burnett first crossed acoustic guitars in 1984 in the guise of the Coward Brothers, each was seeking a new direction. Costello’s run with the Attractions, which had churned along so forcefully for a half decade, was running out of steam, as the title of 1983’s largely dreary Punch The Clock intimated, while Burnett had found his singer-songwriter hat to be ill-fitting. They shared a passion for what Burnett refers to as traditional American music, and each was engaged by the other’s fierce intellect. So they hit the road as a duo, in the process clearing their palates of accumulated residue.

The pairing re-energised Costello as a songwriter within the context of roots idioms, while cementing Burnett’s new role as studio collaborator. This opening up of new possibilities led to 1985’s King Of America, a “renegade” record, as Burnett described it, on which the neophyte producer (who’d established himself in a big way with Los Lobos’ 1984 landmark How Will The Wolf Survive?) paired Costello with members of Elvis Presley’s road band. While the LP reassured the critics, it failed to gain commercial traction, motivating Burnett to go for a smash when he once again took the helm for 1989’s Spike. The partners’ focused efforts resulted in the biggest album of Costello’s three-decade career.

Twenty years after their last performances as a duo, Costello and Burnett dusted off the Coward Brothers nameplate for a set at a 2006 San Francisco bluegrass festival. They were backed by three stalwarts of the genre, all Burnett regulars: fiddler Stuart Duncan, mandolin player Mike Comptonand standup bassist Dennis Crouch. It proved to be a foreshadowing moment: two years later, the three pickers, along with dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas, gathered in Studio A at Nashville’s righteously old-school Sound Emporium – where Burnett and his brilliant engineer Mike Piersante had cut the soundtracks to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Cold Mountain and Walk The Line, along with Robert Plant & Alison Krauss’ modern-day classic Raising Sand – to record Secret, Profane & Sugarcane.

A far cry from 1981’s Almost Blue, Costello’s initial foray into hillbilly Southern music, the LP belongs instead to Burnett’s oeuvre, what New York Times critic John Pareles has dubbed American magical realism. The seemingly straightforward premise involved dropping selected Costello songs and vocals into string band settings, cutting live to analogue tape and documenting whatever fireworks ensued.

The X factor would, of course, be Costello himself, starting with the songs he’d selected and presented to Burnett, and crucially extending to his vocal performances, which, left alone, would obliterate the acoustic overtones Burnett and Piersante sought to capture. The producer’s rigorous methodology, which involves recording softly and playing back loud, could have been designed with Costello in mind, given his tendency in recent years to go off the deep end in the climactic moments of songs – the equivalent of a string of exclamation marks when a simple ellipsis would have been sufficient.

In those instances when Costello resorts to bellowing – on the title refrain of “How Deep Is The Red” and the following “She Was No Good”, a pair of art songs from Costello’s 2005 Hans Christian Anderson commission for the Royal Danish Opera – the effect is lugubrious, stopping the record in its tracks. Happily, Costello otherwise manages to work within the constraints the subtle but intricate arrangements demand, deftly supported by the shadowing harmonies of Jim Lauderdale, which warm Costello’s attack considerably while remaining all but subliminal.

The most energised songs leave the deepest impressions. “Hidden Shame,” written for and cut byJohnny Cash, is viscerally percussive despite the absence of a drummer. “Complicated Shadows”, originally recorded with the briefly reunited Attractions for 1996’s All This Useless Beauty, and “My All Time Doll” share a noir-ish edginess that benefits from the interplay of the band’s fingerpicked rhythmic intensity and Costello’s restrained delivery. The delightful “Sulphur To Sugarcane”, a Burnett co-write in the spirit of Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere”, is little more than a litany of the names of US towns, salted with speculation about the undergarments (or lack thereof) of their female inhabitants.Emmylou Harris adds her burnished alto to the other Burnett co-write, “The Crooked Line,” which sashays like Johnny’n’June’s “Ring Of Fire”.

“Red Cotton”, the last of the Andersen songs, is the most gripping ballad entry, functioning as a sort of sequel to Randy Newman’s “Sail Away”, while “Changing Partners”, which Costello learned from aBing Crosby record, closes the album on a classic note.

The songs are for the most part sharply serviceable, if not indelible, the playing impeccable, the sounds as overtone-rich and immediate as we’ve come to expect from Burnett and Piersante. Most crucially, Costello manages – apart from the previously cited cringe-worthy lapses – to play along with Burnett’s in-soft/out-LOUD approach, making this his most engaging album in a very long time.
Last edited by johnfoyle on Mon Jun 01, 2009 2:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Miclewis
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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby Miclewis » Sat May 23, 2009 9:31 am

It is amazing how you can tell that these various music reviewers only listen to an album once; and then it seems like they are not even concentrating on the album during that first listen.

They pick out the most "accessible" songs, and seem to ignore the great tracks that need multiple listens to unveil their greatness. As great as "The Crooked Line" is, it doesn't have the artistic depth of songs like "I Felt a Chill" or 'She Handed Me a Mirror". Don't get me wrong, I'm not insulting "the Crooked Line'. It is just that it is more instantly appreciated, and the listener doesn't have to work as hard to have the song reveal itself. And, obviously the music critics are too lazy to try to put in the extra effort to fully review an art form.

It is comparable to a movie reviewer reviewing a movie on the basis of whether the audience will like it, and not on its true artistic value.

Thankfully, in the SPandS reviews, it seems that the critics finally came around to fully appreciate "King of America". It only took them 23 years.

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Ypsilanti
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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby Ypsilanti » Sat May 23, 2009 4:16 pm

They pick out the most "accessible" songs, and seem to ignore the great tracks that need multiple listens to unveil their greatness.


That's totally true. Music critics--Grrrr! So often they are just phoning it in. And many EC songs really do require attention and careful listening. The rewards are huge, of course, but you have to make the effort. And since music critics are getting paid to listen, they ought not be so lazy.

For me, sometimes the songs are too much to handle right away. Some are so damn heartbreaking or unflinching about political & social issues that it takes me a while to come to terms with them ("After The Fall", "Country Darkness", Pills & Soap"...). "Red Cotton" is definitely in this category. I can't get the melody out of my head today, but the lyrics are really upsetting--it's a brilliant song, don't get me wrong. And I'm going to love it. Maybe it will even become my favorite from this record. But it's going to take several plays before it's ceases to be emotionally overwhelming.
So I keep this fancy to myself
I keep my lipstick twisted tight

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Re: REVIEWS: Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Postby johnfoyle » Sun May 24, 2009 10:14 am

http://www.freep.com/article/20090524/ENT04/905240649

Detroit Free Press

Martin Bandyke • May 24, 2009

Elvis Costello has such wide-ranging musical tastes and interests that it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to hear him working with a bunch of top bluegrass musicians on "Secret, Profane and Sugarcane" (***, out June 2 on Hear Music).

There's a strong Tom Waits undercurrent to "My All Time Doll," which features sterling accompaniment by Stuart Duncan (fiddle) and Mike Compton (mandolin). Elvis does a nice reinterpretation of "Complicated Shadows," a song he originally did with his former band the Attractions on the 1996 release "All This Useless Beauty." Dobro master Jerry Douglas is outstanding on "Hidden Shame," which was written for and originally recorded by Johnny Cash.

The disc was recorded quickly in Nashville with producer T-Bone Burnett, and Costello sounds both inspired and at ease throughout. The appearance of vocalist Emmylou Harris on "The Crooked Line" is icing on the cake.


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