Saturday, 2 June 2018

Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Almost Blue (1981)

The lawn could stand another mowing....

  

Released October 1981

Recorded in Nashville

Running time 32.35

When this was released, in 1981, the album actually carried a sticker that read “WARNING: This album contains country & western music and may cause offence to narrow minded listeners.” Many punks and new wavers were appalled by the fact that their anti-hero had released and album of Country and Western covers. Motown? Sure. Northern Soul? No problem. Rock n Roll/Rockabilly? Ok, maybe. But Country And Western? You're having a laugh, aren'tcha? Many fans pretended to like it at the time, like me I guess, just as we had with David Bowie's Pin Ups.

The move was a perverse thing that would prove to be relatively commonplace in Costello's subsequent career - he went on to dabble in folk, classical, jazz and easy-listening as well, but do do this with a deeply uncool genre in 1981 took the biscuit for nerve and sheer bloody-mindedness. Costello said that "anyone who can string together three chords can play rock 'n' roll", or something like that, saying that he wanted to push himself and the band beyond current constrictions. However, I'm not sure the gentle strum of country music would provide such a stimulus.

Costello had also stated that "maybe I could just get away from myself for a while and throw the light on the emotional side of what I do...". He had always liked a tear-jerker of a ballad, and country music offered him plenty of them. Although all the songs on here are covers, the genre would continue to influence his songwriting over subsequent years. He didn't want to get too far away from what The Attractions were doing, though, and made it clear to the band that this was just a brief diversion.

TRACK LISTING (in brackets are the country artists who originally recorded them)


1. Why Don't You Love Me Like You Used To Do (Hank Williams)
2. Sweet Dreams (Patsy Cline & Loretta Lynn)
3. Success (Loretta Lynn)
4. I'm Your Toy (The Flying Burrito Brothers)
5. Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down (Merle Haggard)
6. Brown To Blue (George Jones)
7. Good Year For The Roses (George Jones)
8. Sittin' And Thinkin' (Charlie Rich)
9. Colour Of The Blues (George Jones)
10. Too Far Gone (Tammy Wynette)
11. Honey Hush (Big Joe Turner)
12. How Much I Lied (Gram Parsons)                                       

Actually, I always liked the single releases Good Year For The Roses and Sweet Dreams and also the frantic, bluesy Honey Hush and the melodic, piano-driven Gram Parsons cover, How Much I Lied.

The frantic opener, Why Don't You Love Me Like You Used To Do had lots of appeal too. It had an irresistible attack and energy to it that was almost, well, dare I say punky. If anyone thought Costello was going to be tamed in Nashville, as maybe Bob Dylan had been for Nashville Skyline, this sort of proved them wrong, as too did Honey Hush.

As the years have passed, however, I have found I have come to appreciate the others like Brown To Blue, Success and the archetypal country self-pity of Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down a lot more. Sittin' And Thinkin' has crept in to my consciousness as well.

I'm Your Toy is another suitably lachrymose ballad that seemed to suit Costello's delivery down to the ground. It is taken from The Flying Burrito Brothers' Gilded Palace Of Sin album where it is credited as Hot Burrito #1.

Colour Of The Blues and the moving Too Far Gone both fit the same bill too. 

Taken for what it is, a New Wave artist trying his hand at the Country & Western music he loved, it is an enjoyable effort. It is clear he knows his country music, by both his choices of songs and the respectful delivery of them. He makes this far more than just a vanity project.  Fair play to Costello for having the balls to release it at the time too. It didn't really go down to well with many people at the time, though, not that you ever got the impression that Costello really cared. He was confident enough now as an artist to plough his own furrow, and indeed has done ever since.

C+

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