Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Elvis Costello - Kojak Variety (1995)


  
Released May 1995

After making a comeback with The Attractions for 1994's "Brutal Youth", Elvis Costello went back to his love of Americana for this pleasant and enjoyable enough album of cover versions of songs which if not all country rock in style were turned into such by Costello and his band. Covers albums are often a bit problematic because everyone is so familiar with the original versions of the songs that any other recording of them comes up short. With this album, not all the songs are particularly well-known, so they, to a certain extent, sound not much different to actual Costello originals.

Tracks like Mose Allison's bluesy "Everybody's Crying Mercy" is a fine example. Not that well known, it is given a deep, bassy, late night jazzy feel by Costello and sounds totally convincing in his hands. Similarly the late fifties r'n'b blues of "Leave My Kitten Alone" (which was covered by The Beatles and released as part of their "Anthology" compilition). Indeed, quite a lot of the material is drawn from the blues vaults - Willie Dixon's slow and romantic "Hidden Charms", "Screamin' Jay Hawkins' rocking opener "Strange" (complete with false intro). If not the blues, then country rock/folk makes appearances, like Bob Dylan's "I Threw It All Away" (originally from his country/folk album, "Nashville Skyline"), which is done exceptionally well. "Must You Throw Dirt In My Face" is a typical lachrymose country ballad of the sort that Costello loves covering.

Little Richard's lesser-known "Bama Lama Bama Loo" is given that country rocking upbeat treatment that Costello used to great effect on tracks like "Honey Hush" on his album of country covers, 1981's "Almost Blue". "Pouring Water On A Drowning Man" is the sort of lively, upbeat country-ish rock that Costello would do so well on 2004's "The Delivery Man". He does an easy listening crooning standard in "The Very Thought Of You", again, very convincingly. "Payday" is pulsating, rocking r'n'b, while Burt Bacharach's "Please Stay" is a country-style heartbreaker. Aretha Franklin's "Running Out Of Fools" is one that Costello makes sound like one of his own songs. It has a great riffy backing in places. One of the best on the album. Finally, The Kinks' "Days" is turned into a slow, dignified anthem. All the covers on here are done respectfully, but in all cases adding something new to the song. Quite an achievement.

The "deluxe" two CD version of the album has more of the same on CD 2, including some Lennon-McCartney covers - "Step Inside Love" (originally recorded by Cilla Black) and "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away". There is another Dylan track in "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" from "Blood On The Tracks", Bruce Springsteen's "Brilliant Disguise" from "Tunnel Of Love" and Van Morrison's "Full Force Gale". Costello deals with them all admirably, as he does Paul Simon's "Congratulations", Gram Parsons' "Still Feeling Blue" and Tom Waits' "Innocent When You Dream". A surprise is Robin Sarstedt's "My Resistance Is Low" (originally by Hoagy Carmichael). All good stuff, although the original album is perfectly enjoyable to listen to in its original line-up of tracks.

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