secretprofanesugarcaneRecorded with T-Bone Burnett over a three day period in Nashville, Elvis Costello’s latest release, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, is probably the very definition of a mixed bag, but as such, it holds up pretty well just the same. This is Costello in country/Americana mode, and since it’s a collaboration with Burnett, it’s been compared to King Of America, though this album is not nearly so carefully crafted nor is it as serious minded as that 1986 release. What is it is very entertaining, and I expect that was the primary intention here. The album includes four songs written for an unfinished commission about Hans Christen Andersen, duets with Loretta Lynn and Emmylou Harris and a couple of songs written with Burnett. Burnett the producer has assembled a crack team of musicians to back Costello, so musically it’s always a pleasure to listen to. It’s not on the level of his finest records, but Secret, Profane & Sugarcane is still great fun in its best moments, and certainly recommended for Costello fans and fans of Americana and country music in general. Standout cuts: “My All Time Doll,” “Hidden Shame,” “I Dreamed Of My Old Lover” and “The Crooked Line.”

Despite beginning with the current single, “Real Love,”Little Honey, the latest album from Lucinda Williams, didn’t do much for me until track four, “Little Rock Star,” a barbed commentary on problematic rock stars. It’s followed in short order by one of the best rockers she’s written, “Honey Bee,” and from that point on, it felt like a real Williams record, romantic but tough minded, though considerably more optimistic and upbeat in tone this time out. It’s more of a rock and blues record than it is an alt-country and folk record, and she mixes in a bit of soul for good measure. The gospel tinged AC/DC cover that concludes the album, “It’s A Long Way To The Top,” is a good summation of what she’s up on Little Honey, and even if it’s not necessarily one of the best tracks, it’s clear she’s having a good time, as she does on the profanely funny duet she does with Elvis Costello, “Jailhouse Tears.” It’s definitely got its highs and lows, but this is a pretty solid album from Williams, maybe not her best album ever, but a lot of fun in general. Standout cuts: “Little Rock Star,” “Honey Bee,” “Well Well Well” and “Jailhouse Tears.”

Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue

September 23, 2008

How you feel about Jenny Lewis’ second solo album may be dependent on how you felt about Rilo Kiley’s Under The Blacklight, since Acid Tongue exists in largely the same musical universe as that album. The majority of the songs here are firmly rooted in 70’s era country, pop and bluesy rock, with a couple of nods to blue-eyed soul via Dusty Springfield, all genres Lewis takes to with ease. “Black Sand” gets things off to a solid start, with Lewis seemingly channeling Kate Bush and the Beatles a bit to good effect. One of the highlights, and possibly the pinnacle, of the album is the nearly nine minute long psychedelic blues rock opus, “The Next Messiah,” which features some top notch back up from guitarist and vocalist Johnathan Rice. On “Carpetbaggers,” Lewis duets with Elvis Costello, and seems to riff of Neil Young’s “Love is A Rose” to some degree, although the song here is quite a bit sexier and sassier. Mention also has to be made of the rousing “Jack Killed Mom,” which starts out sounding a bit like the story songs of Bobbie Gentry and Vicki Lawrence, but then ends with a country rave-up. The final track, the gentle ballad “Sing A Song For Them,” recalls the first couple of Rilo Kiley’s first albums. I really enjoyed listening to this album, not least because of Lewis’ voice and her intelligent and witty lyrics, but also because it’s fun, entertaining music, crafted with care and passion. Is it a classic? I don’t know, but it sure goes down smoothly. Standout cuts: “Black Sand,” “The Next Messiah,” “Acid Tongue” and “Carpetbaggers.”

Recorded quickly over two sessions earlier this year, Momofuku is the new album from Elvis Costello and the Imposters, an album that Costello had seemingly dismissed the possibility of, having become disenchanted enough with the record industry that he claimed he was done recording albums. It’s a 12 song set of rock music, not exactly a revisiting of past sounds, as Brutal Youth was, nor is it a summation of his career (I honestly have no idea what that album would sound like). Instead, it’s 47 minutes of a master songwriter and his peers (which here include Jenny Lewis, Johnathan Rice, Dave Sher, Pete Thomas, Steve Nieve and David Hildalgo) simply having a good time in the studio performing some rock and roll, with some of the pop, Americana, blues, cabaret and jazz styles Costello has worked with in recent years thrown in for good measure. Momofuku is a delight, and one of the most purely fun albums Costello has ever released. Standout cuts: “American Gangster Time, “Drum And Bone”,” “Harry Worth” and “Stella Hurt.”