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Elvis Costello finds his inner hillbilly

Elvis Costello at the Tabernacle. Photo: Robb Cohen

Elvis Costello at the Tabernacle. Photo: Robb Cohen

By James Kelly

Throughout a 33-year career full of groundbreaking musical adventures, Elvis Costello has tried on many different hats. Some have been incredibly successful, such as the original “angry young man” persona whose first three albums are New Wave totems. The “crooner” years were a bit more erratic, ranging from the esoteric classics with the Brodsky Quartet to the dynamic and emotional collaboration with pop icon Burt Bacharach. Buried in these many guises was a brief stint as a Nashville cat, when Costello was “Almost Blue” and channeling George Jones. It wasn’t his best work, but it showed a deep and sincere respect for traditional country music.

Fast forward about 20 years from his last country endeavor, and Costello is now wearing a yellow straw fedora and playing a hybrid of bluegrass, country, and hillbilly music commonly referred to as “Americana.” With a band of the finest acoustic pickers in the world, their performance on Monday April 26 at Atlanta’s Tabernacle was a celebration of sound – soaked in Appalachian charm and so deeply American that even Costello’s English accent was virtually lost in the musical mix. Joined by singer songwriter Jim Lauderdale on rhythm guitar and harmony vocals, dobro master Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, and three other top-shelf musicians, Costello kicked off the night with an ode to the King himself – the iconic “Mystery Train”.

Click here for a photo gallery of the show.

Working their way through selections from Costello’s most recent “Sacred, Profane, and Sugarcane” album and interspersing numerous unique covers, the band shined brightest in the jaw-dropping redone versions of Costello’s signature songs, turning “New Amsterdam” into an inspiring folk song, adding just enough gothic darkness to “The Delivery Man” to send shivers up your spine, and converting Costello’s pop tune “Every Day I Write The Book” into a slow and deeply emotional love ballad that left today’s “hot new country” in the dust with it’s witty wordplay and rich harmony vocals from Lauderdale and Douglas.

With so many highlights, the real surprises of the night were such rare jewels as the delightfully perfect bluegrass take on Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale,” a rollicking romp through the Grateful Dead’s “Friend Of The Devil,” which allowed Lauderdale to further show off his vocal skills, and the uptempo “Happy” by the Rolling Stones. And of course, in homage to Costello’s country idol, a sweet take of George Jones’ “Color Of The Blues.”

As he gradually and gracefully ages into a true ambassador of popular music, Costello seems totally comfortable in whatever niche he chooses to explore. The universality and power of his songs is seen in just how well they transform into different styles, a process which has been a staple of Costello’s shows for many years now. It is clear that he loves what he does, and his contagious joy is shared with his rabid fans. The insightful writer who once declared himself a “Brilliant Mistake” made no mistakes this time around, and he could easily be the next King of Americana.

8 comments Add your comment

Michael Ridgeway

April 27th, 2010
10:33 am

Excellent review. I’m going to see him tonight in Jacksonville. Let the honky-tonkin’ begin!

Jeff Armstrong

April 27th, 2010
1:10 pm

Last night’s show at the Tabernacle was pure artistry. The music was crisp, the new arrangements were pleasant surprises, and Elvis’ showmanship was spellbinding.

Awesome, absolutely awesome show at the best music venue around.

atltrafficqueen

April 27th, 2010
3:07 pm

Great review of a spectacular show. “Alison” was almost a hymn. Still getting goosebumps remembering how “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding” sounded. The harmonies were outstanding throughout.

Greg

April 27th, 2010
3:15 pm

Have to agree with the other comments. This was different with the sugarcanes but what a difference! The takes of the grateful deads “friend of the devil” was a site to behold. Just great harmonies througout the setlist and the musicianship of Jerry Douglas and Stuart Duncan combined with Elvis and the rest was just awesome to witness.

Great show guys!

And yes Elvis has left the building but not before burning down the house!

Book Review 4

April 28th, 2010
2:09 am

[...] Elvis Costello finds his inner hillbilly – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)The “crooner” years were a bit more erratic, ranging from the esoteric classics with the Brodsky Quartet to the up your spine, and converting Costello’s pop tune “Every Day I Write The Book” into a slow and deeply emotional love ballad [...]

Kevin Curtin

April 28th, 2010
8:27 pm

Well written critique – it was Brilliant! A Magical night with amazing collaboration and arrangements! And the Tabernacle was the perfect setting for this Americana … felt like I saw Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly and a few other folk legends all in the same night

Jenny K

April 29th, 2010
2:48 am

There’s never been a greater country-western singer than ol’ George Jones and the fact that Elvis treats Jones as an idol makes Costello’s start rise even higher in my sky!!!

James

May 1st, 2010
1:20 pm

Beautiful show. It was amazing that the crowd truly embraced the songs, even though many of them were SO different from the original versions. The band was phenomenal and Elvis, as always, put on a heartfelt and entertaining show. Of course, the tabernacle is the perfect place to see it all happen. He gave several shout-outs to the venue during the performance, mentioning the tornado damage and how great it was to be back in the ‘ol church.

Think he says the same thing next time he has to play at Chastain (worst place to see a legitimate concert in Atlanta…) ? (Snickering)