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Various Artists
ALMOST YOU: THE SONGS OF ELVIS COSTELLO
(GLURP)

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Elvis Costello is no stranger to cover albums: on 1981ís Almost Blue, he doffed his 10-gallon hat to Nashville nabobs like George Jones and Hank Williams, and Kojak Variety (1995) found him channeling Dylan and Little Richard. So itís about time the Beloved Entertainer got a tribute record of his own. But like so many tribute discs, this oneís a mixed bag that calls attention to Costelloís sturdy songwriting in two ways, either by recasting a number in a way that reveals previously unnoticed nuances or else by playing it super-straight and confirming the supremacy of the original.

Of the latter group, Fastball are the least surprising transgressors, turning in a perfunctory reading of " Busy Bodies " thatís fitting for a band whose singer aped ECís vocal tics on their big hit (í98ís " The Way " ). Deathray Davies donít change " Man Called Uncle " much either, but its insistent melody and buoyant keyboards keep it from sinking. Matt Pond PA stab a chamber-music " Green Shirt " all over with staccato cellos, but Pondís enervated voice is ill-suited to the caustic lyrics. Sally Ellysonís silky phrasing is perfect, however, when Hem reimagine " (The Angels Want To Wear My) Red Shoes " as a languid country idyll washed with pedal steel and adorned with mandolin flourishes. Ex-Posie Jon Auerís " Beyond Belief " is a different beast entirely: itís stripped of the originalís grandiloquent studio trickery, its ascetic spareness augmented only by fuzz bass and swirls of melodic feedback. And the Mendoza Lineís " Sleep of the Just " is a majestic coda, rendered as a soporific vapor of echoed harmonies, ghostly church organ, and shimmering electronic effects.

BY MIKE MILIARD

Issue Date: April 25 - May 1, 2003
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