Elvis Costello

King of America

Elvis Costello's King of America (1986) was in many ways a pivotal album in the singer's career. For it, he switched out the Attractions for a phalanx of players, including Los Lobos' David Hidalgo and legendary jazz bassist Ray Brown; his clever wordplay and sarcastic vitriol were supplanted by wistfulness and puckish humor; and where earlier albums sometimes embraced a particular "concept" (country on Almost Blue, '60s Motown/ Stax R&B on Get Happy!), King saw various American "roots" genres -- folk, blues, and country, too -- more fully integrated into his overall approach. Continuing its "renovation" of E.C.'s catalog, Rhino has readorned King -- it is newly mastered, includes special tracks and liner notes, etc. The album is as brilliant as ever, with the apocalypse-in-a-teacup honky-tonk of "The Big Light," the exquisitely plaintive balladry of "Poisoned Rose," and the euphoria of "Lovable" among the brightest jewels in the crown. The (21-track!) bonus disc, too, is aces high, with solo demos (a chilling take on Richard Thompson's "End of the Rainbow"), outtakes ("Betrayal"), a single from the Coward Brothers (aka the country-billy duo of Costello and T-Bone Burnett), and loose-limbed live frolics with "supergroup" the Confederates (members include blues boys James Burton and Ralph Carney). As evidenced throughout King, the Irish-born Costello earned (and continues to earn) his royal dispensation.

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