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Elvis Costello Down the Hillbilly Hole

There aren't too many more disconcerting things in life than finding out that the new disc by Elvis Costello - Secret, Profane & Sugarcane - is being release on Hear Music. That, I suppose won't sound too bad to passing fans, but Hear Music is a subsidiary of Starbucks Coffee. And to have an extension of the Angry Young Men be a part of that franchise is plainly shocking. From his time during the '70s as a relative, if not a part of, punk to his appearance on Saturday Night Live when he performed "Radio, Radio" after being asked not to - the song doesn't paint a pretty picture of the industry with lines like "And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools..." - it doesn't seem like a business arrangement that should have been struck. Although, the fact that Elvis' wife, Diana Krall, has released music via the same imprint seems to jive with the endeavor.

Elvis is known for his ability as a song writer - and to a certain extent, his being able to traffic in any given genre. Both of those aspects are still more than present on this newest release from the former computer programmer. On this release, though, Elvis is joined by some big names. Perhaps musically, the most interesting would be Jerry Douglas who adds the high and lonesome sound of the dobro guitar to a number of the tracks here. And because of this, the entirety of the disc is unified under the banner of Americana. It's of course Americana through the eyes of a UK born and informed individual. But throughout his career, Elvis has been able to effortlessly move from genre to genre. His father being a big band leader probably didn't hurt too much. But the fact that Elvis finds an interest in everything from country, to punk and orchestral musics points to his acumen for the business he finds himself in.

Again, Elvis recording a country related album seems pretty distant from the power pop that he wielded in the '70s. And even while a mid '90s appearance on the Larry Sanders Show found the singer raving up the chords to "Radio, Radio," there's a relation between that stuff and what's here on Secret, Profane & Sugarcane. Apart from the fact that most music traffics in love songs, the outsider status of punkers and cow polks works together to good affect. There aren't any murder ballads here - although Elvis' voice sounds as pleasant as ever - and the outsider stuff is probably a bit below a gentleman who's perceived as one of the greatest living song writers, but it should be considered nonetheless.

The one problem with this disc is that, while it's pretty much an even offering, that fact disallows from a true high point. Each tempered country inflected tune comes off ruefully similar. And with no punky rave ups or memorable choruses to break the album into pieces, it's really hard to recall anything specific about this release. Elvis will always have a place atop the rock cognoscenti - this disc won't hurt his cred, but it will function solely to fill out his discography as he enters the twilight of his career.