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on April 17, 2013
Teaming up for another album with T Bone Burnett, Costello dives back into the world of bluegrass, country, Americana and folk for another rich and diverse offering that officially cements him as one of the greatest musical minds in history. This album finds him dealing with stories and themes of the South and it's Antebellum stylings, never ceasing to surprise at every twist and turn.

The album opens with "Down Among the Wines and Spirits", a brilliant and bluesy introduction that's both catchy and fun. It's clear which waters EC is choosing to sail and the trend continues with "Complicated Shadows", a re-done version of a song that previously appeared on All This Useless Beauty. This version trades the loud guitar and drums of the original for acoustic stylings and a country swagger. "She Handed Me a Mirror" and "Red Cotton" tell great stories while "Hidden Shame", "I Dreamed of My Old Lover" and "Sulfur to Sugarcane" all explore different areas of bluegrass and country. The tunes are unique but also accessible enough for those who aren't big fans of the genre. It's evident that Costello is a music lover and he does country better than most of today's country artists. If country and bluegrass were always done this brilliantly then I'd tune in much more often.

"The Crooked Line" is a fiddle-driven number that's just awesome and the closer, a cover of "Changing Partners", is dedicated to Cosetello's wife and it's a fitting and touching end to the album. However, it's the ballad "I Felt the Chill Before the Winter Came" that literally gives me chills. It's haunting and downright beautiful and an absolute essential for any curious listener. It's a classic Cosetello ballad of epic proportions and the fact that gets some help from Loretta Lynn just seals the deal. It's devastating and has quickly become a favorite of mine.

I'm not a fan of country and bluegrass but Elvis Costello does it so well that I can't help but be impressed. This album is terrific and while not quite perfect, it's certainly in the upper-tier of his work and it's worth a listen for the musically adventurous.
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on November 8, 2010
With "Secret, Profane & Sugarcane," Elvis explores a sort of bluegrass/New Orleans fusion and comes up smelling sweet ... after stinking a bit on "Momofuko."

For the most part, the production is spare and there are some similarities to "Juliet Letters" in the emphasis on vocals and harmonies, particularly in "She Handed me a Mirror." A few songs seem to have been bolted on - the two songs Elvis wrote for Johnny Cash, "Hidden Shame" and "Complicated Shadows" clearly were not written for Elvis. It sounds as if he struggles to avoid simply giving a vocal impression of the late Mr. Cash, and in the case of "Hidden Shame" he fails, which is unfortunate because it really is a wonderful song with beautiful, yet terrifying lyrics. "Complicated Shadows," which appeared previously on "Useless Beauty" is better suited to Elvis' voice, and the version here sounds more like a song from "Spike" than the other songs on this album, with the exception of "My All Time Doll" which also sounds like offspring from "Spike."

"She Was No Good" is one of Elvis' best songs ever - the lingering on key notes in the song underscores the beauty of the lyrics and the melody. The lead track is a great introduction to the overall concept of the album, and "Sulfur to Sugarcane," with its bawdy lyrics and downright profane refrain (I think we all know what he means by "sulfur") is a catchy little romp that keeps the toe tapping even on the fiftieth listen. I really wouldn't categorize this album as country (with the exception of "Hidden Shame"); it is more American folk with bluegrass influence.

While it isn't in the top five Costello albums of all time, it is an album that has become for me like an old friend - something I come back to with frequency and I never regret an hour spent with these well-crafted tunes.
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on March 17, 2011
The more I listen to this album the more I love it. It sounds like good old fashioned American music a la the "O Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack. I thought for sure that these were covers and was pleasantly surprised to see that they are not. I feel this is Elvis's best album since his early years. BUY THIS ALBUM! You will not regret it. Acoustic American music at its finest (even if it's by an englishman!)
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on September 11, 2010
Really I can't say enough good things about this cd. It's been the go to album for every mood and every spare moment since receiving it. It's fun, it's intelligent, it's filled with history and mostly I can't help but sing along with every song. Track 10, Sulphur to Sugarcane is my new favorite song. Thank you Mr Costello for singing it at the Arlington in Santa Barbara a few months ago. And #4 My All Time Doll is sexy and sweet and gave me happy chills the first time I heard it. I could go on but this would turn into a love letter instead of a raving review. Buy it, Enjoy it, Sing your heart out along with it.
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on June 2, 2009
This is an extremely well produced disc full of great performances but I fear that it will not get a lot of future play in my rotation. There are certainly standout tracks, "Hidden Shame" is every bit as good as the version by The Man in Black; I enjoyed "Sulphur to Sugarcane" when he previewed it on his solo acoustic tour with Dylan and I like it even more on this disc. "I Felt the Chill" and "Changing Partners" are also standouts (although, as with any Costello album my favorites change). "Complicated Shadows", on the other hand, falls flat from its previous Rolling-Stones-rave-up arrangement and sounds oddly rushed and disjointed here. The players really stand out, though. Love the mandolin, Dobro and bass. And Jim Lauderdale's voice complements Costello's beautifully. Curious to see how they work together live this summer.
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on September 21, 2010
Like so many writing here I go back a long way with Elvis Costello - first saw him with the pre attractions band in London in 75 or 76 - martin belmont and co, I think - then so many times over the years and have loads of albums . The real issue for me is not whether this is a good or bad album - like most of the post attractions stuff (apart from the wonderful "king of america") its OK whereas the other work was never less than excellent and frequently the best music around. What has happened here ? For me the problem is the same as that which beset Sting ( a much less significant writer all round) or the solo Lennon and McCartney stuff and its a problem which sits at the heart of rock/pop music. The form is best served by collaborations and the best collaborations (ok, bands) are born from odd circumstances which none of the participants would necessarily have chosen - the hand of fate is in operation here. just as Macca and Lennon needed ringo and george to really get it up, and sting without the irritating stewart copeland and the guitar whizz andy summers is rilly slight and tedious, so Elvis C killed his daemon when he got rid of Bruce Thomas on bass. The whole arse just fell out of his music - go compare as the ad says - whats missing ~? its not the wordplay, its not the ornamentation whether supplied by steve nieve or a.n.other, its not the riddims - its the bottom end, el, the bass. The four of them had great chemistry which kicked off on stage and on record - the rest is noise - elevated, eloquent, tricksy by numbers but no magic, just the simulacrum of something that used to be. Could he get it back again ? doubtful - he has a massive ego and climbing down from mount mcmanus is probably not his style. Nieve and Pete Thomas won't risk their meal ticket (the pallid but aptly named imposters) to suggest to EC that a rethink would help, and Bruce Thomas has probably gotten on with other things. Do artists read these reviews ? who knows ? does Costello care any more ? he probably doesn't need the money and after all he's a new yorker now - far too important I guess...so it goes, but if you want to know what the fuss was about, buy the first album, or armed forces or imperial bedroom before you judge the fellow on this effort.
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on July 30, 2010
This is a very strong collections of songs dressed up in a acustic outfit. And no drums just lika the other Elvis FIRST recordings. Just a few reflections about this artist. To have one of his best periods ("When I Was Crule" 2002 and "Momofuku" 2008 is also 5 stars records) after 30 years in rock & rollbizzniz is quite something. And so is his way to work without any musical borders. 4 of the songs here was written and preformed first as an opera (Elvis sanged them with a Swedish operagirl in Copenhagens operahouse in 2005) but here they appear as hillbilly-songs. Could two musicstyles be more different? And it works wonderfull! Remember also "For The Stars": Operastar Anne Sofie Von Otter and pubrocklegend Billy Bremner on the same recordings! A pint of champagne, please!
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on October 19, 2009
Mr. Costello wants to do a country album. I have no problem with this. Afterall, he is Elvis Costello. He can do whatever he wants.

Mostly originals...some co-written with T-Bone Burnett. Add in one Loretta Lynn and one Bing Crosby cover. Some traditional country, some hillbilly folk, some bluegrass, and a drunken outlaw ballad or two. Together, it all sounds like it was a fun record to make.
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on May 17, 2010
Elvis is everywhere and good for us. On Treme via HBO,on tour,on Sundance Channel's Spectacle and as Daddy to twins with Diana Krall so the musical empire will continue. I saw him at [...] on May 1 play for two full hours a full variety of his songs and even some rockabilly-bluegrass ones. Go buy this as it is a unique take on early American southern rarely performed songs.
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VINE VOICEon October 18, 2009
Secret, Profane & Sugarcane is my first Elvis Costello CD, but I was drawn to it because he had teamed up with ace producer T-Bone Burnett who has been the man behind the scenes of some really great music. I am pleased to report that this CD belongs on that list.

Although not his main genre of music, Costello does a masterful job on a collection of 13 roots country songs. His voice works really well with instrumentation including Dobro, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and accordion. Here's a look at some of the highlight songs (although in fairness you could validly pick any or all of them):

"Complicated Shadows" - This is one of multiple songs that sound like they could have been taken from the movie O' Brother, Where Art Thou?. It is a mid-tempo song about a man who is tried, convicted, and executed for murder. The vocal delivery is very catchy with good harmonies too. It also includes the great line "Sometimes justice you will find/Is just dumb not colour-blind".

"My All Time Doll" - Here we have another mid-tempo song, but this one is about a wayward man who is smitten by true love. Costello's vocals are very rhythmic against the strum of the guitars. The accordion and mandolin accents also come in and out nicely.

"She Handed Me A Mirror" - This is one of the slower songs on Secret, Profane & Sugarcane. The combination of fiddle, Dobro, and mandolin combine to set the backdrop for a sad, subdued tale of a man who finds himself rejected by his love because of his own vanity. It comes across best in these lines from the third verse "She handed me a mirror/So I could recognize/The Distance from my heart to hers/The distance from my heart to hers".

"She Was No Good" - Costello sings of ill tempered women on various riverboats. It is another slower song, but it has more drive and energy than "She Handed Me A Mirror" I loved the drunken shouts after the line "And several drunken musicians ran amok".

"The Crooked Road" - Emmylou Harris joins Costello for another song about relationships. It is one of the more up-tempo songs on the CD. It deals with how life is not always simple or black and white as indicated by the line at the end of the chorus "How I hope I'll find you waiting/At the very end of this crooked line". I found this to be along the lines of the songs that Burnett recorded with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. I wouldn't mind an entire CD of Costello and Harris as the blended well. This was also one of the songs that have a more standard structure of verse/chorus/verse/chorus/solo/chorus. While the song is serious, it is not a downer. The solo features rather cheery accordion and fiddle along with a couple of "hoots".

Overall, I really liked Secret, Profane & Sugarcane. It lived up to all of my expectations of a T-Bone Burnett production, and I was pleasantly surprised in Elvis Costello's musicianship. If you like roots country music, I think this CD is for you.

Download this: Complicated Shadows
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