New Old Costello!

Rhino Revamps Costello’s ‘Cruel,’ ‘Blue,’ ‘Kojak’
With the next trio of Rhino’s Elvis Costello reissues around the corner, details have emerged about the extra content that will bolster 1981’s “Almost Blue,” 1984’s “Goodbye Cruel World” and 1995’s “Kojak Variety.” Like each in the label’s Costello upgrades, the titles boast the remastered original album on one disc and a full second disc of live cuts, B-sides, alternate takes and demo recordings.
Rhino and Costello have approached this reissue program not chronologically, but subjectively. The nature of the plan has allowed a stylistic examination of his oeuvre and his idiosyncratic penchant for exploring various genres. In the new round, due Aug. 3, the earliest and latest albums are linked as covers projects.
“Almost Blue,” which peaked at No. 50 on The Billboard 200, is widely regarded as Costello’s “country album.” Although somewhat maligned at the time of its original release, Costello’s treatment of such songs as Merle Haggard’s “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down” and the Jerry Chesnut-written/George Jones-popularized “Good Year for the Roses” has proven to be effective and enduring.
The second disc boasts more than 15 tracks not included on Ryko’s 1994 version of the album. Among the newly appended cuts is a version of “Stranger in the House” with Jones and “We Oughta Be Ashamed” with Johnny Cash. Also new are live versions of “Girls Talk,” “Motel Matches” and one-time B-side “Radio Sweetheart.”
“Kojak Variety” — the only title in this batch not among the albums revamped and reissued by Rykodisc in the early ’90s — was Costello’s second album for Warner Bros. Although it was the follow-up to 1994’s acclaimed “Brutal Youth,” which found Costello reunited with the Attractions, only Attractions drummer Pete Thomas appears on the set. Such noted musicians as multi-instrumentalist Marc Ribot, guitarist James Burton, keyboardist Kevin Killen, bassist Jerry Scheff and drummer Jim Keltner comprise the backing band.
The album found Costello crooning such numbers as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “Strange,” Little Richard’s “Bama Lama Bama,” Bob Dylan’s “I Threw It All Away” and the Kinks’ “Days.” The bonus disc comprises 20 tracks, including a version of the Beatles’ “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” and an alternate take of the album’s Drew Baker/Danny McCormick blues classic “Pouring Water on a Drowning Man.”
Collaborations include a take of “That’s How You Got Killed Before” with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (a version of which appeared on the latter’s 1990 set “The New Orleans Album”) and Gershwin’s “But Not For Me” with renowned harmonica player Larry Adler.
Bridging the sets is “Goodbye Cruel World,” an album of originals that is often reviled among the Costello faithful. Nonetheless, it reached No. 35 on The Billboard 200 and produced a hit single in “The Only Flame in Town,” which features Darryl Hall. An alternate version and a live take of the song appear on the bonus disc.
The work of producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley has been blamed by Costello for the album’s weaknesses, and the set’s best cuts — “The Comedians,” “Inch by Inch,” “The Deportees Club” — have come across better when he’s presented them in different live arrangements or when covered by others.
Among the bonus disc cuts are Costello’s demos and live recordings of several more album tracks, seemingly seeking to prove that point. And it’s probable that Costello’s new liner notes — exhaustive and unique to each title — will further explain his contentions with the original album and defend his songs.
Other than Nick Lowe’s appearance on “Baby It’s You,” a holdover from the Ryko edition, the only other guest appearance comes from another Langer/Winstanley-produced act: Costello covers Madness’ “Tomorrow’s (Just Another Day)” with the ska pop group’s help.
As previously reported, Costello will simultaneously release two new albums Sept. 21 on two different labels. Lost Highway will issue an as-yet-untitled new rock album with the Imposters, while “Il Sogno,” his first full-length orchestral work, will emerge via Deutsche Grammophon.