You've got to admire Elvis Costello. In the late '70s and early '80s he released a string of crucial albums, cementing himself as one of the most important voices to come out of the punk/new-wave explosion. Ever since, he's done just about everything imaginable. Costello has released country albums, smoky barroom jazz songs, collaborations with Burt Bacharach, classical scores and the odd rock album along the way. Say what you will about any of these phases, there is something to be said for doing whatever the hell you feel like doing--fans and critics be damned.
On his latest album, The Delivery Man, Costello turns his fascination away from the boring contemporary jazz muddling North to the musical traditions of the southern United States. Opening with the raver "Button my Lip," complete with bass and synth lines that would have fit in well on Get Happy, Costello lets the listener know early on he's ready to rock again. This he does to stunning effect on "There's a Story In Your Voice," a wonderfully, booze-drenched number where guest vocalist Lucinda Williams' unhinged and cracked delivery perfectly balances Costello's calculated and precise song writing style.
The rest of the album, though, is uneven. Costello is at his best when he sticks to the more upbeat, rocking material, such as "Monkey to Man," instead of his forays into a more laid back sound. Nevertheless, The Delivery Man is one of the better rock albums Costello has put out in some time and finds him, after nearly thirty years in the business, experimenting and having fun creating music. You've got to admire that.