Friday, October 3, 2008

Elvis Costello 18: Kojak Variety

In the summer of 1990, when he thought he was going to be doing an album with the Attractions, Elvis brought some of his last touring band to Barbados to record a pile of covers, as a goodbye of sorts, for future use. When negotiations with the Attractions fell through, he ended up recording Mighty Like A Rose with most of that touring band, and the covers project was largely put on the shelf, and promptly bootlegged. When the album was finally released five years later—amidst the continuing Rykodisc reissue campaign and plans for his next album—Elvis took the time to promote it, despite his dubious contention that he just wanted it to “sneak out”.
Kojak Variety is very much a vanity project that has the cohesiveness of Almost Blue, his earlier Nashville experiment, but like that album, its success depends largely on what you think of his versions of other people’s songs (many of which dotted the setlists on the Mighty Like A Rose tour, much to the confusion of the audience). The songs could be considered “oldies”, as they run the gamut of pop standards, jazz and blues, with a couple of obscure Randy Newman, Bob Dylan and Ray Davies tunes to showcase some of his favorite songwriters.
The performances are stellar, with the dueling guitar styles of James Burton and Marc Ribot adding contrast, and the powerful drumming of Pete Thomas and Jim Keltner—at one instance on the same kit. But it wasn’t intended to be a major statement, and wasn’t treated as such. If Elvis sulked about that, he soon moved on.
The reissue delivered further on the concept with the inclusion of “Ship Of Fools” (from the Kojak sessions) and other tracks from various ubiquitous cover albums, plus ten covers he’d recorded as a demo for George Jones (which the man apparently ignored) that further explore some of his favorite songs. But it remains one of the lesser lights in the catalog.

Elvis Costello Kojak Variety (1995)—
2004 Rhino: same as 1995, plus 20 extra tracks

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