After Costello’s foray into R&B on Get Happy!! and the eclectic Trust, his fans must have known to expect the unexpected. Even so, Costello’s next career move, to record an earnest set of country covers in Nashville, must have been a shock, even though Trust contained the country of ‘Different Finger’. Costello went as far to include a label that stated: “WARNING: This album contains country & western music and may cause offence to narrow minded listeners.” Despite the change in style, Costello is still accompanied by The Attractions, who sound authentically Nashville, even though they’re augmented by the pedal steel of John McFee (who played on My Aim Is True as part of Clover), backing vocals, and violin.
Despite his vocal limitations, Costello is effective as a country singer; he has enough of an emotional undertow in his voice that he suits these straightforward songs. But at the same time, Almost Blue feels more like a loving tribute from Costello to some of his own music – these versions are faithful, and the main revelation is how much of a country fan Elvis Costello is. He’s most effective on the slow tearjerkers like The Flying Burrito Brothers’ ‘Hot Burrito #1’ (titled as ‘I’m Your Toy’ here), ‘Good Year For The Roses’, and ‘Brown To Blue’.
Almost Blue is a fun album of lovingly created country songs, but it’s hard to compare it favourably to Costello’s early, classic albums of originals