He's one of the biggest names in music, but Elvis Costello has collaborated with many of his high-ranking peers, too; from Paul McCartney to Fall Out Boy to Aimee Mann, the Londoner's 30+ year career has taken in a wide variety of genres and methods. One such successful partnership was his work with Grammy-winning musician/producer T-Bone Burnett in the '80s, now reprised for Costello's first bona fide solo album since 2003's 'North'.
He co-writes several tracks here, too, but Burnett's influence as a producer is not to be sniffed at. He proved his enduring relevance as a knob-twiddler after working his magic on Robert Plant & Alison Krauss's 'Raising Sand' in 2007, and his finely-tuned ear works well on 'Secret, Profane & Sugarcane', too. Although Costello is surrounded by a bevy of respected Nashville bluegrass musicians, the most prominent element of this album often seems to be his voice, framed beautifully by Burnett without losing any of the record's instrumental impact.
That impact is best served on the porch-loitering warmth of 'Down Among the Wine and Spirits' and the traditional Americana stomp of 'Sulphur to Sugarcane', while cheeky saloon ditty 'My All-Time Doll' also raises its gin-soaked head from the bar as an initial standout track. But it's when Costello pushes his distinctive nasal quiver on 'I Fell the Chill Before the Winter Came', the fiery 'How Deep Is the Red' and the sweet, low-key orchestration of 'I Dreamed of My Old Lover' that 'Secret, Profane & Sugarcane' really reverberates. Throw in a brace of Johnny Cash songs and a co-writing credit from Loretta Lynn, and you've got yourself a mighty dang fine roots album.