Redemption seems to be the best word to describe the latest effort of Declan McManus -- that thin English chap who's now telling us on his new album, 'King of America,' that the eight years we've known him as 'Elvis Costello' were all for show.
For his 12th offering, Costello has stripped away not only the trappings of being a 'rock-star,' but has also left behind the tortured soul his fans remember from his last studio album, 1984's 'Goodbye Cruel World.'
Costello has left his familiar back-up band, the Attractions, behild for most of 'King of America.' He instead enlists some of the top Los Angeles studio session musicians as well as Elvis Presley's TCB Band.
A sparse sound furnished by producer T-Bone Burnett gives the listener the idea that Costello has finally emerged from his battles with the 'demon' and is at peace just making the music itself.
The opening cut -- 'Brilliant Mistake' -- showcases Costello's consistent skill in weaving a tight lyric -- and shows acceptance of what becoming 'Elvis Costello' really meant to Declan McManus.
Most of the album is a travelogue through various American music styles, such as bluegrass, country, blues and even gospel. As usual, Costello is in fine voice, able to hit guttural lows in a cover version of 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood,' as well as the lilting highs of 'The Big Light.'
The redemption aspect is seen in Costello's moving on musically in 'King of America,' but retaining some of the qualities that made him the durable performer he is. And that makes this album the best effort from Costello-McManus in some time. Chris Scott (UPI)
(Rock) Brian Setzer, 'The Knife Feels Like Justice,' (EMI-America, ST-17178)
Brian Setzer's Bill Haley-esque guitar and up-tempo music lend a new feel to the vein of small-town, wide-world human issues consciousness that fellow New Jerseyites Bruce Springsteen and Little Steven Van Zandt have been mining for the past several years. In fact, Van Zandt co-wrote one of the songs on 'The Knife Feels Like Justice,' which is Setzer's first album since splitting vith The Stray Cats, the trio that brought rockabilly back to the Top 40. The lyrics occasionally looc very similar to Springsteen's 'Nebraska,' but Setzer's barnstorming melodies are more like a cowboy's interpretation of 'Born to Run.' 'Justice' is a strong first step for the ex-Cat's solo career. Margaret Lillard (UPI)
(Jazz, Classical) Eddie Daniels, 'Breakthrough' (GRP, GRP-A-1024) This is a stunning new album by a talented young clarinetist who floats easily between jazz and classical genres. Here, Daniels manages to tie them together with the help of a symphony orchestra, the London Philharmonia, and a jazz rhythm section. His playing is both swinging and elegant as he tackles material ranging from J.S. Bach to contemporary things by Daniels himself and composer Torrie Zito. He winds things up with Jorge Calandrelli's 'Concerto for Jazz Clarinet and Orchestra.' It's a toe-tapping piece that was written especially for Daniels. On the jazz side, Daniels' own 'Circle Dance' is a real swinging tune that shows both his virtuosity and hard-driving spirit. Here is a rare player who truly is at home in both genres.