Country Darkness Vol 2 is the second instalment in their Elvis Costello covers project from UK country-soul duo My Darling Clementine, following last years ‘Vol 1’ release. A four track EP like its predecessor, it follows the preview track ‘Different Finger’ released as a single last month and reviewed on our site. The EP features charming duet and harmony arrangements from duo members Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish, and keyboards from Steve Nieve, Elvis Costello’s keyboard player on many of his releases and an instantly recognisable part of the Costello sound.
Costello’s career as a writer and performer is prolific, now in its sixth decade, featuring no fewer than 32 albums, excluding live albums and compilations, providing a wealth of material from which the duo have chosen for these releases, whittling down the latest track listing from a short list of 25 songs. Country music has long featured as an influence on Costello, dating back to his 1981 release ‘Almost Blue’, an album of covers of country songs by writers including Hank Williams, Gram Parsons and Merle Haggard, which at the time reflected something of a change to his original recordings. Perhaps anticipating the mixed reception it would receive, the album famously came with a sticker reading “WARNING: This album contains country & western music and may cause offence to narrow minded listeners”.
Opening track ‘Either Side of the Same Town’, featured on Costello’s 2004 release ‘The Delivery Man’, likened by King and Dalgleish to the writing of Dan Penn, is a heartfelt ballad, sung as a dialogue between former lovers, coming together for the rousing chorus “Now it’s hard to act like strangers/When we used to be so strong/Everything is changing/And most of it is wrong/What do we know of anything?/Two fools of some renown/Either side of the same town”. Tastefully arranged with keys prominent, the duo capture the resigned sadness of the couple separated, but fated to meet by chance, as life goes on.
The EP’s second track ‘I lost You’, co-written with Jim Lauderdale, comes from ‘Secret, Profane and Sugarcane’, released by Costello in 2009. It’s up tempo arrangement features an arpeggiated piano motif from Nieve and a conversational duet from the duo, and some classic ‘chickin’ pickin’ country guitar riffs.
The single release ‘Different Finger’ is another Costello original with a classic country music theme of cheating lovers (“Please put your rings on a different finger/if you meet me tonight/’cos I can’t stand those suspicious glances/’cos I know the things they’re saying are right”). The atmospheric Tex-Mex Spanish guitar and accordion introduction takes us straight to the dark and dingy bar on a dusty street where the liaison is taking place, while the jaunty honky tonk band arrangement, with characteristic keys from Nieve, is perfectly matched to its theme.
Closing track ‘Too Soon to Know’ from Costello’s 1994 album ‘Brutal Youth’ was covered by Darlene Love in 2016, in a classic country soul arrangement in the ‘Dusty in Memphis’ mould, but the version here sets a darker and more sombre tone, highlighting the underlying sense of heartbreak and sadness as King and Dalgleish sing “Are you sorry/Or is it still too soon to know? It didn’t take much to break us in two/For it was in the way that he came close to touching you/The look in your eyes/I thought I recognised/It’s still too soon to know”.
‘Country Darkness Vol 2’ and its predecessor will introduce a new audience to Elvis Costello’s extensive and varied back catalogue, and highlight the great musicianship of My Darling Clementine, with the enticing prospect of further releases to come, with so much great material to draw on.
Review written by David Jarman