‘Secret, Profane & Sugarcane’

‘Secret, Profane & Sugarcane’

Elvis Costello (Hear Music)

Grade: A

Elvis Costello’s newest album, “Secret, Profane & Sugarcane,” jumps on the Americana bus, with mandolin, accordion and fiddle the instruments of choice.

Recorded in Nashville in three days and produced by T-Bone Burnett, who helmed Costello’s country-tinged album “King of America” in 1986, and also 1989’s “Spike,” “Secret” ambles and warbles with rootsy aplomb.

It’s a 180-degree turn from last year’s “Momofuku,” Costello’s rock-based outing with band the Imposters.

This time, songs such as “I Felt the Chill,” co-written by country queen Loretta Lynn, wind through acoustic territory, with harmony wafting throughout. Costello wrote or co-wrote all but one track on the album.

“There’s a difference in the way that you kiss me/ There’s a sadness in your eyes that you can’t hide,” he sings in his wavering vibrato on “Chill,” about a fallen relationship.

Though steeped in Americana twang, four songs on the album were originally commissioned in 2005 by the Royal Danish Opera for a piece about author Hans Christian Andersen. The tunes focus on his love for Swedish songbird Jenny Lind, and “She Was No Good” recalls Lind’s tour across the U.S. in 1850, organized by P.T. Barnum.

— Solvej Schou, Associated Press

‘Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King’

Dave Matthews Band (RCA Records)

Grade: B

It’s a fitting start to a heartfelt tribute: The Dave Matthews Band’s new album opens with a minute of noodling saxophone from horn player LeRoi Moore, who died last August after an ATV accident.

Moore’s death shocked his bandmates into a sudden sense of urgency: The group had spent nearly 18 months tinkering with ideas for a follow-up to its 2005 album, “Stand Up,” when Moore died. The surviving musicians quickly finished “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King” (RCA), and it’s probably no coincidence that it’s their strongest album in years.

Matthews finds a skillful balance in his lyrics between off-handed whimsy and deeper reflections, and the others back him with a tighter version of the instrumental interplay that has made them one of the most popular American bands of the past 15 years.

As expected on an album dedicated to Moore, there’s plenty about mortality and the fragility of life.

— Eric R. Danton, Hartford Courant

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