The Delivery Man started as a concept album about a deliveryman with a dark secret and the women he fascinates and disappoints. Then Costello shattered it and rearranged the shards. But you won't need to understand the enigmatic character sketches to enjoy them live. The album's music is more complete than its lyrics, with surprising thrills: a sudden falsetto; a break in the chorus leaving only two voices, bass-drum kicks, and cymbal crashes; buzzing, shouting blues riffs; cacophonies that sound like recent Tom Waits albums; and a fun roadhouse rocker, "There's a Story in Your Voice" (the Lucinda Williams duet).
In concert, expect a two-hour set that matches the new bluesy numbers with angry favorites such as "Oliver's Army" and "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea." The 1980s ballad "Shipbuilding," set in a port town that can prosper only by making warships, will find an echo in "Scarlet Tide," an antiwar Harris duet with a Celtic/Appalachian feel. Connections between the new and old country songs will be even more exciting. Costello is singing Almost Blue's "Good Year for the Roses" on this tour, a cover that sounds just like his own writing, especially when the singer compares himself to the lipstick-printed cigarette butts in his soon-to-be-ex-lover's ashtray. Costello and country meet in details like that: shabby yet full of aching melodrama.
[Originally published in April, 2005.]