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6 Degrees Entertainment

Title - 'My Aim Is True: Deluxe Edition' (UMe)
Artist - Elvis Costello

The first decade of Costello's catalog, everything from 1977's "My Aim is True" through 1986's "Blood & Chocolate" is on the move again. Having made stops at Columbia, Ryko and Rhino for CD reissues, Costello's first eleven albums now pit with Universal's Hip-O label for another round. Hip-O's first salvo of re-re-re-reissues included single-disc versions of the original albums that undid Rhino's second-disc bonuses, and a pair of compilations, one surveying the entire decade's output, the other pulling together many of Costello's rock-oriented tracks. Hip-O has now issued a new two-disc version of Costello's debut that includes previously unreleased material and tracks that are new-to-CD.

Many will complain that issuing "My Aim is True" on CD for a fourth time is a cynical marketing ploy aimed at luring faithful fans (those who already own vinyl and multiple CD copies) into re-buying the album. And while this may be a side-effect, it's not likely the core of marketing plan. Hip-O's goal isn't so much to re-sell this album to fans as it is to renew the title with merchants, reviewers and editors so as to entice a new generation of buyers.

Recorded and originally issued amid the 1977 explosion of DIY art and angst that was punk rock, Costello's seething, literate lyrics stood above the fray. His feelings of self-loathing, confused indifference and jealous recriminations were enunciated in words rather than the raw energy of semi-professional instrument bashing, and his combination of finesse and ire was unlike anything else on the scene. But in retrospect, particularly in light of the Attractions' formation for touring and the next album, it's clear that Costello's hammer was meeting a somewhat softer anvil in the backing band of the Marin, California based Clover. The result is more a singer-songwriter effort than a true band album; as brilliant as was Costello's songwriting and singing on this LP, he was still an artist looking for his sound.

Hip-O's take on the 2-CD reissue adds a wealth of bonuses, including contemporaneous singles "Watching the Detectives" (included on the U.S. LP, but not the original UK LP), "Radio Sweetheart" (which was a B-side that also appeared on a Stiff LP sampler), and the original country weeper, "Stranger in the House" (which was delivered as a bonus single with early copies of Costello's second UK LP, and turned up in cover form on Rachel Sweet's Stiff Records debut). The heart of the bonuses are seven pre-LP demos recorded at Pathway Studios, and a seventeen-song live set recorded in Nashville in 1977 with the then newly formed Attractions.

Seven demos recorded at Pathway Studio with just Costello's vocal and electric guitar include four songs that didn't make the LP, as well as early versions of "Miracle Man," "Waiting For the End of the World" and "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes." Hearing Costello's staccato demos of the three album tracks, one can sense just how Clover altered the musical balance. And in fact, the live show on disc two gives a demonstration of how these songs could have sounded. Just a few months into their association, Costello and the Attractions punch up the material from "My Aim is True" so that it matched songs that would land on 1978's "This Year's Model." Bruce Thompson and Steve Thompson create a bottom end that was missing on the debut LP, Steve Neive's keyboards (particularly his organ playing) adds tension and filigree, and Costello's guitar is more urgent. More telling are five tracks included from the show's soundcheck in which Costello and band play with a fluidity and confidence that belies their short time together.