IT’S BEEN a long up-and-down trip for Elvis Costello so far and one thing you can’t accuse him of on his undulating, this-and-that career, is a lack of enthusiasm.

He has just kept on going, through punk, rock, pop, country, classical, solo balladeer, orchestral, operatic – you name it, Elvis has had a go.

What hasn’t always been consistent is the quality of the song-writing. It is easy to suspect Costello spreads himself too thinly, but at least he does spread himself and, as a working musician, he keeps on doing what he does.

This latest release has divided critics, some of whom have complained about the strained vocal cords. True, a strange barking sound does break through at one point, but mostly Costello is in good, warm voice, and suits this traditional American country/bluegrass style.

The other criticism has been directed at the mixed-bag approach here: a couple of songs originally written for Johnny Cash, songs from an unfinished opera about Hans Christian Andersen, collaborations with Loretta Lynn and some new Costello compositions.

Where this criticism falls down is that the production from T Bone Burnett, and the exemplary musicianship, pulls everything together. While the Costello country album most people remember is Almost Blue, this is a step away from that C&W bitter-sweet schmaltz and closer in spirit to King Of America, released in 1986 and also produced by Burnett.

The songs are not as strong as on that Costello classic, but there are some worthy highlights: I Felt The Chill, Sulphur To Sugarcane, My All Time Doll and Down Among The Wine And Sprits.

He misses that stronger song-writing touch, perhaps, but Elvis Costello is still around and still filling the hours fruitfully.