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WENDY JAMES (Buy CDs by this artist)
Now Ain't the Time for Your Tears (DGC) 1993
I Came Here to Blow Minds (Cobraside) 2010

In a futile bid for artistic credibility, former Transvision Vamp chart tart James begged Elvis Costello to write a song for her. Rather than hand off one scrap, however, Elvis took it upon himself — with help from his missus, Cait O'Riordan — to spend a weekend cutting ten pungent tunes from the bolt of curt, sharp-tongued cloth that typified his early work with the Attractions. (His demo sessions with Pete Thomas, who wound up playing on James' LP, had something to do with the group's Brutal Youth reunion.)

The tragedy of James' unappealing voice and incompetent singing on Now Ain't the Time for Your Tears is ameliorated by Thomas' typically superb drumming and occasionally nullified by the casual brilliance of Costello's hasty retrofits. A few of the tunes are gimmicks (the soundalike Clash citations of "London's Brilliant," the orchestral humphering of "I Want to Stand Forever") or uncharacteristically trite ("Fill in the Blanks," a prostitute's monologue, trips over clumsy lyrics; the chord progression in the stately waltz "Do You Know What I'm Saying?" has an infuriating stall), but "This Is a Test," "Basement Kiss," "Earthbound," "We Despise You" and "Puppet Girl" are all fine belated additions to Costello's early canon. Still, the suspicion that Costello (who ultimately derided the Chris Kimsey production) aimed his conceptual darts at James' ambitions rather than the subjects of his songs leaves the album — inexplicably titled after a Bob Dylan lyric in "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" — feeling like a practical joke at her expense.

[Ira Robbins]
   See also Elvis Costello, Transvision Vamp