With Almost Blue, Elvis Costello wanted to be a honky tonker. With Kojak Variety, he's a crooner, picking forgotten tunes by both minor and major artists (anyone from Screamin' Jay Hawkins to Bob Dylan). From his song selections to the pseudo-avant-rock/R&B band, Costello doesn't make any obvious moves. Yet that doesn't mean that the record is difficult -- it just shows the depths of Costello's affection for music and record collecting (which is also clear from his loving, detailed liner notes). Costello and his band (featuring guitarists James Burton and Marc Ribot, drummer Jim Keltner and Attraction Pete Thomas) play with gusto, tearing through the songs with the vigor of a bar band on a Friday night. Some of the rockers sound slightly forced, although there's no denying the power of Costello's passionate vocals, even if he stretches his range a little too much (Little Richard's "Bama Lama Bama Loo"). What matters here are the performances, and the majority of Kojak Variety is filled with fine interpretations. Kojak Variety does what any good covers album should do -- it makes you want to seek out the originals.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine