I really wish this album was recorded live in some lounge with the band, composed of legends like James Burton, Marc Ribot and Jim Keltner, jamming freely while Costello plays crooner with R&B and Pop classics. I think it would benefit from a live atmosphere because it sounds restrained at times, never really taking off. Originally recorded in 1990 as a parting session for some of the musicians in Spike and King of America, Kojak Variety plays like an inside joke.
Songs by Little Richard, the Supremes and Screaming Jay Hawkins are missing the spark that made them great. Other songs like "Leave My Kitten Alone," "Pouring Water on a Drowning Man" and "Running Out of Fools" had been performed live or recorded before, sounding much better in my opinion (look for the Bonus Disc in the Rhino Records reissue of Blood & Chocolate for these.) Solid covers of lesser known songs by Bob Dylan, Ray Davies and Randy Newman show the depth of Costello's record collection but don't really add anything new.
If I pull out this CD it's mainly for the Bonus Disc in the 2004 reissue which features a collection of covers Costello recorded for George Jones. Costello demoed songs by Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Tom Waits and Paul Simon in a Country music style hoping that Jones would record them in his classic style. Apparently the tape never reached Jones but that doesn't matter because these performances are great, just Costello and a guitar. Sometimes I wish he would record an album just like that.
Classics: The original versions are a must.
Songs I'd like to hear live: Any cover song in the set list would be great.