Elvis Costello Hails Bob Dylan's Latest As 'One of the Greatest Records He's Ever Made'

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Elvis Costello attends the 12th Annual Woman's Day Red Dress Awards at 10 Columbus Circle on February 10, 2015 in New York City. 

Costello promotes heart health at 12th annual Woman's Day Red Dress Awards on Tuesday night.

Had the evening's theme been celebrating heartbreak, not fighting heart disease, Elvis Costello would have been an obvious pick to headline the 12th Annual Woman's Day Red Dress Awards, held Tuesday (Feb. 10) in New York City.

As a songwriter, Costello is practically a cardiologist. Since debuting in 1977 with My Aim Is True, the legendary U.K. rocker and genre-dabbler has focused largely on matters of the heart -- the way it aches, swells, wants what it wants, and always makes you a fool.

But Costello hadn't wandered into the wrong room. As he told Billboard before taking the Jazz at Lincoln Center stage to close out the ceremony -- one that honored heart-health advocates ranging from actress Andie MacDowell and U.S. Food and Drug Administration head Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg to the now-tobacco-free pharmacy chain CVS -- women's cardiac wellness is a no-brainer cause.

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"I think it's important for everybody," said Costello, sharp as ever in his grey speckled suit, black shirt, black tie, brown chunky sunglasses, and tan fedora. "Everybody's got a mother or a sister or a wife or a girlfriend, and you want them to be healthy."

"I think," he added with a laugh. "Unless you hate them."

There was no trace of hatred or spite in Costello's set, even though it began with, "Oh, I used to be disgusted / now I try to be amused" -- the opening line from 1977's "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes." It was a fitting opener, since 95 percent of the event's attendees -- including Today show anchor Hoda Kotb and Voice Season 5 winner Tessanne Chin -- were sporting red dresses. (Host Andy Cohen and fellow performers the Broadway Boys and the male clogging troupe All That wisely opted for suits.)

Playing solo with acoustic guitar against a giant window overlooking Columbus Circle, Costello kept things light, as had many of the night's presenters and honorees. While the topic was a disease that's become the No. 1 killer of women, this was a night of celebration, and Elvis was feeling good.

"That's all CGI," Costello said, motioning to the breathtaking Manhattan view behind him. "A giant dinosaur is going to walk by in a minute."

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Following "Red Shoes," Costello remembered his grandmother with the bittersweet 1989 single "Veronica," the first in a string of hits that included "Alison," "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love, and Understanding," and a noisy reggae-noir version of "Watching the Detectives," done with looping effects and a squalling hollowbody electric guitar.

Somewhere in the middle, Costello dedicated the '30s jazz chestnut "Walkin' My Baby Back Home" to his wife, Diana Krall, who couldn't be there. With its jaunty pace and whistling break, it's not unlike the tunes Bob Dylan included on Shadows in the Night, his brand-new set of American standards. Given that Costello's upcoming U.S. and European solo tours follow the New Basement Tapes project, wherein he and an all-star cast of pals put fresh music to discarded Dylan lyrics, Billboard had to know what Elvis thinks of the new Bob album.

"I think it's really, truthfully, one of the greatest records he's ever made," Costello said. "It's so soulful. He's obviously lived with those songs in his heart for a long time, and he sings them that way."

"The question of whether they are the same in sound as someone else singing them is kind of idiotic," Costello added. "It's the way he sounds singing them. It's beautifully arranged, beautifully played, beautifully recorded. What more can you say? He's written all those beautiful songs, and this shows the appreciation he has for all those great tunes as well."

Might Dylan's latest be the continuation of rock's longest winning streak -- a run of unimpeachable albums kicked off by 1989's Oh Mercy?

"That may be true," Costello said. "He hasn't made too many bad records."