Contact Us

Elvis Costello and the Roots, ‘Wise Up Ghost’ – Album Review

Blue Note Records

Elvis Costello has been down this path before. New collaborators. New sounds. Old songs approached in new directions. On ‘Wise Up Ghost,’ an album recorded with hip-hop crew the Roots, he slips into a new groove, for him at least, that adds some fresh texture to his old style.

‘Wise Up Ghost’ isn’t a revolutionary record, not even by Costello’s standards. The Roots — one of the finest live bands in America — bend more to the Englishman than he does to them. It sounds like a Costello album and falls in line with his most recent records — 2009 and 2010′s Nashville excursions ‘Secret, Profane & Sugar Cane’ and ‘National Ransom,’ the 2006 album he made with New Orleans great Allen Toussaint, ‘The River in Reverse.’ It’s just another stop on his tour of American music.

Because the Roots rarely play by hip-hop’s rules, their contributions as backing band don’t take on the usual genre connotations. The band’s leader and drummer, ?uestlove, is a stickler for R&B tradition, so ‘Wise Up Ghost’ is more ’70s funk than ’80s B-boy. The production — by Costello, ?love and longtime Roots associate Steven Mandel — doesn’t overemphasize the seams. This is Costello’s most natural sounding album in years.

But it’s a groove record and not one always suited to Costello’s barbed songwriting and occasionally clipped vocal delivery. Plus, it goes on a little too long. As far as songs go, ‘Wise Up Ghost’ doesn’t have too many memorable ones. Those days are long gone for Costello. But there’s a renewed toughness in his voice pulled out by the Roots’ solid backing. The rhythms nudge him along on songs like the opening ‘Walk Us Uptown,’ the sweet-thick ‘Wake Me Up’ and ‘Stick Out Your Tongue,’ which reworks his 1983 cut ‘Pills and Soap.’

The textures driving the music — from the warm, climbing keys underlining the biting ’Refuse to Be Saved’ to the undercurrent of horns gliding through ‘(She Might Be A) Grenade’ — may be ‘Wise Up Ghost”s real stars. By running alongside, on top of and beneath Costello, they direct and steer the Roots toward the singer-songwriter’s center. In the end, they all come together for an album short on actual songs but long on genuine groove. And for all involved, that’s a sizable step.

Next: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Elvis Costello

Best of the Web

More From Around the Web

Leave a Comment

It appears that you already have an account created within our VIP network of sites on . To keep your points and personal information safe, we need to verify that it's really you. To activate your account, please confirm your password. When you have confirmed your password, you will be able to log in through Facebook on both sites.

Forgot your password?

*Please note that your points, prizes and activities will not be shared between programs within our VIP network.

It appears that you already have an account on this site associated with . To connect your existing account with your Facebook account, just click on the account activation button below. You will maintain your existing profile and VIP program points. After you do this, you will be able to always log in to http://ultimateclassicrock.com using your Facebook account.

*Please note that your points, prizes and activities will not be shared between programs within our VIP network.

Please fill out the information below to help us provide you a better experience.

Register on Ultimate Classic Rock quickly by logging in with your Facebook account. It's just as secure, and no password to remember!

Not a Member? Sign Up Here.

Sign up for an account to comment, share your thoughts, and earn points to get great prizes.

Register on Ultimate Classic Rock quickly by logging in with your Facebook account. It's just as secure, and no password to remember!