Review: Elvis Costello | National Ransom

Hear Music (2010)
By ZETH LUNDY  |  October 26, 2010
3.0 3.0 Stars

 102910_OTRElvis_main

Back in the late '70s and early '80s, Elvis Costello would plot his cosmic knowledge of music history into his own songs, as if they were booty for like-minded music geeks. These days, he wears his influences on his sleeve, whether they're classical, jazz, or country. (I mean, dude gets in character like Miles Davis, with a fashion sense that matches each stylistic whim.) He recently donned the hat of Depression-era Americana troubadour with a pair of back-to-back albums produced by fellow enthusiast T Bone Burnett — the same guy who helmed Costello's first foray into American roots, 1986's King of America.

National Ransom expands the acoustic canvas of last year's Secret, Profane & Sugarcane with both electric and eclectic instrumentation, getting support from the likes of Marc Ribot, Jerry Douglas, Vince Gill, Buddy Miller, and Leon Russell. Here, Costello mixes minor-key rags ("Jimmie Standing in the Rain"), skippy ditties ("A Slow Drag with Josephine"), country-tinged rock ("National Ransom," "Five Small Words"), and Sun-Records-via-new-wave gumbo (the propulsive deep track "The Spell That You Cast"), all with a novelist's sense of detail.

Like many of his new-century records, National Ransom is half awesome and half meh — at 16 tracks, it's a little too long, and ballads like "You Hung the Moon," though subversive and clever, accentuate his increasingly overbearing vocal tics. Still, Costello appears to be back on the Coherent Melody bandwagon (his long-winded, hyper-intelligent melodic sense is in short supply), and he remains, from time to time, downright transfixing. National Ransom isn't the midlife masterpiece that obsessives have been pining for, but its finer points are worth seeking out, in all their sepia-tinted glory.

  Topics: CD Reviews , Entertainment, Music, Elvis Costello,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY ZETH LUNDY
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   BROWN BIRD | FITS OF REASON  |  March 18, 2013
    Brown Bird, a boundary-pushing Americana duo from Rhode Island, make music that touches upon that can't-put-my-finger-on-it amalgamation of past and future sounds.
  •   NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS | PUSH THE SKY AWAY  |  February 20, 2013
    Much like the similarly low-key The Boatman's Call , Cave's highly anticipated 15th album with the Bad Seeds manages the puzzling feat of making a great band seem inconsequential, if not entirely absent.
  •   SCOTT WALKER | BISH BOSCH  |  November 27, 2012
    Scott Walker's late-period about-face is one of the strangest in the annals of pop music.
  •   BILL WITHERS | THE COMPLETE SUSSEX AND COLUMBIA ALBUMS  |  October 31, 2012
    Bill Withers has always been the down-to-earth, odd-man-out of the '70s soul brothers: he's the one who came bearing a lunch box on the cover of his relaxed 1971 debut, Just as I Am .
  •   R.E.M. | DOCUMENT [25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION]  |  September 19, 2012
    Fans of R.E.M. enjoy arguing over which album was the band's true shark-jump, but 1987's Document was inarguably the end of a groundbreaking era.

 See all articles by: ZETH LUNDY