Following 2009's well received Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, the wonderfully titled National Ransom is Elvis Costello's second album in two years to have been recorded in Nashville and co-produced with legendary cohort T-Bone Burnett. While the caustic title track is a foot-stomping dive bar rant about the state of the capitalist world (“Woe betide all this hocus pocus/ They're running us ragged at their first attempt/ Around the time the killing stopped on Wall Street/ You couldn't hold me baby with anything but contempt”), this sprawling double album is far more eclectic than previously hinted (word was they were making a no-nonsense, back-to-basics guitar album).
Guitars do occasionally feature, mind, but this largely acoustic affair certainly couldn't be categorised as a rock record: it's actually more of a rolodex one. Featuring longtime collaborators Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas, and guests such as Vince Gill, Leon Russell, Dennis Crouch and Marc Ribot, these sixteen songs range from speakeasy jazz ("Jimmie Standing in the Rain") and crooned moody blues ("You Hung The Moon") to classic country-pop ("I Lost You") and folk-rock ("Dr Watson I Presume"). A veritable jukebox that sees him returning to various forms, it's the most musically multi-layered, heartfelt and experimental Costello album so far this millennium. Free-flowing as effortlessly as it does, it's also probably one of the best of his career.