Sydney Morning Herald, September 14, 2013

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Wise Up Ghost

Elvis Costello and The Roots a harmonious pairing

Bernard Zuel

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This album walks a very fine line, and it walks it very finely, indeed. That line isn't the presumed one between the Roots' background as the best live band in hip-hop and Elvis Costello's longer career as a great pop song writer. For a start, both sides of that equation are far more broadly interested and skilled than cliches would allow.

Chief Roots, Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, and his band can handle shades of jazz, funk, R&B, rock, pop and soul, all of which Costello has worked into his material since 1977. What's more, while the grooves here are spread from rhythm section to brass to chopped-up electronics, the tunes are plucked from pop history, jazz backgrounds and a Kanye world.

Nor is the line something between old and new, because several tracks incorporate parts of earlier Costello songs. They're either reimagined, lyrically and musically, or they suggest a continuing context for the partnership that stretches back to the early '80s.

The line walked is between the angry and bleak and the remnants of the hopeful. Between, you can narrow it down to two songs. The bitter ideological truth of "Refuse to Be Saved" ("they're hunting us down with Liberty's light / A handshaking double-talking procession of the mighty") is couched in something from the war-and-drugs-affected late period of Sly and the Family Stone. On the other hand is the blend of discomfit and Latin sway in "Cinco Minutos Con Vos."

Putting the Roots and Costello together has ended up as far from a mongrel amalgamation as you could get, with Wise Up Ghost a hybrid show pony. Dig the new breed.

Like this? Try these:

Sly and the Family Stone, There's a Riot Goin' On;

Elvis Costello, My Flame Burns Blue.

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Sydney Morning Herald, September 14, 2013


Bernard Zuel reviews Wise Up Ghost.


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