In these desperate times, Elvis Costello and the Roots secure 12 modes of comfort. Smoothly combining pop, funk and R&B, "Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs" demonstrates great versatility in musicianship and composition while not adhering to any set standard and refusing to be typecast.
Record label, release date and producer: Blue Note Records released "Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs" on September 17, 2013; it was produced by Elvis Costello, Steve Mandel and Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson.
RIYL: Fugees, Nick Lowe and Black Joe Lewis.
Hometown: Paddington, London, England and Philadelphia, Pa.
Standout tracks: The '70s throwback "Sugar Won't Work" effortlessly blends a perfect head-bobbin' beat with Costello's signature lyrical flow. "Refused To Be Saved" is the rebellion these gentlemen know all too well. ?uestlove's tight, minimal approach to "Stick Out Your Tongue" perfectly accompanies the revised pleas of "Pills and Soap" from Elvis Costello's 1983 album "Punch the Clock."
About the artists: Born Declan P. McManus in 1954, Elvis Costello worked as a computer programmer before adopting his songwriter stage name, a combo of Elvis Presley and his mother maiden name. Originally a country-folk performer, Costello teamed up with his first stable backing band, the Attractions, in 1977 joining the hype of punk rock. In 2002, the Imposters, the Attractions with a different bassist, first backed Costello on "When I Was Cruel," but he has recorded various collaborations both before and after it's release. The Roots began in 1987 when Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson and Tariq Trotter (Black Thought) became friends in high school. Collecting more members, the band frequented clubs in Philadelphia and New York ultimately signing with DCG in 1993. Since 2009, they have been the house band for "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon."
This label: In 1937, Berlin native Alfred Lion emigrated to New York, co-founding Blue Note Records in 1939 with Max Margulis, a jack of all trades whom put up the dough to fund the label. Lion's childhood friend, Francis Wolff joined the label later that year and remained involved until his death in 1971. Liberty Records obtained Blue Note in 1965 which led to Lion's retirement two years later. In 1979, EMI bought United Artists Records, Liberty Records' owner for the past ten years, instigating Blue Note's dormancy until 1985. Universal Music Group is now the proud owner of all ventures stamped EMI. Over the last seven decades, Blue Note Records has released a wide variety of works from artists such as Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock to current artists Norah Jones and Amos Lee.
Play it while: Entertaining stiff drinks and cigars after a troublesome day.
Awards and accolades: This year, "Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs" peaked no. 3 on the "Billboard Top Rock Albums" and "Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums" charts, no. 12 on "Top Digital Albums," as well as no. 16 on the "Billboard Top 200" chart. Separately, about 30 of Elvis Costello's efforts and collaborations have place on Billboard charts and received Grammy nominations, successfully acquiring a Grammy in 1999. Elvis Costello and the Attractions were entered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. Since 1995, The Roots have been on the Billboard charts: 1995's "Do You Want More??!!!??!" hit no. 2 on "Heetseekers," 1999's "Things Fall Apart" topped at no. 2 on "R&B Albums," 2004's "Tipping Point" at no. 2 on "R&B Albums" and "Undun" at no. 2 on "Top Rap Albums" for both 2011 and 2012. The Roots earned a Grammy in 1999 with Erykah Badu and three others with John Legend for "Wake Up!" in 2011.
What the critics say: "For 'Wise Up Ghost,' it's a bit of a feint. Elvis Costello and the Roots are known for many things, but neither are noted for "relaxing." And 'Wise Up Ghost,' the more you poke at it, turns out to be one of the densely referential works in Costello's catalogue, its lyrics a series of nested self-quotes that build a Chinese box out of his old records. The grooves, from the Roots, are loose, muted, and murky, but the music glows with the unmistakable attention to detail and sense of history that the group can't help but bring to everything they touch. This isn't the sound of old masters getting loose, in other words, as much as lifelong A-students coasting a bit." Jayson Greene, Pitchfork.
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