National Ransom (Hear Music/Concord Music Group)
Nov. 3, 2010
Although Elvis Costello long ago lost his knack for knocking listeners off their feet, his lyrical skill has never diminished and the scope of his stylistic ambition has only grown. Some of the best moments on his new album come courtesy of his instrumentalists, especially Marc Ribot’s scorching guitar solos, and the occasionally Beatlesque production of T.Bone Burnett. Sadly, the roots Americana blend on some of Costello’s new songs have little staying power. The most memorable numbers are the oddest thematically. The lovely painted melody of “Jimmie Standing in the Rain” (about a ‘30s cowboy singer lost in the English music halls) is brushed in with a dreamy sad vocal, bass fiddle rhythm and a violent-trumpet accompaniment. The spry “Slow Drag from Josephine” (described by Costello as “rock’n’roll as it sounded in 1921”) also stands out. On National Ransom, the strongest songs are the ones with the oldest sources of inspiration.