Costello and The Roots work well together



Very few artists have lasted as long as Elvis Costello. Here’s a guy that made his mark way back in the British New Wave/Punk days. His peers respect him because he’s always evolving as an artist. Whether it’s with his band The Attractions or The Imposters or his collaboration albums with The Brodsky Quartet, Burt Bacharach, Marian McPartland, Allen Toussaint or now on his latest with The Roots.
Wise Up Ghost (Blue Note) by Elvis Costello and The Roots is probably the most unlikely collaboration between these two artists – which makes it so dammed good. Costello, a prolific writer, teaming with America’s most diverse, indefinable band is a perfect match.
Philadelphia’s The Roots have become the perfect example of what a band of musicians should be. Based in hip-hop, they are well versed in everything from jazz to power pop. As house band for Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night, there is nothing they can’t do musically on any given night.
Neither artist gives in or way to the other. Costello is his usual boisterous vocal self and The Roots are as beat driven as ever. The result is one of the best albums of the year and is a feather in both their respective caps.
Standouts include the title track “Wise Up Ghost,” first single “Walk Us Uptown,” “Stick Out Your Tongue” and the quiet “Tripwire.”
Trombone Shorty has released another album that once again uses his instrument of choice – the trombone, to expand his musical horizons. Say That To Say This (Verve) is his latest and this time co-produced with Raphael Saadiq.
Can’t say nothing bad about Saadiq, he is my kinda producer, one that knows what he wants and goes after it. Shorty and Saadiq would often run into each other on the road and decided to collaborate on an album, Say That To Say This is the result.
Shorty (Troy Andrews) is a very talented guy, a great musician and has appeared in film and the HBO television series Treme among others. It’s just that he plays the trombone, which in other musical genres is fine but in the world of funk it just doesn’t cut it, he’s limiting his audience.
Stuff like “Shortyville” works because it’s a funky jazz number with a killer horn section that has a great trombone then trumpet solo. It’s not trying to be something other than what it is. “You And I (Outta This Place)” has a great rock guitar foundation and then comes a trombone solo that sounds just so outta place.
Saadiq is helpful but it’s not enough. It’s not because of bad material, production or musicianship; the musical concept of using a trombone as the primary instrument in this setting is flawed. The few good ones include “Fire and Brimstone” and very jazzy instrumental “Sunrise.”
OK so North Mississippi Allstars have released a few clinkers recently. In fact they haven’t generated much buzz since 2008’s Hernando. Mainly because three of there last four releases have been live compilations, revisiting old successes. How does this make any sense?
On World Boogie Is Coming (Songs Of The South) they are back with an album chuck full of new material. This is one of those Southern Boogie Blues bands that are better off not thinking what they should be doing and simply do what their instincts tell them to do. Brothers Luther (guitar) and Cody (drums) Dickinson along with bassist Chris Chew are a pretty tight trio that never get in the way of one another.
They might originate from Mississippi and recorded the album in Memphis but I swear I hear more Tex-Mex in them than anything else. Luther can play that guitar but more in a rhythm way than one might expect. Sure he slide solos but it’s almost secondary.
Standouts include “Turn Up Satan,” “Going To Brownsville” and “Meet Me In The City.” Welcome back, boys.
Before this gets too far away from me, late summer saw the release of Bob Dylan The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10 ­‑ Another Self Portrait 1969-1971 (Columbia/Legacy). An amazing compilation of unreleased recordings, demos and alternate takes from the Self Portrait and New Morning album sessions.
These tracks were recorded at a very important time in Dylan’s career. Hot off the heels of the successful Nashville Skyline album, Dylan went into the studio to record some new material, but more importantly to reimagine other performers’ material. It was a period of self-awareness and growth for Dylan, where he wanted to do what he wanted and not what the public was expecting of him.
Standouts on the standard two­­­­­‑CD set include “If Not For You,” “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” “These Hands,” “Minstrel Boy” and a live version of “Highway 61 Revisited” recorded at the Isle Of Wight Festival in 1969.