At the outset, the thought of Elvis Costello making a record with The Roots struck me as somewhat odd.
But the more I thought about it the less odd it seemed.
Both, after all, have a reputation for innovation and experimentation, for taking big bold steps forward.
Both have collaborated with other artists in past with varying degrees of success.
Both like a challenge.
So it was with an open mind that I eventually queued up an advance copy of the much-rumoured Costello/Roots collaboration Wise Up Ghost, which officially hits the streets next week.
Don’t know what I expected to find here.
Something a little heavier, a little more out there, a little more in your face perhaps.
And while there are some tracks where they colour outside the lines Wise Up Ghost is, for the most part, a pretty accessible record, one that artfully mixes elements of pop, soul, R&B, hip-hop and jazz to create something that is fresh, genuinely interesting and engaging throughout.
The arrangements are cool and the production, entrusted to longtime Roots associate Steven Mandel, together with Costello and The Roots’ Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, serves the music very well, never overwhelming you with too much of this or too much of that.
There’s great chemistry between Costello and The Roots. You get the sense that they genuinely enjoy working together and that both have learned something from each other in the process of making this record.
But that should come as no surprise to anyone who saw them perform Brilliant Disguise and Fire together last year on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon as part of Fallon’s Springsteen tribute.
The seed for the Wise Up Ghost set was apparently planted that night.
This record was recorded in secret for the most part, some of it at Feliz Habitat Studios, the rest at Costello’s Hookery Crookery Studios.
Costello has described the record as “the shortest distance between here and there” and said it contained “both rhythm and what is read.”
Take from that what you will.
Thompson’s description of the record is a little more direct and to the point.
“It’s a moody, brooding affair, cathartic rhythms and dissonant lullabies,” Thompson said.
“I went stark and dark on the music....”
I would certainly agree with Thompson about it being stark and dark.
But there are moments on the record as well that have a raw beauty and a gentleness about them.
No, it’s not a record that you’ll throw on when Nana comes by for tea, but there are several tracks on Wise Up Ghost that will grow on you, tracks like Viceroy’s Row, Sugar Won’t Work and the title track.
I’m also partial to the quirky Walk Us Uptown and (She Might Be A) Grenade.
Great lyrics, some serious grooves and great performances by both Costello and The Roots.
In addition to Costello, the members of the Roots and some of their associates, Wise Up Ghost also features the vocals of La Marisoul, lead singer of La Santa Cecilia. on Cinco Minutos Con Vos.
This record serves both acts well and should find favour with fans on both sides of the fence.
(Rating 3 ½ out of 5 stars)
Doug Gallant, a reporter with The Guardian, writes his music review column for The Guardian every week. He welcomes comments from readers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 629-6000, ext. 6057.