The 16-track genre spanning CD release from Elvis Costello, National Ransom, bridges upbeat rock & roll, mid-tempo melodies and a few ballads. It is produced by the magical touch of T-Bone Burnett whom Costello worked with on the 2009 release of Secret, Profane & Sugarcane. However, National Ransom is not an identical twin. Here Costello uses his curator’s set of rare guitars for precise tones on each of these new tunes.
National Ransom does spotlight a mixed-up ensemble of his loyal band mates from both The Sugarcanes and The Imposters. Visiting guest artists include Leon Russell, Buddy Miller, Jim Lauderdale, Vince Gill, and Marc Ribot.
The respected subconscious Costello songwriting notes the societal shift in our collective priorities which can be a pious poison. The weary avarice laden wickedness of Wall Street witchcraft is thankfully skewered in the searing rock & roll title track sneer.
“Jimmie Standing in the Rain” has the vintage touch of a 1930’s parlor setting. The celeste used by Steve Nieve is a unique keyboard creating a soft tinkling lilting atmosphere of raindrops upon a tin roof. This full sound is enhanced by the trumpet work of Darrell Leonard.
Conflicted visions within “Stations of The Cross” cite fist-fighting, finery and fleeing to the gates of heaven before closing time. The metaphorical lyrics of differences give us pause.
Soft see-saw sing-along expressions in “A Slow Drag with Josephine” skip lightly with happy whistling dreams of a date night at the circus. Yet the regrets of heartbreak and the chance to trade past actions for current desires hold sway in the story.
“Church Underground” has a swing vibe featuring a 5 piece horn section, the incredible Jerry Douglas on lap steel, and fine electric viola touches from Stuart Duncan. A street wise transient estranged woman is haunted by profound desire while seeking redemption amid hard times.
Velvet vocals drift past jazzy string and horn arrangements in “You Hung the Moon” invoking a slow motion trance. Here yearning memories cannot repair a broken heart filled only by sorrow and hollow regrets.
Costello’s ripe witty prolific pointed perspective wields a rooted refined spirited thorough wise approach. In a bewitching constellation of classic Costello we have imagery, truth and anger. Between his thoughtful three decades of distilled diverse details are a musical panoramic postcard delivered with powerful conviction. National Ransom is a gem.