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2010 album from the veteran British singer/songwriter. National Ransom was recorded in a total of eleven days at Sound Emporium, Nashville and Village Recorders, Los Angeles and was produced by T Bone Burnett and engineered and mixed by Michael Piersante at Electromagetic, Los Angeles. All of these songs are newly composed by Costello with the exception of "I Lost You," co-written with Jim Lauderdale and "All These Strangers," for which Costello and T Bone Burnett collaborated on the lyrics. Costello and Burnett also provide the lyrics for "My Lovely Jezebel," a Leon Russell Rock 'n' Roll tune . All members of the Imposters and Sugarcanes appear on the album along with guests Vince Gill, Marc Ribot, Buddy Miller and Leon Russell.
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A Whitman's Sampler of styles, "National Ransom" takes the listener on a sonic trip: edgy rock, New Orleans jazz, acoustic jazz, country, ballads, blues ... even a detour back to the "Attractions" days. Yes, for all you longtime Elvis fans, "Alison" could be slipped onto this disc and would blend in.
But it doesn't stop there. From the country churns ("That's Not the Part of Him You're Leaving" and "I Lost You") to the Victrola waltzes ala Leon Redbone ("You Hung the Moon") Elvis' voice hasn't sounded better.
Like acoustic guitar? "A Slow Drag With Josephine" is spot on, complete with mandolins and whistling -- echoes of Ry Cooder.
"Jimmie Standing in the Rain" -- a melancholy night in the French Quarter.
"Bullets For the New-Born King" -- Which is more poetic? The lyrics or the silky acoustic guitar. You decide.
"National Ransom" is a monster step up from Elvis' previous album, "Secret, Profane & Sugarcane," which housed a lot of mediocre and forgettable tunes.
Meandering cleverly through the various genres, "National Ransom" is Elvis at what is perhaps his creative peak.
Impressive! And another disquieting reminder that the Brits do Americana at least as well as we Yanks do.
Elvis Costello has been hanging out with all the right people, including Allen Toussaint, T Bone Burnett, and Leon Russell, and he's aging as gracefully as Emmylou Harris -- and there's no higher praise. She might decide to cover one of these songs. Now, how about those two collaborating?
Elvis digs deep into all of his past work--his lyrics are sophisticated, humorous, touching. He shines on his melodies--catchy yet not obvious. INstrumentation is tight, and it feels like he has lived these songs for a while. Instrumentation is straightforward, but feels very full and well orchestrated.
As I listened to the album, I could feel some influence from the southern US--pickers, some jazzy chord changes, even a little dixie jazz feel in places.
Listen, if you like Elvis Costello, if you are one of the faithful who has stuck by him in all his many incarnations, then this is a no-brainer. Buy it now. If you are a relapsed fan, this is a great place to jump back in--the album is approachable, beautiful, fun, and artistically impressive. If you've never listened to Elvis Costello before, you've got a great set of treats to pick up. You're going to want to pick up some of his older albums as well, but this is a fantastic into to the quirky, fascinating, multigenre spanning talent of Elvis.
Get it. I can't wait to buy another copy to give away!
Each of the album's 16 tracks is special so I'll just pick on a few to highlight. The woozy enthralling "Stations Of The Cross", "A Slow Drag With Josephine" is acoustic Folk, "Five Small Words" is bouncy Country with quivering guitars, "Church Underground" is Bluesy Pop (with snarling vocals and guitars), the slow shuffling Jazzy "You Hung The Moon", the Folk/Blues "Dr. Watson, I Presume", the acoustic "One Bell Ringing", and the vaudeville "A Voice In The Dark".
"National Ransom" is like a well stocked jukebox which ticks all the right boxes.