National Ransom by Elvis Costello

  • US 2nd Nov
  • UK 25th Oct

Album Info


National Ransom

"National Ransack" a four-song 33 1/3 7" vinyl EP featuring songs recorded during the 'National Ransom' sessions will be released on December 21st and will be available at participating Record Store Day stores. The EP contains the tracks "Poor Borrowed Dress", "Big Boys Cry", "I Don't Want To Go Home" and "Condemned Man" . More....


"From the desk of Miriam Cooney:

We thought you might be amused by the following dispatch to our long-suffering and entirely blameless radio promotion representative from a very busy and important BBC Radio producer.

As it seems our client is no longer welcome at Radio Two, we thought you might like to obtain the following songs by these admittedly rather obscure artists and make your own radio show....

Forever Came Today - Diana Ross & The Supremes
Hey Bulldog - The Beatles
Overtime - Willie Nelson & Lucinda Williams
Lil' Pony - Georgie Fame & The Harry South Big Band
Hound Dog - Big Mama Thornton
Milkshake - Kelis   
Soul Serenade - Aretha Franklin
Make It Rain - Tom Waits
Pennies from Heaven - Bing Crosby
There'll Be No Teardrops Tonight
- Hank Williams
When He Returns - Rance Allen
Uptown Top Ranking - Althea and Donna
The End of Our Road - Marvin Gaye
It Makes No Difference Now - Ray Charles
It Don't Cost Very Much - Mahalia Jackson
Know Your Rights - The Clash
"Sorry to say but yet again one of your artisrts (sic) has missed the point of the feature which is their top ten well known tracks about which they have stories.  This is for a mainstream audience. We can certainly record it this way however I can't guarantee I will broadcast it" 



National Ransack: The Right Rev. Jimmy Quickly sends his seasonal greetings and announces the release of "National Ransack", a 7" vinyl EP, featuring the songs, "Poor Borrowed Dress", "Big Boys Cry", "I Don't Want To Go Home" and "Condemned Man". This record will be available from December 21st, for anyone still struggling to fill that platter-shaped space in the yuletide stockings

In a testimonial issued through the Right Rev, Elvis Costello reflected on his personal view of Extended Play discs and the dwindling number of real record shops in which you may browse and purchase them.

"The first record for which I ever slapped down my own pocket money was a vinyl E.P.

It was "Twist And Shout" by The Beatles.

For more than 45 years, record shops have been my reference library, my college and occasionally something like a church. I've happily left a small fortune in the collection plate.

We should defend and celebrate those still open for business with our last breath.

Music takes time.

My first record label released three 45rpm singles to very little fanfare before it ever became clear that this music lark might become my livelihood and it has been quite lively, now and then.

So, if this Extended Play release should be my last as we presently know them, it's a fine way to go out.

At least until someone comes up with pill that allows us to hear new music. I believe scientists are working on this as I write"


Today (Singapore): It's certainly no exaggeration to declare that National Ransom might just be Costello's best album in a decade, which is an amazing accomplishment for a musician who has been in the business for 33 years. Highly recommended. More...


Elvis Costello AOL Sessions is live on AOL. More...


Elvis Costello in Concert at Avatar Studios for NPR. Listen here... 


The Spectrum: Kidnap this album. More...


The Harvard Crimson: "National Ransom" reaches ambitious new heights. More... National Ransom is filled with tracks that Costello lovers will be dying to hear, and that people from any walk of life can relate to. Intellectually deep, lyrically complex, musically rich, and always full of life (on its upswings, and its downs), this album offers more than just thirty-three years of craftsmanship in the making. It is a solid, honest work of art that will bring more appreciation with each listen. More...


Los Angeles Times: As a singer, songwriter and observer of human foibles, Elvis Costello is little short of dazzling on his latest outing. More...


The National Post: Elvis Costello showcases vignettes for our times on National Ransom. More...


The Daily Campus: On "My Lovely Jezebel," Costello takes an Elmore James-esque turn, intermingling his own thick bluesy vocals with Leon Russell's honky-tonk piano playing. The fusion of opposing genres meshes together rather effortlessly, showcasing Costello's wide vocal range combined with Russell's talent for brilliant piano playing. More...


PopDose.Com: The results are both dizzying and stunning. Lyrically, his turns of phase are as adept as ever – “hands and bells are only there for the wringing,” he sings on the acrid “Bullets for the New-Born King” – but his scope is even more ambitious than usual. On the languid “All These Strangers,” Costello weaves a patchwork of villains and ominous locations in what amounts to an epic, atmospheric parable about love and trust. More...


The Globe and Mail: Elvis Costello on music, religion and the act of writing songs. More...


USA Today: Last night in NYC: Elvis Costello previews his new album
"When you go make a record, you get to eat some pulled pork between takes," he joked. More...


Consequence of Sound: "National Ransom" is arguably Elvis Costello most ambitious record in years. This is a record that relies upon subtleties: a creative turn of phrase, a surprising vocal delivery or harmony, or the way that instruments share space with one another. Costello and Burnett have created the type of record that sounds good upon a casual listen and gets even better when you really start to dig in. More...


New Jersey Star-Ledger: Elvis Costello plays songs from 'National Ransom' at the NYPL Costello aired the timely obsessions of a discouraged social critic. How much of our humanity are we willing to sacrifice in the name of security? Do tough times bring out our compassion, or our cruelty?


Lexington Herald Leader: Costello's new album, National Ransom, borrows, in part, from the Americana strains of last year's Secret, Profane and Sugarcane. You hear echoes of that record through the hard country yarn That's Not the Part of Him You're Leaving. But one could just as easily claim the album as Costello's return to post-punk form with the cheesy guitar-organ charge of National Ransom's title tune.

National Ransom is more than any of that. It's vastly restless album with a jubilant lyricism often masking a very dark consciousness. More...


The Tennessean: "If I was ever going to make a double album, this was the time,". More...


The Globe and Mail: National Ransom, a mind-grabbing 60-minute experience. What we have here is a cleverly musical book of short stories, carried by big-brained lyrics, unusually detailed scenes, mix-and-match combos, deft arrangements, era-specific settings and styles, and characters who lament and lose. More... "National Ransom" flows unlike any other in his 30-plus years of record-making. He gives the audience songs to ponder and sing along with; it's as inviting as a well-stocked jukebox that attracts folks from all different walks of life. More... ?Elvis Costello wowed a select crowd on Thursday, Oct. 28 at London's legendary jazz venue, Ronnie Scott's, with songs from his current recording, 'National Ransom'. More...


Nashville Scene: In advance of his new Nashville-recorded album National Ransom, Elvis Costello looks back on his three-decade love affair with Music City. More...


The Hurst Review: Each song is a snippet, a scene from either the too-painful present or an age gone by but never forgotten; the music reflects the literary scope of the writing, moving with deft purpose through stringband numbers and jazzy torch songs, country weepers and the earliest formations of American rhythm and blues. The final song– “A Voice in the Dark”– could have been manufactured in Tin Pan Alley, and heard in any New York nightclub circa 1930.

This is an album of betrayal, a set of lover’s laments from the jilted and the downtrodden; sometimes the one who did the jilting is another lover, elsewhere it’s America and her dream, and the distinction becomes less important as the album progresses. The title song– “for the bankrupt times,” Costello says– is a howling indictment of the wolf on the album’s front cover; he’s stolen all the money, and set it all on fire. The betrayal here is perpetuated by Wall Street, by the government, by all of us; Costello makes it clear that we’re in a tar pit of our own making.

This, and everything here, is strung along by the thread of history; it could have sprung from the pen of Faulkner or Fitzgerald, Nathanael West or Walt Whitman.

There are some fine character sketches here, one of my favorites being 'Jimmie Standing in the Rain,' about a phony London cowboy performer who’s been abandoned by the fickle public he once so loyally entertained. It’s worth noting that this song– which, with its mention of an 'indifferent nation,' articulates some of the record’s concerns fairly directly– is actually set in Britain instead of the States, suggesting that Costello’s aims here are not exactly political, at least not in any conventional sense. I also love that the song is echoed later in its more hopeful counterpart, "Dr. Watson, I Presume," also about an entertainer - in this case, bluegrass stalwart Doc Watson. Costello met him a couple years back and was obviously rather enamored of him; this song is a series of moments, of regrets and opportunities, mistakes and strange coincidences, that add up to a life well-lived, with purpose and with grace. It’s a hopeful heart for a record made for desperate times and a bankrupt era– a humble nod from the once and future King of America. More...


Spin: Costello steps up most strongly on gorgeous ballads like "All These Strangers" and "You Hung the Moon," the latter of which could fool your grandparents into thinking they'd heard it at a V-J Day dance. More...


Vanity Fair: What might be the first masterpiece of Costello's golden age. More...


Slant Magazine: "National Ransom" is a stellar entry in his already hefty canon. More...


Herald Scotland: National Ransom, he says, "should be thought of as a double vinyl album, because that was what he was making... They can be a useful weapon," he adds, enigmatically, "or a tray..." More...


The Scotsman: Still sounds wholly committed to honing his skills as songwriter and bandleader. And 33 albums into a career, that is an enviable place to be.More...


The Sun: The bite comes in the lyrics which dwell on a recession-hit world where poverty and social injustice is rife. Stand-out tracks include the bittersweet, "Stations Of The Cross" and exceptional "Five Small Words". Further proof that this E.C. is a national treasure


Rolling Stone - Number 2 on "The Hot List": "National Ransom" – Costello has always been best when he’s really pissed off- and now he’s found his best target since he clobbered Margaret Thatcher back in ’89: Wall Street d-bags get theirs on this "Brutal Youth"-style garage rocker"


The Independent: The most impressive piece is "You Hung The Moon", with subtle strings and bass clarinet shading a tale of a family trying to contact the spirit of a First World War soldier.


The Observer: The specificity has a richly theatrical effect: in "Jimmie Standing in the Rain", we vividly feel the exhaustion of a failed music-hall singer getting drenched at a Lancashire train station. To criticize an overabundance of scenes and musical styles feels like quibbling with generosity.


The Telegraph: "Brillance"


The Independent On Sunday: This is Costello in King of America mode: assorted players of calibre (Marc Ribot, Buddy Miller etc), 11 days in the studio and, presto, an album.


Mojo: Consider "You Hung The Moon": the setting is "Pimlico, London, 1919" (says the lyric sheet, which suggests a time and place for each song); a mother holds an séance to contact her soldier son, an executed deserter. Over murmuring strings, Costello sings both the woman's grief ("The sea has no tide/Since he was taken from my side") and the firing squad's brutal bravado ("So slap out his terrors/And sneer at his tears"). Song, singer and music together honour the bewilderment and beauty of mourning.

In "One Bell Ringing", a quiet affair featuring lovely voice and trumpet harmonies, the protagonist has a terrible dream about being interrogated and shot. It makes you think about Jean Charles de Menezes. Then you read the scene-setting line "London Underground, 22nd of July, 2005" the song had already done its work.

"Jimmie Standing In The Rain" carries that serious weight too, although its hero is a fake "cowboy" singer mooching around the Depression music halls ("Accrington, 1937" – "Now you're walking off to jeers, the lonely sound of jingling spurs"). Telling his tale amid subdued trad jazz, Costello measures his respect for this sorry figure like slow steps towards a New Orleans graveyard.

Three real Elvis mountain top moments then - and no lows. The other dozen tracks, T Bone Burnett producing, evince Costello's usual range of pungent moods, styles, and enjoyably angular writing, words and tunes. Betrayals and jealousies abound, whether accompanied by his combined Imposters/Sugarcanes band hammering late-'70 new wave rock ("Five Small Words", "The Spell That You Cast", Wall Street banker satire "National Ransom"), or gospel boogie supercharged by Leon Russell's piano ("My Lovely Jezebel"), or finely detailed yet unobtrusive arrangements of brass, organ, violins and more ("Church Underground", "Stations Of The Cross").

When moving to country idiom, it's striking how his language shifts from high tone - "Man is a miserable ape and a sad pile of sticks" (My Lovely Jezebel) - to straight-talking: " I chased the one I surely loved to someone else's arms"(I Lost You).

Occasionally his writing's so hyperactive it resists comprehension. In Dr. Watson, I Presume. Can he be telling us, obliquely, about a psychiatrist advising him that to escape depression he'd need to start forgiving people, even Thatcher? Nah. That would be like Samsom getting a haircut.


CraveOnLine: I love when an album like National Ransom drops so close to the end of the year, it completely disrupts my top ten plans. This is a dark album, a bright album, a jazz record, a folk record, an experimental record and a straight rock record. How many albums this year have even come close to that kind of variation?


Uncut: The high point is "Bullets For The Newborn King", a sweet lament written from the viewpoint of a regretful assassin, but "You Hung The Moon" (a swoony ballad about a seancefor an executed deserter) and "One Bell Ringing" ( about Jean Charles de Menezes?) offer strangely dreamy interludes on a record which is preoccupied with lies and death.


Rolling Stone: Elvis vs the Vampire Squad. Wall Street deserves abuse in all forms, and on the title track from his T Bone Burnett-produced album Costello delivers a punk-blues indictment of Goldman-Sachs culture. The result is a fiercesome rocker that revamps Elvis’ sound while reviving that classic Costello anger.


The Times: Costello’s voice is still his most distinctive instrument, crooning on You Hung the Moon like Bing Crosby or snarling like the rocker of old.

National Ransom

Running pell-mell and harum-scarum
Running as hot as they do or dare
Stick out your tongue
And drink down all the venom
From Cut-Throat Cuthbert
And Millicent St. Cyr

From the real old Macau
To the new False Americas
In the liberated territories

Unusual suspects shake down, shake down, shake down various dubious characters

Mother's in the kitchen picking bones for breakfast
Boiling them down by the bushel and the score
Pull out your thumb and count what's left of your fist
There's a wolf at the window with ravening maw

Did you find how to lie?
Did you find out just how to cheat?
The elite bleat, their obsolete
But are your prospects?
Exact, perfect object
Now, if you'd only genuflect

They're running wild
Just like some childish tantrum
Meanwhile we're working every day
Paying off the National Ransom

Woe betide all this hocus-pocus
They're running us ragged at their first attempt
Around the time the killing stopped on Wall St.
You couldn't hold me, baby with anything but contempt

Letters peal slowly from our speech
The claxton attempts to preach
Stretching for stars still out of reach

Outside someone's wailing

They're running wild
Just like some childish tantrum
Meanwhile we're working every day
Paying off the National Ransom

1929 to the Present Day

Jimmie Standing in the Rain

Third-Class ticket in his pocket
Punching out the shadows underneath the sockets
Tweed coat turned up against the fog

Slow coaches rolling o'er the moor
Between the very memory
And approaches of war

Stale bread curling on a luncheon counter
Loose change lonely, not the right amount

Forgotten Man of an indifferent nation
Waiting on a platform at a Lancashire station
Somebody's calling you again
The sky is falling
Jimmie's standing in the rain

Nobody wants to buy a counterfeited prairie lullaby in a colliery town
A hip flask and fumbled skein with some stagedoor Josephine is all he'll get now
Eyes going in and out of focus
Mild and bitter from tuberculosis

Forgotten Man
Indifferent nation
Waiting on a platform at a Lancashire station
Somebody's calling you again
The sky is falling
Jimmie's standing in the rain

Her soft breath was gentle on his neck
If he could choose the time to die
Then he would come and go like this
Underneath a painted sky

She woke up and called him "Charlie" by mistake
And then in shame began to cry
Tarnished silver band peals off a phrase
And then warms their hands around the brazier

Forgotten Man
Indifferent nation
Waiting on a platform at a Lancashire station
Somebody's calling you again
It's finally dawning
Jimmie's standing in the rain

Brilliantine glistening
Your soft plaintive whistling
And your wan wandering smile

Died down at The Hippodrome
Now you're walking off to jeers, the lonely sound of jingling spurs, the "toodle-oos" and "Oh, my dears" down at "The Argyle"

Vile vaudevillians applaud sobriety
There's no place for a half-cut cowboy in polite society

Forgotten Man
Indifferent nation
Waiting on a platform at a Lancashire station
Somebody's calling you again
It's finally dawning
Jimmie's standing in the rain

Accrington - 1937

Stations of the Cross

The tempest blows up from a squall
Past the Cape of Bad Conscience
Into the Gulf of the Cauldron
Roars over the coastline to batter and flatten
Exposing the roots like the dyed hair of slattern

Scrapper and mauler in a rope ring this small
Outside the wind is punching
There's no one left to hear it
No one hears the bell ring
Except the one who comes to fear it
And they continue to brawl

He's buying his way into heaven I suppose
He weeps at the blows
But down in a location that we cannot disclose
He turns the dial slowly
Through the Stations of the Cross

Crowd done up dandy
In diamonds and finery
Baying and howling
All bloodlusty calling
Fists like pistons
Faces like meat spoiling
Haul, boys, haul, bully-boys haul

Later that evening
Molly and her gunman
Go down the stairs to a dive like a dungeon
Meanwhile in the backroom there's a girl like a sponge
Saying, "Bring him in long as a constable's truncheon"

The gunman wants Molly to kingdom come
Then blows them all to the hereafter
Who's scuttling away now and hidden from our view?
Who tightened the tourniquet, turning her blue?

They're hurling themselves into heaven I suppose
Before the gates are closed
But down in a location that we cannot disclose
They'll turn the dial slowly through the Stations of the Cross

The gale of hale laughter
Scales up the ivory
The black keys of her fine whine descend into the minor
Die away breathless
Diminishing behind her
Haul boys haul, bully-boys haul

The water came up to the eaves
You'd think someone had opened a valve
It's too soon to stay now and too late to leave
So spare your remorse all the way up to Calvary

They're hurling themselves into heaven I suppose
Before the gates are closed
But down in a location that we cannot disclose
I'm turning the dial slowly through the Stations of the Cross

In An Undisclosed Location, Possibly New Orleans, 2005

A Slow Drag With Josephine

The snitch, the snoop, the tattletale
Lead a threadbare up stairs
Adieu, my little ballyhoo
You broke my heart in two
And now I haunt the bars and scent those trite affairs
She went home to gather her comb
And caught him unawares

And there was her man enjoying the lay of the land
He took a walk in the dark with a dish from the stand
Girls and their creations
Tight in the brightest grenadine
But I'd take all that I've seen
For a Slow Drag with Josephine

Josephine, Josephine
But I'd trade all that I've seen for a Slow Drag with Josephine

Gavotte, garrotes, Cotillions and slow Arabesques
Drum-rolls and Farandoles were all made in jest
But when you make that move
I can't resist
When will you declare your armistice?

Josephine, Josephine
But I'd trade all that I've seen for a Slow Drag with Josephine

In another time and place a different fate was cast
He tried to skeddle-daddle-do
She might have slapped him
Just for saying "Grant one more chance before you pass"
"Then curse the nurse that named me the first or bury me at last"

And in three-quarter time
The true and the false
Dancing the "Hesitation Waltz"
Then comes the "Flirtation"
And temptation
Hip, hip hooray
Listen to what I say
Then you can take it away...

Under The Napoleonic Code - 1921

Five Small Words

Maybe you'll recognize in time
Maybe one day you will discover
All the pain that lies behind
You and your unfortunate love

Somebody might be more
Unsuitable and strange
With eyes that offer everything
And are capable of danger

My mind turns over lies you told
Things said to your other lover
Sweet as they had been to me
You lay there telling them to each other

Now I stand outside the door
My head is filled phrases
Inside someone's calling out
Their voices rise with praises

Five Small Words
"I don't want you anymore"
Five Small Words
"I don't need you anymore"
Five Small Words
Coward that you are, you would faithlessly implore
"Baby please don't leave me"
"Why don't you believe me?"
"Why did you deceive me?"

It didn't take some shiny dagger
The tattooed fingers grip and hone
I walked under some dark ladder
Heard your final loving moan
All your indiscretions are
So merciful and brief
Genteel poison sprinkled on your Spanish handkerchief

Five Small Words
"Don't you love me anymore?"
Five Small Words
But then who is keeping score?

Coward that you are, you would so faithlessly implore
"Baby please don't leave me"
"Why don't you believe me?"
"Why did you deceive me?"

Maybe in time you'll want me more
Accidentally like this '45
This '44

Tucson, Arizona, 1978

Church Underground

She stood spotlit in a plain print dress
Came howling out of the wilderness
There beat a cunning and murderous heart
Beneath that calm exterior

"You know my name
You don't know my mind
Don't doubt my eyes
They betray the past
And I've already forgotten
Much more than you will ever know"

And every word that I have spoken is true
Except for those that were broken in two

I'm trying to make peace after a long night of pretend
I need a pawnbroker or moneylender

Why do you do me down, Mister?
Sing "Hallelujah," Sister
Turn up the volume, just to turn it down
The trivial secrets buried with profound
It's enough to put a Church Underground

Deflowered young and then ever since
She's tried to wash off his fingerprints
So every charlatan and prince
Was made to feel inferior

She worked for tips in a 10-cent dance
Said moving pictures might pay perchance
10,000 one-way tickets to the sparkling coast
From the blank interior

Everybody's either talking in code
Or getting ready to explode

Then she was singing with five-piece band
But seems that no-one wants this sound

Why do you do me down, Mister?
Sing "Hallelujah," Sister
Turn up the volume, just to turn it down
The trivial secrets buried with profound
It's enough to put a Church Underground

The shaft of fanlight streaked with rain
Poured through the glass, punched through the pain
A holy picture hidden in the midden of that poisoned stitch
Her lonely voice was just a ruin in these riches

Must have been dreaming this all along
Could she be redeeming herself in song?
"I'm no-one's martyred, plaster saint
Below the grease, beneath the paint"

I'm rolling like barrel
Swinging like a gallows
I'm rising up fast like all hell and all hallows

Why do you do me down, Mister?
Sing "Hallelujah," Sister
I'll be damned or purgatory bound
Before those jokers ever understand
It's enough to put a Church Underground

Utopia, KS, 1915 To The Garden of Allah, Hollywood, California, 1947

You Hung the Moon

The homecoming fanfare is echoing still
Now tapping on tables
And sensing a chill
Poor families expecting loved one's return
Only summon some charlatan spectre
Oh, when will they learn?

You hung the moon
From a gallows in the sky
Choked out the light
From his blue lunar eye

The shore is a parchment
The sea has no tide
Since he was taken from my side

The lines of the fallen are viewed through a glass
But you cannot touch them at all
Or hear their footfall just as they go past
The drunken ground is where they are bound

You hung the moon
From a gallows in the sky
Put out the light in his blue lunar eye

The shore is a parchment
The sea has no tide
Since he was taken from my side

So slap out his terrors
And sneer at his tears
We deal with deserters like this
From the breech to the barrel, the bead we will level
Break earth with a shovel, quick march on the double
Lower him shallow like tallow down in the abyss

You hung the moon
From a gallows in the sky
Choked out the light in his blue lunar eye

The shore is a parchment
The sea has no tide
Since he was taken from my side

A Drawing Room In Pimlico, London - 1919

Bullets for the New-Born King

No one looks in this place for motive or any hope
But for the dead shot of an amber glass
The blue light of a votive

The rain obscured the window
As the pain was dulled by the grains
Absolved in spoons and flames
In fear in time dissolving

It's not for the faint of pulse
Or anybody false
Those amateurs who only shed their skin
So where are those traitors now, we once called patriots?
Just like those saints who seem to revel in their sins

O my eyes were filled with tears that were stinging
After our assassin's work was done
But hands and bells are only there for the wringing
As we were bringing bullets for the new-born king

The trumpet sounds lamenting
Trampling down the blooms of the deceased
The double agent girl and the fallen priest were heading for the border

Somewhere at the high command there stayed the palest hand
That saw the order countermand
Erased a tape recorder and then they hung him from a window cord

Swallow down that voodoo vial to still your breath a while
Before we spill this tale that has been spun
And so I shall now confide all that I once denied
Oh I'm so sorry for the things I've done

O my eyes were filled with tears that were stinging
After our assassin's work was done
But hands and bells are only there for the wringing
As we were bringing bullet for the new-born king

Somewhere In Central America - 1951

I Lost You

I Lost You
I Lost You
You slipped from your costume
Like an actress in this tragedy
You're just an apparition in a haunting mystery
I fear that you've passed over me...
And there's nothing I can do because
I Lost You

Just like a rich man who is careless of his change
I took you for granted
And then you went to strangers
From deep within my heart I feel a distant fading pulse
A poor woman looking for last coin in her purse

I Lost You
I Lost You
You slipped from your costume
Like an actress in this tragedy
You're just an apparition in a haunting mystery
I fear that you've passed over me...
And there's nothing I can do because
I Lost You

Just like a counterfeit you pass from palm to palm
I chased the one I surely loved to someone else's arms
I mislaid my senses, now that's easy to say
A fool who took his pleasure but then threw his love away

I Lost You
I Lost You
You slipped from your costume
Like an actress in this tragedy
You're just an apparition in a haunting mystery
I fear that you've passed over me...
And there's nothing I can do because
I Lost You

On The Road To Cain's Ballroom, Tulsa - 2009

Dr Watson,
I Presume

I sat in a motel room with the doctor
Just before we were supposed to sing
He said regarding this guardian wing
This black and clipped misshapen thing
Hobbling on from claw to ring
Hung upside down and cawing
Pecking at carrion of the fallen
On frozen mooring

Blackbird in a crust no more
They fell down 4 and 20
Bloodstained the land of want and plenty
Now raven standing at his shoulder
Stared with eyes of molten solder

Dripping on a lacquer box
Introducing keys to locks
Seven talents there where hidden
Mysterious and some forbidden

Take the honey from the comb
Ravel thread around the loom
Dig the dirt up from the tomb
Dr. Watson, I presume

One will follow
Two unknown sorrow
Three for laughter
Four ever after
Five-foot flood when the waters hit
Six feet deep, the eternal pit

Seven prayers and seven pleas
To eight imagined deities
Cat o' nine tails
Cat of nine lives
Brides turned into old wives tales
Your complexion colours then it pales
And into the sunset it sails

Soon these secrets will be scattered
Heaven knows what lies inside
It took a moment to discover
A lifetime to decide

Take the honey from the comb
Ravel thread around the loom
Dig the dirt up from the tomb
Dr. Watson, I presume

Wilkesboro, North Carolina - 2007

One Bell Ringing

Raining slapping on the window pane
An hour or more of teeming
Storm punching like a hurricane
That tore him out of dreaming

Air screaming through the slightest gap
Rattling between the frame and the sill
Drapes hanging from the final act
When I had you still

One lonely bird is singing
Lower the hood hung of his lament
Dash him down on cold cement
One Bell Ringing

Flies buzzing round strip search light
They've got him down on his knees
He thinks of honey dripping from a spoon
Girls whispering in Portuguese

Between muzzle and the black site
Electrical contact
Deny your name and then carry the blame
Somewhat after the fact

One lonely bird is singing
Lower the hood hung on that last lament
Dash him down on cold cement
One Bell Ringing

The London Underground - 22nd of July, 2005

The Spell That You Cast

The spell that you cast
Seems to be wearing off fast
(The spell that you cast)
Come back baby, cos I don't know if I can last
(The spell that you cast)
And I wonder whether
You got some other kind of lover
That you like to please
Better than me
I don't think I can take it
How am I going break it?
The Spell That You Cast

The spell that you've woven
Seems to be coming undone
(The spell that you cast)
Come back, Baby or at least tell me where you are going
(The spell that you cast)
'Cos you know quite well
I'm not a jealous kind of feller
But they look in your eyes
And they're all hypnotized
I'm going to miss you madly
'Cos I love you sadly
The Spell That You Cast

Jimmy come quickly 'cos I feel quite sickly
(The Spell That You Cast)
You're like a gangster's Molly with a cannonade volley
(The Spell That You Cast)

I don't think I can take it
How am I going break it?
The Spell That You Cast

The Castle Hotel, Richmond - 1965

That's Not The Part
of Him You're

I have a friend
She's just a friend
I tried to comfort and defend
I gave her what you might call advice
But nothing like that comes without a price

The rumour was a cruel surprise
And she dissolved before my eyes
I offered my hand and hers and mine entwined
I thought about back then when I wished that she had been mine

There's no use in shedding any tears
He's no good to you the way he is
He's beyond forgiving and believing
Half of his heart is torn like paper
It's sweet as the syrup from the maple
But that's not the part of him you're leaving

In time they're bound to wonder why
It's just a thrill you can't deny
I offered my shoulder right away
Now people will talk about what I can't say

And yet the whispers still persist
They're getting harder to resist
How am I supposed to stop loving you now I've begun?
And I'm sorry for what I might do more than what I have done

There's no use in shedding any tears
He's no good to you the way he is
He's beyond forgiving and believing
Half of his heart is filled with pain
That's sweet as a lick of sugarcane
But that's not the part of him you're leaving

Love is a many splintered thing
That only cuts roses and ribbons that cling
But that's not the part of him you're leaving

On The Road Between Dismal and Discouraged. Right Now

My Lovely Jezebel

She attracts dark rumours
Travels in blue and other humours
Each time she walks in the room
Brings in much more than you'd assume

Ooo, I looked in her eyes and out through that window I fell
She's My Lovely Jezebel
She neglects you and then ransacks you so very well

She suspects your sweet confection
When you talk in contradictions
Then she walks without detection
Overrules all your objections
Ooo, I looked in her eyes and through that window I fell
She's My Lovely Jezebel

Man is miserable ape and sad pile of sticks
He comes out swinging, gets in a few licks
The longest of drumrolls for the shortest of tricks

So she attracts bad intentions
She distracts all my attention
With her ways and her wild inventions
The facts of life they forgot to mention

Ooo, I looked in her eyes and down through that window I fell
She's My Lovely Jezebel
She neglects you and then ransacks you so very well

Everywhere Until Either 1938 or 1951, According To Some.

All These Strangers

"Mistreat me darling and I might just disappear"
Upon freighter running dark out of Algiers
Put tiny grains in children's tears
While taking 25% of all the flashbulbs and mementoes
From the mechanized divisions rolling over your frontiers

I saw my baby talking with another man to day
Speaking softly in a confidential way
I saw a shadow pull his glove off
As a bluebird flew over
Life's is no pleasure
When you doubt the one you love

Who Are All These Strangers?

I never will go back again
Go back into the past
For the flood is rising fast
You can break your window and look down
Into a muddy glass
It's mirror or lens to burn...

There was a deal done in Benghazi and Belgrade...
Upon a scimitar or other crooked blade
Ransacks and loots, vacated suits
And pistol points but never shoots, army sitting in a locomotive yard without their boots

Upstairs your man is painting the rain out in the street
Imagines woman that he's destined still to meet
He's trying sidetrack one to count on
Caught somewhere between countess or a courtesan
And it's only love to feign and then it's gone

Who Are All These Strangers?

He's a privateer as dusk gets near
A brigand after dark, his victim lined with chalk
A corsair, filled with horsehair to the core
Dashed on your eyes of Adamantine, you despised his stripling whine

That little smudger and the mouthpiece that he's with
Using his clause just like a practised fingersmith
I dreamed I took his digit prints
And then sewed then on a villain's hands
Watched him ransom and demand
Until called the flatfoots in

I never will go back again
Go back into the past
For the flood is rising fast
You can break your window and look down
Into a muddy glass
It's a mirror or lens to burn...

Who Are All These Strangers?

All These Strangers

I sat down on a narrow bed
I thought about the things she said

All These Strangers

How I wished the night would never end
So tried to stop the days ahead
I'd carve her name down in the wood
Some small remembrance if I could

On a narrow bed. At the last moment.

A Voice In The Dark

You can read right through a book of matches
But that won't make you smart
You can laugh in the face of watches
But time will only break your heart

Kings reign beneath umbrellas
Hide pennies down in cellars
And money pours down and yet
No everyone gets soaking wet

When bores and bullies conspire
To stamp out your spark
Listen for...
A Voice In The Dark

Not a moment too soon as we blue the moon
And a wolf begins to howl in tune
I announced for all mankind
A boon
Stand aside you big baboon
Now I'm the a prize invention
You're the image of yourself
Forget your cares
And disapproving stares
I'm not here to try to jump your borders
Just ask your nieces and daughters

I'm flat as sole, I'm happy as a clam
But they don't know the kind of man I am
Little fish swimming in a jealous shoal
Now my net is overflowing
And I suddenly seem to be all seeing and all knowing
I've got something right there
They you need to hear
But have no fear
Lend a hand
Lend an ear
If your rent-money is in arrears

We'll be striking up a symphony bandstand
Long of hair and loose of tooth
There'll be pirouettes and startling handstands
And who but acrobats know how to tell the truth
When is said that then redundant
They gallivant in peg-leg pants
I'll be your servant
You'll be my pal
I'll be ever faithful you know I shall
There's no fool like an old fool
Who blames it all upon his youth
When times are tough and you find you're down
Without a star to wish upon
Just listen for...
A Voice In The Dark

I was striking through a box of matches
Hoping that one would spark
I heard somebody calling to me
A voice in the dark
A sound both wild and gentle
Daring and confidential
I thought there was music playing
But it was all and only talk
When liars and bullies conspire to stamp out spark
Fill up that empty space in your heart
Listen up, when the herald says, "Hark"
Believe in just a voice in the dark...

On a Radio Hat - 1931


Ransom Notes

Elvis Costello In Conversation With Odile W. Husband

OWH: A wolf, perhaps the one from the cover, appears in the opening song and the closing song of "National Ransom". Is this the same wolf? Is he somehow the master of ceremonies? Are these two songs more linked than we might imagine?

EC: Well, the two songs are set in different times but "A Voice In The Dark" surely being sung in the wake of the same catastrophe that has been repeated in "National Ransom".

Someone has run off with all the money; people are losing their homes; whole towns are being shuttered.

The wolf in "National Ransom" - and perhaps that one in the cover illustration - might have been a goat. A scapegoat.

We are always looking for someone to blame for our misfortunes and in this case we may have found the culprit.

Look at his mug shot. He's carrying a big bag of burning money. You can probably imagine how useful burning money can be.

Then again, the wolf I have in mind is within us all. We are all complicit, if not accountable, desiring things that are beyond our means, handing power over us all to the wolves at the door.

OWH: So, what of the wolf in "A Voice In The Dark"?

EC: I think that wolf is a beast of a different stripe. He's the one who exclaims with joy at the rarity of the blue moon. He's also something of a red herring.

The "voice" of which speaking is the one that makes the emptiness of night more bearable. It can be the whisper of a lover or a song playing in the next room that entices us in.

OWH: Yet, this song closes the record.

EC: I suppose it might be an invitation to play the record again from the top.

OWH: That opening track is musically explosive. There are not a lot of people who would combine Mark Ribot and Jerry Douglas. Was it hard for them to find common ground?

EC: Not at all, I think they really sparked from playing together. I've been a great admirer of Moby Grape and they had three contrasting lead guitarists. Add Steve Nieve to this mix and you have three instrumental voices surrounding my own. This was always my intention for this song.

OWH: Jerry Douglas and Marc Ribot are heard throughout the record but not always as one might expect.

EC: I suppose that is true.

I first encountered Ribot playing at his most angular and extreme in the Lounge Lizards and later with Tom Waits but he is also a very lyrical player. Marc has a beautiful and elegant dialogue with Stuart Duncan on "Jimmie Standing In The Rain"

Jerry predominantly plays lap-steel rather than the dobro on this record but whatever instrument he is playing, he produces an incredible range of tones. He can break your heart in one moment and then tear your head off in the next song.

In fact, all of these guys, Stuart Duncan, Jeff Taylor and, of course, Steve Nieve could dazzle you all the time but the fact that they don't feel the need is the measure of their musicianship.

OWH: What about the rhythm section?

EC: The whole ensemble is a rhythm section, especially when Mike Compton is driving along behind your right shoulder but listening to what Dennis Crouch is playing on this record is a lesson in itself, whether on his own in the stringband numbers with Pete Thomas in the drum booth.

OWH: Was this the first time that they had played together?

EC: Yes, Pete arrived just as we are getting ready to cut, "That's Not The Part Of Him You're Leaving" - a song that had previously been performed without drums - and I put him straight into the booth. Pete and Dennis hit right off.

OWH: So, after the release of "Secret, Profane & Sugarcane", you took to the road with The Sugarcanes.

Does playing with a certain group of musicians make you say, "Ah! I can do something with THIS! Let me write some tunes to play to their strengths!"

EC: "Secret, Profane & Sugarcane was really a document of our first meeting. It might have been a ranging-finding shot.

All six members of The Sugarcanes did not even played in the same room, at the same time until the rehearsals for our first tour.

We soon found out what we could do in front of an audience and what we needed to do. So, by the time we left Dallas for Cain's Ballroom, Tulsa - the last date of our tour in the summer of '09 - we already had four new unrecorded songs in the show.

Jim Lauderdale and I wrote, "I Lost You" on the ride to Oklahoma and we debuted the song that night.

I called T Bone Burnett on my way out of town and told him we had to record again but between that conversation and arranging the sessions, I wrote a number of songs that called for different players to also be involved.

We began with the Sugarcanes, added drums, added guitar, added piano, took away the number we first thought of and before we knew where we were, we had "National Ransom".

OWH: So, is this a Bluegrass record?

EC: Only in the way that Sly and The Family Stone are a Bluegrass band.

OWH: There's a lot of rain in this collection of songs. Is the storm brewing or abating?

EC: It rains a lot where I think.

As to whether the weather is approaching or departing, I'd have to say that depends on your disposition to melancholy or optimism. I find fine rain very invigorating. To lie in the dark with rain beating on the window is thrilling not threatening.

OWH: Certain details, including the spelling of the name, give clue to whose "counterfeited prairie lullabies" the protagonist of "Jimmie's Standing in the Rain" might be singing. If Jimmie Rodger's had died of syphilis instead, what might have been the rhyme?

EC: As near and imperfect as one might get would be to remark that he was left with "no time to reminisce", possibly while eating an orange.

"Jimmie" is an imaginary fellow traveling the Northern English music theatres in 1937. My grandfather played in the pit orchestra in some of those places.

OWH: So, what exactly is Jimmie's "act"?

EC: The fellow I'm singing about is an Englishman who has borrowed his act and his songs from the more famous Mr. Rodgers, just as the fashion for cowboy singers is fading.

One of the curious aspects of early recording stars is that they inspired all kinds of cock-eyed imitators in places that they could never hope to visit and Jimmie Rodgers died before he could tour England.

This "Jimmie" finds solace in the embrace of a woman who can't remember his name and oblivion in the bottle. But though his heart being bereft of hope and his pockets are empty, the absurdity of his situation suddenly occurs to him. He's standing in the rain. At least he's clean.

OWH: How important is a running order in a collection with no fixed narrative? Do people listen differently now in the age of shuffle?

EC: Yes, people do seem to listen differently.

I could ask that people incline their head to the left or stand on one leg, leaning against the fireplace with one arm up, suggesting they represent a tin can and the lid is being opened. But that's a lot to ask in this world of infinite choice and endless boredom.

When there is no specific narrative, I supposed the listener is entitled to construct one of their own imagining, like inventing histories for people one encounters in the street; "that boy used to have a large collection of insects in amber, that man is living alone with a salamander and a small inheritance, that woman has carried murder in her heart for forty years" etc.

OWH: Be that as it may, the running order of this album is very unconventional - the most immediately accessible songs come pretty far in.

Did no one say, "Maybe "I Lost You" should come along early on" or "Let's get 'em in the tent with "The Spell That You Cast" before we hit them with the weighty stuff"?

EC: Nobody actually raised this objection but it seems to me that you have to keep the door to the theatre shut for a while for there to be any value in opening it again to the light and air.

OWH: Speaking of confined spaces, "Church Underground" seems to contain within it the sad tale of another female singer. But the story here appears to very different from that in "Stella Hurt" from the album, "Momofuku".

What happens to the girl here after her song is over?

EC: I'd like to think that she went on to train thoroughbred horses after making a fortune on a betting syndicate until passing peacefully in her own bed at the great age.

This song is less about the final fate of this unnamed actress and singer and her fraught and dangerous journey than the unlikely location in which she recognizes the possibility of redemption.

Many of the best musical churches are to be found below street level but their rituals and blessings are sometimes hard to recognize.

OWH: There's a fallen priest in "Bullets For The New-Born King" and, not to get liturgical on you but "The Stations Of The Cross" and "Church Underground" also suggest that the Jesuits were right when they used to say, "Give us a child until he is five and we will have him forever." Is the Hound of Heaven on your trail?

EC: Let's just say I've never really been able to get the smell of Frankincense out of my clothes.

However, "The Stations Of The Cross" does not refer to the procession at the Benediction that I was obliged to attend during Lent but just as there were spectators on that occasion, so we may sit at safe distance regarding every depravity from the blood sports of entertainment to the fickle sympathy of the news.

OWH: The news does seem pretty bad. A flood is a recurring image on this album and it appears in last verse this song.

EC: I think reading Tom Piazza's "City Of Refuge" provoked some of those images. It a very fine and human book.

Steve Nieve's piano and Stuart Duncan's electric violin combine very beautifully on that song.

OWH: Despite the ominous tone of some of the songs there is also a lot of humor and wordplay in this record from "the lay of the land" to "the Hesitation....Waltz."

Why is there so little playfulness in modern music?

EC: I have no idea about "modern music" - although I think people have wonderful clothes - but the second example you cite which only works because of the music.

OWH: Come on now, the density of the lyric writing and the strings of internal rhymes are very flashy - the veritable chainsaw running through the dictionary.

EC: Truthfully, I'm never conscious of constructing "internal rhymes" or such devices. I am a lyricist and storytelling songwriter, not a poet. I have my own sense of what works for me with the music and that's a take it or leave it proposition. It is for others to labour and pour over the technical aspects. They do not concern me.

OWH: But you have been working on a book for some time. Surely when your editor hears a line like, "She woke up and called him "Charlie" by mistake and then in shame began to cry" he kicks the cat and says, "He's putting what should be his book into his songs!"

EC: This will all be explained in my forthcoming pamphlet.

OWH: How important is it for the listener to know your state of mind or other salient details about your life to appreciate these songs?

EC: I would have thought the listener's own state of mind is of primary importance before inviting any piece of music into their life. I think my state of mind is pretty clear.

OWH: Does Doc Watson know he is the centerpiece of one of these songs?

EC: Yes, he does. I told him about writing, "Dr. Watson, I Presume" when the Sugarcanes and I played at MerleFest, on May Day, this year.

However, the song is not a literal document of our first conversation in 2007, when I first played the event.

When I was first introduced to Doc, he took off into a testimonial or homily about his life and work, the things his father had taught him and lessons taken from scripture. He may tell a lot of people these things but they rolled around my head for good while.

OWH: So, when did you write the song?

EC: I didn't immediately decide that any of this should appear in a song. Then one day the song arrived, all in one piece, in just a matter minutes.

Things that I had heard that day had become entangled with various old rhymes and notions; a dedication to the visible sign of invisible grace. At best, this is what we are striving for, accepting that we fail most of the time.

OWH: "Soon these secrets will be scattered", suggests that we are seeing the passing of a generation of musicians who won't be replaced. Do you feel an obligation to learn what you can from old styles - and old masters - while they are around?

EC: Well, that's no way to speak about Vince Gill!

When he appears on the chorus of "Dr Watson, I Presume", his voice seems ageless and timeless to me and the turns he can make inside a harmony line would confound a mere pup.

But to answer your question seriously, I think music often takes its most confident steps forward while leaning backwards. I can't say that I've ever felt any obligation and whatever has been learned is only the product of love and appreciation.

You know, when the Coward Brothers were first "re-united" in 1984, Doc Watson's rendition of "Tom Dooley" was part of our repertoire. That's a short lifetime ago.

OWH: So, the song has nothing at all to do with Sherlock Holmes' bluff and hearty companion.

EC: I knew that I should have left in that verse about Nigel Bruce.

Odile W. Husband (neé O'Súlleabháin) is the popular music correspondent of "The Inquisitor" - an independent catholic journal on all matters cultural, satirical and spiritual.

COMING SOON: Episode Two of "Elvis Costello in conversation with Odile W. Husband" in which they discuss, Gibson L-OO guitars, Walter Mitty, the postscript: "The London Underground - 22nd July 2005", the Rev. Gary Davis, meeting Graham Greene's brother, Joni Mitchell, "Peace, Love And Understanding", William Bendix and Ida Lupino.

OWH: How much of Walter Mitty is there in the man singing "All These Strangers"?

EC: He is as much "Billy Liar" as "Walter Mitty" but I take your point. He has a vivid imagination and a score to settle.

OWH: In another way, "All These Strangers", feels like a 40s film, perhaps with Peter Lorre, although the character in it seems to know that the past is not his friend. This is a song in which sinister goings-on are married to very gentle music.

EC: He is a man who has been left by his lover for a more dangerous man and so, to compete with his rival, imagines himself the worst he can be, a gunrunner, a dissolute painter, a brigand after dark.

Even in his wildest imaginings, he ends up in a defeated army, sitting in a locomotive yard without any boots.

As to the music, this was the very last piece recorded in Nashville. The band had barely finished writing out their numbers charts when we hit "Record". In truth, I finished harmonizing the final refrains, while the players were already at their music stands.

This is the kind of high wire act that doesn't always come off but on this occasion, everyone was simply listening to a story and responding. It is one of my favourite ensemble performances on the record.

OWH: What is the role of a producer at a time like that?

EC: T Bone's work was already done in the setting up the circumstances and the surroundings that were so conducive to trust. He doesn't veneer the songs, as some producers do.

On the other hand, his attention to detail and that of Mike Piersante during the mixing means that all of this is far more than chance.

T Bone and his team are now creating sound pictures of great nuance and resonance. You can hear that across all the records he is producing, regardless of the qualities the artists bring into the room.

We have both had to forget things about the recording process that are of no value.

OWH: The records you've made with T Bone seem to have the largest casts of players.

EC: But they are the right players for the right songs.

From "King Of America" onwards, T Bone has helped me understand that you could call, say, James Burton or Jim Keltner, Earl Palmer or Ray Brown for your session. You could cast the ensemble as demanded by the song.

These had once seemed like unattainable names on record jackets to me. I found that you just had to have the songs and the circumstances. Sessions like the one for "Poisoned Rose" are irreplaceable experiences.

Needless to say, having predominantly worked with just one band up until "King Of America", it was hard for the Attractions to accept. It made for an unhealthily competitive and ultimately self-defeating atmosphere on their contributing sessions but everyone lived to fight another day.

When I wrote "Stations Of The Cross", I knew that I needed to call Steve Nieve for this record. Listen to the way he leads into the second chorus. It couldn't be anyone else.

I've spent about half my lifetime with Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas as my friends and bandmates, so you can imagine what it means to make "National Ransom" and hear them in the company of more recent cohorts like Dennis Crouch, Stuart Duncan and Jerry Douglas.

OWH: When did you first meet Jerry Douglas?

EC: I think I first met Jerry when he was recording with T Bone, Billy Swan, Jerry Scheff, Byron Berline and David Hildalgo for his Dot album, "T Bone Burnett".

Even though I had admired his playing, Jerry and I didn't have the opportunity to work together until 2007. Merlefest assembled a band around me for my appearance that year that included, Jerry, Jim Lauderdale, Sam Bush and Larry Campbell. So these alliances didn't exactly all appear overnight.

OWH: The sleeve notes for "National Ransom" refer to "Visiting Dignitaries". What is the significance of that list?

EC: You never know who you're going to meet in T Bone's company. I mean, he once introduced me to Jerry Lee Lewis but we'd need a couple of martinis to tell that story properly.

One day while we were working on "Spike", T Bone appeared in the doorway to the studio lounge with Willie Dixon. They were getting ready to make the album, "Hidden Charms". A couple of days later, he walked in with Kris Kristofferson.

OWH: Didn't you end up writing a song with him?

EC: That was some time later. 20 years later, in fact.

In the last couple of years Kris, Rosanne Cash and I have written a couple songs together. We actually plan an album together but we are making slow progress because we live so far from each other. You can't get the pigeons, you know.

OWH: So it's a "supergroup"?

EC: Yes, it's either "KCC" or "CCK". I prefer the latter

OWH: Did T Bone produce any such surprises during these sessions?

EC: Well, I don't think it's a conscious part of his production method but I looked up during one take and realized that the figure twirling in the producer's chair wasn't T Bone. He isn't the twirling kind.

It was Cowboy Jack Clement. He originally designed the Sound Emporium studio, so I think he just wanted to know we were putting his handiwork to good use.

OWH: What song were you recording?

EC: "Jimmie Standing In The Rain". Seeing the Cowboy put me on my toes and that turned out to be the take we used. It was Take One. He even offered to fetch his ukulele and overdub it.

A similar thing happened a couple of night's later after Donnie Fritts came down to visit T Bone, one afternoon.

Donnie had thanked me for some words I'd written about his song, "Breakfast In Bed" on a "Dusty In Memphis" reissue and then we started talking about an album called "Country Soul", on which both he and Dan Penn had appeared. I told him that I had never met Dan, despite having admired him for years.

He said, "I can fix that" and a couple of hours later he returned with Dan, right in the middle of another take.

OWH: And what song were you recording that time?

EC: I was doing the guitar and vocal recording of "A Slow Drag With Josephine" to which we later added the Sugarcanes' parts.

I think Dan's appearance definitely brought me good luck with that song, so I wanted to acknowledge the visit. It meant an awful lot to me that he took the time to come down to the studio.

OWH: So, T Bone has an open-door policy.

EC: No, you have to have written a couple of million sellers.

I don't want to give the impression that we are just sitting around carousing when we should have been working. We were moving fast; recording in one room and overdubbing in another, while editing or balancing the track we had just cut.

But it's instructive to spend a few minutes listening with curious, interested friends. It stops it from feeling like you are in a submarine.

OWH: The record is very detailed for such a brief recording time

EC: We've just dispensed with the distractions that used to make these processes more tortuous and the players know what they want to do.

OWH: There is also a dedication to Hank Cochran, who died a short time ago.

EC: I have to thank Jim Lauderdale for that introduction.

The Sugarcanes and I were in Nashville and on the afternoon before our show at the Ryman in 2009, Jim called my hotel room and told me to get over to BMI headquarters, as a gathering of friends were planning a surprise party for Hank Cochran.

You have to understand that his tune, "He's Got You" was one of the first two songs I cut when the Attractions and I went to Nashville for a trial session with Billy Sherrill, prior to making "Almost Blue" in 1981.

Anyway, I got to the party just ahead of Hank and found myself standing in the welcoming committee with songwriters like Bobby Bare, Jim Lauderdale, Cowboy Jack Clement and Merle Haggard. I had to pinch myself for a moment. Merle even played a few of Hank's songs after the speeches. Now that was an afternoon to remember.

When I was introduced to Hank, he said, "Thank you for recording my song". I was stunned that he even knew that I'd cut one of his tunes, as it hadn't exactly achieved wide circulation but it's a song I perform to this day.

OWH: So, was it Jim who invited him to the studio?

EC: No, a documentary was being made about Hank and his songs and we were filmed in conversation.

Hank was in very poor health by then but this had done nothing at all to dim his wit or memory for the experiences of his life and work. He told some great stories and I was asked to sing a little of one of his songs and naturally chose, "He's Got You".

That's pretty daunting to do with the writer sitting right there and you're taking liberties with his harmonies and flipping the lyric from the female to male perspective but I think he got a kick out of it.

It was good to be able to thank Hank personally for writing soulful songs like, "Make The World Go Away". They will live forever.

OWH: Can you explain why you have been attracted to Southern music from New Orleans to Nashville?

EC: I don't actually think good music comes out of a geography book even though it's hard to imagine there being any jazz and rock and roll without New Orleans or rock and roll and rhythm and blues without Memphis and so on.

In fact, Tennessee has a lot to do with it whatever stripe you like running through your music, whether you are talking about Bristol or whatever has made it alive, in and out of Nashville.

In the end, it's about feeling something as a human being. Maps don't matter. Peter Green could play and sing startling, chilling blues and he was born in Bethnal Green.

Then again, Dan Penn wrote a song on two of my favourite albums, that were recorded miles apart, in different worlds; "The Gilded Palace of Sin" by The Flying Burrito Brothers and "I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You" by Aretha Franklin. The funny thing is that it's the same song, "Do Right Woman".

OWH: The guitar on "Bullets for the Newborn King" and "A Slow Drag With Josephine is a little surprising. Have the little hands of concrete softened?

EC: Yielded, perhaps. The acoustic guitar I am using for several of the songs on this record is a 1937 Gibson L-OO. It fits in the crook of your arm, under the fingers and around the voice better than many larger, fancier instruments. It has its very own confidential voice.

I've always fingerpicked songs for my own amusement. When I was a teenager I admired, the Welsh master, John James and all the people who recorded for Transatlantic Records and tried to understand these printed transcriptions of Rev. Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt songs but I never became that adept.

Part of the problem is that I have a loud voice but my physical strength does not extend to my fingernails, so I play with the pads of my fingers and that sometimes sounds muted.

Several songs on this record were sufficiently intimate that I did not need to batter the guitar into submission as in the past.

OWH: That song, "Bullets For The New-Born King", has a very elusive narrative, mentioning a "double agent girl" and a "fallen priest". Have you been re-reading Graham Greene?

EC: No, but I used to share a dry cleaners with his brother, Sir Hugh Carlton Green.

I will say that I had in mind a political assassination, after which those who have committed the act realize the terrible mistake that they have made, that they have actually extinguished hope. That is the "New-Born" part of the story.

I think there was a time when it seemed almost inevitable that certain public figures would die. It seemed to happen, almost predictably, in regions where vested interest overpowers any sense of justice.

Perhaps that time will come again. I hope not.

OWH: You have added locations and dates as a postscript to the lyrics of these songs. How important are these?

EC: Well, they are mostly playful. It is unimportant that listeners imagine the songs in the same time and place as I do.

OWH: Having said that, "One Bell Ringing" is located in "The London Underground" on "22nd July 2005". That would seem to be a specific reference to the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, would it not?

EC: What happened to that man were a tragedy and a disgrace. It would be a huge presumption on the part of any songwriter to try to rationally explain those events.

The song simply tries to summons up an atmosphere of dread in which a terrible misjudgment might occur. There are beautiful, soothing images right alongside those of a fate that might befall any innocent man or woman: torture; hearing your own voice deny your very name and finally, lamentation.

OWH: In your concert introductions you've related "One Bell Ringing" to your earlier song "Bedlam". In what way are they connected?

EC: "Bedlam" expresses the common bewilderment and helplessness of a refugee, a combat soldier, someone who has had a laurel of false heroism thrust upon their head and, now in this song, here's an innocent man who cannot understand why he is mistaken for a threat. There simply isn't some convenient moral on which to conclude.

All mere songs can do is offer these received images in juxtaposition and you can make use of this arrangement of words and music as you wish. I don't have any snappy slogans or violent solutions to propose but I think we all have a lot of questions.

OWH: So, have you given up singing, "(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love And Understanding"?

EC: On the contrary, that song becomes more complex and more poignant, the further we get from the ideal. Heaven preserve us from all these blasphemers who think they know what God is thinking.

OWH: Let's get back to the music. The strings and horns on some of the songs are full of wonderful detail. There's cornet on Jimmie and a wild bit of bass clarinet that is by turns subtle, vivid and even provocative. Were those parts written or improvised?

EC: The string octet, bass clarinet and horns quartet on "You Hung The Moon" and the horn section on "Church Underground" are written parts.

I wrote the string arrangement and bass clarinet lines for "You Hung The Moon", while Darrell Leonard wrote and lead the horn quartet that answers the strings at the end of chorus. It was to sound no bigger than an ensemble that could fit into a small radio theatre or hotel ballroom.

Darrell Leonard did improvise the trumpet interjections on "Jimmie Standing In The Rain". Jimmie Rodgers had a pretty great trumpet player on his records and the imitation Jimmie didn't do too badly either.

Darrell also wrote the horn parts for "Church Underground", while I wrote the bass trumpet and alto flute lines that harmonize with the voice in the refrain of "One Bell Ringing".

When these parts were in place, I asked Tom Peterson to improvise some responses to the vocal lines on the bass clarinet during the second verse of "One Bell Ringing".

They turn from seductive to horrifying in two lines. Tom played exactly as I imagined it to be but could have never written down.

OWH: "One Bell Ringing" has the sort of novelistic description that we always associate with Joni Mitchell. You've talked about her influence on your lyric writing, but in this case the arrangement also echoes Joni around the time of "The Hissing Of Summer Lawns" or "Hejira". Homage? Coincidence? Rip-off?

EC: Well, I can think of one person who may think it is the latter.

For all my admiration for her work, I can honestly say that Joni Mitchell has never been a direct influence on my lyric writing.

What I think is true is to say is that the subject matter and the unflinching eye for detail of her work admitted and permitted many more possibilities for anyone who writing songs after her most highly regarded work, whether they know or accept this to be the case.

Musically, I can imagine the echo you hear comes from the fact that my guitar is in an unusual open tuning, offering very specific voicings - something found throughout Joni's writing - and even the way in which the bass trumpet and alto flute are harmonizing with the voice, may recall her use of reeds in arrangements but this was entirely unconscious.

OWH: On your earlier albums there was the danger of your persona overpowering the music. It made you easy to caricature, in the way that, say, John Wayne, is always recognizable no matter what role he is playing.

But more recently it feels like you are approaching some of your work like a character actor. Is there a greater freedom in telling someone else's story other than your own?

EC: Well, I would always rather have been a Walter Brennan, William Bendix or Barry Fitzgerald than John Wayne.

I have written songs in the voices of imagined characters for many years. Some are more overt than others. Some songs read as "personal" are entirely or partly works of fiction.

There was a time when the reduction of those early songs to a few ticks and gestures seemed confining but I haven't felt that way for over twenty-five years. That's longer than most careers.

When you are singing of the most singular experiences of a fictional character, you are almost certainly displacing or relocating events and emotions from your own life. It is a less selfish act.

OWH: In fact several of the new songs seem quite cinematic. Who would star in or direct the film version of "Jimmie Standing in the Rain" or "Church Underground"?

EC: That's an interesting proposition and one that tempts vanity.

But if "Jimmie Standing In The Rain" were a motion picture, you'd need someone with a great talent for disguise and mimicry. So, I'd say Alec Guinness directed by Carol Reed with Gloria Graham in the role of "Josephine".

"Church Underground" is easier. Ideally, that would be Gene Tierney directed by Ida Lupino.

Odile W. Husband (neé O'Súlleabháin) is the popular music correspondent of "The Inquisitor" - an independent catholic journal on all matters cultural, satirical and spiritual.

Coming Soon: Part Three of "Elvis Costello in conversation with Odile W. Husband" in which they share "Five Small Words" on Leon Russell, Hoagy Carmichael, Tony Millionaire, Harry Lauder and solve the mystery of the "Radio Hat"

OWH: "Five Small Words" and "The Spell That You Cast" are both terrific little beat combo records. One is mostly an Imposters track and the other the Sugarcanes. The two bands approach rock'n'roll differently. Could you have swapped the bands for those two songs?

EC: These cuts actually mix up the two bands. "The Spell That You Cast" has Dennis Crouch playing with Pete Thomas and I trade off in the solo with Mike Compton's mandolin and Steve Nieve's Vox Continental Organ.

OWH: Where you not concerned that people might see this as a battle of the bands?

EC: I think that music and musicians are at their least attractive when set in competition and these are two terribly handsome bands.

To know that this is true, you need only look at the nightly entertainments that begin with the stage directions:

"First, fill your arena with water. Now release the crocodiles"

Humiliating people is so old hat.

And it's a battered old top hat with no white tie, a sort of P.T. Barnum promotion without the wit or the alibis.

OWH: You wrote about him on your last record, didn't you?

EC: Yes, I did.

You know, Barnum had a whale in his "American Museum". So, releasing a crocodile is nothing.

OWH: But not a blue whale as you claimed in "Red Cotton"

EC: Okay, he wasn't blue but he was despondent.

OWH: Speaking of those songs, will "The Secret Songs" ever be completed?

EC: Those crazy Danes are always up to something. Just this morning, I received a request to permit a Danish translation of "The Big Light" for a stage play about Johnny Cash.

OWH: A stage play about Johnny Cash in Danish?

EC: It would appear so or this Danish translation of my song is going to seem a little out of place.

OWH: Is it faithful?

EC: My Danish is not what is was when I worked the longboats but I believe it is steadfast and true.

Did you know that there is a Polish version of "The Juliet Letters"?

OWH: I did not. How does that sound?

EC: Almost exactly as you would imagine. That interpretation contains very imaginative re-arrangements. It is my favourite rendition after the original recording. I like "'Swinia", in particular.

OWH: And what of "The Secret Songs"? How do you look back? How do you move forward with them?

EC:  I'm grateful for that invitation from the Royal Danish Opera. I could not have known that, when I cracked the spine of my first Hans Christian Andersen biography, nine years ago, that it would lead to me singing "She Handed Me A Mirror" on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium and it feeling like some sort of mutant George Jones song.

Far from being motivated by hubris, as some cynics would have you believe, this kind of work allows you to write in a different, less harmonically predictable way.

Lyrically, it offered a pretext for me to write about a number of subjects that I might not have arrived at.

That little theatrical business in which Barnum dismissively reads an abolitionist's pamphlet, gave me the chance to write something about Liverpool's part in the slave trade.

It's something that troubles you, when you see the grand maritime buildings, the Town Hall with engraved stone remembrances of men made into commodities, the cotton exchange, the banks like palaces and the grand mansions.

Then you think what fate handed the city as it withstood everything the 20th century could throw at it.

I needed to go through all that paraphernalia and persuasion, the misery and the guilt, to get to a closing expression of love for frail and faulty human beings.

People stood up at the end of that song, when it was first performed on stage. I was touched by that response. It is rare.

OWH: Nevertheless, there is a mounting pile of unfinished works; "The Secret Songs", "The Delivery Man", an album that contained an incomplete narrative and I read something about several abandoned works for Broadway. Are you concerned about not seeing things through?

EC: I suppose I have a different sense of where these endeavors have lead, rather than where they left off.

"Bedlam", has been central to my recent solo shows and was also featured in an orchestral arrangement in concerts with the Dallas Symphony, earlier this year.

I wouldn't have had that option, if I had held rigidly to my first structural notions about "The Delivery Man" and not allowed the world at large enter into the small society that the character songs were describing.

About three years ago, I spent a couple of afternoons with Barry Levinson, examining where songs might occur in a stage adaptation of one of his most renowned scripts. I even went so far as to write a song in the likeness of Screaming Jay Hawkins that was to be playing on a jukebox.

Although we didn't manage to resolve the conundrums and contradictions that face collaborators in such a task, you couldn't possibly characterize such an experience as time wasted. Not all education concludes with a golden seal on a diploma.

OWH: Some people regard it as strange that you have never written for the musical theatre.

EC: These are clearly people who haven't recently visited a Broadway theatre with very few certain noble exceptions.

OWH: So, there have been serious overtures.

EC: Some of them have seemed endless.

Between Broadway and the art music world, I'd say one or two approaches have been made every couple of years, over the last decade and a half.  Three or four have merited serious consideration but nothing has got past the stage of preliminary sketches.

OWH: What about writing for film or television? Has that nothing new appealed to you or nothing been offered, beyond a co-write like "The Scarlet Tide" or your music for English television drama in the early 90s?

EC: Well, when ideas float into view, you are never really certain whether they come from the writers and directors or seventeenth under-assistant dogsbody to the producer.

In any case, creative dialogue is often stifled by disputes over the ownership of such songs as appear in television and movie productions. My belief is that songs should always retain an independent life, as they frequently outlive their celluloid sources.

For example, I have no idea whether the notion that I write all of the songs for one season of "Deadwood" was serious, as the alternative history of showbusiness is probably littered with such missed connections or you would have been hearing "The Crooked Line" over the end credits of "I Walk The Line" and there might have even been a musical production number featuring Sean Penn singing, "Sulphur To Sugarcane".

OWH: So perhaps you were relieved to write "National Ransom" without the framework of any theatrical conceit.

EC: It's not the only way songwriting is provoked.

A line can lie undisturbed in a notebook for ten years, only to prove key to completing a verse in a hit tune. Nothing is ever completely wasted. Melodies can be transformed from instrumental to vocal and themes are found common to free standing compositions and those sketched for a special occasion.

Here's an example.

Four years ago, both T Bone and I were approached to work on a musical based on a wonderful radio documentary by the Kitchen Sisters - Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva. It was about a radio station WHER, initially founded and funded by Sam Phillips in 1954.

The odd thing about the station was that it played absolutely no rock and roll and was staffed and presented entirely by women WHER was directed by Sam's wife, Becky, who programmed an early form of "Easy Listening", before the term had really been defined.

It was a wonderful story, rich in contradictions, not least in that it contradicted almost every cliché about life in the 1950s that you have received or perceived.

Latterly, I entered into a fascinating correspondence with the playwright, Sarah Ruhl, who had been asked to write the book, that is the dramatic adaptation of this essentially factual record.

Sarah wrote a couple of exquisite pages of dialogue, immediately establishing one of the key relationships in the story and I wrote a song that would have been playing in the background of another scene.

Curiously enough, unbeknownst to all concerned, two other musicals set in the Memphis of the 1950s were about to go into production.  There is an old saying about London buses, "You wait for ages. Then three come along together".

Needless to say, in commercial terms, this rather poisoned the well.

OWH: So, were you left with a lot of unresolved and useless material?

EC: On the contrary, I've written songs based on chance remarks, overheard and even misunderstood, from apparently innocuous passages of newsprint, from footnotes in biographies, so to suddenly have a couple of orphaned themes was no inhibition at all.

In a world of endless, useless, worthless choice, the idea of taboo is almost quaint, as is the notion of a faint signal reaching out across a land almost devoid of light.

When I started to write for myself again, I found one or two of my scribbled notes to be quite valuable.

One simply said, "a voice in the dark", with no other clues. It might have been some kind of imagined stage direction but I took it to be an invitation, somewhere between a sales pitch and a prayer.

For some time, I've carried around this notion of "Church Underground", meaning an incongruous location for exaltation, like a dive.

These Memphis women from WHER lead decorous lives by day, playing carefully programmed, genteel music but took to the nightlife with some enthusiasm. It's hard now to imagine that I could have inserted a notion like that into their existing story, so I had to conceive my own narrative with which to present it.

I don't suppose we'll ever know whether these little cast aside fragments might have lit up the Great White Way but if they had they would have been entirely different songs employing with different words in a radically different story.

Somewhere up in heaven, George M. Cohan is sticking pins in my likeness.

OWH: Travel and exile is a repeated motif, especially in the songs that you've written and that have been produced by T Bone Burnett. I'm thinking about "American Without Tears" and "Last Boat Leaving"

EC: It's the family business.

My father was onstage or on the road for 40 years or more. His father was an army bandsman who circled the globe in one uniform and then made several return passages across the Atlantic on the White Star Line, playing trumpet before ending up in a pit orchestra in his hometown.

You might say I've had it easy.

Travel songs like "Sulphur To Sugarcane" have taken me around the world. They even transported me to Australia, although they allowed me to leave again.

OWH: In the last years, you seem more and more drawn to arcane language and historical context. Do you spend much time on detailed research?

EC: One makes you forget the other.

OWH: In what sense?

EC: You must memorize and then destroy, just like a spy movie.

All of the words, arcane or otherwise, animate the characters and construct the worlds they walk in. But these little dramas and comedies are also works of imagination and you know how dreams can be distorted versions of waking life.

Only prigs and pedants hold songs up to the light, looking for clues, as if decoding them could carry you into an exact replica of the past, a facsimile of the truth.

Those looking for absolute veracity seem to forget that history is not only written, as they say, by the victors but it is also printed in bad translation, via a false or faulty memory.

We can only speculate as to how the air felt around your face, how the knife of a cruel word twisted in the heart.

OWH: So, historical accuracy is not of primary importance to you?

EC: It seems rather missing the point that we should fixate on the buttons on a coat.

I look back because mistakes are there to be repeated. You think there is no slavery in the world anymore?

These "National Ransom" songs were written quite recently and are being heard in the present moment with reference to an elusive past.

I can't explain the effect any better than in these lines from "You Hung The Moon":

"The lines of the fallen are viewed through the glass, you cannot touch them at all

Or hear their footfall just as they go past

The drunken ground is where they are bound"

OWH: Nevertheless, are you concerned that people will see these songs as less personal?

EC: Would they have a greater claim to power or beauty, if I could prove to you that everything happened just as I've written it? Is there any more personal place than the imagination?

OWH: People do seem to value songs that mirror their own experiences.

EC:  Then perhaps they'll love this record. It seems we are all driving over the same cliff together, in slow motion.

Understanding that nothing takes exactly as much time as life itself, is central to abandoning the delusion that you are buying pieces of the singer's soul for the price of a record.

Those diary records that you used to love, that spoke to your secret fears and desires. They are full of deceptions and evasions. Of course, this doesn't mean that they don't sound great and you'll always wish you'd had the courage to put on that eyeliner.

OWH: So, is there simply some strange satisfaction to be had in employing a word like "fingersmith"?

EC: Yeah, I've waited half my life to use it. It's just another word for pickpocket. There are so many about that they each require a different title.

OWH: Surely, there is actually no such expression as "skedele-daddle-do"?

EC: Tell that to Fred Flintstone. I simply took a liberty with the verb "skedaddle", meaning to run away in panic.

OWH: These images financial and spiritual chaos seem to go back to "The Scarlet Tide", another song you wrote with T Bone about "swindlers who act like kings and brokers who break everything"

EC: You never like to be right about these things but we do continue to elevate and lionize these brigands and pirates. They would be first to the scaffold in any sensible society.

OWH: Okay, we are getting pretty far away from rock and roll

EC: How far away would you like to get?

OWH: Not that far.

What should the listener take out of the location and date of "The Spell That You Cast", which is "The Castle Hotel, Richmond" 1965"?

EC:  That's a little walk over the bridge.

I used to go to the pictures on a Friday and Saturday night. Well, I was eleven year old and too young to go to the cinema in the evening alone, so my mother would take me to see "A" pictures that she wanted to see.

Like any young English boy of that time, I favoured anything that involved killing Nazis. "The Heroes of Telemark", "The Guns Of Navarone" but I also remember seeing, "The List Of Adrian Messenger", "West Side Story" and "The Ipcress File".

I saw Ursula Andres come out of the sea. And although I didn't understand how rude "Honey Ryder" and "Pussy Galore" were as character names, I was never quite the same again.

Oddly, enough while I was having this preliminary introduction to adult themes, rock and roll was going on all around me but I was too young to attend.

OWH: How so?

EC: The Station Hotel, which housed the club where The Rolling Stones started out, was just up the road. Eel Pie Island in the bend of the Thames, hosted The Who and The Yardbirds. By the time I was old enough to go to those places, that scene was gone.

So, emptying out into the dark streets from whatever fantasy had dominated the previous two hours, you might walk home past some kerfuffle as the coppers were chasing lads down the towpath, who had been thrown out of a dance at the Castle Hotel.

I don't know if the "The Spell That You Cast" is the song that was playing behind the green door, so to speak. It is just the product of a chance tuning of my Gibson Tenor guitar. It yielded that "spell" chord at the end of the refrain.

All my favourite rock and roll records sound like happy accidents. This one sees a beat group collide with a driving mandolin player who can beat the band like Johnny Johnson. It's a new kind of music. Perhaps we'll call it "Mod-Billy".

All the kids will be doing it next week

OWH: That's almost the only electric guitar that you play on the album, isn't it?

EC: I play some electric bass on "National Ransom" but that's my only electric guitar solo and I used just four strings. Perhaps my fingers were tired from being a hired gun?

OWH: You're not going all Chuck Barris on me now, are you?

EC: I'm talking about my session work

OWH: Session work as guitar player?

EC: That's right. People think that I've been pursuing another career in television but in the dead of night, I shin up drainpipes into studios and overdub my electric guitar.

Curiously enough, the guys tend not to call me but the girls understand.

OWH: What records are you taking about? Do you have an alias?

EC: A 'Nom De Twang"?

OWH: Yes?

EC: It never occurred to me that I needed to cover my tracks.

My first assignment was playing on my friend, Wendy Bird's album, "Natural Wonder". I played the Gretsch guitar solo on a song called, "Deliver Me".

Around that time, I lead the Imposters on a Jenny Lewis song called, "High And Lows". I understand that Jenny and Johnny now regard it as that start of their brand new sound, which has paid off with the album, "I'm Having Fun Now".

And I think I'm on four tracks of the next Lucinda Williams record.

OWH: You're singing with her?

EC: No, playing lead and rhythm guitar.

OWH: You are making this up, aren't you?

EC: I am most certainly not, Mrs. Husband.

I was asked to sing a harmony on a song that Lucinda contributed for this show about biting people but there was very little I could add to her performance, so I sang a very discreet line of harmony.

My consolation was Lucinda and her husband Tom invited me down to play on a session at Capitol Studios. We cut one song live with Lu in the booth and they must have liked what I did, because they kept putting up reels of tape.

By the end of the night, I think I must have played on half the record.

OWH: Davey Faragher makes his sole appearance on "Five Small Words". What does he bring to the party?

EC: He plays down low where the bass is supposed to go. He is an incredible musician, as anyone with ears will tell you. The Coward Brothers take care of the guitars and even the Farfisa Organ on that one. I think it was Howard's work.

OWH: The Coward Brothers have always gone their own way with songs.

EC: I'm glad you noticed.

At our very first reunion appearances back in 1984, we were playing songs by Doc Watson, George Jones and Bobby Charles.

In fact, at that session for "Five Small Words", we also cut a beautiful Bobby Charles song called "I Hope", which was originally recorded by the great Tommy McClain.

Have you ever heard Tommy's song about King Herod, "High Class Fool"?

OWH: I don't believe I have.

EC: I think you would appreciate it.

I heard Tommy's version of "Sweet Dreams" before I even had a record contract. That was much more of an influence of my own take on the song than even the Patsy Cline recording.

I finally got to meet Tommy just this year. We sang in two-part harmony on, "Before I Grow Too Old" at a salute to Bobby Charles in New Orleans, during JazzFest.

C.C. Adcock and the Lil' Band Of Gold put together the kind of night that made you proud to be there. If I ever have the misfortune to die, I hope they can play the wake.

"After the break, The epilogue in which the Lupe-O-Tone mystery is explained. More on Leon Russell, Tony Millionaire, Harry Lauder and that forthcoming gospel record."

Odile W. Husband (neé O'Súlleabháin) is the popular music correspondent of "The Inquisitor"  - an independent catholic journal on all matters cultural, satirical and spiritual.

OWH: "My Lovely Jezebel" sounds like it was fun to make.  Had you seen Leon Russell perform before and what was it like to work with him?

EC: I saw Leon Russell headlining at the Liverpool Empire. It must have been in 1971 or 1972. Freddie King opened the show. Then as now, Leon made everything happen when he took the stage. For heavens sake, his rock and roll credits could fill up a big inscribed monolith, if they still made such things.

We had met just once before the evening on which T Bone, Leon and I wrote "My Lovely Jezebel".

That was in the wings at Willie Nelson's 70th Birthday Show. Leon was standing there quietly, while all sorts of singers and tap-dancers came and went. Then he went out on stage and played his part in the absolute highlight of the show; a trio version of his composition, "Song For You" with Willie and Ray Charles. It was one of the greatest things I've ever witnessed.

OWH: When Sir Elton John was the guest on your television show, "Spectacle", he spent a good portion of the interview talking about Leon Russell's music. Did this have anything to do with their recent collaboration?

EC: Well, that isn't for me to say but it wouldn't have required a Pauline conversion. Leon's music clearly means the world to him.

In fact, when they were recording, "The Union" together, I went down to the studio to visit and T Bone introduced me to Leon properly.

Elton had to cut out early that evening, so T Bone suggested the three of us write a song.

First off, we sat around with three guitars but Leon said, he just liked to play the blues on that thing, so we retired to the piano booth, which was what I really had in mind all along.

Moments later, Leon had come up with the music for "My Lovely Jezebel". I improvised a few lines of the lyric and T Bone later sent me a note with a few more lyrics. I carried a rough tape of this off with me to my next engagement in St. Paul.

It was about 11.30, on the next evening when a very polite Minnesotan voice called my room and asked me to keep the noise down.

I'd apparently been singing along with the demo tape wearing headphones and hadn't realized that I was serenading the entire floor of the hotel.

I must have sounded like a madman, trying one line of the chorus and then half a verse, then the refrain again.

I'm glad to say that once Leon got into the studio in Nashville and started leading the band, the song sounded a lot less berserk than it did to the desk clerk.

OWH: It's great to hear Leon take that closing piano solo

EC: Yes, I think that's what Hoagy Carmichael would have sounded like if he'd played rock and roll.

OWH: I mentioned "Spectacle" a while back. Are you excited about the prospect of "Season Three"?

EC: The entire adventure has been filled with unbeatable, unrepeatable moments but when I went out to speak with the audience before we started this incredible four-hour taping the episodes with Bruce Springsteen, I told them I was determined to enjoy myself as if it were my last show as host.

Doing any show as if it is your last or even your first, is not a bad frame of mind to be in and for now it seems we are putting up the test-card until all of the necessary pieces fall into place again.

OWH: So, the show might return at later date.

EC: Well, it is essential we add something of worth to the twenty all ready completed.

When I am home in Canada, minding my own business in the grocery store or the tobacconist, barely a day goes by without someone mentioning the show and artists they may have enjoyed or even discovered. That's quite remarkable.

Finding a way to present people like Jesse Winchester to the broader audience he so richly deserves and sharing a stage with Ray Lamontagne, Kris Kristofferson, John Prine, well, all of the guests really, has been a privilege.

OWH: Do you have a favourite episode?

EC: There are moments I like in all of them and others where I'm clearly finding my way but I'm thankful because those people gave me a chance.

The show with Smokey Robinson from Season One was pretty thrilling to do and the show with Allen Toussaint, Richard Thompson, Nick Lowe and Levon Helm seemed to sum up what we were about in Season Two.

I really appreciated Levon going for the "Mister Ed" routine, as he was under doctor's orders not to speak.

OWH: The "Mister Ed" routine?

EC: "Mister Ed" used to communicate by beating his hooves in the dust, when not actually talking.

When it transpired on the day that Levon was forbidden to speak as well as sing, due to vocal strain, it did temporarily throw the structure of four-part show into chaos.

He was a good sport to go along with idea of giving me a drum fill in response to the names of drummers who I imagined he admired:

"Earl Palmer" - Rat-Tat-Sssht-Tata-Tat-Te-Ta-Tat-Tat-Tat-Crash!!!

"Jimmy Lee Keltner" as he calls him - Diggity-Boom-Dack-Dack-A-Dum!!!

"Spider Kilpatrick"...

Well, you get the idea...

OWH: And your favourite musical numbers from each season?

EC: Oh, that's nearly impossible.

Okay, of my own performances from Season One perhaps, "Ballad Of A Well Known Gun" from the very first show with Elton and "Baby Let's Play House" from the President Clinton show just because of the James Burton guitar solos.

My favourite moments from the guests have to be Kris doing, "Sunday Morning Coming Down" and oddly enough, Smokey doing a cover of "Don't Know Why" and absolutely killing it.

In Season Two, everyone's favourite performance seemed to be Jesse Winchester's "Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding" but "The Weight" was pretty terrific.

I loved the way Allen Toussaint took the "Go Down Miss Moses" verse. The "Pops" verse as my wife calls it, because she loves the way Pops Staples sings it in "The Last Waltz".

Then I have to throw my hat in the air for the way the Imposters stepped up behind Bono and Edge and again with Bruce at either end of the season. I think all concerned enjoyed playing together.

OWH: The new album cover, like the previous one, is an illustration by Tony Millionaire.  The drawing for "National Ransom" reflects the music by being more aggressive and filled with small details, symbols and signs.  How much information did you give Tony to get that drawing?

EC: I sent Tony the music and I suppose he drew what he heard. The first notion was to take the black bird from the cover of "Secret, Profane & Sugarcane" and portray him rampant, heraldically speaking.

That wouldn't have quite done the job. Then we hit on the wolf.

We discussed Tony's early sketches and he took it from there; the use of symbols found on currency, objects paid for with blood or money in ever-inflating denominations.

I couldn't imagine anything that could be better suited.

OWH: Tony Millionaire's illustration would look good on an L.P. jacket

EC: It will.

You can never be certain about these things going in but I always thought that "National Ransom" was composed as a double album, so you might say that the vinyl edition is the real record.

We are living through a "duck and cover" era in the commerce of music, so you don't want to say these things up ahead or people will never come out from under their desks again.

Which is why we were fortunate to locate an outfit like Lupe-O-Tone.

OWH:  I read a slightly cryptic announcement that something called "Lupe-O-Tone" was issuing a very limited edition of 78-rpm pressings of songs included on "National Ransom". I took this to be a hoax.

EC: It most certainly is not. The wax is cooling as we speak. The needle is ready to drop.

OWH: So, is "Lupe-O-Tone" a sound process as much as a record label?

EC: They still offer "Full Lycanthropic Sound". You probably remember when the record companies tried to pass people off with "Enhanced Lycanthropic Sound" in the late '40s. It was like that fake stereo in the early 60s, just one velour paw in the left-hand channel.

OWH: You don't hear of many people pressing 78rpm records these days.

EC: We had to engage a kind of private investigator to locate someone who still understood the beautiful mysteries of manufacturing such records.

Our first enquires led to a man mixing chemicals in his garage. He told us that he knew how to do it but that is was impossible to get the necessary insects, these days

Then we contacted this fellow, Mr. Mancini.

He claimed to be a distant relative of Henry, so I thought he might be the man for the job. It was one of those "call the phone booth on a Wednesday at 11am, let it ring three times and they might call you back" scenarios, right out of motion pictures.

Eventually, this led us to a small company that had been doing this since 1913. When the market for 78s became limited, they went into the fine art business. They won't press more than fifty records at a time.

We spilt the difference and decided to cut two double-sided, ten-inch discs. Four songs in all, "Jimmie Standing In The Rain" b/w "A Voice In The Dark" and "A Slow Drag With Josephine" b/w "You Hung The Moon".

There will we be a signed and numbered edition of twenty-five of each title.

OWH: Who do you imagine will buy them?

EC: Anyone who still loves beautiful objects and good music.

OWH: But will they actually play?

EC: They most certainly will, on the right gramophone. Of course, they'll sound like hell on your mp3 player but you must be used to that by now.

OWH: One of those songs, "You Hung The Moon" sounds like something remembered from a dream and scrawled onto a bedside pad. Are songs sometimes mysteries even to the writer?

EC: Actually, "You Hung The Moon" was written on the same railway journey as yielded "(The Angels Want To Wear My) Red Shoes" - the London to Liverpool line. I think I may have started a station or two earlier with this composition.

The song itself is set in 1919, when it is well documented that bereaved families turned to clairvoyants and all manner of bogus spiritualists to deal with the enormity of their losses.

Now that they have stopped shamefully hiding the return of fallen soldiers, I suppose it was likely that a song of this kind might come to mind.  

OWH: Your vocals sound somehow more comfortable on this record.  Even on the songs with tricky melodies, there seems to be a calmness, authority and ease. Did you approach the vocals any differently for these songs?

EC: The approach to recording taken by T Bone Burnett and Mike Piersante places the singer at the centre of the ensemble.

There were no big screens or isolation booth between my vocal microphone and the players. You have to sing, you want to sing and you can see and feel everything to give you every encouragement.

OWH: On "You Hung The Moon" is sung in a low croon very much like Bing Crosby.  You don't do it in a campy way - you really go for it.  Is singing that way a privilege you would not have allowed yourself when you were younger?

EC: In the absence of Bing, I think that mine is the natural voice for the song. I'm merely singing very quietly in my speaking register.

OWH: From the thirties until well into the sixties, that was the principle style of mainstream male pop singing. Now no one sings that way.  Even the few remaining old school pop singers, Tony Bennett first among them, have craggier voices.  Did Jim Morrison finish off crooning forever?

EC: The only song by The Doors that I like is "Break On Through To The Other Side" and I don't think that involves any crooning. But the opening of Iggy Pop's "Turn Blue" is a fine a croon as one could hope to hear. I based "Little Triggers" on that for "This Year's Model".

OWH: Have you sent "That's Not the Part of Him You're Leaving" to George Jones yet?

EC: No, but I have sent it to Solomon Burke.

OWH: Other singers' vocal harmonies play a crucial role in this record. How did you arrive at these different combinations?

EC: Hearing those great harmony vocals from Mike Compton on "A Slow Drag With Josephine" and "Five Small Words" was something else.

Jim Lauderdale makes a vital contribution to both "That's Not The Part Of Him" and "All These Strangers" and we've already spoken about Vince Gill singing on "Dr. Watson, I Presume" but I should mention that Buddy Miller also lends his voice to the title track.

In all the other cases, I felt that I didn't want to shy away from dubbing vocal harmonies myself, something that I've done to good effect since my first record.

OWH: What about live performances?

EC: Well, concerts are another matter.

Davey Faragher and I harmonize on Imposters shows and nearly all of Sugarcanes can vocalize.

On one of our last summer dates, Stuart Duncan actually took a lead vocal on "I Am A Pilgrim" and Mike Compton, Jim Lauderdale, Jerry Douglas, Jeff Taylor and myself made up the vocal group on the spot.

Maybe we'll cut that one for our gospel record.

OWH: No, I meant what are your plans for live performance?

EC: Right now, I feel I have the greatest freedom in a solo concert, as least with regard to repertoire but any occasion to convene either the Imposters or the Sugarcanes or any combination of the two would be very welcome.

OWH: I saw you perform this summer and the songs from, "Secret, Profane & Sugarcane", had changed quite bit but you were also playing arrangements of older songs from "Red Shoes" to "I Want You".

EC: Music is continuous. Singing "Red Cotton" on the stage of the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool - a town were much of most shameful action took place - alongside the Sugarcanes first ever rendition of a hopeful song like "Shipbuilding" is something that I will never forget.

OWH: So what happened to "Condemned Man" and "Poor Borrowed Dress", who songs featured in the show I saw but are absent from "National Ransom"?

EC: We recorded them. Their time will come.

OWH: There is obviously a genuine interest in song structures from the past but I never get the feeling that it is born of nostalgia.  What is your relationship with the musical past?

EC: Well, I see it more and more as a source of strength. These songs are not curios or exercises in form or an actual longing for yesteryear

It helps to have musicians around you that have similar curiosity and even more knowledge of the riches of the past.

If people were to hear some of the shorthand that is used in the studio they might think we'd taken leave of our senses. But if I say to Jeff Taylor, sitting at the piano, "Think Harry Lauder" just before counting off "Jimmie Standing In The Rain", he knows what I'm talking about.

Whatever is played as a result, it puts you in a certain frame of mind.

These songs are happening now but things we share with the records of the past is the sonic clarity in which we were performing, together with a willingness to listen on the part of the musicians.

Small details in the performances continue to surprise me. In "Dr. Watson, I Presume", I describe a guardian angel in the form of a clipped crow as, "hung upside down and cawing". It wasn't until a number of playbacks that I noticed that Stuart Duncan had imitated the bird in the moment after I sang that line and yet this was a first take. 

OWH: Some people would be surprised that you necessarily believe you have a guardian angel

EC: I didn't say I did and I didn't say didn't, although I was taught to believe they were smiling down on everyone, except Protestants, who dwell in eternal darkness...

I am joking, you realize.

OWH: Your immortal soul is no laughing matter.

EC: That's what they all say. I mean no disrespect. I just have an insolent face.

OWH: What then are the craziest perceptions or greatest misconceptions people might hold about you?

EC: If you are on the stage for while, all you can hope is that these lie somewhere between the falsehood of slanders and the implausibility of compliments.

We are all assembled from experience and circumstance and seen through the eyes of our loved ones and enemies alike.

For all we know. Mrs. Husband, you too are the work of a committee, just a series of curiosities and enquiries, prompted with the whispers of lovers, the jealousy of rivals, the echo of your own loathing and dread or whatever else you pull out of that Hessian postal bag of yours.

OWH: Humour me then, how about the label, "Ironic"?

EC: Never understood that one. Even if a lot of songs contain paradoxes, I mean what I say.

OWH: "Cynical"?

EC: Skeptical, perhaps.

OWH: "Intellectual"?

EC: Oh, come on now.

These are just songs. Being regarded as the slightly clever pupil in a class of uncouth dullards is hardly reason to change your hat size. Nobody is splitting the atom here.

OWH: Well, "Literate" then.

EC: Barely. But if you mean that pose of donning the clever glasses and appearing sensitive to talk impressionable young woman into bed, then several bad poets and not a few songwriters are guilty as charged. I can't say I've ever been in their number.

OWH: Then how about trying, "Misogynistic" on for size?

EC: Steady now. It's a family show.

I do think that was in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps there was a tiny, unpleasant but persuasive chorus who identified themselves with those early songs and actually had such vile feelings towards the very people I was trying to seduce.

OWH: Would you say you are "Spiritual"?

EC: That's a terrible cross to bear. It's a little like flashing those tags; "Dangerous" or "Subversive", once you say you are, you probably aren't.

OWH: So, do you have "Faith"?

EC: Yes, I do and "Hope" and "Charity" but not always at the same time and I suppose that it the idea really.

OWH: Then what of your original calling card, "Mr. Anger"?

EC: "Hello Darkness, My Old Friend".

Dismay at the ways of the world, disappointment at the failure of a romantic ideal, loss of belief or the trust, the betrayal of grand promises.

It depends on what kind of "anger" you are talking about and who or what it is directed towards.

Any impatience or frustration I've ever expressed at it being taken for the major part my persona was soon drowned out by laughter and there isn't a harsh word that I haven't said ten times over and hundred times more bitterly to myself.

OWH: But with "National Ransom", you must hear that there is a real sadness and, if I may say, moments of holy anger, grim resignation and even anguish in some of these songs. 

Yet you choose to end it with a song of optimism and emotional support.  Is that a fair description of you nowadays - aware of the horrors but unwilling to give in to the despair?

EC: Well, that last song, "A Voice In the Dark", alludes to "Pennies From Heaven", one of the finest of songs of perseverance that I know.

I suppose my proposition is, no matter what fancies and dreams we have and whatever terrors we face, we had best not do it alone and it is easier with song or a fond word secreted somewhere about your person; in your heart, your elusive and eternal soul or hidden in your shoe.

Right now, I'd say it's all about love.

OWH: Okay, before we conclude, what, exactly, is a "radio hat"?

EC: It's a very early clue to the new direction but you should never wear it out in the rain.

OWH: And who is this Josephine who shows up in "Jimmie Standing In The Rain" and "A Slow Drag..."?

EC: Those are different "Josephines". 

OWH: So, where is the "Josephine" from "A Slow Drag" today?

EC: I don't know exactly but wherever she is, but I believe she is still dancing.

OWH: Was there a real "Alison"?

EC: Yes, he played with Buddy Holly.

Odile W. Husband (neé O'Súlleabháin) is the popular music correspondent of "The Inquisitor"  - an independent catholic journal on all matters cultural, satirical and spiritual.