Elvis Costello and The Roots Present 'Wise Up Ghost'

ThisSoundGoesAround: Paley: 10th September 2013.

I generally peruse the pages of NPR when seeking new music; they tend to filter out the “new and hot” and substitute it instead with the ‘fresh, innovate, and most importantly, something worth listening to’ kind of material. As this has assimilated itself into my daily routine, today’s NPR findings have me feeling more enthused than usual. Why? Because, people, Elvis Costello and the Roots have just released their collaborative project, Wise Up Ghost, to the public. Although the album is not yet available to purchase, any computer owning kid on the block can stream it.

So here’s the thing: when it comes to music, I have to take the occasional breaks from relevance. Sometimes, it’s spawned by hearing the latest Taylor Swift jingle, while other times it’s merely a means of sidestepping the social media energy involved in the process. Long story short, it wasn’t until today that I even knew this dynamic Costello – Roots duo were in the studio together.

As any music lover knows, today’s audible ball game strays from what it used to be in, say, Costello’s day and age. A little less conscious, a little more fist pump-worthy. The Katy Perry’s and Juicy J’s of the industry are no Joni Mitchell or Isaac Hayes. Yet, fear not; there is still hope.

Because there is such a definitive line between the radio stream and ‘the rest’, the latter has taken on a genre of its own. That genre being no genre at all. The lines are blurred (no kids, that was not a Robin Thicke reference), the sounds are strong, and the finite categories are a thing of the past. In the case of Costello and The Roots, this new state of musical mind has become more apparent than ever.

Costello, a 70′s soul maverick in his own right, and The Roots, the Hip Hop collective birthed in ’87 with a repute for maintaining the realness, form their alliance on Wise Up Ghost. Forever broken are any and all previously thought-to-be boundaries. An underlying tinge of funk and body of soul breeds the project’s personality. Entwined with The Roots’ known knack for instrumental flawlessness, Costello’s flaunts his sensual vocals. He introduces old listeners to a sound not entirely foreign, yet not too familiar; to new listeners, he reestablishes himself as more than something their parents listen to.

A few things that any album has to pay attention to are pace, variation, consistency, and sequence. The first track “Walk Us Uptown” that bleeds seamlessly into the sexy, funk-pressed “Sugar Won’t Work” show that The Roots keep their priorities straight. With their instrumentals, they don’t tell you too much, but rather just enough. On the listeners end, wonderment and intrigue transpires.

On “Wake Me Up”, we meet a slow spun confessional from Costello. “My thoughts return to vengeance, but I put up no resistance… Wake me up; there must be something better than this”, he says. The following track, “Tripwire”, rings like a 50′s doo wop track with somber undertones.

Already having noted nearly a quarter of the album, I have to recognize the string laden “(She Might Be) a Grenade” and my personal favorite, “Cinco Minutos Con Voz” accompanied by La Marisoul of the LA band La Santa Cecilia. Here, bringing in the female vocalist adds a layer of innate complexity to the already complex. Horns glide, strings cry, and a layer of mystery tangles Costello into the world of La Marisoul. The two trace one another into a lustful trance, and as the listener, you are never quite ready to be torn from their heat.

All detail aside, I must say all fifty six minutes of Wise Up Ghost left nothing but a blissful residue ringing in my ears. I encourage the younger listeners to raid their parents’ music collection and dust off the turntable or pop open the CD players to get a taste of Elvis Costello. Dousing us with a soundtrack supreme, The Roots and Elvis Costello have proven that timelessness outweighs relevance. We needed the wakeup call; they provided it and then some.

Now, it’s time to put everything aside, wise up, and get your speakers ready. It’s time to groove.