Elvis Costello and the Roots

The Buffalo News: Jeff Miers: 21st September 2013.

Elvis Costello & the Roots, “Wise Up Ghost” (Blue Note). It’s been clear from the beginning that “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” was going to seriously shake up our preconceptions regarding how music might work on late-night TV. Simply employing the Roots as the show’s house band should have made everyone sit up and take notice. Add to that the consistent high quality level of musical guests, the unusual pairings of artists, the “theme weeks”, and the fact that the Roots can apparently play any style of music better than just about anyone else – well, the game has been raised, and significantly. Now we’ve been gifted with the first tangible product of the show’s brave attitude toward musical programming.

Elvis Costello and the Roots met and bonded while Costello was a guest on the Fallon show, deepened their mutual appreciation society during subsequent appearances, and ultimately, hatched a plan to make a record together. It might seem like a strange pairing at first, but think about it – Costello, Irish by birth, English by upbringing, has always been funky in his own way. (Think “Radio Radio,” “Every Day I Write the Book,” most of “Punch the Clock,” large portions of “Spike.”) The Roots are one of the funkiest American bands extant, but the band has such a deep love for so many different styles of music, and such abundant facility within so many of them, that the fact that Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is a hardcore Costello fan becomes less surprising.

“Wise Up Ghost” sounds like exactly what it is – a labor of love undertaken in a relaxed manner by artists who love and respect each other. Lyrically, “Wise Up Ghost” offers snapshots of a world consumed by chaos, as if Costello aimed to keep a scrapbook of the end times to share with his grandkids on some lazy Sunday afternoon in a future that isn’t likely to ever come. It’s heavy subject matter, but the images are so vivid and delivered in such a playful manner that the album never feels weighed down by self-importance. This is that rarest of rare occurrences - a meeting of musical superstars that comes off as organic, inspired and necessary.