The Roots And Elvis Costello's 'Wise Up Ghost'

Soul Train: Ayara Pommells: 23rd September 2013.

The Roots and Elvis Costello teamed up to bring us Wise Up Ghost, a high energy, collaborative album. After the success of The Roots’ last album, the flawless, conceptual Undun, eyebrows raised (if only slightly) in curiosity everywhere when this most recent alliance was revealed. Neither The Roots nor Elvis Costello can be accused of lacking innovativeness.  They are and always have been pioneers in their respective genres, so this album is an exciting appetizing indeed.

For hip-hop lovers, The Roots of course, need no introduction.  They have managed to bag several Grammys over the years and are well known by the mainstream media as the house band on NBC’s Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Singer songwriter Elvis Costello has also earned multiple Grammys over his extensive career. He has joined forces with revered artists such as Paul McCartney, rock band Fall Out Boy and the master of horror fiction, Stephen King.

Wise Up Ghost is littered with gems. The beautiful strings intro to “Sugar Won’t Work,” for example, leads right into a smooth, groovy 70s bass line. “Tripwire” is another gem; its vibe is very much in the vein of the 1950s. Costello’s voice is soothing, further allayed by the velvety, backing vocalists who you would envision as dressed to the hilt in vintage attire and slick, starchy gelled hair-dos. “Cinco Minutos Con Vos” is another standout piece. The beat is perhaps more hip-hop and less rock than most of the other tracks, but Elvis Costello has recruited Latin singer La Marisoul to assist on the mic. Her voice is sweet and earthy and gives the song a dreamy, far away texture. “Viceroy’s Row” is wondrously soulful.  The Roots band is impeccable and the horns lead the way all the way from your speakers straight to the dance floor. You will want to groove to this.

At times, it does seem as though Elvis Costello vocally exerts himself. On the track “If I Could Believe,” he appears to be slightly outside of his vocal range and it makes for somewhat uncomfortable listening. The beautiful orchestra outro to the song makes up for it.

It’s worth noting that this is an entire album of The Roots, without any appearances from Black Thought–not even for a bar. Possibly because Wise Up Ghost isn’t strictly a hip-hop album.  This fact in itself may both disappoint and deter some of The Roots’ diehard fans. The general feel of the album is inclined more towards Elvis Costello’s rock catalogue, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. You will need to approach this album with an open mind if you are not already well-versed on his discography.

All in all, Wise Up Ghost is what is should be. If you are able to look past the absence of Black Thought and the fact that the album is more pop rock than hip-hop, then it is a solid offering from a pairing who are both secure enough to step outside the box and create something authentic and new. If I had to give it a mark out of five, I’d give it a solid four.