Album Review: Elvis Costello National Ransom

By Graham Reid

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Elvis Costello's album cover for  National Ransom . Photo / Supplied
Elvis Costello's album cover for National Ransom . Photo / Supplied

Rating: 4/5
Verdict: Another instalment from rock's most fertile mind.

The prolific Costello's Secret, Profane and Sugarcane last year was his most interesting in a while for its mix of rock, raw country, edgy ballads and bluegrass, all helmed by co-producer T Bone Burnett.

This new one feels like a companion volume in its diverse musical menu, similar cover art by Tony Millionaire, and with many of the players and Burnett back. Although this opens with the blazing rock'n' roll attack on Wall St bankers ("we're working every day paying off the national ransom"), the album shifts from old jazzy instrumentation (fiddle, trumpet on Jimmie Standing in the Rain) through jaunty folk (A Slow Drag with Josephine), touches on rockabilly for Five Small Words, and has lap steel-coloured barnyard country-rock (I Lost You), white-knuckle folk, 50s rock ...

As always Costello, who offers a physical location for where each piece might have been sung, deals with Big Stuff: You Hung the Moon is a string-touched ballad about families trying to contact a World War I soldier shot for deserting; a political assassination in Central America in 1951 (Bullets for the New Born King), the price of friendship and the gossip which follows (That's Not The Part of Him You're Leaving), a film noir betrayal (All These Strangers) ...

At 16 tracks, this feels more of a homework assignment than the previous album, but you can't deny Costello's breadth and depth of vision.

-TimeOut / elsewhere.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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