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Fordham University’s WFUV recently sat down with Philly’s own Questlove (The Roots) and Elvis Costello to discuss how their collaborative LP, Wise Up Ghost came to fruition earlier this year. Music lovers were given something to look forward to once news of the unlikely pairing began to surface. Upon release, the album was rightfully praised as it surpassed expectations. Listen here. Watch them perform “Wise Up Ghost” below. The band also appeared on World Cafe with David Dye this fall. Listen to that interview by clicking below.
Elvis Costello stopped by Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to put his collaboration with house band The Roots on T.V. for the first time. The Philly R&B / soul band and their English power-pop counterpart performed “Walk Us Uptown,” the single from the recently released Wise Up Ghost LP. There are no announced plans for a Philadelphia show right now, but you can read XPN host Mike Vasilikos’s review of the record for its Album of the Week spotlight here.
Depending on how you look at this, the paths of Elvis Costello and The Roots represent a much more natural crossing that it seems. The ‘How’ is answered rather simply. We can thank The Jimmy Fallon Show for putting them both in the same room (and on the same stage). But why they took it one step further to produce one of the year’s most intriguing albums really lies within the musical character of both acts. For The Roots, collaboration has always been a constant. And their versatility to play alongside any and all musical ensembles is the reason they’re the one of the most sought after live acts. For Costello, much the same. He’s never been shy of a musical challenge and since the late 70s has tried his hand at just about all styles. So does their collective desire for musical exploration lend itself to a fruitful collaboration on Wise Up Ghost? It sure does.
As cliché as it sounds, the music really speaks for itself on Wise Up Ghost. In terms of Costello, he’s the main voice on the album with The Roots laying down the foundation and coloring in the sonic landscape. ?uestlove and the band lead us into soulful, funky territory on songs like “Refuse to To Saved” and the seductive “Wake Me Up”. Costello sounds reinvigorated on the collection. It’s a definitive and welcomed departure from the country and folk inspired albums (Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, National Ransom) that preceded this. With songs like “Walk Us Uptown” and “Come the Meantimes”, Costello confidently steps right back into a contemporary world (even if The Roots are drawing from classic soul).
Unlike so many collaborative records, Wise Up Ghost is truly as interesting as the headlines read. And not only does the music offer the best of what both parties are capable of, but it’s a direction, for Costello at least, that many have been craving for.
Listen to the album in its entirety here.
The Roots and Costello’s collaboration began when Elvis was a guest on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, where The Roots are the house band. Ben Greenman, co-author of Questlove’s autobiography, Mo’ Meta Blue accounts:
The Roots’ iconic drummer, suggested the project to Costello. “I subliminally put out the idea of a larger collaboration,” Questlove says. “Or maybe passive-aggressively—I was too afraid to actually suggest that we should make a record together.” The project was originally envisioned as an EP, but the field of vision expanded. “I had worked with them enough on Fallon to know it was a good match,” Costello says. “This is a band that does what I’ve done from the start: they draw off everything, all types of music.”
About the album, Ann Powers of NPR Music writes:
Though it’s not a concept album (that’s Undun, the 2011 Roots album it sometimes brings to mind), Wise Up Ghost has a unifying theme: trouble, as it bubbles up inside bedrooms, snakes through the halls of power and festers on the streets. This is sexy music about scary topics like the abuse of power and the manipulation of desire. Is the woman in “(She Might Be A) Grenade” a lover or a spy? Does the spent prophet singing the title track warn of hardening hearts or of a creeping totalitarian threat? It’s both, throughout these songs, each examining the individual betrayals and dashed ideals that contribute to a culture’s demise. “Cinco Minutos Con Vos,” a duet with the dazzling La Marisoul of the L.A. band , comes on like a Joan Didion novel, humid with the mist of terror. “Come the Meantimes” glances sidelong at apocalypse in ways Curtis Mayfield would have appreciated. Throughout the album, Costello also samples from his own earlier songs; that literary touch recalls the self-referential mirror games of writers like Jorge Luis Borges, even as it nods to the wordplay of rappers like the one absent Roots member, Black Thought.
The sound of Wise Up Ghost comes closer to the early-’70s cinematic funk of and than to anything else. Strings swell and horns punch, but everything stays true to the rhythm ?uestlove, percussionist Frank Knuckles and bassist Mark Kelley lay down. Co-producer Steven Mandel’s mix opens up the songs’ complex arrangements so that little details — bells tinkling, a murmured aside — widen every scene. Listening, it’s hard to separate oneself from these dreamy nightmares.
Throughout the day it’s new music Tuesday on XPN; here’s a little sampler of some new records to dig into. Below are new songs from roots rockers Deer Tick, Blitzen Trapper and Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, the sunshiny future classic rock sound of the Haim sister, the kaleidoscopic brilliance of MGMT and The Polyphic Spree, our “Gotta Hear Song of The Week” from the San Francisco orchestral-pop band, The Family Crest, and The Head and The Heart.