Elvis Costello & The Roots
Wise Up Ghost
(Blue Note Records)
This really shouldn't be a surprise. For two artists as collab-heavy as Elvis Costello (Paul McCartney, Allen Toussaint, every episode of the Sundance Channel’s Spectacle) and Roots' leader Questlove (Erykah Badu, Fiona Apple, every episode of The Late Night), it was really a matter of probability that the two would hook up eventually. The result is Wise Up Ghost, a good—and occasionally great—full-length that all-too-often bears the going through the motions feel of two artists who've had their share of these one-off flings. For their part, Questlove and The Roots bring the trademark snap and crackle they used to fine effect on Al Green and Booker T's recent comeback efforts.
And Elvis? Elvis does his thing, contributing a batch of songs that probably would be at home on just about any release of his from the past decade. The muscular Roots backing certainly elevates this material far above that mark, making for Costello's most energetic record since the Reagan administration. They even knock it out of the park a few times (the soulful "Refused to Be Saved" and "Viceroy's Roy," the gorgeous closer "If I Could Believe"). But for the most part, Wise Up Ghost is content to groove pleasantly and forgettably along.
If there is a surprise to be had, it's that two artists capable of such incredible versatility and range would stay so disappointingly safe.