Hear Music and Concord Music Group are proud to present Elvis Costello's National Ransom, produced by T-Bone Burnett.
All members of The Imposters and The Sugarcanes feature in a wide variety of groovy new combos with guests Vince Gill, Marc Ribot, Buddy Miller and Leon Russell
“Around the time the killing stopped on Wall St.
You couldn't hold me, baby, with anything but contempt”
The record is led off by the loud electric guitar of Marc Ribot in the left channel and the lap-steel of Jerry Douglas in the right channel. Steve Nieve enters on the Vox Continental organ, while the rhythm section consists of Dennis Crouch on double bass and Pete Thomas on drums. National Ransom is the name of the album and also a rock and roll song, “For the bankrupt times, whenever they may be”, as Costello recently described it.
“Loose change lonely, not the right amount”
The second track, “Jimmie Standing In The Rain”, recalls the misfortunes of a cowboy singer playing the northern English musical halls in 1937. The music owes a little something to that time. The ensemble for this song includes, the acoustic guitar of Marc Ribot, the violinist, Stuart Duncan, Dennis Crouch on double bass and The Sugarcanes’ accordionist, Jeff Taylor playing piano. Darrell Leonard adds the trumpet commentary.
"Farewell my little ballyhoo, you broke my heart in two"
“A Slow Drag With Josephine” described by Costello as “rock and roll, as it sounded in 1921” has been a highlight of recent Costello live shows. Mandolinist Mike Compton sings the close vocal harmony while members of the ‘Canes enter only to offer brief instrumental comments to Costello’s finger-picked guitar accompaniment. On “Five Small Words” The Imposters rhythm section – Davey Faragher and Pete Thomas – combine with the twin electric guitars of The Coward Brothers. Howard Coward also plays Farfisa organ, while Mike Compton once again provides the vocal harmony.
“The water came up to the eaves
You’d think that someone had opened a valve
It’s too soon to stay now and too late to leave
So spare your remorse all the way up to Calvary”
“Stations Of The Cross” – in which disasters are regarded from a safe and depraved distance and “Church Underground” – tracing the life of a nightclub singer from obscurity through infamy to a harsh final redemption - are arranged around Steve Nieve’s grand piano with Stuart Duncan’s electric violin or viola, Jerry Douglas' lap-steel and the Crouch/Thomas rhythm section. The latter song also features a four-piece section of flugel horn, trombones and baritone saxophone, arranged by Darrell Leonard.
“Turn up the music just to turn it down.
The trivial secrets buried with the profound"
Despite the presence of lap-steel, mandolin, dobro and fiddle throughout the record, the music probably owes more to the rhythms and harmonies of R&B or even Gospel music than to Bluegrass. This continues on “That’s Not The Part Of Him You’re Leaving”, which is pitched somewhere on the road between Nashville and Memphis and finds the entire Sugarcanes are joined by Pete Thomas and Steve Nieve on Hammond Organ and “The Spell That You Cast”, where Costello’s own Gibson tenor guitar trades off in the solo with Mike Compton’s mandolin on a beat combo tune.
All of these songs are newly composed by Costello with the exception of “I Lost You”, co-written with Jim Lauderdale and “All These Strangers”, for which Costello and T Bone Burnett collaborated on the lyrics. Costello and Burnett also provide the lyrics for, “My Lovely Jezebel”, a Leon Russell rock and roll tune and he leads a Thomas/Crouch/Ribot combo from the piano. Vince Gill adds a beautiful vocal harmony part to the chorus of a string-band tune, “Dr. Watson, I Presume”, on which the Sugarcanes full instrumental line-up are heard together with Pete Thomas, Marc Ribot and the baritone guitar of Buddy Miller, who also sings on the title cut.
The ballad accompaniments range from a single acoustic guitar and double bass on “Bullets For The New-Born King” - a song in the voice of a regretful assassin - to a hushed 21-piece ensemble for, “You Hung The Moon" - a song about a séance held in 1919 as a family struggle with the loss of a soldier executed for desertion in the First World War.
“Lower the hood on his last lament, dash him down on the cold cement”
“One Bell Ringing”, in which a man has dreams of his own interrogation and demise, is set in 2007. The song hears Costello’s finger-picked guitar and Dennis Crouch’s double bass augmented by the singer’s own arrangement for bass trumpet, alto flute and bass clarinet.
Asked if all the songs and their characters were set in specific times and places, Costello said, “Yes but I'd be happy if you imagine them any time you want”.
National Ransom was recorded in a total of eleven days at Sound Emporium, Nashville and Village Recorders, Los Angeles and engineered and mixed by Michael Piersante at Electromagetic, Los Angeles. National Ransom was produced by T Bone Burnett.
Tony Millionaire once again provides the ink illustration for the cover.