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Elvis Costello, ‘National Ransom’ (Hear Music)

With livelier playing and more memorable tunes, Costello’s second straight collaboration with producer T Bone Burnett is a major improvement over last year’s ho-hum Secret, Profane & Sugarcane. Here, the new-wave legend flexes his trademark sneer in a handful of hurtling, rootsy rave-ups about corporate crooks (check Marc Ribot’s electric-guitar stabs on the title track). But Costello steps up most strongly on gorgeous ballads like “All These Strangers” and “You Hung the Moon,” the latter of which could fool your grandparents into thinking they’d heard it at a V-J Day dance.