Elvis Costello and the Roots officially announced today they will be releasing an album together, called Wise Up Ghost, on September 17 via Blue Note Records. The Roots’ drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson first revealed the project in January, and the announcement contained few details he or Costello hadn’t previously indicated in various recent interviews.
Still, here’s what we now know for sure: ?uestlove and Costello produced the album with veteran Roots partner Steven Mandel. La Marisoul, lead singer of Los Angeles band La Santa Cecilia adds guest vocals on a track titled “Cinco Minutos Con Vos.” And… that’s about it.
Costello, in a statement, characterizes the album as “the shortest distance between here and there,” saying it contains “both rhythm and what is ready.” Hmm. ?uestlove offers this statement: “It’s a moody, brooding affair, cathartic rhythms and dissonant lullabies. I went stark and dark on the music, Elvis went HAM on some ole Ezra Pound shit.” Hmm. HAM. Hmm.
From there, we’re left with frustrating hints. The announcement says that “a small number of test pressings were distributed as white labels” on April 20 for Record Store Day. Which, if true, would be Big News: Unreleased Elvis Costello and the Roots recordings are floating around out there somewhere, unlabeled, on vinyl! Good god, did you see how much money that mysterious Boards of Canada record went for? But there’s so sign of those records on eBay, and reps for the artists didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. The Elvis Costello Fan Forum, so far the best compendium of information on the release, has yet to include posts from anyone who scored one of those RSD test pressings.
Even the studios involved raise questions. The announcement says the recording was done mostly in secret at a place called Feliz Habitat Studios, but also in the open at a place of Costello’s called Hookery Crookery Studios. Google either of those studio names, though, and you mostly just find… Wise Up Ghost, due out September 17 via Blue Note Records.
Curiouser and curiouser. Dig around a little more, and you see producers Mandel and ?uestlove have been corresponding with a Twitter account called @ImposterSpeaks in a way that clearly signals it belongs to Elvis Costello, though once again, this is unconfirmed. But: Costello appears to be tweeting, casually, on an account other than his official @ElvisCostello handle. The account’s first tweet, in Spanish on Cinco De Mayo, hinted at the album’s collaboration with La Marisoul of La Santa Cecilia.
Costello and the Roots will also reportedly be taking the stage together somewhere, though again, that has yet to be officially confirmed (sensing a pattern yet?). In a print-only feature, Mojo reports that live shows are in the works and quotes ?uestlove as saying, “Onstage is when it’ll really happen.” What that is, neither Costello nor ?uestlove would really say, though ?uestlove did tell Mojo he didn’t want this to be “Elvis’ hip-hop record,” and Costello said he “didn’t want to drag Quest down to new wave hell.”
The mystery may be in keeping with Blue Note’s strategy. The label’s president, legendary bassist Don Was, recently told the Philadelphia Inquirer the idea is to “play small ball,” or sell small amounts of records from a variety of performers. “Everything doesn’t have to be a home run,” Was is quoted as saying. “We’re going to 100,000 our way to prosperity… Our A&R philosophy is, if you play it, and it makes you feel something, that’s good music. A good business plan is to make a great record.”
We’ll leave you with these lines from the announcement, which we’d guess constitute some of Costello’s “ole Ezra Pound shit” (okay, they’re actually lyrics from Costello’s 2002 track “Bedlam”):
The solitary star announcing vacancy burnt out as we arrived
They’d throw us back across the border if they knew that we survived