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Album Review

Elvis Costello, 'National Ransom'

November 1, 2010

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Country heartbreaker, barroom rocker, junkyard bluesman, Dixieland crooner. Elvis Costello has been down these dusty roads many, many times, notably on his first country album, 1981’s “Almost Blue.’’ The difference is that Costello, a restless musical chameleon, is now delivering his roots rock with the authority that comes with age and understanding. Produced by T Bone Burnett, “National Ransom’’ is the bookend to the acoustic album the two made last year, “Secret, Profane, & Sugarcane.’’ Their latest, though, is even more far-flung, casting Costello in a number of roles he seems to relish, from Bing Crosby doppelganger (“You Hung the Moon’’) to solemn chamber-folkie (“One Bell Ringing’’). He keeps good company, too, with legendary players — guitarists Marc Ribot and Buddy Miller, lap-steel master Jerry Douglas, singer Vince Gill, and piano pounder Leon Russell — keeping the beat riding high and low. Costello summons some of the essence of his ’70s work on “The Spell That You Cast,’’ with just a whiff of Sonic Youth dissonance in the guitar riffs. At 16 songs, the album can feel disorienting, but it’s further proof that for an Englishman, Costello has become an improbable — and invaluable — ambassador of America’s overlooked musical past. (Out tomorrow)

JAMES REED

ESSENTIAL “Jimmie Standing in the Rain’’