Hear now: Elvis Costello and the Roots premiere 'Walk Us Uptown'

Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic

Elvis Costello has debuted the first song from his forthcoming album with hip-hop band the Roots, "Wise Up Ghost," and, predictably, it's got some funk in its genes. Costello, whose longtime band the Attractions helped propel him to fame, has over his career worked with many unlikely collaborators, including the Brodsky String Quartet, Burt Bacharach, Paul McCartney and Costello's wife, vocalist Diana Krall.

But when the longtime New York expat announced his work with the Roots -- best known to the public at large as the house band on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" -- even longtime fans were surprised by the juxtaposition. 

They can relax. The first song, "Walk Us Uptown," sounds like vintage Costello, with a deep, dubby bassline that recalls his classic "Watching the Detectives" and a typically catchy vocal melody that the man known as the Imposter anchors to the rhythm. Unlike the Attractions, though, the Roots sprouted from hip hop, and infuse "Walk Us Uptown" with a snare-snapping beat courtesy of Roots co-founder Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson.

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"Will you walk us uptown?" wonders Costello to open the song, "and wherever you go you know we'll follow." An indictment of politicians, wealth and privilege (without ever mentioning those words), Costello on "Walk Us Uptown" is filled with understandable bitterness.

"Will you walk us uptown/Will you gather us near/As cowards flee and traitors sneer," he sings, indicting Republicans and Democrats alike: "Keep a red flag flying, keep a blue flag as well/And a white flag in case it all goes to hell."

"Wise Up Ghost" comes out Tuesday, Sept. 17.


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