Elvis Costello and The Roots – Wake Up Ghost – Count on the one and only real Elvis to pull The Roots up out of late night television artistic obscurity. Credit the group for coming up with a set of backing tracks that sound right in tune with Costello’s more adventurous recent work – notice how “Viceroy’s Row” uses the exact same bassline as “Stations Of The Cross” from 2010’s National Ransom. Elvis holds his own on the more Rootsy tracks, although a few are begging for a Black Thought verse or two (“Refuse To Be Saved,” “Come The Meantimes.”) It’s not always a seamless marriage, and some of this gets over by technique rather than inspiration, but it’s a unique, confident work that finds some haunting grooves and melodies.
Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Vol 8 – It will never take the place of the still under appreciated Self-Portrait album, the scattered minor masterpiece that caused many fans to jump off Bob’s slow train in 1969, but this collection offers a generous mix of outtakes, covers, and live performances. That album sounded like the work of a confused artist unsure of what direction to follow, but the odds and ends collected here betray the breezy confidence of his folk roots. He could have actually put together a fairly cohesive Dylan-does-folk collection that would have at least appeased the rising critical tide against him, as evidenced by previously unbooted gems like “Railroad Bill,” ” This Evening So Soon,” and “Thirsty Boots.” It may not reach the highs of his best sixties work – that spark was gone for the moment – but lack of creative inspiration led him back to a more contented artistic vision of woozy folk rock. The Isle of Wight performance with The Band is included in full and it’s still somewhat disappointing, at turns either sloppy or too reined in to really shine. Perhaps that perfect chemistry that was evidenced in previous tours and recordings could not simply be summoned on command for the puerile entertainment of fans waiting to sing along with “Blowin’ In The Wind.” No matter – we’re just waiting patiently for the Basement Tapes edition Bootleg Series for the revelations of the genius Bobby and the Boys birthed up there in Big Pink in the summer of 67.
Camron – Ghetto Heaven – Cam is back with his own kooky, inimitable style on this one. Gone now are the mediocre Vado and the intrusive influence of DJ Drama that diluted the uneven Boss Of All Bosses series. This is Killa Cam in his own lane, with the extended skits of groupie voicemails, soulful beats, the “Golden Girls” theme song, etc. The fact that there’s nothing particularly revolutionary here is what’s so good about this mixtape, as it feels like a return to goofy nonchalance of 2007’s Public Enemy #1 and at times even the classic Purple Haze era. And when he feels like departing from the familiar themes of money, crack, hoes, he can manage a convincing portrayal of what life’s actually like for the rest of us:
Ka – The Night’s Gambit – Dark, moody, cerebral. Less overtly boom-bap and Illmatic-y than last year’s phenomenal Grief Pedigree, this album finds the Brooklyn rapper and former Natural Elements member right back in his zone with dense, gritty lyricism over elegiac production. Subtle and subdued, this album rewards repeated listens. Although this time the sound is a bit more diffuse and less immediate than the previous one – newcomers would be advised to start there and then check this one. “From the days I behaved like a thug, I don’t get rich from this. this is a labor of love.”
The Godfathers – Once Upon A Crime – How could you be mad at this? The legendary Kool G Rap teams up with Necro for the collaboration album with checkered history of rumored cancellations and unwieldy expectations. But anything from G Rap is worth checking, even when he sounds somewhat uninspired as he does here – there are times when it sounds like he can’t finish a verse fast enough, like Krusty The Clown recording voice over work for an unsafe children’s toy. Make no mistake: this is Necro’s project – the whole thing is suffused with dark, angular production style and a good bit of the old ultraviolence.