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4Play: Elvis Costello, The Acorn, Nellie McKay, High Dials

Kristi Kates - January 24th, 2011
Elvis Costello - National Ransom - Hear Music
Recorded in a mere 11 days, Costello teams up with uber-producer T-Bone Burnett for his latest, which consists of a new tracks and plenty of guest appearances, including Vince Gill, Leon Russell, and Marc Ribot. It’s standard Costello as far as the compositions themselves, but there are hints of interesting new inflections here and there, like the Naw’lins-influenced “Jimmie Standing in the Rain,” the countryfied “I Lost You,” and the folky, backcountry-meets-jazz sound of “A Slow Drag with Josephine,” as enhanced by mandolins and Costello’s distinctive voice.




The Acorn - No Ghost - Bella Union
Recorded in an isolated cottage in northern Canada, where the band focused by leaving cell phones and TVs behind, The Acorn’s latest allows a little of their countryside surroundings into the mix, in which insects sounds and wild creaks can be heard in the backgrounds of many of the songs. Opener “Cobbled from Dust” sets the tone with its warm rural feel added to The Acorn’s instrumentally experimental tunes. The title track is one of the standouts, as are the lighter “Misplaced” and, by constrast, the heavier “Crossed the Wire.” It’s a solid accomplishment from a band with a lot of skill.




Nellie McKay - Home Sweet Mobile Home - Verve
McKay’s first album of original tunes since 2007 finds the quirky singer-songwriter in a mischievous, eclectic, and droll mood. Recorded in a variety of locales, including NY, LA, and Jamaica, the set, per McKay’s usual, mixes a diverse palette of sounds and influences, all brought together by McKay’s unusual, idiosyncratic vocals. Included here are tracks like the reggae-spun “Caribbean Time” and the appropriately-dubbed “Unknown Reggae” the jazzy, quizzical “Dispossessed,” the danceable, neo-soul “No Equality,” and the balladry of “Coosada Blues.”



High Dials - Anthems for a Doomed Youth - RQ
After building a studio in an old building previously inhabited by the Canadian Navy, High Dials got to work on their latest set, utilizing the building’s ballroom for the echoey sounds found on many of these ‘60s-influenced tunes. The album has a very live feel to it - no doubt due in part to the recording locale - which serves the songs well, from the buoyant “...Love Made Me Insane” and “I’m Over You (I Know It’s True)” to the R.E.M.-esque “Chinese Boxes.” It’s definitely poppier than earlier sets, but that might help broaden this talented band’s fanbase.

 
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