Saturday, March 28, 2015

The New Basement Tapes - Lost on the River


2014 – Harvest Records
By Phillip Smith; Mar 28, 2015


There’s something very special about the latest supergroup, New Basement Tapes.  This collective of musicians, consisting of Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Jim James (My Morning Jacket), & Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons) have joined forces to record fifteen tracks based on uncovered song lyrics which were written by Bob Dylan in 1967 during the original Basement Tape sessions. Dylan credited with co-writer of each song on the album, does not appear on any of the performances.

The somewhat spacy “Down on the Bottom” kicks things off.  This track is co-written by Jim James, who also by the way takes on the electric guitar and organ.  I really like the fuzzy My Morning Jacket guitar licks James dishes out during the bridge.  This is the kind of song that captivates me upon first listen.  James is also at the helm of “Nothing To It”, a poppy song about letting the flip of a coin decide the fate of a thief.  Under the covers, this is ominous and sinister enough to be on Harvey Dent’s playlist.  

I can’t steer away from “Kansas City”, with writing credits given to both Mumford and Goldsmith.  Mumford nails the lead vocals on this ode to torn hearts and letting go.  Johnny Depp even makes an appearance to play guitar on this one.  Goldsmith revisits Kansas City on “Liberty Street”.  This story of hard times is solemnly sung and beautifully played on piano.  Goldsmith delivers again on the rootsy “Card Shark”, a cute little ditty featuring Costello on ukulele.  This song has that feel-good pleasantness to it that lures the listener to sing along. I like this one a lot.

It’s so good to hear Elvis Costello tear it up both vocally and electrically on guitar in “Six Months in Kansas City (Liberty Street)”.  He brings to the table the same enthusiasm and exuberance he had in his early years.

Title track, “Lost on the River #20” beautifully concludes the album, with lovely vocals from Rhiannon flowing alongside stellar acoustic guitar performances from Mumford and Goldsmith.  It’s hard to believe these Dylan songs haven’t been put to tape and released before.  They’re so good.  Lost on the River is nothing short of a masterpiece.