It was a brief but beautiful moment—Elvis Costello and the Imposters crossing paths with Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice, recording together for about a week in February 2008 and emerging with a wildly underrated album, Momofuku. Fans didn’t even realize the record existed until about a month before release; it hit the racks as a vinyl-only item first, then later came out on CD. (I was so excited to hear it that I somehow finagled a rough mp3 recording of the record, which came out before I had a turntable; it didn’t even have track breaks.)
A few weeks before those sessions, EC joined Lewis and her band to record a duet for Lewis’ next solo album, Acid Tongue. That record wouldn’t see release until September, but there’s a natural continuity between this song and Momofuku, even though the recordings came from separate sessions for separate albums.
For Costello, Momofuku was a return to guitar-based rock after four years of explorations in orchestral works, New Orleans R&B, and piano jazz. Lewis and Rice fit right in with those sessions, which based on the end result sound like they were very organic and loose, with a softer west coast sound. At the same time, Costello approached songwriting with just as much spit and gristle as his earliest “revenge and guilt” albums.
Back to “Carpetbaggers.” The conceit here from songwriter Jonathan Rice is clever as hell, comparing the notion of 19th century carpetbaggers in the reconstruction-era south to the ways of an uncommitted lover. EC’s vocal is great; it’s a doorbusting eruption in the middle of the song, almost shouting at the top of his range before coming in lower beneath Lewis’ vocal for the chorus.
But this is Jenny Lewis’ song, regardless of who wrote it or who sings with her on it. She’s a terrific songwriter in her own right, as well as a versatile vocalist. Here she plays sardonic and coy in equal measure, blurring the line between whether the narrator is the titular carpetbagger, or just a detached observer of behavior.
Stream this song on the service of your choice.
Agree about Momofuku, and I'd somehow overlooked "Carpetbaggers." A gem! Now need to check out Lewis's album. And the video is fun, too, though I lost count of the drummers (including Pete's daughter Tennessee).
I had no idea they’d worked together!