KAREN ELSON – The Ghost Who Walks (Third Man Records)

Karen Elson is a UK model who married Jack White of the White Stripes a while back, and they now live happily in the north of England. When Karen mentions that she used to write songs when she was younger then alarm bells start to ring and you prepare yourself for a vanity recording of 6th form poetry set to insipid acoustic guitar. Therefore I didn’t try this album until Kev mentioned that he had bought it because he liked the cover (!) and he thought it would appeal to me. A quick scan of the internet later and I found that he was right, and that I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge. Firstly, Elson has a great voice, and secondly the songs are anything but substandard tosh. (And thirdly, although Jack could have plastered himself all over this album, he limits himself to production and drumming on a few tracks.) Strangely for a Northern lass, she has gone for a sort of American bluesy/country sound, which does work extremely well with her sometimes sinister lyrics. The title track opens the album, and straight away you are dumped in the heady swamps of Tennessee for a chilling murder ballad. It is the perfect opener, showcasing both Elson’s vocals and her songwriting, and it does actually make you want to hear what is coming next. ‘The Truth Is In The Dirt’ has a more pronounced country twang to it, but is still not a let-down after the first track. By ‘Pretty Babies’ we have a rough idea what to expect, and so the pedal-steel guitar and claustrophobic organ stabs give the songs a down-home country feel. ‘Lunasa’ is a cover of bandmate Rachelle Garniez’s lovely ballad, while ‘100 Years From Now’ wouldn’t sound out of place in a 1930’s cabaret show. The combination of accordian and acoustic guitar on ‘Stolen Roses’ give it something of a folk feel, while ‘Cruel Summer’ is the most out and out country song that we have so far heard. Another change of style for ‘Garden’ results in a mid-tempo ballad featuring some sturdy drumming from Jack and a forceful vocal from his wife. ‘The Birds They Circle’ has a blues feel to its composition, and yet is performed as a folk ballad, and seems to work surprisingly well. ‘The Last Laugh’ is an aching ballad enhanced by some eerily effective pedal-steel guitar, and the album closes with the surging country-rock of ‘Mouths To Feed’. So, thanks to Kev for pointing me in the direction of this album, and now it is my turn to pass on the recommendation and urge you to put aside any preconceptions you might have picked up from the press and try this great album.

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