Friday, March 26, 2010

Karen Elson at Le Poisson Rouge 3/22/2010

I covered Karen Elson's show for
SPOOK Magazine's website. You can read the review here, but they cut the last two paragraphs so the full story is below.

Karen Elson’s guitar is about a hundred years old. Discontinued in the early 1920s, the Gibson Style O Artist has an oval soundhole and a cute little curly-cue detail on the top bout with a sharp cutaway on the lower bout. There’s also a mother-of-pearl fleur de lys inlay on the headstock. It’s insanely beautiful.

The rest of Elson’s live act is equally vintage-inspired. Monday night, Ms. Jack White and her five-piece band took to Le Poisson Rouge’s stage clad in fedoras and feathered hats, armed with old-timey instruments like the accordion and pedal steel guitar. This show marked the New York debut of Elson’s solo act (the British supermodel has previously performed as a member of the NYC-based performing arts collective The Citizen’s Band). Playing to a rapt audience that included Vogue Magazine’s Creative Director Grace Coddington, Elson performed songs from her forthcoming hubby-produced album The Ghost Who Walks.

There is no doubt that Elson has talent. Her voice is clear as a bell and she’s also a pretty decent songwriter (Elson wrote all of the songs on The Ghost Who Walks save for one). But where Elson shines is in recreating a sound that recalls simpler times long since past. Her best songs are influenced by the American country music that existed before Shania Twain’s midriff and Kenny Chesney’s pectorals made it almost unrecognizable from the simple song forms and folksy elements that defined the genre in its early days. This classic aesthetic was probably best exemplified in “Cruel Summer,” a song inspired by the torrential weather patterns in country music mecca Nashville, where Elson currently resides with White and their two children. Another highlight was the more theatrical “100 Years From Now,” originally written for The Citizen’s Band. When Elson strays from nostalgia-tinged sounds in favor of more radio-friendly folk-pop driven songs like show opener “Pretty Babies,” it’s not that it’s particularly bad, just forgettable. She is clearly capable of something much more unique and interesting and these songs end up as filler next to a few true gems.

Elson seemed a bit shy when it came to entertaining the audience in during breaks in the music so she relied on explaining the origin of a few of her songs. The most interesting tidbit she divulged was that “The Truth Is In The Dirt” is an Eartha Kitt quote Elson discovered while reading the actress’s obituary. Towards the end of the set, Elson’s voice seemed to grow tired but she returned to the stage for an encore and performed two more songs. The first was a cover of Jackson C. Frank’s folk ballad “Milk And Honey” and the last was her new album’s title track. The video for “The Ghost Who Walks” features Elson playing the song solo while her band patiently waits in the background. At the show, they finally get to join in on the fun and the addition of a full band gives the song a fuller, more rhythmic groove while the organ solo contributed a psychedelic twist.

Being hitched to a living rock legend may cause skepticism for many music fans but Karen Elson has proved that her first solo effort is no vanity project. And like most things, she can only get better with age.

The Ghost Who Walks is due in late May.

Photo courtesy of The Greyest Ghost.

1 comment:

  1. Ms. Jack White is going to make that guitar a collector's item. I should buy one as an investment. That's probably safer than my 401k.