Review of The Ghost That Walks Album by Karen Elson

Ian Botham played both professional test cricket and league football.
John Surtees was a World Champion on two wheels as well as four.
Glenda Jackson, Ronald Reagan and Arnie have all enjoyed a degree of success in the political arena after years of acting.
Jared Leto is an acclaimed actor as well as front man to the highly regarded 30 Seconds To Mars.
The art world is inextricably interwoven with popular music, from Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground to Damien Hirst and Joe Strummer or The Hours.
Fashion statements in music, eg:New Romantics and Punk, are sometimes as powerful as the genre they defined.
Sean 'Diddy' Combes is also an established fashion designer.
Malcolm McLaren went from fashion innovator to music mogul, producer and icon.

Examples of people who are able to exist, function and excel in more than one dimension, with little derision, may not be common place but they do work more often than you may initially imagine. Therefore, Karen Elson's foray into popular music should be afforded the privilege of being judged solely on its merits, regardless of contributors or the exposure they bring with them.

Karen Elson The Ghost That Walks Album

Oldham (Manchester UK) born Elson may not seem an obvious rock star in the making. The former 1998 fashion model of the year, and face of YSL perfume, has appeared on the worlds catwalks for the most respected designers. Surely the leap from frocks to rock is one too many and bound to go the way of Kate Moss! Well, no. Karen Elson is also a founding member of the highly regarded Cabaret Troupe, 'Citizens Band'. She has sung with Cat Power and Robert Plant and if you have a moment check out a dimly lit video shot many years ago in the Chelsea Hotel where she provides the vocals to Melissa Auf de Maurs guitar, you may think her less of a coat hanger then.

The Ghost That Walks is ushered in with a very subtle late 60's early 70's vibe that permeates throughout the album. The warm vocals, akin to Neko Case at times, are set against retro arrangements touching on Americana, Folk, Country and even French Chanteuse. The murderous title track has a wonderfully repeated instrumental passage that is a fusion of The Doors 'Riders On The Storm' and Karel Fialka's 'Hey Matthew'. 'The Truth Is In The Dirt' reveals, through some of its distinctive guitar work, the collaborative influence of the man Karen married on a boat on the Amazon, namely Mr Jack White, and that is rarely a bad thing. The camp fire lullaby of 'Lunasa' over layers the soft vocal creating delicious harmonies backed by an acoustic guitar and fiddle. '100 Years From Now' sounds like a period piece from the silent age of cinema, a character part bursting with expression and amusement.

Where Karen has triumphed almost completely on The Ghost That Walks is in her story telling and narrative. This is never more pertinently observed than on 'Stolen Roses'. Yes, it does have more than a passing resemblance to Nick Cave's murder ballad 'Where The Wild Roses Grow'. Undeniably that is a fantastic song. Its referencing here serves only to highlight that a different take on some shared themes can work. Because Golden Brown sounds a little like Norwegian Wood doesn't make it bad. They all have their unique merits.

The Country flavour is brought to the fore on 'Cruel Summer' and you could easily mistake Karen Elson for a Nashville native rather than that of Greater Manchester! Two of the albums better tracks go back to back with 'The Birds That Circle' and 'A Thief At My Door', both drifting along with an undercurrent of torment and tension.

"The wind rattles my window pain,
he's trying to find a way in,
but my doors locked shut and my curtains are drawn,
there's a thief I can't let in."

'The last Laugh', and the more edgy and emotive 'Mouths To Feed' rap up the set. The latters simple but effective arrangements of piano, guitar and violin producing a powerful and fitting climax to a terrific debut.

Karen Elson has "always written songs", but the "music was always just mine". Well, now she has been allowed the platform to share her music. A fortuitous meeting on the shoot for 'Blue Orchid' may have inevitably lead to more exposure than had she just been a model turned musician but if you've get the breaks why not use them? The Ghost That Walks is a good debut album with many fine songs. Hopefully it will not be her last. If you were married to Jack White wouldn't you make the most of it?

Andrew Lockwood

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