Back in 2010 Third Man Records had truly began its singular vision of bringing vinyl and old timey sensibilities back into an industry whose future wasn’t looking too bright at all. Amongst this first wave of releases was Karen Elson’s disarmingly atmospheric and gleefully gothic ‘The Ghost Who Walks’. It was an assured set of melancholic numbers heavily influenced by both her adopted hometown of Nashville and then-husband Jack White’s production. Happily for this humble reviewer, Elson tackles ‘the big elephant in the room’ — her divorce from what she happily describes as a "very brilliant and talented" man, and insists the long gestating ‘Double Roses’ is not a break-up album. So be gone, gossip vultures and lovers of schadenfreude.
Written during stolen moments from her day job as one of fashion’s most recognisable faces and a mother to two young children, ‘Double Roses’ sees Elson not settling scores, but rather wistfully looking back over an unthinkable life for a one-time awkward teen from Manchester. Where her first effort used a sense of the dramatic to mask more confessional material; her sophomore effort bares its soul to brilliant effect. Its ten tracks are sun-kissed yet venerable, part Laurel Canyon balladry, part good old-fashioned English folk. The choice of producer Jonathan Wilson is the masterstroke, his trademark textured yet airy touch allowing Elson’s more confident vocal work and songwriting to really fly.
From the opening ethereal harp plucks of ‘Wonderblind’ it’s clear that we’re dealing with a more assured beast: jazzy flutes, light harpsichord stabs and laid-back drum work elevating the song to dizzying heights. Later, a hushed recital of Sam Shepard’s titular poem even manages to avoid entering an easy sense of pretension, rather adding a welcome dash of the spectral. The inclusion of Laura Marling, Mr. Josh Tillman and the Black Keys’ Pat Carney in supporting roles doesn’t rock the boat either, the trio simply adding some backing vocal or skin work. It’s easy to see why Stevie Nicks’ ‘Storms’ acted as spiritual aim for the record, tales of heartbreak, frustration, fallen stars and burning bridges rarely drifting by with such ease.
Like all good second efforts, ‘Double Roses’ takes what worked the first time round, namely Elson’s gentle vocals and passion for the pastoral and forlorn, and amplifies the whole package with greater musicianship and composition. She’s described a sense of freedom at finally finishing these new numbers, and as a listener there’s no avoiding a sense of upbeat catharsis. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait over half a decade for album numero three.
Words: Sam Walker-Smart
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For tickets to the latest Karen Elson shows click HERE.