I’m not sure that Karen Elson needs much introduction, nor do I think that I could tell you something about her that isn’t widely available with a cursory internet search but let’s briefly assume you’ve been missing out and you need the *quick rundown* on who this amazing Singer, Songwriter, Super Model, philanthropist, and entrepreneur..
The singer-songwriter from Lancashire was discovered in the mid-90s by a modeling agency, and she would shortly go on to earn the title of a supermodel with over 30 high-profile magazine covers to her name. Having modeled for some of the most recognizable names in the industry and posing for some of the most prestigious photographers, she eventually started slowly but surely moving towards the next stage of her career. First on the New York stages with her political cabaret troupe “The Citizens band”, and then, as her stunning vocals started to get noticed we saw a slow drip of prodigious covers come out until her 2010 album debut “The Ghost Who Walks” was finally released and we got our true first real taste of her amazing musical talents.
“The Ghost Who Walks” was very well received, though I still argue it’s a severely under-appreciated work combining some absolutely fascinating songwriting with a potpourri of indie-folk-rock and blues elements with a theatrical dash of her Cabaret days. An interestingly authentic rendition of a gothic Americana sound.
Following “Ghost” was “Double Roses” in 2017, which represented a bit of a departure from the slightly more eclectic sound of 2010 and into a more settled, soft indie-rock niche. Then in 2020, Karen returned once more with the witty Radio Redhead, Vol. 1, an EP that while it didn’t get a Vol. 2 just yet, at least doesn’t stand as the last outing by this amazing artist, because today, we’re taking a look at her newest album “Green”
At its core, GREEN is a return to form for Elson, but not necessarily to the formula of The Walking Ghost, but rather a return to her time doing covers, a return to the moment when she truly became enamored with what she now creates. “Green” is a much more intimate exploration of Elson’s relationship with music “I revisited what it felt like to be a teenager in your bedroom wistfully daydreaming of being a musician, “ she says of the time she spent on lockdown, contemplating what her next move would be. I essentially reconnected to the part of myself that’s a massive fan.”
The next move was, of course, getting back into the studio, first with the aforementioned Radio Redhead, Vol. 1 covers EP with GRAMMY Award-winning producer Ian Fitchuk, and then with this album, which acted like a life-line for everyone involved. A stimulating measure of normality is found in the not-so-normal groove of creative work.
So powerful was the need to record this album that it came out looking a bit different from most of Karen’s previous work. “My songs usually have a darker undercurrent,” she confesses. This time around things had to be a bit different, to really oxygenate her and everyone else in the studio. “I wanted a silver lining with an effervescent quality that was a contradiction to the heavy period we were in. The album was written to feel like medicine in the form of a bottle of sunshine.”
The Sound that Karen chose this time is a much more earthy and trim indie-folk flavor that facilitates an accessible charm to each track, something that’s not at all new for her, but it really deserved to be explored in depth like it is now.
I found many stand-outs across this album, and the very first song, Sparrow, is certainly one of them. The dynamic folkish ballad seduced me right away with its beautiful open metaphor and its warm sunny sound that has an obviously huge Bossa Nova influence. What an absolutely magnificent track. Definitely one of the best songs I’ve heard all year.
Green is another magnificent song that jumped out at me right away. A huge track that takes on epic romantic proportions with its spacy and haunting sound. With Green, I felt that Karen reached deep within her and came up with something that could just as easily have been a prog-rock power ballad with just a little bit more of guitar distortion in it. Imagine my shock when I heard a second song that I could call among the best I’ve heard all year right in the same album.
While those songs stood out greatly to me, there’s a lot to admire in the rest of the album. “From Modern love´s soaring synths and groovy beat to the deeply folk lullaby-like charm of “Silver lining and oddly heart wrenching feeling I got when listening to the purely instrumental “Fergus in the Sun ” – I was very moved by the guitar here- You´ll be hard-pressed to find a more thoroughly delightful selection of songs any time soon. I Gotta loop back to what I said about, “Sparrow“, because “Passarinho“ is a Portuguese treatment of it that fully confirms that strong Bossa Nova connection. Meanwhile, “Vert” is a reprise in French of the title track that effectively makes this album now a polyglot, which is a surprising dimension I didn’t expect coming into, and I think most artists should feel encouraged to sing in other languages, especially Portuguese, which is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful that anyone can sing in.
The album’s finale isn’t in those two songs, it’s technically “Look Over My Shoulder“, which as the name implies is about looking back with the road laid ahead in front of you. “There’s sweetness in there, but also a sense of aching. I’m saying, ‘It’s going to be a long road. It’s going to be a long time until we’re home free, so watch over my heart’“ says Karen. This final song closes the thematic arc of the album with its own themes of longing and embracing what is to come, catching the glint of that silver lining that Karen was looking for from the beginning.
To finalize: Though well-known, I think that Karen Elson remains terribly underrated when compared to the actual scope of her talent. Perhaps with “Green”, she will get the recognition that I feel she truly deserves because, with this new release, she’s definitely outdone herself, particularly in her songwriting, which I feel is cut from an older cloth that we just don’t seem to get in enough supply these days. In any case, I remain thankful for this gorgeous album and take great comfort with the fact that her falling back in love with music means that there’s still a lot more to listen to on the way.
Story: Samuel Aponte Photos: Emily Dorio
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