Karen Elson

Date: 21 September
Venue: Bush Hall, London
Rating: ****

Bent down so that her bright red hair covered her face, Karen Elson giggled to the waiting crowd: “Sorry, bear with me! I have to tune my guitar …” She shyly plays a chord for the audience to approve and when they scream, woop and applaud, she sinks back into giggles.

Jack White’s supermodel wife looks very picturesque up there on the stage of a former ballroom, in a little-house-on-the-prairie style dress, backed by a similarly-dressed bass player, and four trilby and suit clad band members. However, high expectations were not for the visuals, but for her to match the pretty high bar husband Jack has set musically. And she doesn’t disappoint.

The songs have an authentic vintage feel, as opposed to the slightly pretentious vintage vogue of indie music currently. It harks back to old American country folk style of Hank Williams, and track ‘A Hundred Years from Now’ even has an Edith Piaf feel to it. Elson is not afraid to belt, and her efforts slam any ideas of this being a half-hearted attempt at a different field.

Her debut album, The Ghost Who Walks, is based on her experiences of growing up in the small “grey” town of Oldham, Manchester, before flying high into supermodel-dome. Strangely enough, the topic fits in well with the raw essence of country music a la Johnny Cash, and pushes a modern twist into the style.

The audience, albeit small, fill out the cosy Bush Hall, and unanimously engage in the atmosphere of the performance, be it a raucous or a solemn song, or a recalling of a joke her daughter told her. With no roadies the gig was stripped down to a much more informal performance that fit the setting and music perfectly. Whilst her range is far-stretched and it may be interesting to see how her music and performances develop over time, this debut was impressive and original.

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