By Eileen Tilson
In the famed novel, Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, Christine Daaé receives her “Angel of Music” who guides her, molding her into Paris’ most enchanting chanteuse. While this Phantom remains hidden in the background, his presence is always felt in each of Daaé’s performances. This enigma of intensity and mystery also haunts The Ghost Who Walks, the debut solo release from British model turned singer/songwriter Karen Elson. With a bittersweet voice, she is a Greek Siren, pulling you in with her irresistible voice with conjuring up her black magic. However, it is “White” that seems to flow through the veins of Ms. Elson. The ever present force of her husband and producer Jack White is felt on each of the 11 tracks on the record. From the loneliness of country, to 1920’s cabaret, The Ghost Who Walks is a vibrant collection of Americana at its best.
Ironically the majority of the album was written in Elson’s Nashville closet, her fear exacerbated by the fact that she did not want her husband to know about her silent passion. After months of coaxing, Elson finally played her songs for White, who immediately decided they needed to be recorded. With the collection of friends/musicians Jack Lawrence (Dead Weather) on bass, Carl Broemel (My Morning Jacket) on pedal steel, Jackson Smith (husband of Meg White) on guitar, and White on drums, the little supergroup went to town.
The album opens with the penetrating album namesake “The Ghost Who Walks,” based on a cruel nickname given to Elson before embarking on her fashion career. With her trippy vocals and rain dripping pianos, Elson seems to be performing some sort of pagan ceremony. “The Truth is in the Dirt” has a very Raconteurs feel with the accordion keeping pace with the steady beat of White’s signature percussion. “Pretty Babies” is a delicate tango that is an similar to a nouveau goth version of “The Phantom of the Opera.” “100 Years from Now” is straight out of a traveling circus, with Elson’s delicate voice swinging from the trapeze.
When you find yourself on “Mouths to Feed,” the last song on this folk balladry, there is a longing for more, as if you just spent the past 42 minutes living inside the wondrous world of old Nashville, and you can’t wait to travel back.
Although the label of “Mrs. White” will continue to be in Karen Elson’s shadow, the undeniable truth of The Ghost Who Walks is an accurate musical representation of Elson herself: quiet, quirky,elegant, and simply beautiful.