Double Roses comes seven years after Karen Elson’s solo debut The Ghost Who Walks, and features collaborations with an array of musical talent, including The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, Father John Misty, Laura Marling, Benmont Tench, Pat Sansone (Wilco), Nate Walcott (Bright Eyes) and Dhani Harrison. It is inevitable that her divorce from Jack White in 2013 informs a vast portion of the lyrical content but there is much to admire in this sleekly produced album.
It’s rare for an album to open with a harp but ‘Wonder Blind’ is sumptuous enough to carry it off with ease. There is a distinct whiff of the sixties, Elson’s sultry tones, a flute solo and then a farfisa organ foregrounds an evolved musical palate. It all works well. Of late, albums coming out of America are often lyrically downbeat about the state of the nation but here it is very much the personal as political: “Hey love, it’s the end of an era, time isn’t on our side” reminding us that for every sweet-saccharine love song there is the “I’m going through hell losing you” evil twin.
Titular track, ‘Double Roses’ is a gentle composition that utilises a harpsichord in the middle-eight and there is a dreamy and romantic quality to the vocal delivery. One can imagine running through fields in the summer with flowers in your hair. Harmonies and whisperings abound. In less capable hands this could lead to the song disappearing into the background but Elson and her band are more than capable of keeping it all afloat. ‘Call your Name’ is all Stevie Nicks acoustic and strings but strong enough not to fall into pastiche. ‘Hell and High Water’ takes the album in a different direction adding a subtle piano-led disco drive oh and not forgetting a laid back fuzz guitar solo.
‘The End’ is a stunning ballad that showcases the intimacy of the singer’s voice. Too often the modern propensity is for vocal histrionics but here the vocals wrap themselves around the music and allow the song to breath. There is a simplicity here with the understated refrain of “It’s hard to say goodbye”. It could all descend into cliche, it could but it doesn’t. ‘Raven’ slips and snakes its way into your head; part Fleetwood Mac, part The Soft Parade era of The Doors, it is a track that lingers. Indeed it had this reviewer humming the melody during a slow Sunday shopping soirée much to the bemusement of my fellow shoppers.
The album goes from strength to strength with ‘Why am I waiting’ which slowly builds on an 80s feeling toward an epic finish. ‘A Million Stars’ is indebted to country. ‘Wolf’ has an emotional weight and again shows the assurance and confidence of this collection of tunes and not forgetting a wailing sax solo that carries the ache of the words. ‘Distant Shore’ sees it all end on a triumphant note with the line; “I am alone, I am free no one to come and conquer me’’. If that’s what it takes to produce an album of this quality then long may it run!