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Karen Elson

"The Ghost Who Walks"
from the album The Ghost Who Walks

Before Karen Elson became one of the most photographed women on the planet, wife to an influential rock star, and mother, she was a pale, gawky bird in Manchester, England, tormented by her classmates. Hence the name of the album, recalling one of the nicknames she was fitted with long ago. As it turns out, underneath Elson's striking, otherworldly beauty and celebrated mane of fire-red hair lurked the heart and soul of a songwriter/murder balladeer, and the airy yet resonant voice of a promising singer.

Now 31, and under the tutelage of husband Jack White, Elson has released her debut album, The Ghost Who Walks — a regal, gothic-folk affair of low-hung moons and murderous lovers. With a sweet country twang, Nancy Sinatra-esque pipes, a strong cabaret (and slight Celtic-tinged) sensibility (thanks to her work with the Citizens Band), a love of Dust Bowl-era America and Nick Cave's work with PJ Harvey, Elson paints a haunted world of violent thunderstorms, hungry vultures, starvation, creaky houses and elm trees. A testament to the sublime influence greater Nashville (and the South) can have on those who populate its storied terrain – Ghost's abandoned barns become mausoleums; and each shadowy hillside becomes a graveyard. Each canopy road holds a screaming secret. Each gust of wind whispers a clue. Each patch of disturbed earth is a potential crime scene.

A childhood of torment and a jet-set life dressed as someone else – a mute, walking clothes hanger – has imbued Elson's work, as gloomy as it is, with a swan-like elegance. White's unmistakable Midas touch (and those of White associates Jack Lawrence and Jackson Smith) allows her to go walking in the moonlight without getting lost in the dark. Nepotism-braying skeptics will be quieted (although not completely) once they realize Elson's visions are far, far darker and realized than her peachy exterior would suggest, and more worthy of an audience beyond her loving husband and the fashionably elite.

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