On her debut disc, The Ghost Who Walks, Karen Elson spins intriguingly unsettling tales of lost love, dashed hope, romantic betrayal and various crimes of passion witnessed only by the full moon. In a coolly inviting voice, strumming an acoustic guitar, she summons up a dark yet seductive atmosphere, an after-midnight world that’s irresistibly alluring. The arrangements for her small band – featuring the virtuosic Jackson Smith on guitar, Elson’s Citizens Band co-hort Rachelle Garniez on accordion and vocals, The Dead Weather’s Jack Lawrence on bass, My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel on pedal steel and producer Jack White on drums – evoke the lonesome feel of country (“Cruel Summer”), the tormented side of the blues (“The Truth Is In the Dirt”), or the haunted stories of traditional folk balladry (“Stolen Roses”).
The Ghost Who Walks may not be drawn literally from Elson’s life, but it does represent an aspect of her psyche she’s been brave enough to explore: “I’m very much interested in the dark side of things. In my life, truthfully, I’ve had a lot of bizarre and dark experiences that have definitely colored the way I think about a lot of personal things. The music I have always listened to as well has had a sorrowful, mournful, if not murderous, quality to it.” She pauses to laugh. “I’m not saying I would ever want to kill anybody, but sometimes love can drag you to the very depths of yourself and – my God – make you so desperate and forlorn. I really respond to songs that write about that. Hank Williams, for crying out loud, speaking of being forlorn and forsaken -- there’s a song I just heard of his, an early demo, that really resonated with me. Those songs move me in a way that happy go lucky songs don’t.”
These mysterious and beautiful songs, more than any picture, speak volumes.