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“Green”- Karen Elson’s new album is her absolute best yet.

When Karen Elson set out to record in 2020, it was in response to nearly 3 years of studio silence coupled with a terrible world pandemic that saw her and everyone else confined to their homes and neurotically restrictive spaces where biothreats and uncertainty lurked in every corner. For her and many others, music became a way to take a breath in a suffocating environment, and here she rediscovered the music of her youth, she rediscovered what being a fan was all about.

First came Radio Redhead Vol. 1, an EP full of covers that fully expressed that sentiment of loving what music does for you, but now, two years later we’re staring at “Green” in the face, her third studio album and it is simply sublime.

When her 2010 debut album, “The Ghost Who Walks” came out, it received quite a bit of praise, yet her sound was often pointed out to have been shaped a bit much by her then-husband and producer, Jack White. Later in 2017 we got to hear “Double Roses”, a departure from the smokey flavor of the bluesy-noir vibe and into a much more folkish sound.

It’s been over a decade since that debut, and every positive quality you can pick from then as well as from her sophomore release has evolved and settled into their proper place, no longer will anyone question whether what they’re hearing is the uncompromised and unfiltered vision of this amazing singer and songwriter or not. No longer is Karen bouncing off of a dichotomy between what her sound was or wants to be, she has arrived to greener pastures, as it were.

It’s not surprising that “Green” feels a bit more colorful and hopeful than Karen’s previous. She even goes so far as to say “My songs usually have a darker undercurrent.I wanted a silver lining with an effervescent quality that was a contradiction to the heavy period we were in. The album was written to feel like medicine in the form of a bottle of sunshine.” No doubt it was this need to bloom emotionally once more under a period of distress that allowed her music to bloom once more through warmer and livelier avenues. So warm is this album in fact that the opening track “My Sparrow” is a beautiful marriage between Americana and Bossa Nova, a gorgeous and incredibly gripping song that pulls you into the embrace that the rest of the album has in store.

With the autobiographical “Broken Shadow”, the theme of finding the silver lining and moving on to a brighter future are perfectly encapsulated, but then the titular “Green” emerges like a spring flower and locks in a tentative analogy between the cycles of nature and the cycles of our lives, of emerging loves and dying relationships.

With “Modern Love” that springtime sunshine comes out in full with its pop rhythm and fun energy, while the hopelessly romantic “Wishing Well” longs for love under the moonlight. 

“Lightning Strikes” is another amazing piece that takes a soft folk edge to Rock & Roll, resulting in one of the most unique songs of the entire album, an instant classic hit just waiting to be heard. “Silver lining” shifts the timeline a little further back from that good ol’ 50’s Rock and into a slightly older and spiritually-charged country hymn that will have you counting your blessings and taking stock of what really matters.

“Fergus in the Sun” goes out hard to all those who’ve lost a pet. It’s a string-based instrumental track dedicated to and inspired by karen’s orange Tom cat. The album signs off in earnest with “Look over My shoulder”, a song about the bittersweetness of moving on, with the past fimly in your heart, looking back at those looking over you as you make your way to the silver lining of tomorrow.

The Finishing touches on the album come with an encore in the form of “Passarinho” and “Vert”. These songs you will recognize as “My Sparrow” and “Green” but now in Portuguese and French respectively, something that i feel we should applaud thoroughly and even hope becomes a staple of Elson’s repertoire from now on, particularly the portuguese rendition, since -as you know- it’s the most beautiful language anyone can sing in. 

The definitive experience of “Green” is that of a delicate exercise in beauty and artistry deeply rooted in sounds and sensibilities that seem to be sadly disappearing from the music industry. It’s evident that Elson is a stunning songwriter, and perhaps it’s never been clearer than with this album. The rich, romantic, country-infused sound reminded me a lot of Nanci Griffith’s and the power of her words and emotional landscapes does more than justify that comparison, with this release, she’s raised the bar for herself and she’s given a lot of her peers and contemporaries something very substantial to ruminate on. “Green” is quite simply flawless.

Grant Owens
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