Release Year: 2015
With so many websites, playlists, and music videos, sometimes it’s hard to find good new music. But every once in a while you get lucky while watching late night TV. I first heard of Elle King when watching an episode of the Tonight Show. I thought her voice was interesting and the song was kind of catchy, so I decided to check out her debut and though it’s not flawless, I was not disappointed.
King’s style should appeal to any Jack White fans. Her music is a mix of rock, pop, soul, blues, and country, which make for some gritty tunes. The opening track “Where the Devil Don’t Go” introduces listeners to King’s old school blues/country sound. The song seems right in line with traditional blues tunes since it deals with the topic of devils and sinners. She has a distinct voice that’s kind of rough and edgy, with a hint of a southern accent. The catchy “Ex’s & Oh’s” is a tongue in cheek track about all the men King has lured and how they can’t leave her alone. She sounds coy as she sings “One, two, three/they’re gonna run back to me/they always wanna come, but they never wanna leave.” It’s an upbeat song with a bit of a rock n roll edge, especially when the guitar solo comes in. It’s definitely a highlight of the LP.
“Under the Influence” pulls back on the country vibe and amps up the pop and soul mood. What’s weird about is every time I hear it, it reminds me of something Adele would do. A lot of it has to do with the subdued, slow tempo of the song. It also has this slinky vibe that keeps the song from the dragging on. King isn’t shy about being rough around the edges, as she shows on “Last Damn Night.” Here, she talks about living life to the fullest and partying like there’s no tomorrow. It’s definitely southern rock in nature and just try not to think about Jack White when you hear the dirty licks and jangly pianos.
King dedicates the middle of the LP to her country roots. The tragic tale of “Kocaine Karolina” sounds like an old school country song with just her gritty vocals and a banjo while “Song of Sorrow” is more of an upbeat bluegrass jam complete with banjo and fiddle. “America’s Sweetheart” delves more into country pop with fast twanging guitars ready for a duel and a honky tonk feel. During the pre-chorus when she sings “kick out the jams/kick up the soul” you can picture people stomping their feet and clapping their hands like they’re in a hoedown. These songs aren’t bad, but they may not appeal to those who aren’t fans of country music.
One thing that makes King notable is how she flips the script on so called gender roles. She’s never afraid to talk about how she’s looking for anything but love. This is best found on “I Told You I Was Mean.” With a soulful opening complete with “hmmms” of a gospel, she remains blunt as she tells a lover how she doesn’t want them anymore. Rather than being the one hung up after a fling, she’s the one looking for a no strings attached relationship, while the guy is left wanting something more. She even addresses her demons on the somber “Ain’t Gonna Drown.” With the depressing mood mixed with background sounds of grunting and clanging, it actually sounds like on old hymn. It’s a haunting and chilling look at the singer’s vulnerable side.
Some of King’s subject matter isn’t all that original, like when she does decide to talk about love (“Make You Smile”) or begging a lover to stay one more night (“See You Again”), but at least she comes off as honest. Some of her songs are tongue in cheek and there are even some clever lyrics about how King isn’t your typical skinny, sweet girl who’s content with staying quiet. Her mix of blues, soul, country, and pop is ear catching and will be sure to attract even naysayers of country music. If you want the sound of Jack White without the elitism and ego issues, then check out Elle King. I know I can’t wait to hear more from her.