Elise LeGrow

Playing Chess

(S-Curve Records/BMG)

Intriguing, sharply-honed, impactful…and so is her record. Having met this Canadian songstress in London to talk this release, listening to it makes more and more sense. For this chanteuse has her own twist on personality, looks and music. The master stroke here is likely the enlisting of empathetic producers, namely Steve Greenberg, Michael Mungini and Betty Wright. They seem to take each fresh idea and use it to enhance the approach to each number. The latter are all from the revered Chess Records label, some well-known and less-familiar, all originally recorded in exciting and revolutionary times – as anyone who has spent time with Marshall Chess will attest, his studio and backroom tales being colourful and sometimes surprising.

Who Do You Love from the pen of Bo Diddley is here delivered not in 6/8 but somewhat in Meters mode, soulful singing interspersed with greasy guitar motifs over second-line drumming. It’s a different kind of spookiness and sets the tone for this collection. At 2:00 a shadowy passage finds the band dropping back then edging back, riding polyrhythms. The sexy, loping beat is hard to resist..sounds like a set-closer to this listener…

Hold On is altogether boomier, stompier and almost Motown in feel. The ache in Legrow’s voice never deserts melody. There have been many versions of Chuck Berry’s Cajun good-time tune You Never Can Tell and Elise opts for a softly approach, with tremelo’d electric guitar picking. Very jukebox and a distant hint of the bluesier side of Lesley Gore. It’s keyed just right and in vibe more porch than party. A great song can be coloured in with many colours, as this lovely rendition proves. Over The Mountain, Across The Sea is a gentle acoustic strum with melodic bass in the medium-high register, a touch of almost Caribbean syncopation which just enhances the airy yearning of the vocal. I’d have put a trumpet break on this one.

On to Searching For My Love with its stabbing tempo and languid yet strong singing and again that jukebox ambience, tapping piano and all. A really great drum sound is captured on this recording and the playing just busy enough for the song. Next up is Long Lonely Nights bedded by warm electric piano and guitar. A proper torch song delivery that reeks of The Fifties…Brenda Lee style. The band pitch this beautifully, letting the lyrics make their mark. A much more Peggy Lee approach is brought to Going Back Where I Belong, Elise sounding confident and Strident on this tale of romantic regret. You could play this alongside Frank Sinatra’s saturnine blues This Town for a cool pairing.

Now for the cherry on this aural cake – Rescue Me taken at a laidback Betty Davis tempo, soaked in electric piano and including a brief burst of trumpet. Most bands race through this number like a fire engine, losing all its sultry properties, but not here. Legrow sings it like she means it. You Can’t Judge A Book / You Can’t Catch Me pairs a Bo and a Berry at an airy tread with that fantastic drumming and percussion. I have a great Bo Diddley story but that comes up in a chat with Elise which we shall be running on this site…

Can’t Shake It bounces into earshot, an irresistible tambourined beat and joyous backing vocals plus a collected brass passage. The programme ends with a regal Sincerely, decorated with twisting reverbed guitar motifs.

As our readers know, we at JLTT always laud the adventurous, whatever the musical genre. This is no trip to the museum, it’s a satisfying aural bus-ride around this stellar catalogue with the joy of the music retained but fresh interpretive twists at every turn.

Pete Sargeant


(Many thanks to Joe at Baxter PR)

Elise Legrow's debut album 'Playing Chess' is out now on S-Curve Records/BMG. 

You can watch the official music video for 'Rescue Me' in this article.

In addition, Elise Legrow will headline a one-off UK show on Thursday 3rd May 2018 at The Jazz Cafe, Camden, United Kingdom. Tickets are available here: http://bit.ly/2Ide9VN

For more information visit her official website here: http://bit.ly/2tqyhk5

Elise LeGrow