Country Jukebox Jury LP: Elle King – Come Get Your Wife

Rob Schneider’s daughter Tanner records as Elle King, using her own middle name and her mum London’s maiden name. She had a massive rock number one with the poorly punctuated Ex’s and Oh’s, which persuaded me to buy her debut album Love, Stuff. It sounded like a mishmash as Elle tried to do what she wanted to do, mainly banjo-led hollers, and also what her label wanted her to do, which was to sing ‘I’m not America’s sweetheart but you love me anyway.’

A second album stiffed and she got divorced from the Scottish man she had wed in secret after meeting days before: ‘I was partying so hard to numb emotions that I couldn’t handle at the time,’ she told one interviewer. Now, Elle is a proud mum who rubbed her bump during a TV performance of Drunk and I Don’t Wanna Go Home.

That song, which came out at the start of 2021 before Elle took maternity leave, is here, of course, and will be her career song that soundtracks millions of hen parties in Nashville and beyond. How does Elle make the case that she can do music that isn’t calculated to make money in the bars of Lower Broadway? How can she be the capital-A Artist that she wants to be?

Teaming up with Ross Copperman to co-produce the album has helped. Ross is himself a former artist who has moved into songwriting as Brett Eldredge’s key collaborator, and is very able to walk the pop/rock/country lines. Elle only has writing credits on half the tracks, which reminds me of the presence of big-name writers on rock albums by Maneskin and Liam Gallagher. Backroom boys are necessary when the talent is hitting big stages.

In fact Elle had junked an album recorded with the Foo Fighters producer Greg Kurstin; she said that in country, after all, ‘you have to be a lifer…I don’t want anyone to kick me out’ so it made sense to abandon any shot at pop stardom, where motherhood is almost frowned upon, to go country.

Those outside writes include Before You Met Me, where three writers sum up a carefree spirit like Elle, and Worth A Shot, where Elle wants to have ‘a last hurrah’ with her beau. The latter was written by Copperman, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, who know what a hit sounds like and have written this type of song hundreds of times before. Playing the part of the ‘guy that used to make you laugh’ is Dierks Bentley, who returns the favour Elle had shown when she popped up on his number one Different For Girls, which was written by McAnally.

Tyler Childers, a bluegrass/rock act who is touring with Elle this year, has allowed her to record an official cover of his beloved and much covered Jersey Giant, a reminiscin’ song made up of four chords. The narrator wants the company of an old friend with whom she used to drink, sing and enjoy ‘nights of reckless glory’. The harmonies are terrific and I am sure she will get the banjo out for this one.

Crawlin’ Mood is a contribution from Jesse Frasure and Charlie Worsham with a nagging chorus and a narrator who can best be described using the hugely overused term unapologetic in spite of losing her man. I imagine that’s Charlie’s superb guitar in the middle of the song. Ashley Gorley – who really is on every album these days – was in the room for Try Jesus, which is placed just before Drunk… on the album. The song is part of the trend that sees modern country pivot back to the Lord and his son, and there’s the inevitable organ and choir on top. ‘Every other man let me down’ is the reason she gives, which is funny.

The trio of Bobby Hamrick, young Alabaman songwriter Ella Langley (Opry debut February 17!) and Matt McKinney contribute to five tracks on the album. Three of the five are: Ohio, a grand, scene-setting opening track where Elle wants to sit down with some beer and music while also admitting ‘I was eight years old when I learned not to cry’; Lucky, an introspective slowie where our protagonist has been ‘the fuse’ and ‘the lighter’ but above all very fortunate (and, as the final seconds show, a happy mummy); and Tulsa, a brilliant chugger with some lovely chromatic guitar lines which opens the album’s second side.

The other two tracks from the trio are Bonafide, another tune where Elle sings of her own kind of crazy but this time with fiddle and pedal steel, and Out Yonder, whose huge chorus and gossipy verses in the form of questions would make this an ideal set opener.

Blacked Out is the most musically interesting song on the album, which plays with tonality by having a major-key melody over a minor-key groove. The banjo and guitar match the mood of the lyric: mountains, rivers, punches, ‘I just don’t have the heart to love you’. Closing track Love Go By uses Elle’s throaty rasp and matches it with a Muscle Shoals-y, Rolling Stones circa 1971 lightly gospel number.

The album is fine, even a bit safe, but it positions Elle as a voice who can pull people into country. If anyone ‘can do it!’, to quote Elle’s father, she can.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: