Already established on her native Canadian music scene Elise LeGrow is about to relaunch herself with a cover of the Chuck Berry classic You Never Can Tell, which rather than giving her a song to hide behind brings the soul of her voice to the fore. Billy Campbell introduces you to Elise LeGrow as our new artist of the day.
Speaking on the universal appeal of her timeless tune Jolene, perhaps one of the most covered and reworked songs of all time, Dolly Parton said that certain songs have such a strong melody and message that they’ll stay true even if approached in completely different ways. Elise LeGrow’s new cover of You Never Can Tell proves that Chuck Berry’s classic can also be counted among that rare calibre of song.
Stripped down to its skeleton with only sparse electric guitar and bass to accompany her vocals, and the tempo reduced to a hauntingly slow beat, LeGrow’s voice and Berry’s songwriting are laid bare. This nakedity allows the power and aching emotion of both his lyrics and her voice to hit you hard. She sings with an individuality and vigour that will inevitably lead to comparisons with Amy Winehouse, and she’s certainly worthy of the task set by her new album Playing Chess – reworking songs by the legends of Chicago label Chess Records. An undisputed key player in the folklore of blues, they had acts such as Muddy Waters and Etta James alongside Berry on their books.
Despite being Canadian herself, her bloodline is perfectly fitting for this project – LeGrow’s father is from Chicago and her grandfather played in jazz bands there throughout the ’50s, when this label was in its prime. Yet, this Berry cover being the only track released so far, on the surface she still appears shaded in mystery. It’s only when you delve deeper that you discover she’s been simmering away in the Canadian music scene for several years now.
Once the lead singer for an intriguing indie band that never quite got off the ground, Whale Tooth, and then seeing a glimmer of success in 2012 when her single No Good Woman got widespread airplay on Canadian radio, her past paints a picture of a supremely talented singer searching for her true musical identity. Now she seems to have shed her old skin, with no trace of her previous material on her website or Spotify, a new black bob haircut and a fresh, bold project to give her voice the vessel it deserves.
Although this is essentially a new artist beginning a career on a selection of covers – a formula most often used by astoundingly dull X Factor winners – this cover has enough creative nous, and her voice enough quivering beauty, to set her leagues above reality show contestants sailing down conveyor belts. With The Roots’ master percussionist Questlove and their slick guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas featuring on the album, not to mention funk and soul heroes the Dap-kings on horns, perhaps LeGrow has finally found the right setting and supporting cast for her talent to flourish. On this evidence, she’s onto a winner.
All words by Billy Campbell. You can read more from Billy in his author archive.