27 Jan Elle King, Now a Mom, Goes Country with New Record
by Marisa Torrieri Bloom
Elle King’s been singing country duets for years with artists like Dierks Bentley, so I can’t say I was surprised when the Internet started blasting headlines along the lines of, “Elle King Teases Countrified Album.”
But I’ve got to be honest: I’m not a huge country fan, so I don’t know how I feel about Elle King’s musical transition just yet.
See, I’ve loved Elle King since 2015, when I first heard her belting out an acoustic version of “Ex’s and Oh’s” on the Sirius Coffeehouse channel. The brilliant song, off her equally brilliant, 2015 full-length album Love Stuff, is one of the all-time greats, up there with Gloria Gaynor’s “I will Survive.”
There’s no one I’d rather listen to when I’m cooking than Ms. King with her, throaty, whiskey-soaked, searing vocals and unapologetic lyrics. I crank up “My Neck, My Back” at full volume whenever I’m on a road trip without my kids. My band covers the witchy “Shame,” with its cool, retro pop-rock beats.
But would I feel the same way, I wondered, about songs with titles like “Try Jesus?” When I tried to imagine an entire country album by my favorite indie-rock siren, I wasn’t sure. I have nothing against country, necessarily. I love Johnny Cash, newer artists like Rissi Palmer, and the occasional pop-country crossover hit, like Gretchen Wilson’s cheeky “Redneck Woman.”
But by and large, I prefer my country — the twang, pickup truck metaphors, and drawn-out storytelling — in small doses.
Nevertheless, I tried to keep an open mind as I watched recent videos, including one featuring Elle, with her toddler son in tow, talking about how she came up with her new album’s title Come Get Your Wife. I tried to remember that motherhood changes everyone in different ways.
So what happened when I streamed Come Get Your Wife in full? Was it better than I’d hoped?
Yes and no.
The album’s first single “Try Jesus” — which alludes to the idea that having faith in God can break self-destructive habits — is authentic and refreshing. The video is good, campy fun too. I also love Elle’s rowdy, rollicking duet “Drunk (and I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” with Miranda Lambert because it’s the kind of song the world needs more of in these dark times. The twangier “Tulsa,” too, with its cursing, slide guitars, and bluegrass tempo, is lots of fun.
Other songs, especially “Ohio” and “Out Yonder,” align nicely with Elle’s bad-girl persona and have a swagger that’s all their own.
But after listening once, I still find myself longing for the Elle King experience that sounds more like Grace Potter with a big, backup rock band. I want songs like “The Let Go,” which highlight the full, soaring capacity of her vocals with their just-a-little-gravelly undertones without the twang. The next time I stream EK — in the car, while making dinner, or while I’m folding the laundry — I’ll probably skip past most of the country tunes, so I can quickly get to songs like “Shame” or “America’s Sweetheart.”
That doesn’t mean Come Get Your Wife isn’t a great record. It absolutely is. And Elle deserves a round of applause for the brilliant roster of songwriters she handpicked for this record. The songs, in and of themselves, are well-crafted works.
Rolling Stone definitely got it right, when they said, “Elle King is a little bit country, a little bit rock n’ roll, but ultimately, she’s punk as fuck.” I’m so happy that Elle is still making music on her own terms. Even though I wish she could make more of the same stuff she made when I first became a fan, I’m still happy for her, and true country fans will be, too. And who knows? The more I listen to CGYW, the more I like it. Maybe it’ll make me more of a country girl down the line.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.