Canadian singer and songwriter Elise LeGrow grabbed my attention with her vibe on Who Do You Love, breaking the Bo Diddley classic down to a new set of bare bones for my Halloween version of Soundtrack. Her rasping howl brought ‘a tombstone hand and a graveyard mind’ to life and I was immediately determined to hear more.
LeGrow was signed to a publishing deal in 2009 after a live performance at the NXNE festival in Toronto. And while many of her early efforts on YouTube are covers, you can immediately hear the distinctive voice and musical sensibilities on tunes such as Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine.
The beautiful Anymore, also from 2014, displays an ease and control with her voice that can be mesmerizing.
LeGrow has a wonderfully “raspy” voice that takes over no matter the spirit of the tune. She explained it this way to American Songwriter.
“I’m told that I have a lot of ‘sound.’ One of the challenges that I’ve encountered again and again is finding the right sound for the song. Ultimately, the song is the most important thing to me. It’s more important than the production, it’s more important than the show — it’s all about the song. So, for me, the vocal tone is there to serve the song. It’s one of many tools that tells the story. So, my vocal tone on this song (Evan) is really broken up, and I think that fits the sentiment of the song. Whereas, some of the other songs on the record have a completely different vibe, so you’re going to hear a lot of different tones coming out of me in the future. They’re all a little raspy! But, this song was much more intimate, it has a more intimate tone than you’ll hear on other songs of mine.
Her first full-length debut album, Playing Chess, was drawn entirely from the catalog of Chicago’s iconic Chess label, home to Muddy Waters, Etta James, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and so many more. While her grandfather was a drummer and trumpeter active in Chicago’s jazz scene in the 1950s, LeGrow had only a passing familiarity with the history of Chess. But after realizing that many of the artists she admired had recorded for the label, she decided to make their music her own.
LeGrow didn’t faithfully recreate this material. Her interpretations, as one reviewer notes, “strip the tracks of their previous identities, transporting them to a world where the past and present are inextricably intertwined.” I am especially fond of the live acoustic versions she has posted of several of the tunes.
The album begins with the aforementioned Who Do You Love. Other favorites from the album include You Never Can Tell, Rescue Me, and Can’t Shake It. LeGrow takes these familiar songs and — with her inimitable style, phrasing, and arrangements — makes them her own.
In one of her more recent releases, she sings of the loss of a young friend, a song she wrote over several years.
What inspired this song was a friendship with a boy named Evan. We met in high school — he was actually my then-boyfriend’s best friend. When I met Evan, we instantly became friends and we shared this crazy time. We had a whole group of friends that all lived in this neighborhood together and we used to party a lot… we were teenagers, we were kids. When I look back on those years, it really feels like it was a ‘golden age.’ This song is the culmination of 10 years of grappling with the loss of my friend Evan and the emotions that came with that. That’s why it took so long to write it — I’d sit down and try to write, but I’d just get overcome with sadness. I think what allowed me to finally put pen to page was focusing on the good memories we shared. That’s what I talk about in this song; the music we listened to, the TV we used to watch, the joyful moments.
Let’s end with Drinking in the Day, another LeGrow tune that showcases both her singing and songwriting skills.
“Oh babe, don’t say you’re doing fine
Don’t hide yourself away, something on your mind
You’re drinking in the day, coming from the way
Sometimes it’s good to cry, cry cry cry cry“
More to come…