As a contestant on Season 11 of American Idol, Elise Testone covered artists like Adele, Al Green, Stevie Nicks, Billy Joel, Led Zeppelin, Queen, and Jimi Hendrix (her final performance of “Bold as Love” is highly underrated – I urge you to take a listen), and a mix of those eclectic sounds are interwoven all throughout her debut album, In This Life, which encompasses a hybrid of genres, including rock, soul, blues, jazz, funk, pop, Americana, and country.
The independent Charleston singer-songwriter, who plays the roles of singer, writer, and producer, was heavily involved in every step of the process of her solo project, injecting her own style into everything related to its creative and musical direction. In This Life is a reflective culmination of her years of personal experiences and emotions, and those letdowns faced and lessons learned in love and in life are recorded within the collection of songs. In turning those struggles and hardships into artwork through her words and sounds, Elise hopes to connect with listeners who can relate to those situations depicted in her songs and help them find strength and positivity through the power of music.
Here’s a track-by-track review of the ten songs that make up In This Life:
1. In This Life
I come by what I want in this life
The opening title track is a declaration of independence, if you will. The clangy, stompy, and badass southern blues anthem is a vow for the strong-willed to give all they’ve got in the pursuit of going after and getting what they want. Life is much too short to waste time on phoney brothers and false lovers – we should devote our time to searching for peace. following our hearts, and being good to those who deserve it.
2. Still We Try
Still we try to stand / Still we fall / Sometimes walking does no good at all
Try to work it on out
A song of reassurance in the midst of restlessness and confusion (“I’m starting to feel like I’m misled, find me a place to lay my head”), its lyrics remind us to not let hard times and naysayers wear us down, and to believe in our ability to achieve good.
3. Never Gave Me Butterflies
Love has so much beauty / But it always lets me down
This bluesy soul number with a swingin’ jazz band feel (along some stellar scatting from Elise) oozes with the longing of a woman who desires to find another someone special who will make her feel crazy in love (“There ain’t no sorrow in my eyes, ’cause you never gave me butterflies”).
4. Save Me
It’s time to let go / There’s a better life I know
A funky and smooth R&B/Jazz jam – with guest vocals from Elise’s good friend (and fellow Idol finalist) Erika Van Pelt (who provides some hot riffs at the song’s end) – about a toxic relationship that finds both parties broken down and in need of saving.
5. Can’t Get Enough
We’re all soldiers driven by love / And we’ll keep on marchin’
‘Cause we can’t get enough
With a pretty and dreamy R&B-sounding melody, this track stands up for the fight for love, encouraging us to hold on to and not give up on the prospect of discovering the start of a new love.
6. I Will Not Break
I will not break / I will not bend / But I can pretend that I’m not awake
The first single off of In This Life is an emotional ballad about letting go of someone you loved, even though it feels like your heart is under attack, and finding the courage to move forward.
7. Lucky Day
Damn these blues / Nothing never seems to go away
This moody bluesy number is the most dramatic and dynamic track on the album; it is electric and brassy, rocks with a whole lot of soul, and features Elise’s signature belt and wail. Way up in New York, she is deep in the pain and sorrow of the blues, yet there is a tinge of hope that maybe, just maybe, tomorrow is gonna be a lucky day.
8. What I Need
The blues just ain’t worth confronting / Turn your pain into something
This soulful-Americana fusion is a song about moving on, feeling at peace with the decision, and saying farewell to those you leave behind (“You can smile while I leave / It may be just what I need / I know it’s time for me to go home / ‘Cause I can make it alone”).
9. I’m Runnin’
Water all around / I gotta keep from sinking down
I let loose my original blues / I just don’t wanna drown
This soulful jazzy-rock number is heavy on the guitar, horns, and big band, but it does showcase Elise’s killer wail in a bold way, which is a juxtaposition of the sleepless daze of the speaker who can’t rest and is determined to run away from someone who has her sinking down, down, down.
10. Ease My Mind
I was fine before I met ya / No struggle with words in troubled times
The album finishes on this light and airy acoustic ballad, with echoing harmonies that produce a serene and calming aura.
Elise surpasses even my best expectations with In This Life, which I find to be one of the most authentic, diverse, cohesive, and remarkable albums I’ve heard in years – not just from an Idol alum, but in general as well! Her distinct musical style mixes old soul with new age with excellence, and her honest songwriting and gutsy vocals takes this record to extraordinary levels. By singing about following your heart and intuition, being true to yourself, and going after what you want without hesitation, Elise has created and shared an album that will stand the test of time “in this life” and beyond.