Toronto Singer's Chess Gambit Turns Into A Major Piece

Phil and Leonard’s groundbreaking ‘50s Chicago label imprint (heralded by their surname), Chess Records, provides the fixings for Elise LeGrow’s debut album that puts a new spin on standards by such greats as Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Etta James, Chuck Berry, and The Moonglows.

Impressively, LeGrow has found the Dap-Kings and, on the track "Long, Lonely Nights," Questlove and Captain Kirk Douglas from The Roots. Questlove's father, Lee Andrews, co-wrote that ballad in 1965.

"Etta James has been one of my favourite singers for a very long time and, of course, I was aware of Chuck Berry's hits. But I didn't realize that the common thread there was Chess," LeGrow told NPR's Scott Simon over the weekend.

As she put together the tracklist, LeGrow says, old memories collided with some new surprises. Now 30, she'd heard Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell" for the first time as a child, playing behind Uma Thurman and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction's iconic dance sequence. When she put the song on her covers shortlist, her producer revealed he had written an original melody for the lyrics 40 years ago. Their combined efforts resulted in something all LeGrow's own: "I've had some people say it's completely unrecognizable until they hear the line, 'C'est la vie,' " she says.

Looking forward, LeGrow wants to record another set of standards with a live band in the studio. Her rediscoveries will, of course, include her own indelibly tasteful spin on past masters.

The debut is released by Awesome in Canada and in the US on S-Curve Records, an eclectic Chicago-based imprint helmed by Steve Greenberg in 2001 and that has had a stream of noteworthy hits that include "Who Let The Dogs Out?" by Baha Men, "Stacy's Mom" by Fountains of Wayne and Joss Stone's first two albums, The Soul Sessions and Mind Body & Soul.

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