Elise Testone and Co. Accelerated at the Music Hall

With a strong sense of love and appreciation, vocalist Elise Testone led her 12-piece ensemble through two elaborately arranged sets of soul, pop, and Americana on Valentine’s Day at the Charleston Music Hall. There were more than 900 fans, friends, and family members in attendance at the nearly sold-out homecoming show. Testone was obviously delighted and excited to greet and perform for them.

Instead of comprising a program of glitzy pop standards that would have entertained the hardcore American Idol fans, Testone and her crew shaped the A Whole Lotta Love program as showcase of her original compositions (old and new) and a variety of renditions of songs by “artists who had influenced her over the years,” as she put it. It was a smart move on Testone’s part — a measure that launches her into a new direction as an independent songwriter and bandleader, disconnected from the Idol circuit.

On a stage decked with flamboyant chandeliers, candelabras, feathers, and planters, Testone (looking stunning in bright red heels and a black dress) and guitarist Wallace Mullinax casually strolled on, greeted the crowd, and opened with a simple ballad. The rest of the backing band — percussionist Jack Burg, bassist Ben Wells, keyboardist Gerald Gregory, cellist Lonnie Root, and drummer Daniel Crider — gradually joined in and took their places. Many of them are former bandmates with Testone. Backing singers Shannon Cook and Diane Fabiano stood at stage right while saxophonists Michael Quinn and Simon Harding looked cool in their shades at stage left.

Testone strummed a handsome acoustic guitar through half of the songs in the first set — including a handful of rootsy, melodic originals and a solid version of Gillian Welch’s delicate “Tear My Stillhouse Down.” When she wasn’t wearing a guitar, Testone shook and banged a tambourine with nice flair. She never over-emphasized anything, singing from her full vocal range and showing off her chops in a tasteful manner.

One of several touching moments came early when Testone welcomed David Bankston, her former vocal professor at Coastal Carolina University, to the stage to harmonize on a bluesy ballad.

Originally billed as an “unplugged” show,  A Whole Lotta Love gained momentum as the rhythm section eventually switched things around. Wells swapped his upright for an electric bass. Root’s electric cello added a velvety low tone. Mullinax worked from a battery of electric and acoustic six-strings. Burg multi-tasked and tag-teamed with Crider on drums and percussion. Jazzy solos from Mullinax and Gregory (on organ) dazzled the audience at times.

The set accelerated from an orchestral ballroom/big-band sound into a more aggressive, symphonic, rock ‘n’ roll-jamboree kind of performance. Big horns. Funky rhythms. Genuine energy. The crowd loved it.

Dense harmonies and heavy cello on Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love” and an unexpected version of local band Dangermuffin’s “Homestead” capped it off. Soulful, well executed, smartly arranged, and appropriately fancy, Testone’s first major post-Idol concert was a big step in the right direction.

Visit facebook.com/ETestoneAI11 for more on Testone and her new band.



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About the Author

Ballard Lesemann

is a musician and writer. Born and raised in Charleston, S.C., he spent years playing in bands and working for Flagpole Magazine in the bustling music town of Athens, Ga. He returned to his hometown and served more than seven years as the Charleston City Paper's music editor. He's better at drumming than he is at playing guitar.

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