Album Reviews

Thea Gilmore – Harpo’s Ghost

(Sanctuary) UK release date: 21 August 2006


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that there is more than one way for a female singer-songwriter to be.

There is. Despite what the Radio 2 playlist will have you believe. Opposite the bad and the ugly, exemplified by the twin Katie/KT pillars of Melua and Tunstall, there is the good, ably demonstrated by Thea Gilmore, all fire and brimstone and spite and spit. Mostly.

Because truthfully, Harpo’s Ghost is not the finest of the seven albums which are already edging this particular career toward prolific. For the first half it’s all a bit wet, a bit trite and a bit dull. She even begins to sound like she’s repeating herself – the languid anti-American stroll Red White and Black being uncannily like Holding Your Hand from earlier album Rules For Jokers – and you begin to question whether this is in fact a new point on the axis of dinner party evil.

But thankfully, the second half dissuades any preemptive strikes for the sake of national security, and in quite fine fashion. Gilmore redeploys the blend of scathing intelligence and empathy that set her apart, and finds a burgeoning relationship with some unexpected instrumentation. That’s most memorably shown on The Lists, where flecks of peddle steel nip at the ankles of the song, while a well-worn tale of junkie failure is spun with such resigned authority over the top that it sounds like gospel.

Elsewhere, Cheap Trick is a little less country, and a little more rock’n’roll, and the joyous, and faintly nostalgic, Contessa dances in square patterns, with bare feet and flowers in its hair. When she’s on song, there is a fabulously poetic quality to her imagery which is hugely endearing.

A very likeable album from a very likeable artist. Likeable, and with personality and wit, something which signals her as at least 50% more impressive than some of her compadres. And that�s got to be at least half the battle in cases like these.

She’ll make better records too. Harpo’s Ghost isn’t constantly brilliant, but when it flashes, it flashes with enough brightness to easily keep Gilmore towards the top of her particular genre.


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More on Thea Gilmore
London Gigs: 29 May-5 June 2017
Thea Gilmore – Regardless
Thea Gilmore @ Dingwalls, London
Thea Gilmore – Murphy’s Heart
Thea Gilmore @ Bush Hall, London


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