Thea Gilmore’s fiercely independent albums of polemic and protest seem tailor made to be liked. Since her debut Burning Dorothy in 1998, she has released some of the most uncompromisingly literate, and unashamedly opinionated folk tinged pop.
But there has always been something not quite right: something a little bland, something slightly awkward in the delivery, and something that has lacked identity, which for someone expounding such strong opinions is a real problem. Her albums have always seemed at best na�ve, and at worst, when she is lambasting consumerism to sell her music, disingenuous. Finally with Liejacker, persistence might be rewarded.
Gilmore’s albums have always been well received critically – pipe-smokers’ favourite Uncut proclaimed her to be the best British singer-songwriter working today – but each release has had the commercial buoyancy of a lead balloon; although she has probably not deserved either response. Gilmore is certainly no slacker. Still shy of 30, she has released four albums of original songs and a covers album, got married, and in the past year had a child. Maybe it is motherhood that has focussed her firebrand zeal.
Even the title of the opening track, Old Soul, a duet with The Zutons‘ Dave McCabe, suggests a new maturity to this album. And indeed, there is sense throughout that Gilmore has grown up. Black letter is a brooding, dark insight into sadness, wonderfully arranged strings and vocals make for a moving moment packed evocative of dark times.
The attacks on consumerism and feminist arguments have not entirely vanished, but they are delivered with more subtlety, and are much less hard to swallow. Roll On sounds like Gilmore of old, but the lyrics less direct and the better for it.
Dance in New York, with lines like “Nothing original, not even original sin” harks back to the clunky, half-formed sentiment earlier releases – sounding like Kathryn Williams at her worst. But such glib moments are rare enough to be forgiven.
It was an indication of Gilmore’s esteem when Grand Dame of folk protest, Joan Baez, asked the young Brit to tour with her. And again that Baez lends vocals to The Lower Road, another socially aware but touching and heartfelt track. Baez’s contribution is naturally excellent stuff. And while elsewhere, Gilmore’s often forced vocals grate; in the company of such a legend, she stays within her limits to excellent effect.
I am still not entirely convinced by Gilmore, and while previous hue and cry made up for shortcomings and stuck in the craw in equal measure. The measured and mature approach on Liejacker makes for a much more convincing argument than she has achieved before. If you have ever been enticed but disappointed by Gilmore before, this could just win you around.