Her eleventh album is something of a show piece for Thea Gilmore – a portfolio, showing off what she can do. It might not be her finest work, but the uninitiated could do worse than use Murphy’s Heart as an introduction into one of our most intriguingly prolific “best kept secrets”.
That said, the album’s opening track, This Town, sees Gilmore veering toward a path she rarely strays down. The lyrics might be typically Gilmore – poetic and considered (“Well hello my little train wreck, I’m your worst fear. I’m a mortuary postcard. I’m a graveyard souvenir.”). But, with shuffling strings and sharp bursts of horn, she soon gets sultry…sexy, even, as she purrs: “Well you ain’t going to heaven and you ain’t going to hell either. There’s a place worse than either. You’re gonna stay in this town, this town, this town.”
But she doesn’t stick with this theme, and her usual world-weary, gospel-tinged folk returns for the rest of the record. She’s not yet turned 30 – her delivery and the bulk of her lyrics betray her youth – but the leftover teenage angst behind the wonderfully angry, almost brattish Lipstick Conspiracies still creeps through. From Due South’s “Looking for hope in stiletto heels,” to Teach Me To Be Bad’s “If I were coming off the rails, drop my eyes and drop my dress. I said one, two, hand me a light, three four I don’t wanna be right,” she’s still harboring some serious spite. This is what really sets her apart from the rest of the more traditional folkies.
But Gilmore’s a married mum now. Her rocky domestic situation with her guitarist and producer Nigel Stonier, well-documented tours with Joan Baez, a continued interest in the history of American folk music, and 15 years in the industry have opened her gaze wide. She’s political (“It’ll come from Albert Dock, it’ll come from Tower Bridge, it’ll grab our politicians by the balls,” she spits in Love’s The Greatest Instrument) and sad (“I know a little bar where they make bloody marys strong. Let’s raise a toast to ragged ghosts and loneliness and song,” she wavers in Automatic Blue) but she never forgets the importance of a good ol’ sing-song. God’s Got Nothing On You and the single, You’re The Radio, stand up admirably alongside live favourite This Girl Is Taking Bets.
With a forthcoming tour and a wealth of tracks to pick from, most of Murphy’s Heart will slot in well. It’s unlikely to bring Gilmore the break so many have been forecasting for so long, but her devoted band of secret-keepers should be more than happy with her latest offering.