Thea Gilmore “Thea Gilmore”

Might Village Records, 2023

Thea Gilmore sheds the Afterlight and emerges as her own person in fascinating change of direction.

Thea Gilmore CD cover artThea Gilmore is something of a national treasure, as she has produced about 20 albums in the last twenty-five years, most of them filled with some of the most accomplished songwriting in the UK over that period. Often categorised as a folk singer (possibly because of connections with Joan Baez, who invited her as support for one of her tours, and Bob Dylan – she recorded the whole of ‘John Wesley Harding’ and the family of Sandy Denny asked her to re-imagine some of Denny’s unrecorded songs). In fact, Gilmore herself describes herself as a mishmash of folk, pop, rock, soul and other genres.  Not every album has ‘hit the spot’ but overall the reviews have been very positive, starting with her third album ‘The Lipstick Conspiracies‘, followed by her first chart entry ‘Avalanche‘ in 2002, through 2013’s ‘Regardless‘ and up to 2019’s ‘Small World Turning‘, and highlighting her honest lyricism.  She has relentlessly commented on and critiqued contemporary society and social values and has not been afraid to defend her aggressive stance in song.  The last-mentioned album was the last before escaping from a difficult and coercive marriage (to her producer and instrumentalist Nigel Stonier).  In 2021 she released a cathartic album in the name of Afterlight, detailing with brutal honesty the break-up and the circumstances that led to it. The name was designed to evidence things that went before and looking into the future.

And now comes ‘Thea Gilmore’ (the future), her first self-titled album (and after giving up the name Afterlight), one that she has totally controlled in terms of production, instrumentation and content. As a consequence, it sounds totally different from previous Gilmore albums – for example there is a lot of spoken word – but still contains the biting cynicism, the open transparency and the fiery tirades that have been her stock-in-trade. The excellent songwriting is still in evidence and her voice is a thing of wonder, often enveloped during the first half of the album in a wall of sound of her own making – she plays acoustic and electric guitar, piano, keyboards, bass and programming, while Seadna McPhail adds keyboards and additional programming.

The album opens with a spoken quasi-rap ‘Nice Normal Woman‘, with a backing sounding a bit like Talking Heads, where Gilmore takes a Bette Davis quote from ‘All About Eve‘ (“write me one for a nice normal woman who just shoots her husband“). The tunes and the production is excellent, from the pop-inspired first half to the more familiar piano or guitar-led pop-folk songs, and taken on the whole, are an encapsulation of Gilmore’s reflections of, and life after, the bitter divorce from her husband and her hopes and aspirations for the future. ‘Bones’ has the shimmering lines “You took me right down to the ashes Like all the other things you owned But there’s a fire still burning here inside me Yeah you really should have known That it’s just bones”.

The future’s looking brighter in ‘Ride On‘ (with some really catchy sounds) and ‘The Chance’ – “I hope you don’t mind I’m gonna love you now, I hope you don’t mind I’m gonna dance Cos I’ve got a whole lot of heart to spend I’ve just been looking for the chance”.

And then there’s the rather unsettling ‘Unravel Me‘, almost an exhortation to physical sex. ‘That’s love Mother f….r‘ is something of a misstep and the spoken tracks that bookend the album may be acquired taste, although ‘The Bright Service‘ has a lovely tune to begin with and lovely wordless backing behind the words. For a real taste of her lovely expressive voice, however, take a listen to ‘Home‘, the best example of her moving out of the darkness and hopefully into a brightly-lit future, the afterlight.

Always interesting and worth exploring simply because Gilmore is always worth listening to, and the change in direction could pay dividends going forward, and maybe she will rise above the radar.


About FredArnold 57 Articles
Lifelong fan of predominantly US (and Canadian) country roots music. Previously an avid concert-goer before wives, kids and dogs got in the way- and although I still try to get to several, my preference for small independent venues often means standing, and that ain't too good for my ancient bones!! Still, a healthy and catholic music collection helps ease the pain
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Miss the days with her former husband Nigel Stonier! Don‘t like the new album!