on 30 August 2010
Over the course of a 12-year career, Thea Gilmore has quietly but fervently carved out a space for herself as possibly Britain's pre-eminent acoustic singer-songwriter, an artist who gains critical plaudits and respect from her peers but little commercial success. Whether 'Murphy's Heart,' Gilmore's tenth studio LP, will go any lengths to changing that is almost irrelevant because Gilmore has never been one to court commercial success, resisting major label offers in a bid to retain her artistic control and integrity, and instead has focused on building up a catalogue of quietly powerful music.
Age and experience have given Gilmore a depth and richness as an artist of late that was not always present on earlier, passionate, if somewhat less focused, records like Burning Dorothy and The Lipstick Conspiracies. It was around the time of 2001's Rules for Jokers that Gilmore "found her voice," eschewing some of her Americanisms for an album of literate acoustic music. The muddy, ramshackle Songs From The Gutter followed, before Gilmore perfected the sound on the excellent Avalanche.
After the covers stop-gap Loft Music, Gilmore returned after an uncharacteristically long three-year break with the pristine Harpo's Ghost on Sanctuary but, deeming it too glossy, she returned to a more acoustic, stripped sound for Liejacker and the winter-themed Strange Communion. 'Murphy's Heart' arrives on the back of a spell of much creativity, her third new album in just over two years. 'Strange Communion' replaced some of the blandness of 'Liejacker' with a real beauty and elegance, and 'Murphy's Heart' develops the sound by adding some intriguing new musical ideas.
The thing to hit the listener immediately is the fantastically clear production. Everything sounds so clear and well-captured, every breath of Gilmore's voice, every bang on some exotic percussion instrument. "This Town" is one of her best album openers, with its dirty bass line, inventive percussion, a light vocal from Gilmore, an imaginative, subtle change of rhythmic pulse in the chorus contributing to its sense of urgency and, most glorious of all, the presence of brass. Here it's sassy, elsewhere it's utilised differently, but the addition of brass and horns into Gilmore's arrangements makes for quite spellbinding listening.
"God's Got Nothing On You" boasts one of her purest melodies and vocal performances in the tradition of the great English folksingers, but with a faster, harder-edged arrangement, yet still a lightness of touch. "Due South" and "Automatic Blue" recall the slow-tempo beauty of 'Strange Communion,' with the former incorporating some mournful violin work from long-time collaborator Fluff, and the latter, one of her simplest, loveliest romantic ballads, bringing harmonium into the mix.
The politicised Gilmore of yore returns on the impassioned "Love's the Greatest Instrument of Rage," a fast-paced folk stomper. It could be argued that the drums almost take away some of its powerful intensity, but it's nevertheless a highlight. As is the quirky, unorthodox "Jazz Hands," a playful carnival-esque tune that recalls, curiously, both KT Tunstall's "Hold On" and Franks Wild Years-era Tom Waits. (Gilmore's high voice is brilliant here, although it's initially strange to hear her utter such a provocative line as "at least one part of you's a killer dancer.") The Waitsian influence resurfaces on the spooky, ghostly "Coffee and Roses," which recalls some of Waits' later romantic love ballads.
"You're the Radio" is in the mould of "Juliet" and "That'll Be Christmas" - a pleasant, catchy, radio-friendly lead single that does the job of promoting the record without sticking out like a sore thumb. In other words, it fits into the 'Murphy's Heart' ethos nicely but isn't the sure-fire standout. It is followed by the up-tempo "Teach Me To Be Bad," which you can imagine going down well in concert, and the urgent "Not Alone," which features one of the record's most elegant melodies. But one of the most elegant of all belongs to the beguiling "How The Love Gets In," which is like a prettier and less miserable "Icarus Wind" (from 'Liejacker'.) It's wonderfully melancholy and romantic, and the cornerstone of the last quarter of the record. The slow "Mexico" is the definition of a 'grower,' while "Wondrous Thing," making use of gorgeous horns and a slinky rhythm (plus some nice reverb effect on Gilmore's vocals), is an appropriately sexy, subtle, romantic, vaguely jazz-inspired closer.
It's early to make grand assumptions, but Gilmore and husband and collaborator Nigel Stonier, plus all the musicians who worked on the album, should be very proud of how 'Murphy's Heart' has turned out. It has all the elegance and grace that Gilmore has acquired of late but also some much-needed vigour has made a comeback, and the use of brass was a wise and successful decision. She is an incredibly intelligent and literate writer but sometimes it does feel as if her songs have attractive wordplay without saying very much. But, when you've a record as gorgeous as this, it's a minor criticism. Still only 30, it's exciting to think of what else Gilmore might have in store in the coming years. 'Murphy's Heart' feels like a new chapter may be starting.
on 31 August 2010
I confess, there's nothing that irritates me more than fans who greet every album by their favourite artist with "Their best yet!", which often as not merely indicates a lack of objectivity. Even I, as a Thea fan, remarked that her previous studio album. "Liejacker" was "arguably" her best, a cautionary note born out of the knowledge that there were a lot of people who felt it was a little bit too downbeat for their tastes. Fair enough.
Well, with her latest, "Murphy's Heart", I have become what I always dreaded, as this really IS her best yet. There, I've said it and I mean it. It's a big, rich, evocative album of instant and far-reaching appeal that still, for all the fun and variety of styles and influences that can be found here, never loses its integrity. It manages, somehow, to be both hugely enjoyable and immensely moving.
Dig that funky brass on "This Town"!! Clap your hands along to "Love's the Greatest..."!! Enjoy the sleazy, fun stomp of "Teach Me to Be Bad"; feel your heart race to "Not Alone" and then swoon to "How the Love Gets In" (probably one of her most heart-stoppingly beautiful songs). Finally, as you catch your breath, let the last two songs, "Mexico" and "Wondrous Thing" work their magic. They are two slow burners that have grown on me, particularly the latter, which feels for all the world as if belongs in a late Forties film noir, one in which Robert Mitchum enters a little club just south of the border, the camera pans across a smokey room, and the chanteuse in the spotlight is Thea. ("Who's the dame?" "Forget it, Johnny, she's out of your league"). It is one of the few love songs I know of that positively glows with the elegance of romance without descending into sentimentality.
Everything seems to have come together on this album to dazzling effect: Bristling with inventiveness and quirky details, it's just one beautiful, swooning, majestic, breathtaking, haunting album from start to finish. Buy it and be happy.
on 6 September 2010
Hot on the heels of Strange Communion comes this eclectic collection of thirteen new songs from Thea Gilmore. More than any of her previous work, this album serves as a sampler of what she can do. From the irresistible radio-friendly pop of 'You're The Radio' to the somewhat incongruous cod-jazz of 'Jazz Hands', Murphy's Heart covers all points in between. Though softer in style than anything she delivered on her early albums, as you would expect from Thea Gilmore, the writing is sharp and poetic - 'well hello my little train wreck I am your worst fear, I'm a mortuary postcard, I'm a graveyard souvenir'. The teen angst may have long gone, but she can still deliver a killer blow with an angry rhyming couplet.
There's nothing radically different here, which probably means that Thea Gilmore will continue to remain a closely guarded secret. Eschewing offers from major record labels, she remains fiercely independent. 'You're The Radio' has received extensive radio play however, and the fact that there is little to dislike on this album may finally bring Thea the wider recognition she deserves.
The special edition is nicely presented in a box with postcards containing the album's song lyrics, but is hardly essential, and this jewel box version contains everything you will need. For those registering on Thea Gilmore's website there is the opportunity to download additional free tracks, one of which 'Come Up', sits nicely alongside 'You're The Radio' for its consumer friendly sing-a-long style. For my money the best track here is 'Not Alone', its spiky lyrics and pulsing beat indicating that motherhood and happy domesticity haven't entirely softened Thea's musical edge. In a dull and derivative current British music scene she remains a consistent and reliable source of quality music for grown-ups.
on 3 September 2010
If you are already familiar with Thea Gilmore, it may be impossible to believe that she could possibly get any better, but incredibly she does and Murphy's Heart is fantastic proof. I cannot refrain from waxing lyrical and even then will still fail to give this album the credit it deserves or to even begin to get anywhere near adequately lauding her excellence as a singer, songwriter, poet and passionate, uniquely creative human being.
I wholeheartedly agree with the previous reviewers re the excellence of her live performances, it is a life-enhancing experience - she and her band are totally inspiring and I have been on a high for days after seeing them, I cannot believe that she is not world famous (well actually I can because such quality is rarely popular in the mainstream, she is light years beyond was is usually found & heard "out there").
There is not a single dud track on this album and the musicianship is, I think, even more outstanding than in all her previous albums - and that is saying something (yes Fluff is truly incredible, and not just her playing but her vocals are beautifully rich and resonant too). In addition, the incorporation of the trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone and tenor and alto sax, adds a dimension, depth, mellowness and smokey sensuality not heard live (as Thea doesn't tour with a band this big.)
For me the outstanding tracks (and it is hard to select just a few amidst such an array of sparklers) are "Due South" (like bathing in sunlight and falling in love) "Coffee and Roses" (absolute aural heaven) "Mexico" (if I had to pick just one song to listen to for the rest of my life this would be it) and "Wondrous Thing" (a kind of achy, heartbreaking yet uplifting, gentle, delicate, reverie) "You're The Radio" (the joy of life, the effervesence of champagne, blood tingling), "How The Love Gets In" (poignant,breathtaking, unforgettable).
As usual Nigel Stonier demonstrates that he is an artisitic genius, visionary conceptualiser and super-hero producer - he is also an awesome musician.
Buy this album for yourself and all those you love, (buy all Thea's albums in fact)-make your ears ecstatic, feed your soul, invigorate your heart and spirit and make yourself glad to be alive. You will not fail to become a massive fan.
on 6 October 2010
So, just under a year ago, in bed on a Saturday night, radio inadvertently left on, its 3 a.m. & I am woken by a quite beautiful voice. In my sleepy state I listen out for the artist name and track title and try to commit it to memory for the morning for further investigation before drifting back to sleep. In the morning I vaguely remember Gilmour (from Dave) and something about New York and set about discovering more. Which I did, once the spelling was corrected! Four albums later I'm convinced she has no equal in the UK or anywhere else for that matter. I was slightly disappointed with this offering at first, it doesn't offer a stand out track (it has no duffers either) and didn't represent a step up from what had gone before. A few plays later I was warming to it and then last night (5/10/10) I had the pleasure of seeing Thea play live for the first time (not her, me) at Dingwalls in Camden. Oh my God! (as der youff of today say). Her voice live is sensational! Of course the majority of her set comprised material from this latest album and was quite beautifully delivered. "How the love gets in" had me absolutely spellbound - a voice indeed from the angels. If this is what music in heaven is like, where can I get tickets? Not much of review of this album is it? I just needed to tell whoever might want to listen that Thea on CD is good (very), live she is sensational! I listened to the whole of Murphys Heart on my way into work this morning, re-living the concert of 12 hours earlier and loving each track so much more because of it. 4 stars now where previously there would have been 3. See her live!
on 27 September 2010
I think I ought to declare an interest here - I'm a long-standing fan of Ms Gilmore -right back to Resurrection Man in the early noughties. so, do I like it ? Of course - but does it take her music to a higher level ? Not really. Is it likely to convert the unconverted ? To be honest I'm not sure it will.
The clever wordplay is there in spades, as usual. The tunes are mostly fine. Yet something is somehow lacking. I think it's the production - it doesn't grab you by the lapels - it's a bit "produced by numbers". The horns are not driving enough to add the vital spark. she should aim for her own "Got to Get you into my life" for my money.
Having said all that I've still listened to it several times and it's growing on me. if you've never heard her go for "Lifejacker" and in particular "Old Soul".
Or better still catch her live as I will at Nantwich next week.....
on 6 March 2015
I bought 4 Thea Gilmore cd's on the strength of hearing one track on her liejacker album. Out of the 4, this was the one I was most disappointed with..... But, it is growing on me. It is taking longer than the other albums to impress, but it isn't bad and I am choosing to play it more and more.
on 1 September 2010
Another great collection of songs from evergreen songstress Thea Gilmore.
Catch her live,she will never disappoint, her Christmas 2009 performance of
Strange Communion at Norwich Art Centre was fabulous. Looking forward to her
next tour with Murphy's Heart.
P.S. Nice presentation box & cards as well.
on 2 May 2011
Don't get me wrong I am a fan of Thea & I have a few of her albums - Loft Music, Strange communion, Recorded delivery to name my favourites so I purchased this on release hoping for something not the same but as good as her previous albums but I was rather disappointed in what I heard. Most of the tracks are rather samey and the only track I like is You're The Radio and after a few listens that begins to annoy which is a shame as Thea has a great voice. I have liejacker & it is considered by many to be a weak album but this has got to be Thea's weakest album to date.
on 6 September 2010
Good new release from Thea. She seems to be able to produce the quality stuff at will these days. Plenty of highlights and only a couple of substandard tracks. "Jazz Hands" and "Loves The Greatest Instrument Of Rage" are outstanding. Not too thrilled with "Wonderous Thing" and the single "Youre The Radio"(if there is such a thing, a typical Thea song)
Dont understand what the "Special Edition" is all about either. Surely the fiercly independent Ms Gilmore cannot be using mainstream record company tactics to sell her wares?