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Thea Gilmore


(Rykodisc; US: 23 Sep 2008; UK: 19 May 2008)

That Gilmore Girl

Think of the liar paradox, when someone tells you that she always tells lies. Does that mean she’s telling you the truth now, or would that also be a lie? Who knows when the deception stops, or are lies really a higher form of truth?

The title of Thea Gilmore’s latest album, Liejacker, lets you know that she’s trying to foist wrong impressions. “This isn’t really me”, she says, wink, wink, nudge, nudge. And then she offers intimate, personal details of her thoughts and feelings about herself and the state of the world.

“Darling you don’t know me / Don’t think you ever will”, Gilmore sings coyly at the beginning of the soulful track “Roll On”.  Then she starts singing about love, sex, and death. “If it’s truth you want / I have this great disguise”, she croons later in the song. Has she been leading you on, or is everything she says so nakedly honest that she can’t admit it? It’s clear she has been communicating from a very deep place. “Roll On” bleeds with passionate intensity.

Gilmore isn’t content to explore personal mysteries. She wonders if the idea of a supreme being is the greatest illusion of all. She uses biblical imagery on “And You Shall Know No Other God But Me” to explore the nature of addiction and the higher spirit. No twelve-step program is going to cure her ills, but she cannot not believe in something else either, even if she’s just chasing shadows or looking into a mirror. This is heavy stuff.

The songs work because Gilmore uses a skillful, literate sensibility at writing lyrics and a rich, supple voice to convey her sentiments. While her vocals may betray an ache that comes from the pain of living, she never strains for a note.  Even when she duets with the legendary songbird Joan Baez, Gilmore holds her own. The two exchange verses on “The Low Road” and complement each other’s singing before joining together in beautiful harmony (while the Waterboy’s Steve Wickham provides a lilting fiddle accompaniment). The result comes off sounding like a lovely, old traditional folk song instead of the original Gilmore composition that it is.

Gilmore is also a deft, creative instrumentalist. She employs several guitars, a Dobro, ukulele, mandolin, and a harmonium at different times to create distinct effects. She uses whatever works in service to the song and the mood sought.  The atmosphere on a song like the spirited “Dance in New York” is so thick that one can metaphorically breathe in the tenement smells of the past along with the airiness of present-day studio loft apartments. The British citizen Gilmore makes the streets of Manhattan come alive in a way that combines past, present, and future.

The dozen original songs on the release (the UK version contains a bonus track, a cover of the New Wave dance hit, “You Spin Me Right Round”) prove that the 28-year-old Gilmore is a seriously talented writer and performer. This is her eighth album in ten years. She sounds far wiser than her age. Her voice also bears more than a passing resemblance to that of the Eurythmics’ Annie Lennox. Would I lie to you, honey?


Steven Horowitz has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa, where he continues to teach a three-credit online course on "Rock and Roll in America". He has written for many different popular and academic publications including American Music, Paste and the Icon. Horowitz is a firm believer in Paul Goodman's neofunctional perspective on culture and that Sam Cooke was right, a change is gonna come.

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Thea Gilmore - You Spin Me Right Round [live]
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