Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Harpo's Ghost - Thea Gilmore

I have had this album since it came out last summer - to no great commercial fanfare unfortunately - and I've been meaning to review it for months but it is a uniquely difficult prospect.

It named for Harpo Marx, who only expressed his on-screen personality via music, and had it been a d├ębut album such a gimmick could have been regarded as just that. In this case it can't!
Although Harpo's Ghost is her first album released on Sanctuary Records - and it comes after a break of 2½ years - it is not her second commercial release but her seventh; she released her first six in little over four years and even now she is only 26 years old! Most of them can still be found fairly easily, though The Lipstick Conspiracy (2000) is probably an exception.

Thea Gilmore got married in 2005 and had a baby in November 2006 but in the meantime she wrote, released and then toured this album around the UK and only this week she has announced a 26-date UK tour from February - April 2007. It does perhaps help that her husband, Nigel Stonier, is also her producer and occasional co-writer but it is still a considerable achievement.

Harpo's Ghost is quite special as it is an album full of influences from folk to early pop, rock and blues, but they are never hammed up or too obviously reverential and while it references Americana too, as Gilmore has also toured extensively throughout both the US and Canada, it is never in danger of becoming in awe of it. Sandi Thom, who has today been nominated for a 'Brit Award' for her first album Smile, It Confuses People, writes great songs but listen to these two albums back to back and you can soon spot the difference!

If the world were a fair place Harpo's Ghost would have been nominated for at least one 'Brit Award' tonight, but then nobody expected it to be and of course it wasn't. The world is patently not a fair place - a theme that is at the heart of this album - and she frequently rails against the music industry, but never against the music or the musicians, and also often the politics that underlie it and almost everything else.

While many labels despair at the slow output of their cherished artists - Michael Jackson only released five studio albums in the 20 years or so before his fall from grace - don't ever expect her to sign to EMI! Do however expect to hear more new songs soon (not least on the forthcoming tour) as she has recently blogged that during the aforementioned 2½ years she continued to write songs at the usual rate and that the result, by her own admission, means about three albums worth of songs ready to record!
It is hard to choose any favourites, but the 'hidden track' on the CD is a splendid closing salvo to a really rather persuasive, yet uncompromising, album.

I don't need triggers and I don't need a sword
There's a tool of revolution there in every single chord
I've got an old Neil Young record and a bottle of red
And I know he'll still be saying just what needs to be said.

If you like it, then I suggest listening to her 2004 album Rules For Jokers next.

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