Thea Gilmore

Harpo's Ghost

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One of the U.K.'s most promising singer/songwriters returns after nearly a three-year absence. In the interim, Thea Gilmore had been diagnosed with clinical depression, dealt with serious illness in her family, and split with a longtime romantic partner. All of this was sure to affect her music, but Harpo's Ghost still feels like a natural successor to 2003's breakthrough release, Avalanche. Harpo's Ghost is produced again by guitarist Nigel Stonier, who isn't afraid to place Gilmore's breathy, sexy voice in a variety of edgy settings. The trick is to stuff the artist's plentiful lyrics into a vehicle that focuses attention on them yet allows her melodies to flourish, and Stonier succeeds wonderfully, shifting from the almost punkish attack of "Cheap Tricks" to the widescreen, primarily acoustic "Contessa," which borrows a few sonic tricks from U2. Both songs approach Gilmore's voice from different but equally sympathetic directions. The trip-hop traces that colored her previous work appear fleetingly on the opening "The Gambler" (not the Kenny Rogers song), but are otherwise gone now, replaced with a tougher guitar-based quartet sound on the rocking "We Built a Monster" and the circular guitar and organ of the funky and politically scathing "Everybody's Numb." Gilmore can sound both sublime and angry as she spits out "the United States of emptiness" lyrics to the latter, with pounding drums and percussion hammering home the point. Matters of the heart still power Gilmore's muse, especially when she unleashes "Call Me Your Darling," a dark love song with an inescapable hook of a chorus that stands as the album's most likely single. Stonier keeps the singer's magnificent voice up front where it belongs, and double-tracks her own harmonies to impressive effect on the ominous "Going Down," a cut that might concern her bout with depression and the problems of the previous few years. Harpo's Ghost is a strong, triumphant return for Thea Gilmore. It deserves to be the album that exposes her formidable vocal, lyrical, and melodic talents to a larger audience, especially in the States.

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