Murphy's Heart, the eleventh studio offering from singer and songwriter Thea Gilmore, finds a balance between the extreme polish of 2008's Liejacker and the skeletal sound of 2006's Harpo's Ghost. Produced (again) by lead guitarist Nigel Stonier, Gilmore fills the songs on this 13-track set with the talents of 13 musicians, including horn and string players, percussionists, and keyboardists. The expanded cast reflects Gilmore's evolving songwriting and arranging skills; forms and textures have deepened and changed shapes, and the textures she and Stonier employ are more ambitious than anything she's previously attempted, but whether they touch on the perverse carnival soundscapes of Tom Waits (in "Jazz Hands") or are elegantly adorned ("Due South), they contain only what they need in order to project and illuminate her stiletto sharp -- often mischievous -- lyrics. The set opens with "This Town," introduced by a strutting Celtic blues guitar line that quickly becomes a shuffling, minor-key jazz swagger as Gilmore illustrates a physical place as femme fatale: "Hello my little train wreck, I am your worst fear/I'm a mortuary postcard, I'm a graveyard souvenir." On "Love's the Greatest Instrument of Rage," drums, dulcimers, and handclaps fuel Gilmore's spitfire delivery on what could be a drinking song, albeit one of indignation and regret: "So take this epitaph, take anything that's left/I don't want to be here come the day/I did my best you know, I tried to swim the tide/But I am just as guilty in my way...." On the lilting acoustic waltz "Automatic Blue," her protagonist observes the eternal paradox of romance: "Love is either wild frontiers, or automatic blue." "Mexico" is as lonely as its title, adorned by nylon string guitars, viola, and cello, while the album's closer "Wondrous Thing," with its Latin percussion and sparse electric six-string, underscores an early rock melody and a lyric worthy of Doc Pomus: "The moment you came/The stars didn't sing your name/And the heavens didn't shed your skin/Smallest of things/Bravest of offerings/The way that love begins." With the lithe, languid flügelhorn in the backdrop, the song enters the realm of dreams. Murphy's Heart is the work of a seasoned veteran at lofty creative peak in her craft.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek