'ACCEPT WHAT IS SIMPLE, OR DEFEND WHAT IS RIGHT'
Thea Gilmore releases “Small World Turning” on May 17 - her first new collection of songs since 2017’s “The Counterweight” which was her 3rd successive top 40 album.
“Small World Turning” takes a sharp musical turning of its own, many may argue a new commitment to what Thea Gilmore does best, as it’s an album with an unashamed folk flavour.
An artist of enduring international acclaim (Bruce Springsteen regularly names her as a favourite) and a justly revered lyricist, Gilmore’s musical settings have taken many ingenious detours in recent years.
"Murphy's Heart” (2010) arrived with a buffed-up radio sheen, 2013’s “Regardless” was luscious chamber pop and “The Counterweight” brought electronica flavourings to the table.
“Small World Turning” nails it’s colours to a very different wall from the get-go.
Acoustic guitars are back to the fore, and a quintessentially rootsy array of instruments frame them - fiddles, whistles, mandolins, tenor banjos are all in abundance.
Given the reverence in which Gilmore is held among contemporaries it will be no surprise that UK folk royalty including Cara Dillon, Seth Lakeman, Sam Lakeman, Katriona Gilmore, Jamie Roberts and BBC Radio 2’s Young Folk Award winner 2013 Ciaran Algar all step up to contribute.
Moreover the engine room of the record - which contains no traditional kit drums - is a stellar and diverse Transatlantic rhythm section of Matt Owens (Noah And The Whale) and Michael Blair (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello).
But “Small World Turning” is no hollow parade of the famous.
As is ever the case with Thea Gilmore, it's the songs that define and dazzle, and the 11 new compositions on display are a blend of melodic lilt and dark brooding choruses, with lyrics that repeatedly hold up a magnifying glass to 2019 England and impale greed, bigotry, class divide and hoarded wealth.
The opening “Cutteslowe Walls” sets the tone - said walls were an infamous divide which stood for 20 years in Oxford last century, built to prevent luxury homeowners having to look at the slums in their neighbourhood .
The walls become an emblem which recurs, if not by mention by implication, in several of the albums songs.
“Where there’s a line down at the food bank ...
Where sleeping bags are blocking doorways
You’ll see the shadow of the Cutteslowe Walls”
“Grandam Gold”, a phrase going all the way back to Geoffrey Chaucer in describing hoarded wealth and the grip of misers on their gains, now lends its name to a pithy and beautiful ballad on which Gilmore duets with Cara Dillon.
Dillon also appears on the exquisite “Don’t Dim Your Light For Anyone” taking a spine tingling whistle solo while Sam Lakeman sits in on beautifully restrained piano.
A mother of two herself, Gilmore frames the album with 2 lullabies - a snippet of the traditional "Mockingbird" and the unbearably lovely "Dreamers", sung by a Mother aspiring to cross the Mexican border with her child.
Elsewhere, the anthemic “The Fuse” raises both the tempo and the mood with its irresistible chorus. “The Revisionist” targets the climate and repositioning of endemic racism ( “Throwing hatred like confetti, drinking populism neat...”) ... and "Karr's Lament” - perhaps Gilmore’s most beautiful song in a decade - sits with an almost unearthly serenity at the heart of the album.
A gifted and exceptional artist at the peak of her powers, Thea Gilmore has delivered a vibrant and deeply resonant album, rooted in folk music but completely transcending any genre related limitations.
In a tempestuous and changing social environment now is a time to state your allegiance. As Thea and Cara Dillon sing over “Grandam Gold’s” closing bars ‘Accept what is simple or defend what is right’.
SMALL WORLD TURNING is released May 17.
'I'D LOVE TO TRUST YOUR MOTIVES BUT I HAVEN'T GOT THE FAITH
'COS YOU DO A GREAT IMPRESSION OF A REALLY BAD MISTAKE..'
THE COUNTERWEIGHT (2017)
'Protest album as thing of beauty'
* * * * Mojo
'An awesome musical response to terrifying times'
* * * * * The Mirror
'Hauntingly beautiful music'
* * * * Music OMH
'A Musician of searing talent'
* * * *
'will make your heart catch, your skin prickle and your eyes fill with tears. Go and buy this, and then tell all your friends'
* * * * * The Observer