Album Reviews: Harpo's Ghost by Thea GilmoreThea Gilmore supporters have been saying for years that the strong-voiced British folkstress hasn't received her due, and now that she is aligned with Sanctuary Records, she would seem poised for translating her veteran stature as a critic's darling in the UK into wider commercial success. Unfortunately, Gilmore has delivered a mediocre record to coincide with her shot at the big time. Harpo's Ghost is produced within an inch of its life, taking pains to emphasize its "ooh ahh" melodies, easy hooks, and choruses ready to heat up Hot AC station playlists. In the past, Gilmore has seemed more in line with the Mitchell-Baez line of folk musicians, but on tracks like "We Built a Monster," she disappears into the Sheryl Crow crowd. It is not a flattering fit.
She doesn't fare much better on plodding rockers like "The Gambler," which is one of many songs that would benefit from tighter focus. The distorted verses are set against an Aimee Mann-ish backdrop that stays unnecessarily muted, and the sudden kick-in with the big rock chorus just sounds strained.
What makes all of this baffling is that Gilmore doesn't need all the accoutrements to be commanding -- quite the contrary. She can easily grab listeners by just singing it straight, and the best moments on Harpo's Ghost are almost uniformly when Gilmore's voice and lyrics cleanly take center stage, away from the din of distracting organs, modulated harmony vocals, and faceless barroom rock. The effective, somber "Red White and Black" serves up some social commentary gleaned from her experiences touring in the States. Her narratives can be a little heavy-handed at times, as on the evocative, Western-tinged "The List" ("They got a new religion / A needle and a spoon"), but that's the risk of channeling characters who find themselves in a moment of crisis. Gilmore is a strong singer and storyteller, but, unfortunately, the songs on Harpo's Ghost usually fall short of her talents. - Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert
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