THEA GILMORE Harpo's Ghost (Sanctuary/EMI) Rating: NNN
Thea Gilmore needs to get a good adviser on side. The British tunesmith's beautifully rough-edged voice, rich folk-rock aesthetic and unflinching, raw songwriting could make her into this generation's John Prine. But on her first major-label album, it sounds like EMI's trying to shape her into the next KT Tunstall. The songs here have great bones Gilmore's fantastic at subtly eviscerating sexual politics, imagining prodigal sons and daughters fucking up in heartbreaking scenarios and, on this album, spitting out deadly smart condemnations of U.S. foreign policy. But the arrangements are far too glossy, smoothed-out pop frameworks that threaten to overpower her mellow, bluesy vocals. Better to return to the minimal approach of Gilmore's Loft Music collection of covers than risk becoming just another chick penning tracks for The Devil Wears Prada 2.
DAN REEDER Sweetheart (OH Boy) Rating: NNNN
Oh, I love Dan Reeder. And so will you. Everyone must buy this album. It's maybe 10 per cent less amazing then his self-titled debut (both are on John Prine's label). Go ahead and buy that, too. Beginning with the a cappella Waiting For My Cappuccino, Sweetheart just goes from one great country folk tune to another great county folk tune, featuring only Reeder harmonizing with himself and strumming his homemade guitars. Highlights include the aforementioned Cappuccino, You'll Never Surf Again, Cowboy Song, Pussy Titty and a cover of A Whiter Shade Of Pale that's haunting and spooky in a sitting-around-the-campfire or around-the-pub-table-with-your-friends- after-last-call-on-a-foggy-night-with-nothing-but-empty-streets-outside kind of way. Reeder's voice is dry and lovely, and his songwriting is both poignant and hilarious. All man and all soul.
DAMIEN RICE 9 (Warner) Rating: NNN
It's immediately apparent from the greatly enhanced production values of 9 that breakout Irish singer/songwriter Damien Rice isn't content with being known as a cult phenom. He's angling for the big time, and 9's string-enhanced romantic melodrama, deftly employing some Dido-esque vocal accompaniment, could be what gets him there. Equal parts James Blunt and Colin Farrell, Rice plays his sensitive rake game to the hilt here, plaintively crooning about affairs of the heart with swoon-inducing intimacy, but his reluctance to veer from the quiet-loud-quiet structure he favours gives each song a predictable trajectory and ultimately undermines all his attempts to create tension. Still, it's good enough to impress fans of David Gray and Coldplay.