Saturday, July 29, 2006

Thea Gilmore, 2005

The Washington Post

Thursday, August 4, 2005; Page C04

Thea Gilmore

"This is what we like to call, in our profession, intimate," Thea Gilmore observed dryly, surveying the 30-odd people who had come to hear her at Iota on Tuesday. It turned out to be a good size for the young British troubadour's moody, earnest songs.

Gilmore has been hailed by the British press for her folky approach, but her observation that she was born at the wrong time doesn't hold water. Many young musicians these days stylistically evoke the '60s folk clubs and, as Gilmore does, even make the music sound as if they invented it themselves.

Gilmore's greatest gift is her extraordinary voice. Smoky and weathered in the low registers, mellow in the middle and piercingly clear on its high notes, it's a versatile instrument, and Gilmore wielded it with finesse. She kept it almost too quiet, causing the members of that intimate gathering to lean in to absorb her lyrics. But when she needed to, she could wail with soul, as on a cover of Bill Withers's "Lean on Me," or spit acid, as on her scathing "Mainstream": "Who's gonna train us, can you really blame us? / If we grow up we're all going to be famous."

Accompanists Nigel Stonier and Jim Kirkpatrick provided guitar-rich soundscapes with perpetual energy even in the most delicately embellished moments. So what if 10 percent of the crowd was in the band? If Gilmore keeps up this fine work, she might very well have to contend with larger crowds -- and with the threat of her own mainstream to swim in.

-- Pamela Murray Winters

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