THEA GILMORE – The Counterweight (Cooking Vinyl COOKCD668)

CounterweightThea Gilmore described herself like this “Some people write me off as some waily folky woman……Other people think I’m rock. In terms of an image, if you want to be cold and corporate about it, it’s hard to decide who my target market is. There isn’t one. There is no box that I can be put in” She has been described by Uncut magazine as “The best British singer-songwriter of the last ten years – and then some”. Her new album, The Counterweight is released on June 2nd.

Is it folk? Even with my fairly eclectic and inclusive categorization of folk, probably not. Is it Americana? There are shadows of Americana but Gilmore is very much a UK songwriter and they are no more than shadows. Does it matter? Not at all, this is just a damned good album from someone who can’t be put in a box.

The album has tracks which are more electric than some of Gilmore’s previous. The single ‘New’ premiered on Ken Bruce’s show and ‘Sounds Good to Me’ has been getting some airplay on Radio 2. The opening track ‘Fall Together’ has a great vocal set against a simple piano before the wider band joins in, initially gently and then strongly – the kind of territory inhabited by Annie Lennox at her best (Listen also to ‘Slow Fade to Black’ for an equally lovely vocal.) It’s a stunning opener to the album and you’d normally want to link to it after the review – but there’s an even better song.

The album was recorded during spring and summer 2016 and in between the opening and closing tracks are a number that are simultaneously timeless and linked to the specifics of last summer. ‘Reconcile’ – with a gem of a line about needing “a mortgage for your coffee”, references to instagram, and “a road ahead/there’s a watershed” – was developed as Britain voted to leave the EU; ‘Johnny Gets A Gun’ recorded on June 16th shortly after the hate crime of the Orlando nightclub shooting. The light-hearted and self-knowing optimism of ‘Another Damn Love Song’ “How did I get here/How did I find you/How did a skeptic go so wrong” with its up tempo chorus. ‘Here’s to You’ is the penultimate song, another element of redressing the balance from the blows of 2016 “Raise a glass to alchemy/another one to unity/….there’s always strength in numbers/but there’s divinity in two/here’s to lovers and here’s to you

‘The War’ provides the album with its title of The Counterweight. As Gilmore reflected on the events of the summer, they became the inspiration for this final track. Have a look at the video below on YouTube and you’ll see the references to Jo Cox MP, murdered on June 16th. But the war “isn’t out there” – the song is also about what’s inside us and what we can do ourselves.

Take a look at that box on your desk

Take a look at that heart in your chest
Take a look at those thoughts in your head
The war’s already here……….
It’s so easy to hide
Behind imagined Ironsides
Nostalgic and misty eyed
When the wolf’s at the door
In the time of hate
Throw down the counterweight
Tear up that flag and say
You’re worthy of more

Gilmore’s website notes: “The track is also possibly the mission statement of the album, a call-to-arms on the negativity and bleakness of the 2017 social terrain mesmerized by fake news and futility. The Counterweight tries to be exactly that. A redressing of the balance, a tool of pressure, an exertion of opposite force and as such, a flag of hope.”

The musical style may not be what we’ve traditionally seen as folk, but the themes are – and our times are changing.

Mike Wistow

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