Album review

Looking At The Stars

One hesitates to push the parallel too far. But there are clear similarities between the solo career trajectories of Ryan Adams and Thea Gilmore. Adams makes Heartbreaker, an acoustic troubadour record. Gilmore makes Rules For Jokers, a predominantly acoustic album in classic singer-songwriter mode. Adams follows with Gold, a full band album of rock'n'roll. Gilmore, too, goes into the studio with a band and, on Songs From The Gutter, rocks out like we've seldom heard her before.

Adams is so prolific that within a year of Gold, he's released Demolition, an LP culled from the dozens of songs he couldn't fit on regular albums. Gilmore adds a second, Internet-only bonus CD to Songs From The Gutter, comprising 11 songs that couldn't be accommodated elsewhere. And both already have further albums in the pipeline. Two songwriting machines abseiling across almost every conceivable style of popular music. But the quality control is still spectacularly high.

There's one even more important similarity. Both Adams and Gilmore eschew the formulaic, following their impulses. Under conventional record company wisdom, Demolition and Songs From The Gutter would have been quashed by product managers complaining of market saturation. And we would be so much the poorer.

Recorded mostly live, the main body of Songs... comprises nine new compositions, plus Gilmore's translucent version of "I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine", first available with Uncut's Dylan issue in June (Take 61). You can argue she wears her influences too obviously. But they said that about Gold, too. Rather, both she and Adams have the ability to assimilate an astonishing amount of music and somehow make it all their own.

"When Did You Get So Safe?" rocks like Neil Young circa Time Fades Away. "Lip Reading" leaves Alanis and all her angsty clones trailing in its angry wake. The bonus CD has more great songs, including the poptastic "Brittle Dreams", written when she was just 16. The best British female singer-songwriter of the last 10 years? And then some.

Rating: 4 / 10


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