Some people listen to the young Thea Gilmore and swear that they hear a modern Bob Dylan
. Rather, listen to the lead track on this, her fifth album, and what you'll hear is arguably even better: Kirsty MacColl
at the top of her game. Then move on to the next song, the snarling and roots-rocking "When Did You Get So Safe," and you'll hear more than a faint echo of Richard Thompson
at the top of his as well. But ultimately such comparisons are misleading, because just about elsewhere else on this album all you'll hear is a sharp, thoroughly developed and really quite unique voice delivering songs that are personal without being maudlin and rootsy without being in the least derivative. This holds true even when she's covering other people's material, such as Bob Dylan's "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine" (itself a rewrite of the classic protest song "Joe Hill"), Bruce Springsteen
's "Cover Me," and the Clash
's "I'm Not Down." Elements of techno and electronica are tossed into the rhythmic mix from time to time, but the focus is always on gritty guitars and Gilmore's plainspoken voice, the better to show off lines like "I've learned your body like a nursery rhyme in Braille" and anthemic, meat-and-potatoes rockers like "Heart String Blues." If all of that sounds good to you, then you'll be even more excited to know that this package includes another entire disc of bonus material, songs that were available only on the Internet up until now. The sound quality of both discs is just a bit dodgy at times, but somehow that only adds to the album's gritty charm. Essential.