Thea Gilmore - John Wesley Harding Album Review
Every so often during the course of a persons life they feel the need to indulge themselves in someone else's world. The want to explain who their influences were and are, the longing to bring a lesser known work to a new audience or just the chance to pay homage to some of their favourite tracks very often sees an artist release an album of covers. Nick Cave indulged on 'Kicking Against The Pricks', Tori picked some corkers on 'Strange Little Girls', Sinead beautifully and sympathetically sang her heart out on 'Am I Not Your Girl?' and most successfully Tom Jones was reborn again upon the release of 'Reloaded'. Equally as prevalent is the tribute album. Artists seemingly jump at the chance to put their mark on a classic, or even obscure, track from the back catalogue of anyone who is deemed worthy, anyone from The Jam, through Bowie, Cohen, Berlin (That's Irving, not the New Wave lot) to Sinatra and Simone. Less than infrequently you will see a whole album reproduced in its entirety from the original track listing. 'John Wesley Harding' by Thea Gilmore is just that.
By way of her own very special, personal tribute to Bob Dylan, and in celebration of his 70th birthday, Thea has put her own stamp on his successful 8th album, 'John Wesley Harding'. The album was, and is, itself a collection of songs themed around the life of the American outlaw John Wesley Hardin. At the time of its original release 40+ years ago, coming after Dylan's landmark double album 'Blonde On Blonde' it reached number one in the UK and number 2 in the US, an achievement unlikely to be repeated here. Quite why Thea has picked this particular album remains something of a curiosity, other than the fact that she'd already covered one of the tracks off it many moons ago as part of a Dylan tribute album.............so done one may as well do the remaining 11? She clearly loves his music, has been influenced by him, partly through her Fathers record collection, from an early age and is herself more than capable of reproducing any of his work. (Whatever die hard Dylan fans may tell you)
All twelve tracks, in their original running order, are given the Gilmore treatment. Most are reworked very well, some dare I say it are better than the originals! Thea's take on the double band name inspiring 'The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest' is a case in point. The original sounds like a its been rehashed over the score to Puff The Magic Dragon, whilst Thea's version is given more gravitas and structure. Her voice has always been very emotive and the nuances of her vocal delivery make it easy for her to make any song her own. The title track opener perfectly demonstrates just how good her interpretation is because once you've heard her sing it, that's all you want to hear. However sympathetic she has been in recreating Dylan's work she cannot help but to transform the original by performing it in her own style. 'As I went Out One Morning', 'Dear Landlord', I Pity The Poor Immigrant' and 'I Am A Lonesome Hobo' all come out with new life breathed into them. Where Thea is less successful in her reinvention is on the more well known work of 'I'll Be your Baby Tonight' and the track that has subsequently become associated with Jimi Hendrix, 'All Along The Watchtower'. The honky-tonk Country twang of the former and the loose and jazzy feel of latter don't work well here. This is why choosing an entire album, rather than a selection material, has made it difficult to maintain the consistency of quality that is usually assured in her own individual work.
Gilmore's own song writing has matured fabulously though her career. Her highly original lyrical mastery has given us many wonderful words of clever, inciteful, touching and wry observations. Her imagery is at times brilliant, as are her comparisons and similes..........."I love you like the dancing dust, I love you like the static, I love you like the tarmac loves the kiss of morning traffic, I love you like the factory smoke wraps its arms around the sky." (Who needs Bob?) She is a very credible, extremely talented artist of the highest calibre who up until now has not had a big enough audience to appreciate her impressive portfolio. I fear that her take on John Wesley Harding, although a nice self indulgence, will not change that. Her fans will no doubt buy it as part of the collection but will miss her own songwriting touches, whilst some of the more liberal Dylan fans may give it a go but ultimately remain faithful to the original.