With a rich, soulful voice that has drawn comparisons to compatriots Alison Moyet and Annie Lennox, English singer/songwriter Thea Gilmore makes adult-alternative pop in which the influence of childhood idols Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan shines through. After emerging with Burning Dorothy in 1998, she charted in the U.K. for the first time with her fifth studio album, Avalanche, in 2003. Gilmore found a balance between the alternately sparer and more well-polished sound of prior releases on 2010's Murphy's Heart, which also landed on the U.K. album chart. A collaboration with folk icon Sandy Denny using archival recordings, Don't Stop Singing followed in 2011, and she made her U.K. Top 40 debut with 2013's Regardless. Her 2019 album Small World Turning committed to an acoustic palette with no traditional drum kit.
Thea Gilmore was born to Irish parents in Oxford in 1979. While coming of age in North Aston, Oxfordshire, she ignored the new wave reign of the '80s, and instead sought out her parents' Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell albums. Later, she found comfort in the work of Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, and the Replacements, absorbing the intelligence behind each artist's work. Gilmore began writing poetry and short stories but eventually decided she needed something more tangible. She left home at age 16 to work in a recording studio and founded her own label, Shameless Records, releasing her debut album, Burning Dorothy, in 1998. The Lipstick Conspiracies and the EP As If followed two years later, and Gilmore began earning critical praise.
Gilmore inked a deal with Compass in the U.S. and finally graced American shores with the 2002 release of Rules for Jokers. The compilation Songs from the Gutter (2002) gathered career-spanning cuts not previously available, as well as hidden treasures from Gilmore's catalog of unreleased material. Her fifth album, 2003's Avalanche included the single "Juliet," her first Top 40 hit in the U.K. It also marked her first appearance on the album chart, spending a week at number 63. A year later, she released a collection of cover songs entitled Loft Music. A self-released effort, it featured her renditions of songs by the Buzzcocks, Paul Westerberg, Jimmy Cliff, and the Ramones. In August 2006, she issued the emotionally charged Harpo's Ghost, which reached number 69 in the U.K.
Gilmore returned in 2008 with the ultra-polished Liejacker, and also became a parent. In typical idiosyncratic fashion, she recorded a holiday collection titled Strange Communion, issuing it in 2009. That year, she also released the half-acoustic, half-electric live set Recorded Delivery. In 2010, Gilmore returned to recording with partner and co-producer Nigel Stonier and co-producer/engineer Mike Cave for Murphy's Heart, recorded both in Liverpool and in Ventura, California. The cast of 13 musicians for these sessions was her largest to date. Returning to the studio once again with Stonier, Gilmore set about recording 2011's John Wesley Harding, a complete reworking of the Bob Dylan album. She followed this up with Don't Stop Singing, a specially recorded album with the late Sandy Denny. Two years later, after giving birth to her second son, Gilmore returned with 2013's Regardless. It reached number 39 in the U.K., as did her next record, 2015's Ghosts & Graffiti. It saw her revisit six songs from her back catalog and also included four original compositions.
By 2017, she had returned with her third straight Top 40 album, The Counterweight. Described as a companion piece to Avalanche, the record featured a number of songs inspired by events in 2016, like the murder of MP Jo Cox and the British referendum on Brexit. An acoustic-minded full-length, Small World Turning, arrived in 2019 and included appearances from, among others, Cara Dillon and Seth Lakeman. ~ MacKenzie Wilson & Marcy Donelson