Thea Gilmore - Strange Communion - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Thea Gilmore - Strange Communion

by Rich Morris Rating:7 Release Date:2009-12-14

While everyone (Soundblab included) is getting in a flap about the possibility of a 17-year-old record bagging the Xmas number one, it's a safe bet few will notice something which amounts to no less than a small miracle: someone has managed to produce a decent Christmas album.

Oxford folkie Thea Gilmore's Christmas albums is neither sickly nor mawkish and never once descends into kitsch forced jollity. It's also nicely non-denominational, opening with a spine-tingling rendition of 'Sol Iviticus', a pagan to winter solstice, performed a cappella by Gilmore and the Sense and Sound Choir. On 'Thea Gilmore's Midwinter Toast' (which, oddly, resembles Elton John's Lion King theme 'The Circle of Life'), she sings "I don't believe in many things/ but here's my hymn to you all", while on last track 'Old December', with lyrics courtesy of Irish poet Louis MacNeice's Autumn Journal, she implores "whoever you praise/ raise a glass to these days."

Musically and lyrically, Christmas for Gilmore is a frosty time. The songs here are often arranged in stark, under-lit ways, and mentions of darkness and cold abound. But there's also joy, as in the album's highlight, her cover of Yoko Ono's 'Listen the Snow is Falling'. Performed as a hushed lullaby underpinned by shimmering synths and church bells, it communicates a genuine sense of wonder. It's preceded by 'That'll be Christmas', the album's most uncomplicatedly upbeat song, which revolves around a list of good-natured gripes. It sounds as if it's tailor-made to be the album's big single, and if the intention is to set Radio 2 alight, then this should do the job nicely. Talking of Radio 2, more interesting is her reading of 'St Steven's Day Murders', an obscure Elvis Costello song, which features a rambunctious vocal from DJ Mark Radcliffe.

Such variety, from aching melancholy to ruddy-cheeked cheer, all of it pulled off with consummate skill and taste, means this album should reward frequent plays long after 2009's yuletide has ho ho-ed its last.

Richard Morris

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