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Thea Gilmore – John Wesley Harding

Thea Gilmore, John Wesley Harding

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

IN CELEBRATION of Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday, Thea Gilmore has re-recorded the artist’s seminal John Wesley Harding LP.

The first thing to ask about it is ‘why bother?’ If movie remakes seldom work, why should album remakes… especially when the original still stands as such a classic. It’s a question that Gilmore asks herself before answering emphatically with her vocals and backing instrumentals.

Dylan purists may lament the decision but this reinterpretation, while sonically faithful to the spirit of the original, is marked out by Gilmore’s amazing vocal prowess. Long one of Britain’s best kept secrets, she makes the Dylan tracks her own.

The result is an album that, while never bettering the original, certainly doesn’t exist in its shadow either. It’s fascinating to hear tracks like All Along The Watchtower delivered in female vocals, while there’s an arguably more satisfying female presence surrounding I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.

What’s more, she’s also employed her accompanying musicians well. Robbie McIntosh (of Pretenders, Paul McCartney fame) is on guitar, Paul Beavis supplies drums and Nigel Stonier is on bass. The trademark harmonica sound of Dylan’s is also intact, while Tracy Browne provides backing vocals.

The result, recorded in The Chapel in Lincolnshire, is a hugely satisfying listen that yields many highlights.

Gilmore’s serene, slightly husky vocal delivery provides a great focal point for I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine, while she brings a sense of brooding to All Along The Watchtower, which is perfectly accompanied by the acoustic guitars and subtle percussion. There is a rousing solo from McIntosh towards the end… although anyone expecting something to rival the Hendrix interpretation had best think again. This is more sombre and more deliberate.

McIntosh gets to showcase his guitar playing prowess on the rocking Drifter’s Escape, another highlight, while Gilmore brings heartfelt desperation to I Am A Lonesome Hobo, complete with finger plucked, stripped back guitar backing.

She also provides a mesmerising, even haunted presence on I Pity The Poor Immigrant and throws off the shackles for the rousing The Wicked Messenger, thereby underlining the versatility of her delivery in two successive moments. The harmonica on this track also helps to set the song ablaze.

Hence, when Gilmore says of Dylan’s original recording that she finds it to be his most ‘sustained, satisfying record’, which runs ‘beautifully from start to finish’, you can’t help but feel that she’s managed to pull off the same achievement.

It is a really good album, so don’t let any initial scepticism dissuade you from savouring it.

Download picks: I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine, All Along The Watchtower, Drifter’s Escape, I Am A Lonesome Hobo, The Wicked Messenger, I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight

Track listing:

  1. John Wesley Harding
  2. As I Went Out One Morning
  3. I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine
  4. All Along The Watchtower
  5. The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
  6. Drifter’s Escape
  7. Dear Landlord
  8. I Am A Lonesome Hobo
  9. I Pity The Poor Immigrant
  10. The Wicked Messenger
  11. Down Along The Cove
  12. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight