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Thea Gilmore - Strange Communion

Thea Gilmore, Strange Communion

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

AS CHRISTMAS albums go, Thea Gilmore’s Strange Communion is more tolerable than most – and that’s not adopting a Scrooge-like attitude!

It’s good because it’s attempting to do something different for a change, rather than trotting out the annual Christmas hits over and over again.

Rather, the Oxford-born singer-songwriter has created an album that references the poetry of TS Eliot and Louis MacNiece, and includes cover versions of obscure songs by Elvis Costello and Yoko Ono.

It’s billed as “a stirring, emotive journey, by turns joyful, celebratory and sceptical”. It delves into the heart of the festive seasons and reflects on the institutions and contradictions.

Gilmore finds lyrical inspiration in ancient folklore as much as she does in popular culture, and the album is interspersed with references to the likes of The Sound of Music in That’ll Be Christmas to poetry from MacNeice’s Autumn Journal in Book of Christmas and from TS Eliot’s iconic poem about the nativity, Journey of The Magi, in Cold Coming.

Throughout, Gilmore’s distinct, stunningly tender vocals serve as a good accompaniment… whether being employed to haunting, brooding effect on album opener Sol Invictus, more tender on Thea Gilmore’s Midwinter Toast, or altogether more joyful and celebratory on That’ll Be Christmas (the lead single).

Highlights, though, come from Cold Coming, which adopts a folk rock outlook and some stirring instrumentation that really enables Gilmore’s vocals to shine, the romantic Listen, The Snow Is Falling (delivered in virtually a whisper at times to evoke memories of white blankets of snow and visiting snowmen) and, in complete contrast, the darker, more rollicking Irish-inflicted The St Stephen’s Day Murders, that includes a duet with Mark Radcliffe.

Incidentally, those former two are the cover versions of, respectively, songs written by Yoko Ono and Elvis Costello.

Those seeking a little more revellry from their songs, or the umpteenth Slade revisitation, may find the thoughtful, slower pacing not to their liking… and you do have to like Christmas records. But if you’re looking for something different, intelligent, warming and still festive, then Strange Communion offers a nice alternative.

Download picks: Sol Invictus, Cold Coming, That’ll Be Christmas, Listen, The Snow Is Falling, The St Stephens Day Murders

Track listing:

  1. Sol Invictus
  2. Thea Gilmore’s Midwinter Toast
  3. Cold Coming
  4. That’ll Be Christmas
  5. Listen, The Snow Is Falling
  6. Drunken Angel
  7. The St Stephens Day Murders
  8. December in New York
  9. Book of Christmas
  10. Old December