The most bothersome fact about Harpo’s Ghost is that it’s an album whose success is dependent solely on marketing. Should Thea Gilmore’s publicists ride the wave of KT Tunstall in Adult AC, the 27-year-old singer’s seventh full-length album would gain just as much acclaim from the exact same audience. If not, though, an almost identical album from someone just as talented will completely be ignored. Perhaps that’s the nagging issue with Harpo’s Ghost: There’s definite talent within, but the release doesn’t establish Gilmore as anything particularly essential to the current music scene, leaving her very squarely in her own niche market. Though the female singer-songwriter motif is in something of a downswing this year, put anything on Harpo’s Ghost alongside the work of Tunstall, Anna Nalick, and the like, and you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart. An up-and-down album, Harpo’s Ghost simply misses too much on those down tracks to be considered solid as a whole. Gilmore flaunts a voice comparable to that of Aimee Mann; though she’s billed as a songwriter, it’s her tone and control of the tempo of her rock stylings that give her music excitement, and she uses her voice to carry a swagger that makes even the stripped-down “We Built A Monster” danceable. The structure of opener “The Gambler” (thankfully, not a Kenny Rogers cover) isn’t revolutionary, but Gilmore’s command of everything in the production is impressive. Not only is she goading the titular bettor with, “Come on, spin that wheel,” but she’s also encouraging the band behind her to pick up, slowly yet surely. “Cheap Tricks” is Gilmore’s best chance to show off her guitar skills, which are hard to find on the album but pleasurable when they appear. Her songwriting is solid, and her real talent is making those lyrics that pack a message flow and ebb gorgeously, even if some individual lines make no sense (“Every Ghandi needs his own Napoleon”). Still, the album’s highs are balanced against lows found in tracks that showcase Gilmore’s writing ability but literally nothing else.
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