Reviews

Thompson FamilyThompson Family
Album: Thompson Family
Label: Fantasy
Tracks: 10
Website: http://www.thompsonfamilyalbum.com

Here's one for the hard-bitten cynic and the neighbourhood therapist to chew over, you might think - but as ever, all is not quite what it seems. The Family project - for in essence that's what it is - was for Teddy Thompson (son of Richard and Linda) the totally logical result of a totally logical thought-process, i.e. let's ask the various members of the extended-Thompson-family to each come up with a couple of songs and then organise to get them recorded, encouraging along the way and during that schedule some collaborations which might not easily have been envisaged. Most especially, of course, given the chequered history of the family and the notoriously difficult dynamic in some of its sectors, making even partial reconciliation a distant enough prospect (let alone any fuller-blown artistic collaboration). Also, however, the undisputable fact that virtually every single family member has an individual career and/or an ongoing multiplicity of musical commitments to fulfil - Richard, of course, already has his long- and fully-established solo career; Teddy is a decade into taking a similar route; his sister Kami has appeared solo and with others and currently tours with her husband James Walbourne as The Rails; Kami's son Zak (Hobbs) is already a guitarist of no mean ability; and while Linda has recovered from the loss of singing voice brought on by spasmodic dysphonia, her output is still necessarily limited due to that condition. The final Thompson involved here is bass player Jack (Richard's son from his second marriage).

The closest family-related collaboration in recent years has been Teddy's work on Linda's Won't be Long Now album, and Teddy was definitely instrumental in steering the Family project. Undoubtedly, it was also boosted by a certain amount of justifiable pride in his auspicious heritage; the album's opening track may at first perhaps come over like a stage-intro, a modest little acoustic country-waltz-tempo number that starts a trifle cheesy and leaves you wondering whether it's mildly embarrassing, wryly tongue-in-cheek or just plain affectionate. Teddy's other composition is the pithy, and admirably savage, rockabilly-roller Right, which has a classic aura and brilliant supporting ensemble and solo playing, its only fault being that it would've been even more brilliant if dad's own signature twang had been brought into the studio too!

Richard's own contributions are modestly restricted to just five of the album's ten tracks. His trademark guitars grace the disc's central track, At The Feet Of The Emperor, a wonderfully atmospheric ambient instrumental that might seem out of place but actually works in the context of an interlude. His own compositions comprise the anthemic That's Enough, a usefully forthright political commentary with a musically tough demeanour that could well've come from Bright Lights days (and a four-strong vocal chorus that even brings in Teddy's elder sister Muna), and One Life At A Time, which takes the typically-Thompson vehicle of putdown beyond the cryptic.

As evidenced even on the songs written and performance-led by his dad, Teddy must surely take credit for not allowing any single family member to dominate proceedings, not even on his/her own songs, with the overall result that the record exhibits a welcomely unassuming, almost drop-in feel, sometimes even rather understated for its material. Even so, and rightly so in my opinion, Linda's two contributions can be judged outright album standouts, and (indicatively) are the most sparsely scored and sensitively arranged: the emotionally honest, intensely regretful Perhaps We Can Sleep is jointly-penned and performed with Teddy, while the tender, haunting reflection on mortality Bonny Boys is co-written with Zak who provides the simple but effective acoustic guitar backing. Kami's two contributions are well contrasted: Careful is a sparky uptempo pop outing that benefits from a full band arrangement, strong lead and backing vocals and a superb electric solo from dad, while the closing lament-waltzer I Long For Lonely (which kinda recalls Welch & Rawlings, with overtones of Carter Family and Gram & Emmylou) takes the form of an almost unbearably beautiful close-harmonised Rails duet. Finally, there's Zak's lone composition, Root So Bitter, an intelligently expressed relationship-song with a rather Thompsonian aura (and an opening guitar motif that momentarily, deceptively, recalls 1952 Vincent!).

First play of the disc might engender a feeling of disparity of impact, due to its admittedly often piecemeal assemblage and its inevitable element of constantly changing personnel track by track, but Teddy's achievement in bringing it all together is considerable and from second playthrough on the project reveals a genuine stature and proves compelling listening thereafter.

David Kidman