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The Graham Album Review #1796

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Thompson Family
by George Graham

(Okeh Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/25/2014)

Music tends to run in families. Parents can to be a strong influence in one’s interest in music in growing up. That has led to a fair number of family bands with parents and children playing together. Most cross-generational family bands are in classic styles like bluegrass and folk. But more often than not in more contemporary styles, the children tend to take different musical direction than their parents. This week, we have an interesting album that is a big family record by musicians who all have their own careers but are now making their first recording together. The CD is called, descriptively, Thompson Family.

The Thompsons in question are are the kin of influential English folk singer-songwriter Richard Thompson, and his ex-wife Linda. Both, as well as son Teddy have made names for themselves. Teddy instigated the project after a flash of inspiration. There are other musical members of their family as well, Teddy’s sister Kamila, or Kami Thompson has toured with Sean Lennon, among others, and is a member of a band called The Rails, with her husband James Walbourne, who is also part of this project, as are Teddy’s brother Jack and nephew and Richard’s grandson Zak Hobbs. Most fans will probably note that this the first time that Richard and Linda have appeared together on a record since their musical and marital breakup in the early 1980s – a separation that has apparently been the inspiration for a number of Richard’s songs. But their joint appearance is fleeting.

Having initiated the idea, Teddy Thompson assumed the job of producer and set out what was essentially an assignment, that each of the musical Thompsons would contribute two original songs. Teddy writes that his brother Jack Thompson and nephew Zak Hobbs also contributed a tune each, though Jack’s was an instrumental. So there are ten in all.

Though Teddy brought the family together on the CD, he had to do it virtually, with the members being rather far flung: Richard in California, Teddy in New York, and much of the rest in England. But their virtual collaboration works well, and there is very much a family feeling to the record. It’s also interesting to listen to how the parents have influenced the children who are now at least in their 30s, with a grandchild also being part of the record. Another of Teddy’s goals for the record was that all the instruments be played by family members, and while Richard Thompson’s guitar playing is legendary, the other members of the family are not all that well known for their instrumental prowess. But that adds to the familial charm of the record.

Thompson Family starts out with a song by Teddy called Family which is basically a statement of the premise of the record, paying tribute to his parents and family. <<>>

Following is a song by the patriarch Richard Thompson called One Life at a Time which is a kind of classic Richard Thompson-styled song with his trademark vaguely sardonic quality. <<>>

Kami Thompson’s first song is called Careful, which features both her husband James Walbourne, plus some lead electric guitar from her father Richard. <<>>

Linda Thompson does an original song in the classic English folk style called Bonny Boys. Zak Hobbs plays some nice acoustic guitar on the track which is a highlight of the album. <<>>

Thompson grandson Zak is heard on his own song called Root So Bitter, that he also does in a kind of classic English folk sound in the Nick Drake or Richard Thompson style. <<>>

A track that is the kind of odd man out on the album is At the Feet of the Emperor, an instrumental piece by Jack Thompson, who is heard on bass. His father Richard plays some layered electric and acoustic guitars. It’s a bit underwhelming, as it tends to ramble on as more of a jam than a composition. <<>>

Teddy’s other writing contribution is a fun song called Right, done as a kind honky-tonk country rocker. James Thompson does the lead guitar. <<>>

The track that has the most Thompsons on it is the other song by Richard called That’s Enough. Most of the family does backing vocals on this song that is also classic Richard Thompson, a kind of general protest song. <<>>

Thompson Family by the clan of the long-separated Richard and Linda Thompson, is an enjoyable album that is most definitely a family record, with all the songs, instruments and voices by the relatives, and produced by son Teddy Thompson. In his liner notes, Teddy makes a reference to all the material and parts he cut, saying that “there’s nothing so satisfying as erasing your parents. So to speak.” So there were apparently a lot more parts that were added in this trans- and inter-continental virtual recording. I guess one can expect that sort of thing with various members saying, “Here, let’s try this.” But Teddy pared it down to be a nicely understated musical project and kept it fairly intimate.

Our grade for sound quality is close to an A. Things are kept generally clean sonically, the multi-site recording came together well. And the sound is not compressed too badly for loudness.

Earlier this year, David Crosby made an album with his son and the results were excellent. It was the son Teddy Thompson initiating the project here, and although they are not exactly a slick band, the album has a lot of charm, and the songs are generally first-rate. It is likely that this CD will appeal mainly to fans of Richard or Linda or Teddy Thompson. But family reunion notwithstanding, it’s still a fine record that those outside kith and kin will find quite enjoyable.

(c) Copyright 2014 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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