Thursday, 20 November 2014

Thompson Family album review

Bonny Without the Bonhomie

Listening again to Teddy Thompson’s confessional opener Family on the album of the same title, it is a darker affair than when I first heard it on an album stream. Referring to light over dark as a seeming choice one chases in life; the honesty of being not too secure, very unsure who to be; complimenting two pretty sisters but one candidly given the superlative in a direct comparison; a grandmother who never dealt with her pain, and I done exactly the same….trying to drown in a way, and the painful offering I’ve come very close to a family of my own: these are public statements usually preserved for the intimacy and secrecy of the psychiatrist’s couch.

It is a startling premise to the apparent purpose of the album: to unite – musically at least – the talented but disparate musical Thompson family. Former husband/wife and current father/mother Richard and Linda have already laid bare their love and then disdain for one another in a famous past musical and mutual life, so such candour from the ‘middle’ sibling is no surprise. 

As an overall listen, the album lacks some cohesion musically, but it is nonetheless engaging. It also lacks cohesion as a familial template where one might have expected a shared reflection on the meaning – light and dark – of being related by blood as well as songwriting and performance expertise. What I mean is its appeal will be to those, obviously, who have an interest in the Thompson family relationships dynamic. Like me. And for those who have a special interest in the brilliance of Teddy Thompson. Like me. And maybe most widely those who have an interest in Richard and Linda, fuelled by years of following and listening, and wondering if they would perform together on the album and articulate any measure of reconciliation and/or forgiving. Like me. And no they haven’t really. Indeed, one of Richard’s two contributed songs That’s Enough choses to expose the failings in politics rather than family.

There is also the broader interest in the wider Thompson performing family represented here, but I suspect this is the lesser interest, and I wonder how those members feel about these, to some degree, cameo roles? Perhaps it is something with which they are very experienced. I must mention how Teddy’s nephew Zak Hobbs provides a solo folk song Root So Bitter that has a pleasing echo of very early John Martyn.

The lack of a musical cohesion isn’t serious at all, and this is naturally the consequence of any compilation which in itself can be appealing to the listener. Kami’s pop-rock offering Careful is one that resides outside the ‘folk’ expectation; Jack Thompson’s fine guitar instrumental At the Feet of the Emperor is another. Closer I Long for Lonely is a sweet duet, the one we all might have unrealistically yearned for from Richard and Linda, but is instead by Kami and James Walbourne, partners in life and in their band The Rails.

As I observed in my previous posting on the album stream, Linda’s contribution Bonny Boys is the most plaintive and beautiful, offering advice on love and relationships to her son, full of tender concern, care and irony.

An excellent and detailed review by Susan Dominus on the background to this recording from The New York Times can be read here.

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