Fans of Richard and Linda Thompson have been waiting for them to record together again since they broke up more than 30 years ago. I suppose a reunion of sorts became inevitable when two of their offspring, Teddy and Kami, became professional musicians in their own right. If you believe the publicity, Teddy was the instigator of this get-together, dreaming it up as a quick side project at which he could further hone his already formidable production skills. The result is this little album called Family by the three-generation group that calls itself simply Thompson.
It’s a fairly low-key affair. These are Brits, after all. The concept was for each of the principles – Richard, Linda, Teddy and Kami – to contribute two songs to which the others could add their own contributions in the studio. That gives us eight tracks; rounding out the 10 are an instrumental attributed to Jack Thompson, RT’s son by his second marriage, and a sturdy folk song from Zak Hobbs, Richard and Linda’s grandson by their eldest daughter Muna. Also playing guitar and drums and singing is Muna’s husband and musical partner in The Rails, James Walbourne.
Low-key – but not sleepy at all. Teddy opens the album with the title track, an explication of his family roots and his own interpretation of his place on the family tree. It’s a country-folk waltz with minimal accompaniment, just his acoustic guitar and some subtle embellishments from a second one, and Kami on backing vocals. I like this song “Family” more all the time. Teddy Thompson’s voice is such a delightful thing, combining some of his mother’s sweetness and his father’s rich darkness, and he has learned how to make it his very own, contrary to what he sings in this song:
My elder sister is prettier than you’d believe / My younger sister is prettier still and can sing / And I am the middle child, the boy with red hair and no smile / Not too secure, very unsure who to be.
Teddy’s second song is the chugging country rocker “Right,” on which he displays a couple of his other inheritances, the family’s sardonic wit and a love of classic country tropes, as demonstrated in the George Jones-worthy chorus: “I know how much you just love being right / you’re about to be right outta my life.” Some great honky-tonk guitar work on this one, possibly from RT or possibly from Zak, who has clearly studied Grandpa’s style.
Kami’s first song is the upbeat jangly pop “Careful,” to which Richard contributes some of his signature licks. Her second, and an early favorite of mine, is the closer “I Long For Lonely,” a mid-tempo minor-key country waltz sung as a duet with … Walbourne maybe. It could be a lost Everlys song, two guitars and two voices telling the tale of a young mother who feels hemmed in by her life: “The husband the baby the dog and the cat are all closing in on this miniature flat, and I long for lonely.” Somebody plays a swell acoustic guitar solo in the bridge.
Richard’s two contributions are of a piece with the work he’s been producing for the past couple of decades. By that I mean sturdy folk-rock songs that sound deceptively simple, except in this case they are somewhat simpler in structure than his usual. As he explains in the film clip below, he wanted songs that others could easily contribute to in the studio. His “One Life At A Time,” is an easy-going, loping folk-rock song, although on repeated listens it becomes apparent that it’s full of RT’s signature dark wit. The sunny-sounding chorus starts out with sentiments about brotherhood and helping hands, and ends with the confession that “I’m not thrilled about you.”
His second song “That’s Enough” is a good-auld sing-along left-wing folk anthem that the whole family joins in on, with verses like “They’re still throwing fairy dust into our eyes” and “We still keep falling for the same old lies” and a chorus of “Times are tough, times are tough, that’s enough.” Takes you right back to “The New St. George,” it does.
Linda’s songs are also of a piece with the lovely and solemn folk music, in her now slightly ragged-but-right voice, that she’s made on her three solo albums since the turn of the millennium. “Bonny Boys” is a bit of deathbed advice to a younger generation from one who’s learned the hard way. It has some flat-out gorgeous guitar playing, and a powerful bridge sung with Teddy: “Sing boys sing, be a tinker or a king / bow to no one, fear nothing, let love in.” And the final line is staggering in its beauty and sadness: “When the curlew’s flying low, please think on me.”
Her second offering maybe even ups the ante; “Perhaps We Can Sleep” is as beautiful and devastating as anything she’s ever sung. It’s a bit of a riff on Hamlet, a longing for peace in the midst of life’s ravages.
Family is not another Shoot Out The Lights. It’s almost a Thompson-family version of the Nashville guitar pull, as they pass around the microphone and say, “OK, your turn, let’s see what you can do.” And they all join in on the chorus, and pretty soon, so do we.
You might enjoy this “extended trailer” for Family, as shared by Teddy on his Facebook page:
The CD comes either alone or in a “deluxe” package with a “making-of” DVD.