The only real surprise about “Family” is that the project hasn’t happened before. Given the amount of talent in the family, gathering together the extended Thompson clan for a studio album seems like, as people like to say these days, a no-brainer. Alongside producer and project leader Teddy, “Family” features Richard, Linda, Kami and Jack Thompson, as well as Zak Hobbs, James and Rob Walbourne, Paulina Lis, Brooke Gengras and Muna Mascolo, all related to the Thompson family in one way or another. I believe that the natural reservation that anybody would have approaching this album is that even if you are a fan of Richard, Teddy or Linda you may not necessarily be a big admirer of the rest of the family’s work, so most people will be wondering how good this project is, as a whole. Personally, I love both Richard and Teddy Thompson’s music and have warmly enjoyed the times I have seen Kami and James support Richard without ever feeling any great need to purchase their albums afterwards. To describe Richard as a musical genius wouldn’t be hyperbole and his two songs here, the caustic but richly melodic “One Life At A Time” and the superb anti-establishment, anti-austerity anthem “That’s Enough” are, predictably, two of the best compositions on the album. Teddy acknowledges just what a tough act Richard is to follow on the gentle opening track, “Family”, as the self-proclaimed ‘boy with red hair and no smile’ fondly runs through a roll call, with warm words for each of his family members and some frank self-analysis for himself.
During “Family”, Teddy describes his mother as having ‘the most beautiful voice in the world’. Respectfully, I disagree, and have never particularly been an admirer of Linda’s vocals, but “Bonny Boys”, a heartfelt message to her sons and co-written by Zak, certainly shines. The sparse piano and vocals only track “Perhaps We Can Sleep”, co-written by Linda and Teddy, is also really quite lovely. The final track on “Family”, Kami and James’ “I Long For Lonely”, is also a very pretty composition, featuring some extremely nice acoustic guitar work. Unfortunately, the rest of the album suffers, not from any kind of poor quality, but from being really very ordinary. “Careful”, also by Kami and James, is a helping of a generic soft country rock which is pleasant enough, but ultimately forgettable. Zak Hobbs’ “Root So Bitter” sadly fails to get out of first gear and suffers by comparison, being on the same album as a songwriter and performer such as Richard. Jack Thompson’s instrumental “At The Feet Of The Emperor” is interesting and listenable, but feels like an interlude between the songs rather than a good composition in its own right. Teddy’s second solo composition on the album, “Right”, an up-tempo tale of heartbreak and being wronged, almost hits the mark, with James and Zak’s guitar work being a particular highlight, but, musically, it treads old ground.
All-in-all, “Family” is a very listenable piece of work, but with varying degrees of talent in the family, it stands to reason that the compositional quality throughout the album will also be varied. Without wishing in any way to be unkind to individuals in the family, it really does seem a little obvious as to which members have been gifted with the most natural musical talent. Teddy, who describes himself as “betwixt and between, Sean Lennon you know what I mean” when comparing himself to his folks does himself a particular disservice, but you can certainly understand the sentiment from someone who has Richard and Linda as parents. So, is this album worth owning? Well, those who are particular fans of Richard will probably want to buy this, with his contributions being typically excellent, and those who favour Teddy or Linda will also be rewarded by a couple of good songs and favourable vocal performances. Despite the high standard of musicianship on display here, I don’t think anybody could claim that “Family” is wholly excellent, which is a bit of a shame, but it contains just enough pleasing material to leave the overall impression of a pretty good collection of songs when you’ve finished listening to it. Personally, I’d have much preferred to have been treated to a new album by Richard or Teddy, but these songs will certainly tide me over in the meantime.
“Family” by Thompson is available now on Fantasy Records from all decent music retailers.
Andy Sweeney, 22nd November, 2014.