Love Lies By Kami Thompson
Review by Douglas Heselgrave
This emotive and powerful debut album featuring guest performances from Richard and Teddy Thompson, Martha Wainwright and Sean Lennon is surprisingly beautiful and offers listeners far more than the sum of its parts.
If a predilection for melancholy and dour subjects is hereditary, then Kami’s DNA swirl obviously came with the darkness gene fully attached. Whatever struggles that’s caused the young British singer and songwriter to endure has translated itself into a collection of songs that form the best new record of acoustic English folk music I’ve heard in a long, long time.
In the same way that her parents’ records (together and as solo artists) will never be everyone’s cup of tea, many may find Kami Thompson’s songs something of an acquired taste. For, the music she creates is in no way escapist as ‘Love Lies’ is almost exclusively preoccupied with describing the difficulties of human relationships that everyone faces. Personal demons, regrets, carnal pain and family separation all figure prominently in Thompson’s lyrics, but unlike the work of many young songwriters who cover similar territory, Kami’s insights are raw, personal and unguarded. There is very little romance of idealization of any of the situations she describes. (It must suck to be her, I kept thinking as I listened to the album over and over again) Songs such as “Gotta Hold On” and “Want You Back” explore very similar emotional terrain as her brother, Teddy (whose b/up vocals are featured all over ‘Love Lies’) did on his CDs ‘Separate Ways’ and ‘Upfront and Down Low.’ But, his songs, as emotionally true as they are, are often mitigated or counterbalanced by lush, gorgeous arrangements and the soaring quality of his voice. Kami’s presentation is more bare and unadorned as her husky voice often suggests a much deeper sorrow and resignation than anything we’ve heard from the Thompsons since ‘Shoot out the Lights’ came out in 1982.
Still, it would be a mistake to suggest that ‘Love Lies’ is nothing but a downer. Sure, most of the songs immerse themselves to the point of drowning in the demystification of sexuality and the disappointments of early adulthood, but the music that accompanies Thompson’s lyrics is never less than catchy, and is often very beautiful, deep and resonant. Having pals like Lucy and Martha Wainwright on hand to offer their beautiful voices in support doesn’t hurt, neither does bringing on Sean Lennon to play guitar on the percussive ‘4000 Miles’ – one of ‘Love Lies’ most wrenching tracks. But, of all the guests on board, not surprisingly, it is her father, Richard who offers the most expansive, rocking and heartfelt musical accompaniment. His crunching rockabilly leads on ‘Little Boy Blue’, the opening song, demonstrate a loose and nimble joy that he rarely allows himself to express on his own records.
As great as the musical soundtrack on this record is, Kami’s voice is always the thing that grabs the listener’s attention as she sings in a voice that expresses a depth and understanding that far exceeds her years. On song after song, the deep timbres of her vocals illuminate some very battered and torn emotional situations in a way that never comes off as shallow or melodramatic. In this sense, her phrasing and tone often recall her father’s melancholy approach to singing. (whereas Teddy obviously inherited his mother’s soaring range) This is most obvious on the beautiful mandolin driven ‘Blood Wedding’ that describes a grown up daughter’s plea to her mother not to jinx her new relationship by burdening her with her sad, disillusioned perspective of men. The literary quality of this song with the ancient intergenerational dialectic it describes is the centerpiece of ‘Love Lies’ and is a song that is every bit the equal of virtually anything within the collective Thompson songbook. It is a dazzling accomplishment for so young an artist that demands to be heard over and over again.
In addition to the influence of English folk music, Kami Thompson has obviously been spending a lot of time with the Beatles as the ‘Dear Prudence’ influenced ‘Want you Back’ and the rocking cover of ‘Don’t Bother Me’ an old George Harrison penned B-Side that closes the album attests. Simple, booming and direct, it is the perfect ending to a great debut.
Listen to “Love Lies” at www.kamithompson.com
This posting also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
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