Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Kami Thompson’s “Love Lies”: Folk Music Goes Around Until It Comes Back Around

I’ve been waiting a long time for folk music to make a comeback, without really knowing exactly what that would sound like if it did indeed happen.  Certainly the protest music of an earlier era would seem a bit dated by now, and I’m not sure if the “folk rock” of Eagles ever really qualified for that sentiment or not.  The most direct path of evolution is probably through the singer-songwriter era of the early 70’s which somehow morphed into the “Americana” which has been waiting its turn patiently in line for the last couple decades.  Its time may have finally come, what with killer albums by stalwarts Wilco and Ryan Adams and the emergence of Ray Lamontaigne and others as major new talents, not to mention hiphop fatigue and some indie music that has more pretense than promise, some of it as schlocky as the Top 40 pop it’s supposed to replace.  And you can keep your “freak folk,” too.  It may be time for something with as much substance as style.

Enter Kami Thompson, daughter of Richard and Linda, brother of Teddy, and proud owner of a new album called “Love Lies.”  It rocks. And it speaks. And it cries for forgiveness.  This is the first album I’ve heard in a while in which the lyrics are truly primary and essential.  And the music’s good, too.  After some false starts and a reluctance to join the “family business,” Kami seems to have hit her stride with this album.  I’m not sure why she’s publicizing it through world music channels, but that’s an interesting approach.  Maybe she doesn’t want to follow bro Teddy’s lead.  But in general the album follows a solid mid-tempo folk-rock beat in which the lyrics predominate, usually love found and love lost. 

Thompson establishes this pattern from the get-go with “Little Boy Blue”: “Little boy blue I miss you…singing songs in my head…thinking of you, all the time thinking of you,” thus establishing a theme she’ll return to again and again throughout the album.  So it continues with “4,000 Miles:” There’s no need to say good-bye, because there’s nothing left between us…but 4000 miles.”  Then comes what’s maybe the best song on the album IMHO: “Nice Cars:” “Ladies shouldn’t drive nice cars … they’re only gonna break our hearts.”  I’m not sure exactly what Kami’s getting at in this song, and that’s just intriguing enough to make me want to know more … but that’s not why I like the song, not the only reason anyway.  I like it because I can’t get it out of my head, the “stickiness” factor, the ability to internalize a song and make it my own.  I think that’s what Kami and/or her handlers intended for the next song—if the batting-order theory of song-on-album placement holds true.  That’s “Gotta Hold On”—“I wanta get dressed up wanna get pissed up, goin out tonight…You won’t understand…Gotta hold on to what you got, even if you don’t got a lot…even if it ain’t enough.”  It’s a good song to be sure, but the refrain’s hooks seem almost too forced and cliché to be effective for me.  I stand by my earlier opinion.

From that high point the album struggles admirably to make new statements—with mixed results. “Stormy”—“There’s a dark night falling outside…there’s a strong wind rising outside… I can see you better outside, where the air meets the sea… doesn’t matter what you do…what you say”—tries for a deeper mysterious feel and “Never Again” is a welcome slow song knuckleball mix-up pitch to the predominant rock backdrop, but still thematically similar: “I swear you said ‘never again’.” “Tick Tock” is good—“Tick tock check your watch, as you strike the match to light the fire,” but “Want You Back” is better, with classic pop hooks and nice piano—“You were never nice to me, never even held my hand… I want you back…made me cry until my eyes ached and turned red…slept around, put me dowm… bit I’m still in love.”  But this is all filler compared to the little gem that comes next: “Blood Wedding,” sung in true folk style, complete with dad Richard on mandolin, and mother Linda in mind: “be careful of love, it only brings pain… mother, I have hope in my heart and a ring on my finger. It doesn’t have to be the same for me as it was for you.” What do you do to top that?  Why not close with a Beatles song, the first one by the “quiet Beatle” to appear on an album, “Don’t Bother Me.”  Nice touch.  

This album is the real deal, rock roots and pop hooks to express a true folkie’s heart, something you couldn’t pay a Tin Pan Alley or any Brill Building to accomplish.  It’s gotta’ come from the heart, or it’s just not good enough.  This album should be getting indie airplay.  I’m not sure why it’s not.  Kami’s honesty may make her life confusing, but her music’s solid … and you gotta’ love an album whose title is at least a double entendre, mybe triple.  That’s “Love Lies” by Kami Thompson.  I’d check it out if I were you.  

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