Kami Thompson – A Surprise, Or What?
That’s what musicians derisively call the sons and daughters of famous rockers. Sean Lennon, anyone? How about Brian Wilson’s obese daughter? And wasn’t there a Howlin’ Wolf Jr.? Actually, there were probably a whole bunch of Howlin’ Wolf Jr.’s, but there was a particular one who took credit for being that man.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule that the children of great musicians can’t be great musicians themselves. But those are few and far between. Probably the best example is Amy Allison (daughter of Mose). Rosanne Cash has written some great songs and is also a fine singer; Jakob Dylan had a good run back in the 90s; Zak Starkey (son of Ringo) is a sensationally good drummer, and Whitney Houston (daughter of Cissy) once had a hell of a voice, regardless of how you feel about her material or her tortuously public plunge into the abyss.
So with her debut album Love Lies, Kami Thompson has set herself up for a fate even crueller than what happened to Lana Del Rey (remember her fifteen minutes?). The daughter of Richard and Linda Thompson – whom many consider to be the greatest songwriter and the greatest singer of the past forty years – she faces being held to a standard that’s just plain unfair, that few living musicians in any style of music could hope to live up to (though the same thing happened to her artsy janglerock brother Teddy, who’s been able to carve out an audience for himself). Beyond that, it’s hardly cynical to emphasize that if she didn’t have such celebrated bloodlines, there’s no way, at her age (probably close to thirty) that she’d be signed to a major label (Warner). Yet she not only doesn’t embarrass herself: she proves to be not only a solid tunesmith, but also a fine singer. Like her mom, her voice is unadorned, pure, and at its best, genuinely haunting. The way she’ll take a little leap at the end of a phrase, insistently or indignantly, and then let the note slip away like a ghost, reminds of a very young Erica Smith: she’s that good. Her songs are catchy and anthemic, and are surprisingly eclectic (part of the credit goes to producer Brad Albetta, whose signature, soaring, melodic bass and inventive arrangements have brightened several first-class artists’ albums, most notably another Britfolk-influenced songstress, Amanda Thorpe). As a guitarist, most of the learning curve is still in front of her (she doesn’t seem to be able to play upstrokes) and though she tries, her plainspoken lyrics are on the prosaic side.
Hardcore RT fans are going to want this album for the two solos he contributes here: a characteristically dark, gorgeous one at the end of the album’s best cut, the wary, forlornly janglerocking Little Boy Blue, and a much terser but equally sharp one at the end of Stormy, a big, crescendoing electric anthem that sounds like Bauhaus playing Britfolk. And there’s another solo on the catchy, backbeat-driven folk-pop tune Gotta Hold On that’s a good approximation. The rest of the album is diverse: 4000 Miles sets minor-key Britfolk to a reggae groove, and surprisingly, it works. Never Again is a Gillian Welch/Erica Smith style Americana ballad, while Tick Tock has all kinds of clever touches: hip-hop allusions, a tongue-in-cheek, bouncy bassline and a sarcastic chorus that nicks the chords from PiL’s This Is Not a Love Song. The album ends with Want You Back (the Beatles via Elliott Smith); Blood Wedding (pensive and plaintive, “I lost my youth to a broken heart,” a thread that runs through most of these songs); and then just the Beatles themselves (Don’t Bother Me, done as a high-quality, high-spirited demo). If this is the only album Kami Thompson ever does, it’s nothing to be ashamed of; let’s hope there’s more where this came from. Ladies and gentlemen, fire up your browsers.