James Thomson’s eponymous debut album is the right amount of country, folk and blues, and could probably be categorised as ‘Americana’ if one were forced to pick. This doesn’t mean that it’s hard to identify what’s going on – just that Thomson seems to have a few influences and he isn’t reticent to combine them, depending on what the song needs. There’s a bit of Townes van Zandt and a bit of Ryan Adams, and a bit of honky tonk, and they’re all welcome on this record that makes you want to do nothing so much as curl up and listen to it.
Thomson has a great voice – warm and smooth with a slight edge. It’s an ‘old’ voice, in that it sounds like its owner has seen a lot of life and is bringing that to bear in the stories that he’s singing. So it’s hard to believe that Thomson is in his early twenties, because it doesn’t sound like he’s borrowing these stories – he sings them like they mean something to him, that they are his.
The album starts out with a wayward harmonica that leads us into a series of tracks that go up, and then down, in key. By the third track, ‘Not for You (Odds & Ends)’, we are in Thomson’s quiet heart, and that is largely where we stay. This is not a raucous record – it is often gentle, and slightly melancholic. Some of the songs have a reassuring swing that never turns into a swagger. It’s not hard to imagine Thomson sitting on a stool in the corner of a bar, simultaneously entertaining and observing the patrons.
This is country music in a largely urban setting, and given that there’s a large city audience for country music, that is not at all a problem. Indeed, it demonstrates how the genre can adapt to all kinds of material – it does not require open plains and endless sky (although they’re nice to have) – and perhaps even how it allows all sorts of stories to be told in a way they couldn’t within other genres.
This album is a very strong start for a young artist – one can only hope he continues to write and play for many years to come, and that there will soon be another album of this calibre.
James Thomson by James Thomson is out now from Laughing Outlaw Records.