One of the endlessly fascinating things about music is how several artists may have the same influences – sometimes even identical influences – yet when they produce their own music it not only doesn’t resemble their contemporaries’ but is distinctively their own.
Newcastle singer-songwriter James Thomson has Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie and Townes van Zandt amongst his influences, as do many other artists, even Australian artists. Yet what Thomson mainly seems to have taken from these three is the fact that they were individuals: they had their own voices, they had stories they wanted to tell, and they did it regardless of whatever the fashion might have been at the time. Such is the case with Thomson, too.
Thomson’s style tends towards the blues end of country, but by ‘blues’ I mean that the ghost of Robert Johnson is loitering on Thomson’s verandah, waiting for a singalong. There is a crack and ache in Thomson’s voice that belies his years, yet there’s also the odd note that recalls Jackson Browne. And if all this sounds like it’s adding to up a whole lot of derivative, that is not the case any more than it is for any musical artist – by which I mean all of them – as every artist is a product of their influences. At any rate, I prefer to think of such things as a lineage rather than an influence. Thomson’s lineage is clear, and he’s also an individual: the way he works with that lineage is his alone, especially if it’s considered within the context of Australian country music.
The songs on Cold Moon are mostly laidback numbers which nevertheless were obviously not put together in a laidback way. There’s smart songwriting and performance here. There’s also a voice worth paying attention to, intimate enough to call you close but just guarded enough to not reveal all its secrets. Such voices always leave you wanting more, as is the case with this album. Thomson is a sophisticated singer and songwriter who not only respects his lineage but respects his songs. He lets them do what they need to do and he doesn’t get in their way. Again, the mark of a true artist. Cold Moon is a piece of art.
Cold Moon is out now through Laughing Outlaw Records.