No doubt it’s an accident of fate that some of the music released this month can slot into the ‘self-care’ category but let’s just be thankful that the planets have lined up that way, and add the new album by singer-songwriter James Thomson to the list. Golden Exile is the third album from the Newcastle (NSW) musician and it could have been designed to make you feel more content with staying home and letting it musically rock you in its arms, not because it will put you to sleep but because it will give you that feeling, for a little while, that everything is just fine.
Thomson has influences from American folk, rock and country, including Bob Dylan and Neil Young, and they’re evident in the laidback, spaced-out structure of the songs. Thomson doesn’t rush his listener into understanding his meaning, or picking up the story – each song is given time. Yet repeated listening makes it clear that Thomson is actually a really tight songwriter and performer. For all the feeling of space and time, on closer listening these songs are precisely written and Thomson hits his mark each time. The performance side of this was no doubt aided by producer Roger Bergodaz and the musicians who performed live on the album with Thomson, including the stellar Tracy McNeil, Sean McMahon, Steve Hadley, Shane Riley and Ezra Lee. On the writing side it means that the songs were ready – not overworked or undercooked – so that the album could be recorded in six days and still offer that sense of unhurried openness.
The album feels like an invitation to the listener to step inside Thomson’s world and just be – and this is part of what makes it excellent for the aforementioned self-care. An artist who has done the hard work for us also tends not to ask too much of us, in the nicest possible way. He’s taking care of us and all he wants us to do is listen. There can be few things more luxurious, and freeing, than to be offered that experience at a time when our brains are crowded and emotions singed. So one of the best things you can do for yourself right now is put on this album, lie down, imagine yourself in a convertible on a wide open road, feel the wind in your hair and the sense of promise that the road ahead hints at – because this album sounds like it was made for just that experience – then be grateful for the experience and try to repeat it as often as possible.
Golden Exile is out now.
Listen on/buy from:
Apple Music | iTunes
Singer-songwriter James Thomson has two acclaimed albums behind him – and a third, Golden Exile, in his future. It isn’t a stretch to say that the third will be acclaimed, if the first single, ‘Desire’, is an indication of what’s to come.
Thomson’s sound has elements of laidback California country rock, and he has a crooner’s inclination in the way that Gram Parsons did. This languid, atmospheric track is an ode to new love and while desire is often associated with haste, the structure of this song suggests that it’s a slow-burning – and lasting – thing, as it adds layers and builds towards the end. The unhurried nature of this song suggests an artist who doesn’t want his audience to feel that they have to rush anything either. Indeed, listening to the song on repeat enhances the experience of it and thereby rewards the listener who is prepared to pay attention.
Listen to ‘Desire’ on:
Apple Music | Bandcamp | Soundcloud | Spotify
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.
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.