Audio Mixer: Jeff Hill .
Liner Note Author: Teddy Thompson .
Recording information: Chez Cellum; Famous Times Recording; Grand Street Recording; The Stable; The Velveteen Laboratory; Trellis Sound; Wombat Recording Company.
Having a celebrated family can be a blessing or a curse, which is something Teddy Thompson knows from experience. Teddy's father is the peerless guitarist and songwriter Richard Thompson, his mother Linda Thompson is one of the best respected singers in British folk-rock, and together they cut a handful of acclaimed albums that rank with the best singer/songwriter material of the '70s and early '80s. While Teddy has established himself as an impressive talent in his own right, it's hard to escape the long shadow of his parents' legacy, and rather than avoid it, he's embraced it by producing an album in which he collaborates with Richard, Linda, his sister Kami Thompson (a member of the Rails as well as a solo artist), his half-brother Jack Thompson, and nephew Zak Hobbs. Credited to the collective name Thompson and simply titled Family, the album opens with a song from Teddy in which he celebrates the accomplishments of his relations, and puzzles over where he fits into the picture: "Born to the manor, and never quite clamoring free." It's the one song on Family that most directly addresses the sometimes difficult bonds of family (especially sticky when your parents had a famously contentious divorce), something that otherwise only really pops up on Linda's song for her children, "Bonny Boys." On Family, Richard, Linda, Teddy, and Kami each contribute two original songs, and Jack and Zak each deliver one. While members of the extended family accompany one another (Kami's husband and Rails bandmate James Walbourne contributes guitar work), what's most fascinating about Family is the way the individual voices of these musicians complement one another, as Richard's dour but expressive "One Life at a Time" and "That's Enough" face off against the spare, bittersweet traditionalism of Linda's "Bonny Boys" and "Perhaps We Can Sleep," and the sharp, wordy wit of Teddy's "Right" and "Family" provide the yin to Kami's soulful yang on "Careful" and "I Long for Lonely." (Zak's "Root So Bitter" is a strong bit of upbeat acoustic folk, and Jack's "At the Feet of the Emperor" is a well-crafted but relatively disposable instrumental focusing on his bass work.) Under typical circumstances, a handful of songwriters asked to contribute to a collective project might not deliver their A-list material, but thankfully no one was willing to let the family down, and if this set of songs doesn't always boast thematic unity, Family holds together as these artists revel in the fierce emotional pull of their music, a bond that feels as strong as blood. If it doesn't always feel like the dream collaboration between these gifted relations, Family clearly demonstrates what makes them special, individually and collectively. ~ Mark Deming