Retro-inspired homegrown release – but whom is it for?
Label: Independent (http://www.reverbnation.com/steventhompsonjr)
Time: 10 tracks / 39 Minutes
There is a bit of a pattern with some of the home-grown efforts that find their way to the Tollbooth. The writer has enough musical ability and passion about the content to record and release the songs. But these projects are often very self-contained – the artist writes, records and releases – leaving the impression that the whole thing could be so much stronger if an objective producer heard it and suggested the changes that could make such a difference.
Thompson’s work fits the pattern. The content is clearly very personal to him, as all the lyrics are written from his point of view and reflect what is happening inside him. His guitar work is often enjoyable, but the songs can be hard to empathise with.
His press release explains, “My goal is to share my music with as many people as possible, because music that is left unheard is senseless to create.” But music shared must have something that the listener can relate to and I am not sure that Thompson has put enough thought into what he wants to communicate.
These songs come squarely from a place of faith, but do not really relate that faith to the world or a very wide part of life, so those without that faith have little to empathise with. Yet some of the tone is guilt-ridden (songs like “I Waited Too Long,” the psalm-like “Help Me” and to an extent “No Apathy”) or apparently from a place of low self-esteem (“The Only Good Thing”) so it does not offer enough for Christians either.
But this is not to say that Thompson’s work is poor. His songs are tightly composed, with well-worked chord sequences and taut endings. His guitar playing, whether acoustic or electric, is his strong point. His voice is interesting, having a teenaged tone some of the time, yet a gutsier burr occasionally and a tasty Lennon-esque edge on some songs.
Each track is built on something solid, and the quality starts high, dipping down around halfway through, suggesting that this would have been a smart EP. The retro influence is undeniable, and opener “No Apathy” could have been made in the ‘70s, the perky, riffy song of regret even having a fine wah-wah solo in the middle. The follow-on track shows Thompson’s acoustic side and reflects even earlier songs from pop bands like The White Plains, a tendency amplified by “Easy Goodbyes,” whose chord sequences are distinctly psychedelic.
I wonder whether some of these songs have been hanging around since Thompson was a teenager. If so, it was wise to wait until the collection is sufficiently strong to release, but it should have been a five or six-track EP with the rest worked on to give lyrics that explore how faith is not a crutch that helps avoid the difficult times, but relates to the whole of life.