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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
The Wayside's John Thompson spent three years of his childhood on a farm. Not the pretty farms we see in the movies, but a dust bowl type of farm where the work and life were hard...very hard. The album Farm chronicles the journey that Thompson has taken--a pilgrimage from a life plagued by a dysfunctional, mostly absentee father, to a new life with a new Father.
Lyrically, that journey begins with "See You" as the pre-adolescent Thompson is on his knees praying "Bless Momma as much as you can, keep him outta here." Like a farmer, he pours his heart and soul into sowing a life that is worth reaping. But if conditions aren't just right, there may be no harvest, and in "So Cold" he realizes that a hard life often takes its toll when he sings "I know I'm only ten, but I've lived for fifty years. You won't see me crying, you won't catch a tear." Life has a way of hardening our hearts.
But throughout, there is hope. Glimpses of the Hound of Heaven are seen chasing down the songwriter, and drawing him closer to his true Father. But no matter where we are on our pilgrimage, there comes a time when we have to make that decision. In "So Long" the singer faces this choice: "This is the moment you have sought, to try to find a future that was bought. Paid for by a phantom who's as real as the night is long. Sad is the day that you tell your own soul 'so long'" And in the end, he realizes his need for a Savior in "Echo of a Name" as he begs "Speak to me honest, speak to me plain, Deal the harsh cards, if that's the name of the game," and then calls God by a few of His many names: Jireh (provider), Rapha (healer), and Nissi (banner of victory).
Unlike much of Christian
music, there are no formulaic "Jesus Loves Me, Life is Great" sentiments
here. Thompson acknowledges that life is indeed hard, even for the
faithful. Life in Christ is no guarantee of milk and honey--at least
in this world. As John Thompson sums it up in the liner notes, "Life
is not a picnic, it's a farm. We work the ground all our days and
still we are at the mercy of God for a little rain to fall. In His
timing, the rain falls." And more so than most of us, Thompson can
truly appreciate God's
Musically, The Wayside falls into the No Depression/Alt-Country family of artists, complete with lap steel, pedal steel, mandolin, and harmonica. But this isn't the country music of Big Hats. There are a few rockers mixed in with the gentler, bluesier tunes. Former Vigilante of Love Kenny Hutson drops by to play on a few songs, as does uber-studio maven Phil Madeira. The band itself is made up of John Thompson, Michelle Thompson, drummer Chris Wicklas, and bass-player Marc Ludena. (Lead guitarist Brent King joined the group after the album was recorded). Vocally, the Thompsons are a treat to listen to: John delivering his lines in a smooth and husky voice, that goes down like a home-made birch beer, leaving you wanting for more; and Michelle, who at times is reminiscent of Emmylou Harris and some of the other great female singers of "real" country music.
Ken Mueller 9/29/2000
The Wayside is most noted for being John J. Thompson's band. Thompson is the force behind True Tunes, the former print publication and mail-order catalog, and now that other Chicago-based web site (besides the Phantom Tollbooth) where cool Christians everywhere click on over to get news and reviews on all the best in Alternative Christian Music. Having a hefty responsibility as publisher/editor of such a popular and extensive publication, it is surprising but perhaps not so extraordinary--that Thompson would also be the leader of a successful ACM band in his own right. Where does he find the time? Regardless, The Wayside is a greater Chicago area-based band deserving of more than just great local band status.
Farm is a pleasant palette of alternative folk rock frenzy, contemporary alt-country magic, and all around real down home goodness. John J. Thompson sings, as well as plays the lead, rhythm and acoustic guitars. He's also credited with most of the songwriting, when he isn't sharing that credit with his wife Michelle. She contributes the other (and better) half of the lead vocal responsibilities. Chris Wicklas plays the drums and Marc Ludena lays down the bass for a rough and tumble, yet tight rhythmic section. A number of special guests fill out the sound, including Bob Madden, Randy Kerkman, the ubiquitous Phil Madeira, and former Vigilante of Love musical prodigy Kenny Hutson. Consequently, there is a lot of rolling lap and/or pedal steel guitar bits and the occasional mandolin or mando-guitar licks.
The band's love of Alternative Christian rock and folk music in general shows through in this eclectic musical mix. The first track, an urgent prayer called "See You," is reminiscent of The Choir's "Circle Slide" with a roots-rock spin. The gutsy blues-rock of "Long Time" could almost pass for an additional track on Adam Again's Perfecta album. Other songs, such as "Echo of a Name," "From Up Here," and "Summer Song" show The Wayside's affection for Americana fare like Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, and the Vigilantes of Love. Nevertheless, The Wayside are no mere cover band ripping off sounds and styles, but incorporating them into a collage that is distinctively their own and quite measurably pleasurable.
In a whirlwind of wholesome musical inspiration, The Wayside clan have whipped together a worthy album that largely takes the listener along a difficult and emotional journey through Thompson's childhood trials. His experiences growing up on a farm with an alcoholic for a would-be father and a burdened saint for a trusted mother have provided a wealth of material for songs with deep emotional resonance and striking examples of the power of redemption. A testament to his writing background, Thompson knows how to turn a good phrase as well. The album's lyrics are not only compelling, but rich with clever metaphors and phrases. The country-ish number, "So Long," is an excellent example of The Wayside at their literate, poetic best:
to sound intrusive
you got it good and clean
the daylight comes someday
Days spent on this Farm are not always carefree, and often just plain dark, but there is enough hope and joy here to till your soul's soil. Taking repeated trips down this dusty ole memory lane is well worth going out of your way.
Steven S. Baldwin 10/4/2000