Family is a union of folk-rock royalty Richard and Linda Thompson, along with younger pretenders: sons Teddy and Jack, daughter Kami and her husband James Walbourne, and grandson Zak Hobbs. The idea and ensuing catalyst for the album came from Teddy, the project’s proficient producer. Since his parents split up when he was just six, it could be tempting to view the exercise as a form of belated group therapy — a kind of “meet the folkers.” Yet this collaborative venture does not overtly rake over old coals but is essentially a celebration of all things Thompson — the sincerity, the quirks, and not least that they all sing and play rather well.
Initially, the record was put together via a digital take on the oral tradition, with family members emailing rough cuts of their individual contributions for Teddy to tweak before calling the extended Thompson clan together to studio polish the final product. The sense of common bonds running through it is offset by an inevitable lack of cohesion; after all, these are personal songs competing to be heard, sweets in separate jars that don’t necessarily make an assortment. There is a creative disquiet about it, as much dysfunction as affection. The real bond to emerge from the process is a mutual love of making music.
The album’s 10 tracks are likely to frustrate as much as excite Thompson loyalists. Teddy Thompson strikes a gentle self-deprecating tone when introducing the family on the opening title track, placing himself between his illustrious parents: “And I am betwixt and between/ Sean Lennon, you know what I mean/ Born to the manor, never quite clamoring free.” The parallel with Lennon, a long-term buddy, is particularly apt. Yet with sentiments more sweet than bitter, the song provides a bright enough cue, even though the formulaic country-waltz tune does not quite cut it.
Richard Thompson’s first contribution, “One Life at a Time”, is an altogether more acerbic offering enlivened by Zak Hobbs’ stellar guitar work in fitting tribute to his granddad’s own fretboard mastery. By contrast, Thompson’s second offering, a non-specific political rant titled “That’s Enough”, strikes a weary mantra: “We still keep falling for the same old lies.” Meanwhile, Linda Thompson dishes out maternal advice, presumably to Teddy, on the fragile ballad “Bonny Boys” (“Don’t go with Jezebels/ They’ll lead you straight to hell”), while Kami’s deceptively light “Careful” boasts both the album’s best melody and Richard Thompson’s adroit embellishment.
Teddy ends his short, affectionate introduction to the album on the Family website with a wry smile: “We hope you love it and that you work for Pepsi as head of advertising.” Family may not heal certain emotional wounds, but cheer up: there are always merch rights to fall back on.
Essential tracks: “One Life at a Time”, “Careful”, and “Bonny Boys”