Chris & Meredith Thompson,
Wood and Stone
(Alkali Records, 1999)

Jazz legend Dave Brubeck is a surprising influence for an acoustic act. It's not the sound of a clarinet -- no, it's the rhythms created by Chris and Meredith Thompson that prove their claim is justified. With their third album the identical twin sisters show that it is still possible to come up with some innovative ideas despite the sheer endless number of acts on the acoustic scene.

When you hear the word "flute" in connection with popular music, you probably will think of Jethro Tull. Meredith Thompson's use of the instrument tells that you can handle it differently. There's a larger purpose for it than pure showmanship. She also the one to do most of the percussion on the album while sister Chris plays the acoustic guitar on all tracks. They share the vocals and the fact that they sound very similar makes this natural blend a superb experience, radiating with warmth and energy

The album shows a constructive clash of world music inspirations, jazz rhythms, pop feelings and strong folk overtones. It may not make much sense reading this, it will make sense when you listen to their CD. Neither the music nor the lyrics belong to the Joni Mitchell school of singer/songwriters; the Thompsons follow the tradition of Crosby, Stills & Nash before they became saturated. Especially the soaring harmonies and the arrangements support this comparison. But don't think '60s, think new millenium.

Crit Harmon, who seems to be producing nothing but great albums these days, does another terrific job. He's keeping the sound energetic, pure and almost exclusively acoustic, the exception is an electric bass on three tracks. Let me just add that in case you plan to make a CD of your own in the near future, get this one as a reference for "How to make exquisite arrangements."

One of the reasons why the Thompson don't regard their music as being part of the singer/songwriter crop is that their lyrics are not of the confessional sort. They prefer to write about other people's lives. "Hathaway" tells the story of a worker who loses his job after 30 years of hard and earnest work. There's little anger, but lots of melancholy and mourning about the loss of recognition in the light of the new economy. A similar mood, but a different, also dark and saddening subject gets tackled in "Hometown," where a formerly unknown town hits the news because of a crime. It only takes a moment to commit it, but the lives of the people who are affected by it will be changed forever.

The most gripping set of lyrics can be heard on "A House Divider," in which a wife of more than 20 years comes to grips with the fact that her husband has left her for good, all her friends seem to have vanished into thin air and not even the kid respects her anymore. She's struggling hard to keep things together: "A house divided is only gonna fall / and it's hard to stand by and let it go / I give all that I have to keep this house my home / and I gotta stand for something / now that I stand alone."

It was the Thompsons' idea to balance their darker tales with some more positive ones. Those upbeat stories tend to be less powerful and are somewhat lightweight. They're far from being bad, they just pale a bit in comparison to the sisters' other efforts.

With this album the Thompsons, both in their early 20s, already have reached a first summit in their career. Even after repeated listening Wood And Stone still has new shades to offer. Many of the CD's secrets only start revealing themselves after a certain time. The magic's here and it will stick around for a long period. This mature record possesses enough of the necessary qualities to make it a keeper.

[ by Michael Gasser ]

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