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Thompson Brothers offer disc of a different beast

By Brian Wahlert, January 1998

First, the Thompson Brothers put out their debut EP, "Cows on Main Street."

And in late January, "Blame It On the Dog" becomes the trio's first full-length CD.

Why the fascination with animals, demonstrated by the two album titles?

³People are reading into it too much and thinking that we have a little bit too much fondness for farm animals,² lead singer Andy Thompson says with a laugh, ³but I donıt think thatıs right."

"We named the first one 'Cows on Main Streetı because weıre from Massachusetts, and everyone thinks weıre from a big city. There were actually cows on Main Street where we grew up, and they used to get out of the fence and block traffic and stuff and make you late for school. Just about the only thing you would get in the police report every Sunday, besides maybe a kitten caught in a tree, was cows on Main Street. It was just a big joke, you know.

³And we named the other one 'Blame It on the Dogı because, first of all, Nipper, being the RCA dog, has a lot to do with it. And we had dogs in the studio the whole recording process. You can actually hear them barking on the last song."

Since ³Cows on Main Street,²came out in 1996, the wait has been on for the bandıs full-length debut.

After a change in producers and delays due to the bandıs hectic touring schedule, the album is out Jan. 27.

A great mix of country lyrics, beautiful harmonies and energetic, jangly country-rock, itıs exactly the kind of fresh, different record fans love and radio hates. An hour before the band was to go onstage at a Florida club, Thompson talks about the new album, The Beatles and Switzerland.

The band was especially excited to have some of their musical heroes work on the new album. ³We got Bill Lloyd (of Foster & Lloyd) to produce the record...And we had Rusty Young from Poco play a little steel on a couple of the songs and...had Steve Earle sing a verse on one of the songs with us, so it was cool.²

The EP was produced by Steve Fishell, who used to play with Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band. Fishell ended up taking a job at Rising Tide, an MCA company.

"Itıs a conflict of interests," Thompson says, adding, "So, we had to go searching for a new producer...We didnıt want to do what was happening at the time for country. We wanted to go and try to do something different. So, we just took a long time trying to come up with some people that would be interested, but that could bring something a little different to the picture. Somebody that we respected musically.²

The natural choice, then, was Lloyd, who even gave the band co-producer credit.

³We do sound a lot different from whatıs out there on country anyway,² Thompson says.

³I think we have a little bit of a unique sound, and we wrote most of the songs on the record that it was cool with them to say, 'You can blame it on these guys, whatever comes outı,² Thompson says with a laugh.

The Earle duet was an especially big thrill. ³We did a Willie Nelson tune called 'Pick Up the Tempoı and had Steve sing with us. I mean, we just had such a fun day recording that day ­ every time we hear it, we think of that.²

And how does the band hope to top the guest list on this album? ³I think any of the remaining Beatles would be the thrill of a lifetime,² Thompson says, sounding at least half-serious. ³Iıd love to see if we could get Paul McCartney. I know thatıs dreaming big, but I just grew up listening to The Beatles so much.²

As Thompson recites the bandıs other musical influences ­ Earle, The Beatles, Waylon & Willie, Duane Eddy, Foster & Lloyd, Buddy Holly ­ itıs easy to imagine the band playing rock music today, rather than country.

Thompson addresses this issue by recalling commercial radio in the mid-Eighties, around the time Andy and Matt Thompson moved to Norwell, Mass., and bass player Mike Whitty joined the band for its first gig, a junior-high talent show.

There was ³a little teeny radio station that we could barely pick up. It was a country station and we just one day had it on, and they played Dwight Yoakam, Foster & Lloyd, Steve Earle, and Emmylou Harris right in a row. And we said, 'Man, that stuff is cool. We gotta get some of this stuff.ıŠ At the time, I think Poison was out on rock, and Iım trying to think ­ Motley Crue was pretty big. It just kind of wasnıt really our bag at the time.²

Thompson sounds excited when he talks about country radio of 10 years ago, but the joy fades when he discusses country radio of today.

³Itıs not the same thing. It got so popular and commercialized that I just kind of hope we can hang on there because weıre not really at all like whatıs going on right now.²

Musically, the band seems to fall into the gap between the Americana and New Country radio formats. Theyıre a little too alternative for New Country, but a little more commercial and polished than most Americana music.

And in terms of promotion, ³weıre doing both right now. Weıre giving a shot at the country radio...Our first single (³Drive Me Crazy²) just came out, and we hit, I think, 46 with that, so we charted. It was tough...The EP...actually got to, I think, 14 on the Americana chart.²

Like many of todayıs less mainstream country artists, the Thompson Brothers found a more open-minded audience in Europe when they traveled to Switzerland for the Swiss Alps Country Music Festival two summers ago.

³They seem to be into a much broader kind of music. I think Emmylou Harris is god over there. They love the Desert Rose Band, and Foster & Lloyd actually played that festival this year as the headliner. So, I think theyıre not so into whatıs hot and happening right now. They just find the best stuff and just always listen to it. I guess the good stuff just never dies over there. And Steve Earle ­ he does some great European tours, I hear. And I guess they love Trisha Yearwood and Lee Roy Parnell and people like that, too. It seems like a lot of different stuff goes over really well over there.²

So whatıs on tap for the future of the Thompson Brothers?

For starters, another album. RCA head Joe Galante is ³into kind of working on peopleıs careers a little bit instead of just going for the big cheesy single,² so the band has a two-album record deal.

Aside from that, itıs gigs, gigs and more gigs. ³No oneıs ever sure what to do with us, but weıve got a lot of clubs on the books. We also have a few big dates with Alabama, which weıre really looking forward to.²

The Thompson Brothers are a rarity in country music today: a talented young band on a major label with a different sound. If radio gives their new single, ³Back on the Farm,² a chance, then they could be the band opening the door for other less mainstream country bands.

Then, maybe country radio would return to the way it was in the mid-Eighties when the Thompson Brothers fell in love with country music in the first place.