(Self-released, CD, digital download)
Alt-country crooner Lowell Thompson has taken a five-year recording hiatus since 2009's Lowell Thompson & Crown Pilot. Thankfully, he is back with a 10-track release called Stranger's Advice. This new effort is less gritty and forgoes the harder country-rock featured on his previous album. The guitars are quieter and the melodies softer, rendering Stranger's Advice a more subdued journey. Accordingly, Thompson's voice is slightly less twangy, but still tinged with the requisite weary sadness of an alt-country record.
The sparse guitar strumming in opener "Honey, It's True" puts Thompson's frank confessions front and center: "I think about you all the time / honey, it's true / when I'm ridin' on the bus / staring at my shoes / When I'm stumblin' through the dark / lookin' for a light switch /if I'm backing out the door/ dodgin' a goodnight kiss." It's a nice window into Thompson's private thoughts, like peeking at a journal page.
Every country record needs at least one brokenhearted ballad. The heartstrings-tugging third track, "Rose Petals," fits that bill. Thompson pines, "Cuz I'm all alone / at your door with these rose petals / now I'm gonna leave all but one / here for you."
"Make Your Mark" ushers in airy guitars on a song built for slowly two-stepping around the dance floor. It's the closest track to true-blue country, but is still infused with enough folk to make it Green Mountain, not Nashville, country. On this and other tracks, Thompson gets a hand from other local talents such as Ryan Power, Bill Mullins and ubiquitous local songstress Kat Wright.
"Meadow Lane," a forlorn tune about relying on the familiar, is one of the album's strongest. Thompson ticks off names of ladies who have a spare couch for him — Jamie, Heather, Jasmine — but he always comes back to the same place: "I can't keep from falling down / on my way across the state / I can't keep from falling back on Meadow Lane." It's an understated metaphor for the way we all bend to nostalgia and comfort.
Thompson closes with the quiet, deliberate "Sunday Morning," a fingerpicking number with fragile moments of slide guitar and swirling melodies. Stripped to the most basic elements, the tune showcases Thompson's warm and captivating voice.
Stranger's Advice is gentle and, at times, a bit too restrained. Sometimes this listener wanted Thompson to tap into the twang of tunes past, or to darken his melancholy moments. Yet the album's subtle instrumentation and light lyrical touch give it a redemptive quality. Winsome and unembellished, it leaves one feeling clean and healed.
Lowell Thompson's Stranger's Advice is available on CD at Pure Pop Records in Burlington and digitally at lowellthompson.com.