Take a look at Allen Thompson’s record collection, and you’ll see names like the Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, the Black Crowes, and the Band -- groups that feel more like musical communities than straightforward rock bands.
The same sense of community anchors the Allen Thompson Band, a rootsy outfit from Nashville, TN. Thompson’s country-soul vocals and earthy, literate songwriting may anchor the group’s latest album, “Salvation in the Ground,” but this isn’t a solo project. It’s collaboration between all six members.
“Ever since I began building a band,” Thompson explains, “I’ve always wanted a communal situation in which everyone gets an equal say and no one’s input is more important than anyone else’s. I kept myself from doing that for a long time, because everyone says you’re not supposed to do that... but it became increasingly evident that the harder I tried to be a solo artist, the harder it was to do the songs justice. I wasn’t standing out. I wasn’t really standing at all.”
Thompson got a leg up by adding a strong rhythm section and a 4th harmony vocalist to the 3-piece string band he’d been touring with since 2009, eventually rounding out an electric six-piece lineup in early 2011. The group set up shop in East Nashville, a blue-collar neighborhood east of the Cumberland River, and began fleshing out Thompson’s songs, which sampled equally from country, roots-rock, southern soul, and Appalachian folk music. Lower Broadway, with its neon lights and crowded honky-tonks, was just a 10-minute drive from the band’s practice space, and Music Row -- ground zero for Nashville’s conservative-minded music industry -- was almost as close. Still, as far as Thompson was concerned, those areas might as well have been in another country.
“After a few false starts in the business, I’ve finally learned to stop writing for an imagined audience and start writing for myself. If you get caught up in making things sound a certain way -- if you try to force your music to sound like someone else’s definition of a musical genre -- then you’re setting yourself up for failure. You should follow the muse, not force it to follow you.”
Thompson began writing music as a teenager in Roanoke, Virginia. His parents split up when he was very young, and Thompson spent most of his childhood bouncing between different homes, staying with a combination of relatives and school friends. Music was a source of stability, a way to connect with each home he visited. “If I was staying with my grandparents,” he remembers, “we’d listen to country music, old folk tunes, and World War I songs. We’d watch “Hee Haw” every Saturday. With my mom, I’d listen to a lot of soul music. With my dad, it was southern rock and ‘80s country. And then my friends’ families showed me all the tunes they were into. It was fascinating to learn how different types of popular music touched different types of people.”
Years later, music is still the glue that bonds Thompson to the people he loves. It’s the brickwork for his own community, with “Salvation in the Ground” -- the Allen Thompson Band’s best song cycle to date -- acting as the cornerstone.
“I don’t have a single relationship in my life that doesn’t have its own special soundtrack. That’s my goal with the Allen Thompson Band: to write our soundtrack. This music is family music. There are husbands and wives in the band, and we’re part of a larger community of husband-and-wife bands. We’re creating our soundtrack together. I spent a lot of time not trying to do that -- trying to be a certain type of artist instead -- and the music didn’t sound as good as it should have. Since I’ve started creating music in this family environment, the response has changed. And the songs are better.”
Maybe salvation’s in the people, too.
To learn more, view upcoming tour dates, and hear new music, please visit www.allenthompsonmusic.com.
Joe Andrews - Banjo, Vocals, Guitar, mandolin
Grayson Downs - Vocals, Bass
Clint Maine - Banjo, Vocals, Guitar
Laura Maine - background vocals
Ray Dunham - Vocals, Drums
Allen Thompson - Vocals, guitars
Salvation In The Ground (Sept 2012)
26 Years (August 2009)
Sick of Me (Single) (2009)
Songs from these releases are played on the following radio stations:
WNRN Charlottesville, VA
WRRW Virginia Beach, VA
WSYC Shippensburg, PA
WVTF Roanoke, VA
WHAY Whitley City, KY
WIKX Port Charlotte, FL
WJMQ Shawano, WI
WMKY Morehead, KY
WMLB Atlanta, GA
WMSR Auburn, AL
WFDU Teaneck, NJ
WETS Johnson City, TN
WDBM East Lansing, MI
KZSU Stanford, CA
KRSH Santa Rosa, CA
KRFC Fort Collins, CO
KRCB Rohnert Park, CA
KFAN Fredricksburg, TX
KDNK Carbondale, CO
KCUB Stephenville, TX
KBCS Bellevue, WA
KVMR Sacramento, CA
WMUD Bridgeport, VT
WKPS State College, PA
WSDT Woodstock, NY
KDHX St. Louis, MO
WVOF Fairfield, CT
WCEB Columbus, OH
WRIR 97.3 Richmond, VA
WQFS Greensboro, NC
WECS New London, CT
WNRS Lynchburg, VA
WSDT Woodstock, NY
WOAS Ontonagon, MI
WNTI Morristown, NJ
And many others across the nation...
26 Years has been in the top 40 on the Roots Music Report Roots Rock Chart since Sept. 2009.
26 Years was number 14 on jambands.com's radio chart for January 2010.
Allen Thompson's "Forgive Me"
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In my search for artists to write about for Free Music Friday sometimes I come across an artist that...In my search for artists to write about for Free Music Friday sometimes I come across an artist that catches me off guard & makes me wonder why in the world I haven’t heard of their music earlier. Allen Thompson is someone whose name I’ve heard several times but until now I haven’t heard his music. I’m glad I finally have because Allen makes music that is the very heart of Country & Americana music. The kind of song that’s honest, not sugar coated, & has the ability to stand the test of time.
Allen Thompson comes to Nashville via Virginia. Some of Allen’s most beautiful songs are on his most recent album “26 Years”. Songs like “Virginia”, “Shenandoah Seraph”, & “Handmade Highwire”, with their bluegrass tinged sound, makes one think of the Blue Ridge Mountains with their beauty & hardships of generations gone by. These songs capture the hardships & beauty of growing up as well. All these songs are windows into Allen’s heart, written during a moment where he realized his childhood was gone & adulthood has begun. “Forgive Me”, our free track this week, captures this moment of realization very well. Its upbeat bluegrass, raucous country feel, compliment the lyrics perfectly which speak of that moment of needing forgiveness for your wild, crazy & childish ways.
For more of Allen’s music visit AllenThompsonmusic.com. There you will find full length tracks from “26 Years” & his most recent tour dates. You can also find details on how to receive a 6 song sampler disc directly from Allen himself, for free!
American Songwriter's Songwriter of the Week
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Earlier this month, Virginia native Allen Thompson released his album 26 Years, an acoustic record t...Earlier this month, Virginia native Allen Thompson released his album 26 Years, an acoustic record that follows in the tradition of his musical heroes. American Songwriter chatted with Thompson about his experiences as a songwriter and the new disc.
When did you start writing songs?
I started writing songs when I was about 13. It took me about five years before I wrote anything I was willing to play for others.
Who are your primary influences, from a songwriting standpoint?
Robert Hunter, Townes Van Zandt, Tennessee Williams, Steve Earle…These are the primary writers I steal from.
You’ve said that you’re drawn to acoustic music with a rock and roll edge. Who was the first artist you heard that had that sound?
The first record I heard with that sound was probably Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger. That album, along with Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, John Hartford’s Aeroplane, and American Beauty by The Grateful Dead were the records I had in mind when making 26 Years.
When were the songs on 26 Years written?
The songs were written during 2007 as I was adjusting to a new life in Nashville.
How have you liked living in Nashville?
Nashville is great. It took a little while for me to get comfortable with it, but now we get along just fine.
You grew up in Virginia, a state with a rich and varied musical heritage. Which parts of Virginia did you live in, and were you influenced by the local music scene?
I was born in Roanoke, Virginia, and moved to Richmond after graduating from college. I was definitely influenced by all of the people I was lucky enough to know there. Virginia is full of amazing talents.
Will you be touring with a band in support of the new album, or playing solo?
I just finished a short run of shows featuring myself and Joe Andrews on guitars and vocals. We were supplemented by various friends in various cities.
Where do you see your career five years down the road?
I just want to write and perform as often as possible for as long as possible.
Any advice for aspiring songwriters?
Be a good listener. Listen to as many different kinds of music as you can. There’s so much out there that can be incorporated into your own writing. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t explore it.
Alternate Root Magazine's Artists of the Week
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Allen Thompson begins his third album, ’26 Years’, with an apology. “Forgive Me” starts its litany o...Allen Thompson begins his third album, ’26 Years’, with an apology. “Forgive Me” starts its litany of what went wrong with “Forgive me mother for what I’ve done, over and over and over again”. Though his confession seems worthy, you get the impression that he is not truly sorry. Like telling a bartender about all the bad things that come to pass, the salvation is not in the telling but in the action as it plays through one more time. More honesty peeks through on ‘All These Years’ with the lines “Hey, I know I’m not what you expected but I’m not going to change. Please don’t leave”. Allen again gets a big ten points for effort but the course has been set in place for what happened once it happened again. The album matches Allen’s honest confessions with heartfelt vocals and a powerful sense of Americana as a backdrop for the truth. The rhythms carry the message and make sure it travels across a solid foundation. The riffs twirl playing tag with the voice. All the pieces fit together on “Virginia” as another conversation between mother and son is pushed along with vocal and instrumental commitments. The album closes with a musically upbeat romp, “Break Me in Two”, sung by guest vocalist Larissa Maestro, who offers a feminine touch to the albums male dominated narrators.
Allen Thompson is a child of the south, soaking up the culture and the southern gothic experiences in equal measure. The lessons learned and the music heard are showcased in his tales. Heartbreak and uncertainty play leading roles on the ten tracks that make up ’26 Years’. The singer/songwriter moniker is one that Allen wears proudly. The genre should be equally proud of him.
Allen Thompson Sparkles With 26 Years at Manuel's Showroom
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Allen Thompson is a very soft-spoken man with a surprisingly soulful singing voice, as I learned Wed...Allen Thompson is a very soft-spoken man with a surprisingly soulful singing voice, as I learned Wednesday (Aug. 5) when he performed at Manuel's Nashville showroom. It was relaxing to browse around the shop, looking at the incredible hand-crafted jackets and suits Manuel is famous for, and listen to songs from Thompson's upcoming release, 26 Years. You don't get that at the local shopping mall. The master craftsman himself was on hand to enjoy the show, which was part of an ongoing series of performances at the shop, and he even remarked that Thompson will be getting married soon wearing one of the custom suits. But as much fun as it is to daydream about strutting around in rhinestone jackets, we were all there to enjoy fresh tunes from a very fresh face in Americana.
I think my favorite part about Thompson is that his songs seem like they should be downers -- he writes a lot about the tough-to-deal-with parts of life like deciding whether or not to forgive someone again -- but somehow most of them end up feeling fun or optimistic. There's also a subtle scratch in his voice, and when you hear that, you can tell he's really feeling the lyric. To keep touring costs down, he's traveling with just one guitarist right now, but the album features a full array of instruments as well as a bouncy duet with Larissa Maestro on "Break Me in Two." You can visit his MySpace page to preview his music before the album comes out Aug. 25. Be sure to check out "Forgive Me" and "26:1," a song inspired by Thompson's idol, Gram Parsons
Chuck Leavell's review of the new album
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"Allen Thompson is one of the best new artists to come out of the South in recent times....he’s got ..."Allen Thompson is one of the best new artists to come out of the South in recent times....he’s got soul, he’s got groove and he knows how to rock. With Jimmy Nalls’ fine production and all the great musicians on the CD, it’s on my highly recommended list!"
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"I am in love with Allen Thompson. His sound is desperate; Sometimes the desperation manifests itse... "I am in love with Allen Thompson. His sound is desperate; Sometimes the desperation manifests itself in urgency, sometimes it settles down into heartworn melancholy. Influenced by the Steve Earle and Allman Brothers that he heard on his dad's knee, and the Dead, the Band and Velvet Underground that fueled his high school cover bands and bad decisions, and the country he's come back to (Lucinda Williams, Townes Van Zandt and Gram Parsons) he has become a songwriter's songwriter with a solid foundation in music history and sensibility.
The Highway EP, self-produced and released, is a strong collection of roots rock and alt-country that smacks of talent. Anyone who knows anything about music can hear that this boy from Roanoke, VA who is yet to turn twenty-five, is the real thing-perhaps still waiting for his training wheels to come off, but the real thing nonetheless.
From the twangy I Love Her to the hooky Heartache, its immediately apparent that he's not only good, but sellable. He's got a voice and he's smart as hell. Some of the songs he's out playing, too new for the EP, are enough to make you think that Gram Parsons is alive and well."
Country Standard Time's November 2009 Featured Artist
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Allen Thompson By Rick Cornell, November 2009 Album: 26 Years Song: 26:1 Home: Nashville, TN ...Allen Thompson
By Rick Cornell, November 2009
Album: 26 Years
Home: Nashville, TN
Musical Influences: "The Grateful Dead, The Band, John Hartford, George Jones, Gram Parsons, Otis Redding are probably my go-to top six for things that originally influenced me to do this and never stray far from my ears. There are countless others though. I always hate this question."
Bio: You've got to like Allen Thompson's self-deprecating sense of humor. If you track down Thompson's debut release, "Highway," on his web site, you are greeted by this: "This is my first album. Most people don't own it. Most people shouldn't." And he describes himself as "one of the many singing and songwriting waiters in lovely Davidson County" (Davidson County, Tennessee, that is – Nashville's home).
But he clearly has a serious side as well, as reflected on his new "26 Years," with this liner note setting the tone: "The songs contained herein deal with this period of life. They are real conversations with and about myself, folks I know and a young man I will never know. Writing and recording these songs allowed me to come to terms with the end of my childhood and the beginning of the rest of my life." Heavy sentiments, but the smartly crafted acoustic music – often sprightly, always catchy – that surrounds the stories provides mood-lightening balance.
CST's Take: It takes a courageous performer to swing the door wide open on a record, and it takes a skilled one to make you want to come inside to hum, sing, and dance along.
Country Standard Time: The first line of "26 Years" is "Forgive me, Mother, for I have sinned/Over and over and over again." And while the record can't be considered an end-to-end confession, you do seem to be getting a lot off your chest - an assumption backed up by comments in the liner notes. Can you talk about that aspect? And how cathartic was making this record for you?
Allen Thompson: Making "26 Years" was an extremely cathartic experience for me. When I was writing the songs that became "26 Years," my mother was dying. For as long as I had known her, she had suffered deeply from many physical and mental ailments. She died just two weeks before I moved from Virginia to Nashville. The experience forced me to come to terms with a lot of different aspects of my life. When I first went into the studio to make this record, I had no intention of releasing it. I thought it would be way too dark for a sophomore release and national debut. As the songs started to come together, I realized the album was not as dark as I had originally anticipated, a fact that made the catharsis that much stronger. It felt great to get all of the things I'd wanted to say to many people, including myself, on record. It felt even better to have the record be listenable.
CST: On a related note, do you find it easier to write a song or sing about things on your mind than it is to talk about them?
AT: I remember a few years ago, I wrote a song called Sick of Me, which is about a failing relationship, and both parties seeing the failure, but being powerless to stop it. I remember playing it for my wife, who was at the time my girlfriend, and seeing that she was visibly annoyed. She asked me why I wrote songs about such sad aspects of life. I told her, "I'd prefer to get these feelings out and sing about them than to keep them bottled inside. Usually by the first time I perform a song like this in public, I've solved my problem. Hopefully after that, I can help other people think about these situations and solve problems in their own lives." If I don't write about something that's on my mind, it usually stays there and bothers me for a long time. I like to talk, but I've found that people listen more closely to your problems with a good band playing a catchy chord progression behind you.
CST: I really like the image of a "handmade highwire." I'd never thought of the whole "you made your bed now lie in it" kind of thing in those terms. How did that image come about?
AT: That was one of those phrases that just sort of came into my head. I don't know if I read it somewhere or heard it or made it up myself. It's pretty good, so I imagine I at least subconsciously stole it from somewhere. I played with it for a while until I watched a couple of friends who were dating end their relationship in a very messy one-sided manner. I wrote the song for my friend to let him know his girlfriend leaving was probably for the best. Staying in a messy situation usually just tends to make it messier.
CST: The concept of time has a recurring role on the record, from the album title and the song titles 26:1 and All These Years to an overall feeling of time that's been lost (addressed specifically on Nothing at All). Please talk about that particular theme.
AT: During the time I was writing the album, I was reading a lot of books that related to the situations I was going through: Proust, Tennessee Williams, Joyce and Faulkner and biographies of artists I was influenced by who went through similar events regarding their family members. One theme that kept showing up in all of it was being ashamed of missing opportunities. Being severely debilitated by the ghosts of one's failures regardless of the scope of their successes. It's easy to look back on a situation and see how you could have made better decisions. It's really difficult to learn from those mistakes and missed opportunities and make better decisions in the future. I guess I was just trying to remind myself to learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of others and not waste any time in leading a better life.
CST: And with references to Blue Ridge, Shenandoah and Virginia, there's also a strong sense of place. How big a role does your surroundings (or ex-surroundings) play in your songwriting and music, and how big a role do you think environment plays in general in music?
AT: Environment plays a giant role in music and art in general. I grew up in a place that has a rich history. It's a beautiful place, but there's also a lot of darkness and weirdness there. I'm sure every hometown is like that. I haven't really travelled around until this year when I started really touring, so most of my experiences took place with the Roanoke, Shenandoah and New River Valleys as the backdrop. I wanted to paint a pretty clear picture of the environment in which I grew up. It's also got an important bluegrass and country music heritage. It seemed appropriate that a record this personal should reflect the environment where most of the album's events took place, both lyrically and musically.
CST: Can you talk about the significance of the numbers in the song title 26:1?
AT: The song is about Gram Parsons, who died when he was 26 years old, the same age I was when I was writing the songs for this album. I read the Ben Fong-Torres biography of Gram and learned that we both had parental figures die from suicide and alcoholism at similar points in our lives. I wrote the song more to remind myself that your life doesn't need to be defined by tragedy, but that you can learn from the mistakes of others and not make the same ones yourself. I wish Gram had been able to do that as he was a brilliant singer and was becoming a great writer at the time of his death.
CST: On the closer, Break Me in Two, you step aside and let Larissa Maestro sing lead vocals for the entire song. Why? I certainly didn't see that coming. And that might be a first in my experience, at least as far as the last song on a record is concerned.
AT: I originally thought the record was going to be a huge downer, my version of "Nebraska." I thought Break Me in Two with its tempo, chord progression, and tongue-in-cheek lyrics would be good comic relief for what I thought would be a real cry-into-your-whiskey glass kind of album. When the arrangements didn't turn out that way, the song still fit, but in a different context. I had thought about making it a hidden track on the album, but I really wanted people to not only hear it but also to know who the wonderful girl singing was.
CST: For lack of a better word, "26 Years" often has an "old-fashioned" feel: the instrumentation, the arrangements to a large degree, even the album's length (10 songs in 33 minutes - would have made a perfect 5-songs-to-a-side LP in 1977). But at the same time, it sounds fresh; there's nothing remotely mothball-y about the record. How much of a goal is it to strike that kind of balance? And how do you approach striking that balance?
AT: I always loved records like John Hartford's "Aeroplane," Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks" and "Red-Headed Stranger," as well as older stuff like Jimmie Rodgers, Lightnin' Hopkins and Hank Williams. The material on this album had the same feel as a lot of the songs on those records, so I thought it would be cool to make an acoustic album and really let that spirit out. That being said, I definitely made the effort to have the staff on the record be comprised of all young people just starting out in their careers in order to give it a youthful and new vibe as well. My favorite artists borrowed from the folk tradition and added things to it to create something new. I wanted to attempt to do the same.
Available upon booking.
There are no upcoming dates at this time.