Burlington singer-songwriter Lowell Thompson is a familiar face around Vermont, playing low-key sets in small venues and cafes on a fairly regular basis. Last year, he took the grand prize in Advance Music's 2004 Acoustic Guitar Search -- an accomplishment that's bound to lead to even more gigs. Turn is his four-song debut EP, which he made at home in '03.
Thompson played all the instruments on Turn, recording into an eight-track recorder. For those not hip to the lingo, that's a device that allows you to record eight voices or instruments on separate tracks, not the tapes your Uncle Jimmy used to play. For the most part, the one-man-band concept works, but even if he could clone a whole band of Lowells, I'd recommend he find another drummer.
Still, the alt-country/roots/Americana vibe is well realized on the disc. Turn is more than just a guy and his guitar; it's one guy, a guitar, bass, drums, a world-weary voice and four pretty good songs. "Words," the first, opens with deep, throbbing bass that nicely fits Thompson's description of "waking up in another place with a beating head."
"Turn Me Home" features a distant, wailing slide guitar that evokes a cold, lonesome wind as well as the sound of a bus whining down the highway. The desperate lyrics suggest that through the protagonist is sitting on her front porch, he's probably not getting inside her house.
"Broken Hearts (in a Bag)" opens with chiming, reverb-drenched guitar tones. The calm doesn't last long, though, and the tune soon builds to a mighty clatter. The disc's loudest song, it unfortunately has the weakest lyrics and is a bit derivative.
"Empty Tears" is a revved-up country weeper. "I gave you a nickel for your patience," Thompson sings, upping the ante from the proverbial penny. The line "just because you hit the bottle doesn't mean you hit the wall" contains classic country wordplay, but there's more to it than just a hokey joke -- Thompson's delivery rings true.
The songs on Turn are somewhat slow, but they're hardly laid-back. Thompson may not be anxious, but he's definitely angsty. Hear him with Silo and Delorean, Wednesday, March 30, at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge.
JEFFERY R. LINDHOLM