On his second release Joe Thompson takes us on a journey of a man caught between two worlds – the American northeast and the southwest. His birthplace of Western Pennsylvania, his current residence of New York City and Texas, the source of his lineage (the birthplace of his parents if the narrative in Texas waltz is factual.) All play a part in the shifting landscapes of Yankee Twang, but it appears that in this struggle of geographic and identity the main source of aesthetic inspiration is the Lone Star State.
With a barroom baritone that would truly make Randy Travis proud, Thompson opens Yankee Twang with Blue New York – a classic George Strait-like ballad of lonely nights and hard love in the city that refuses to let you sleep. The chorus calls out to Texas, Austin specifically, as remedy for the big city blues, but he sounds like a man that would cast his lot with any way out of Gotham –
Lucky Mistake is a Nashville hit as-yet not recorded by one of the CMA chosen hat-acts. Upbeat but not frothy and great to sing to at the top of your lungs. I hope Thompson is lucky enough to have Kenny Chensey pay him for the privilege of ruining it. Next is the song I hope to hear in every tequila bar in America – Luisa! Luisa! sounds has a Texas Tornadoes festive spirit that belies the sad story of the protagonist losing the song’s namesake. Tequila does that for you.
Sweet Texas Waltz is a gorgeous acoustic-led number that really being to bear the duality theme that runs throughout. “My Yankee blood’s rich with that black Texas mud, but a Yankee I am through and through.” And this longing results in “I wish I could dance that sweet Texas waltz, the way my mom and dad do.”
Summer ’93 reaches into West Texas and back in time to channel Buddy Holly’s rave-up rockabilly hiccup beat. I Could’ve Slept All Day is a damn fine lovely lament of tear-stained love and regret.
The song that stands out the most to be is the briefest on the release. At 2 minutes and 32 seconds Traction is a moody, menacing window into the heart of a man that gave all to love and recognizes his estranged reined back emotions seemingly in anticipation of, or causing, the end. It’s as stark edge of emotion in song as I’ve hard.
As a Texan that lived for five years in New York City I get a kind of reverse sense of cultural disassociation that Yankee Twang emits. Dirt and blood run thick as as Houston humidity and I feel a kinship to this generation-removed Texan brought up in the rust, instead of the Bible, belt. Thompson recently moved to Austin. I hope he ventures outside that bubble and the reality matches the mythology this release is steeped in.
For fun Thompson has a cocktail companion to every song on the album.