When Clifton's Randy Thompson writes a song, it comes from deep in his heart and way down in his gut. That's why the lyrics on his new CD, "That's Not Me," are unflinchingly honest and touching.
"A lot of these songs are really personal," he said. "It's a lot like releasing your diary."
Nonetheless, he's opened up his innermost feelings to the public on this, his third CD. And on Friday, Feb. 27, it'll be released to country radio. It already debuted on European airwaves on Feb. 1 and, said Thompson, "In just five days, it went to number one on the European indie chart.
THIS TUESDAY, Feb. 17, it was released to Europe's Americana radio stations. "Americana radio is just to the left of country," said Thompson. "It includes everything from bluegrass to alternative rock with a twang to it. Europeans like rootsy American music — a little more country and bluesy, like Emmylou Harris and Waylon Jennings — rather than pop-oriented."
"That's Not Me" hit American stores, last week. The first single off it, "Sound Of The Rain" — a powerful, uptempo number — was released, Feb. 1. In addition, local audiences will be able to hear him, firsthand, Feb. 27, at 9 p.m., at IOTA in Arlington, along with the band, Last Train Home.
Then on March 5, Vienna's Jammin Java will host Thompson's official CD-release party, starting at 9 p.m. ($10 cover charge). He's looking forward to both performances. Said Thompson: "I've had really good support from the people in Clifton, and I'm happy to be playing a few hometown gigs."
His last album, "Wearin' Blue," first got him noticed in the music industry, but he expects even bigger things for his newest effort. "This time around, I have a record company and a team behind it," said Thompson. And with the help of national and international promoters and distributors, it will be available in Borders and Tower Records, on amazon.com and at www.randythompson.net.
Born in Frederick, Md., he's lived in Clifton since he was a boy growing up on Fairfax Station Road, just outside town. His Cub Scout Pack met at Clifton Elementary, and he graduated from Robinson Secondary School. These are his roots — and childhood memories, long-time friends and family are the ties that keep him here.
"I fly to Nashville frequently, but I love Clifton," said Thompson. "I know everyone in town, and I feel comfortable and at home here."
In elementary school, he befriended the older blues singer, John Jackson, who lived nearby and had performed for the students in Thompson's class. Noted for his acoustic blues, Jackson took Thompson under his wing and taught him chords and guitar licks. Later, the progressive country artists of the '70s and '80s also resonated with him. To Thompson, their songs embodied the true spirit of country music.
WITH ALL these influences, it's no wonder that his music runs the gamut from traditional to alternative country to tender ballads. And he's performed in a variety of venues with artists including George Jones, Steve Young, Dan Seals and Shelby Lynne.
Thompson's played guitar since age 10 — mainly acoustic — and played in bands in high school. As for practicing, he said, "I just pick up the guitar whenever I want to. My son Colin, 12, also plays guitar, but I never have to tell him to practice. He just practices on his own because he's got it in him — and he's a phenomenal guitar player. If you're good, you just do it." Thompson's son Erik, 15 1/2, plays football at Robinson and, he said, "I'm proud of both of them."
Writing songs since he was 12, Thompson loved the music of country legend Hank Williams and tried to emulate what he did. "I used to write at least a song a week, when I was a teen-ager," he said. "[Now], I usually write in the mornings; I have my coffee, pick up my guitar and see what comes out." Drawing his inspiration from real life, Thompson's songs are about "whatever is hitting me, at the time — I write what I feel."
He recorded his first album in 1988, just selling bandstand copies after gigs. Now, he's remastering it to digital and will release it, later this year. His current CD, "That's Not Me," is a mixture of ballads and upbeat tunes. Said Thompson: "Some of them are rock and some are real slow, story-songs." The CD took him five years to complete.
"I probably recorded 20 songs and was waiting for a collection to come together, and these nine songs worked as an album," he explained. The title track is about "being in a stressful situation that makes you act like someone you're not."
THOMPSON KEEPS tinkering with his lyrics until they please him, and he says the toughest part is "just getting the lines to all work together. I've had songs that took me 10 years to write, and some that I wrote in one day." The best part, he said, is "when you finally get positive feedback and your music's getting played on the radio. That feels really good, and it sort of validates what you do."
He plans a small, European tour in July-August. Meanwhile, he'll "watch the charts here and take it as far as I can." Music Row magazine calls him "a strong, true singer," and Country Music Today describes his new CD as chock-full of "cut-to-the-chase tales of love, regret and moving on, delivered with grit, swagger and a touch of class."
"I feel like my time is right now, and I feel really good about this album," said Thompson. "I think it's my best ever because I'm coming into my own as a songwriter."