Virginia singer-songwriter strips down to dobros and banjos for a gospel-inflected set of redemption songs.
Allen Thompson's third full-length is a step forward for the Virginia-based singer-songwriter, as he effectively winds things back to simpler song structures played by an entirely acoustic band. The result, 26 Years, is a tight ten-song album of gospel-flavored, back-porch tunes, the best of which is the tambourine-and-handclaps opener “Forgive Me”. The song establishes the record's theme of redemption, perseverence, and homecoming, articulated most clearly on “26:1”: “Doubt surrounds the road you've taken / You fell down, but brother you ain't breakin'". Thompson steps up to the mic like he means it, although he's guilty of over-emoting now and then, and while his melodies are pleasant and breezy, by the end of the album, he's recycling some.
The album is a solid Americana effort, one made much better thanks to the dobro playing of Josh Matheny, who appears to be a rising star on that instrument. Matheny's work on “Virginia” (the state, not a girl) is lovely, and other players, namely Charlie Worsham on banjo and mandolin, add tasteful dressing to the mid-temp cheating song “Lyin'", another peak moment. Thompson goes for easy rhymes most of the time but sings these songs of the heart with the kind of conviction that will win you over on this unassuming but likable release.