Chris Thompson

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Chris Thompson releases The Road Ahead with Bill Nershi as producer

:: Chris Thompson ::
:: Buffalo Rose (CD Release Party) ::
:: December 4 ::
:: Conor O’Neill’s ::
:: December 10  ::

By Brian F. Johnson

Chris Thompson could have picked any old producer. The singer/songwriter, who had home recorded two previous albums, had finally gotten his business to the point where he could take the time off to record some songs that he’d had kicking around for years. He could have just hit ‘record’ in his garage and laid down the album.

But instead, he met a relatively unlikely producer who, in the long run, ended up shaping his release The Road Ahead in unimaginable ways. The producer was Bill Nershi, of Colorado’s legendary String Cheese Incident.

“I had the good fortune of meeting Billy at a time when he wasn’t really busy with String Cheese,” said Thompson in a recent interview with The Marquee. “We got him to come down to Golden to play some shows with his wife at the Golden Hotel. Eventually, I was getting ready to record and heard through friends about his studio, Sleeping Giant. He seemed to catch onto the idea pretty quickly, but originally, we had talked about him engineering it. The idea of producing came up later in the conversation.”

Nonetheless, the decision to have Nershi produce the record, at his studio, was a turning point in the project. Thompson was in between a few musicians in his band, and was exploring options of having other players fill in those parts. After some discussion, Nershi said he could “make a few calls” to see who he could find, and the next thing Thompson knew, he had an all-star cast of musicians playing on his album. Nershi brought in Keith Moseley of String Cheese, Tyler Grant and Andy Thorn of the Emmitt/Nershi Band, and famed Colorado drummer Christian Teele of eTown. Throw in some guest performances by members of Head For the Hills and Thompsons’ The Road Ahead took on a life of its own.

“I’m not sure how the process would have been different if Billy was just engineering, but throughout the whole process, he gave a whole lot of creative direction,” Thompson said.

Another part of that direction came in the form of gear. Nershi called in Sonoma Recording System creator Gus Skinas of the Super Audio Center in Boulder. Skinas’ system, in the easiest explanation, makes digital recordings sound like analog recordings. “I had been working with Gus a little bit and he made the equipment available to me. The sound is amazing. It’s a beautiful recording platform,” said Bill Nershi in a separate conversation with The Marquee.

So, they had the musicians. They had the gear, and now all they needed were the songs, and Thompson had plenty of them to choose from. “A couple of these songs I wrote back in 1993. Several of them were new in the last 12 months, and there were a couple other songs that I had recorded before, but not released. The selection process was a lot like, ‘Hey Billy, here are 20 songs, any one of which could be good.’ We just went through and picked what we thought was the strongest material. It ended up as a bunch of songs that came from all stages of my song-writing life,” Thompson said. “The arrangements got tweaked a little bit, but for the most part, they got recorded as they were written.”

Nershi added, “He had a lot of good songs and I enjoyed working on them and listening to the band. You know, Chris is a great guy. I liked his enthusiasm about the music. He has a lot of fun with it and for people to come over to my house to record, I’ve got to essentially live with them for a week or two, so I wanted to do this with someone I got along with.”

The album, not surprisingly, ranges from straight singer/songwriter folk, to some Garcia-inspired Dead-like tunes, some bluegrass, and of course, a few songs that have a String Cheese flavor to it. Thompson is careful to pepper different influences without them taking over. The album’s first track, for example, “Traffic,” could be a country song. There’s a grit to it that screams “Country.” But that flavor doesn’t overwhelm the whole song and, in fact, the song sets up the rest of the record perfectly for a variety of sounds and influences — from the funky-rooted “Rest My Soul” to the newgrass inspired title track that caps the album.

So with the release of The Road Ahead, Thompson is finally giving his music the careful treatment he’s always wanted to, but never had the chance to do before. “The first two records were more of a documentary,” Thompson said. “My wife, who is also a fantastic songwriter, and I recorded all of them ourselves. It was serious, but it was seriously done in my garage. This was the professional setup I was looking for.”

:: Chris Thompson ::

:: Buffalo Rose (CD Release Party) ::

:: December 4 ::

:: Conor O’Neill’s ::

:: December 10 ::

Recommended if you Like:

• String Cheese Incident

• Bruce Hornsby

• Sam Bush

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