Raleigh folk songwriter tackles ‘rites of passage’ with new CD

01/21/2014 2:24 PM

01/21/2014 2:25 PM

Many of the songs on Russ Thompson’s soon-to-be-released CD stem from a big moment a few years ago: his decision to give up drinking, a habit he says had him in a “downward spiral.”

Since that December day, he hasn’t had a single drink, and he’s been reflecting on a person’s power to change themselves for the better. That theme – in his words, “the rites of passage we impose on ourselves for internal growth” – colors many of his latest songs.

Thompson, a folk singer-songwriter from Raleigh, was able to record the tunes thanks to the $3,000 his friends and fans donated on Indiegogo, a crowdfunding website. That covered about half the cost of making the CD at Chapel Hill’s famed Rubber Room Recording Studio, which has hosted well-known acts like the Steep Canyon Rangers.

“It’s been a great resource,” he said of the crowdfunding site. “It was overwhelming to see that kind of support from people who believe in you.”

Thompson is hoping his first studio-quality album will push his career forward when it comes out in March. His older CDs haven’t gotten much traction in the music industry. “People love all my older material, but I find the recording quality isn’t what I want,” he said. “This is a fresh start-over. I’m optimistic.”

Thompson’s blues-inspired brand of folk music has drawn comparisons ranging from Cat Stevens to Harry Chapin to Dave Matthews.

Matthews is among the musicians Thompson covers during his frequent restaurant gigs around the Triangle. He typically saves his originals for shows where music is the focus. It can be next to impossible to make a living as a solo singer-songwriter, so he makes much of his income from playing dinner and lounge shows where recognizable tunes are encouraged.

“I’m playing for a crowd that’s there to eat, have a good time, socialize,” he said. “I kind of prefer not to do my own songs at those shows.”

Thompson has been an active presence on the Raleigh music scene for more than a decade, getting his start at the long-defunct Comet Lounge on Hillsborough Street. He first picked up an instrument in the Daniels Middle School band before switching to guitar – “the easier way to meet girls,” he says.

And as Thompson embarks on the next phase of his career with the CD release, he’s realistic about his goals. “I’m perfectly fine playing the small rooms,” he said.

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