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Verlon Thompson, singer-songwriter and guitarist (longtime sideman to Guy Clark; co-writer too), there are few better in the department is partnered by fiddle playing vocalist Sue Cunningham on his latest venture (and best to date). Find Your Angel is a concept album that takes a look at the life of a southern belle called, Lorena during the American Civil War. A factual-based collection of songs (plus fiddle tunes immaculately performed by Cunningham) written by Thompson, Cunningham and, Frank Serio.  


Set during the American Civil War (1861-63), it was distressing times for many, both those directly involved in combat and family members left at home. Not knowing of the welfare of loved ones, and of when the conflict would end it paid its toll, as people unknowingly signed up in the South. Unaware of the consequences, and of how the odds were staked against them.


Cunningham warms Thompson’s stellar, heartfelt vocals beautifully. As she offers a delicate touch, musically, akin to his own as the main character suffers (who is later given the name of Angel) the loss of husband and her two children. The privileged southern belle is exposed to the horrific and chaotic life that comes with war and lonely world mentioned above. Her tranquil days in wealthy Vicksburg, Mississippi and lavish gatherings are replaced with tales of lost souls. Just as sassafras tea, sweet smelling magnolia on a balmy evening on the front porch are replaced by stories of war.


As fate would have it, right now my reading is a novel covering events in the American Civil War, E.L Doctorow’s The March; a fine read it is too. Choking on the smell of gun powder and the South burning as the Union army took what it could, and on leaving ended up torching much of what was left and no use to them as General William Tecumseh Sherman and his army marched back home through Georgia and the Carolinas. 


Coming through the traumatic days she is parted from her man, who went off to war, leaving her and his young family behind him with the belief he would soon return victorious to them. To where she is set up at the Elysian Hotel (and work her keep). Closing the story, a story Thompson and Cunningham have performed back home as a theatrical piece the latter handles the vocals on the heartache filled “The War Is Over”. This is where she receives has his uniform returned to her and all the letters in his pocket she wrote. This comes before concluding, to the sound of mournful fiddle as Thompson sings a fine lead, aided by gentle vocal harmonies as “Lorena” takes Angel off down the Mississippi River to New Orleans to live and work at the above noted hotel.

Thompson’s guitar work has never sounded better or more effective than it does here, and with Cunningham likewise producing the goods each song is like a new chapter. Some songs are more dramatic (and chilling) than others. With each and every one possessing a character and charm of it’s own you can see how readily available the material is for adaptation to being a stage show. From a jaunty “The Riverman” that speaks of how Lorena is something of a dreamer, and Elijah is but a river rat on through the beautiful, fiddle warmed “Mississippi Sunshine” with their voices complimenting each other, and the story. “Leaving Home” has him speak of going away, and how he is about to war and how he tries to put her mind at rest with his brave words. It doesn’t stop here either; since Thompson whisks the listener through “Find Your Angel” prior to sobering ballad “Boilin’ Muddy Water” as the Mississippi sunshine without a breath of air shines upon them and the women have blisters on the palm of their hands. As they work the fields in the absence of their men gone to war.   


                                                            Maurice Hope           


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April 2018

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