Candid Coal People

Derick Thompson, better known as Candid Coal People, a one-man band, released a new album, Big River and The Infamous They, recorded while stuck at home as a result of Covid restrictions in 2020. And the album is a prize.

Though I’d been following his journey on Facebook, I didn’t realize until a few months ago that he was recording an album. Coming from a musical family and having a deep love of all kinds of music, I wanted to know more. I contacted him and asked if he would give me a glimpse into his world and speak to me about his new work. I had fallen for some of the songs and wanted to learn more.

One of the biggest surprises to me was learning that if Derick is singing it, he’s written it. And if he’s written it, he’s playing it. I don’t mean he’s playing one instrument. He plays every instrument, layering the music: banjo, guitar, violin, keyboard, cello.

Being a one-man band, recording from a home set-up, isn’t easy, yet he handled every step in his album’s creation, filling every role in the tedious recording process. I won’t attempt to explain it because I can’t. But I know he usually turns to the guitar for the first round of layering. The next instrument he records adds texture to the song. He continues layering, stacking instruments, until the song is the way he wants it.

His day job handling turf in the Atlanta area requires a great deal of physical labor, yet at the end of the day, when music calls, his spirit moves into a solitary place where the words spill and he works his magic, often adding a pulse to the gray areas of life, breathing life into a few ghosts.

Derick is southern. And we all know that southern artists tend to have skeletons whispering in their ears, some sinners, some saints, and some soft-spoken storytellers. When I asked him what kind of music he makes, he said it falls into folk rock. Though he has his own unique style, I sometime hear hints of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, James Taylor, Leonard Cohen.

After watching a few videos of him I imagined him walking into a room echoing with loneliness, then picking up a guitar and filling each crack and crevice with music. I wish I could do that.

He pulls from his life experiences, and when he’s not pulling from his life, he’s pulling from his heart, and when he’s not pulling from his heart, he’s pulling from the hunger to create, to feed his soul.

Derick couldn’t put his finger on any one thing that drives him forward. “I can’t not make music,” he said. “It is a part of who I am.”

He seems to have no choice but to give life to the music that rumbles inside him.

Speaking of Esmerelda, one of my favorite songs on the album, Derick said, “Let it be known that I actually hated writing this song, and if you follow along, you’ll see that it’s for good reason. It’s always been interesting to me that two people can share so much together and then after a few years, disappear into existence, not even as friends or enemies, just two strangers who shared some moments. Or, how two people can make life altering decisions together and then cease to exist within the life they jointly decided.”

And in Denali, he writes:

Why would you save
To buy a seat
But hold your phone to video
A concert you’ve been wanting to see?

On Facebook, where he sometimes offers glimpses into his music and other areas of his life, he wrote about how the song Denali was born.

“Before the days of Covid, I went to Peru for the purpose of seeing Machu Picchu. Getting to Machu Picchu is a task for those that don’t know. You have to fly to Lima, to fly to Cusco, and then board a train to Aguas Calientes, and then you have to work your way out. Four flights and two train rides in seven days. When we finally made it to Machu Picchu, I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I put a great amount of effort into memorizing how everything looked, as I’ll never see it in person again. When we walked through the gate, there was an old man, probably in his late 70s, walking very slowly with a cane to get up and down stairs in the Andes mountains. I was happy for him but I also pictured that he spent his life working and never got around to seeing the world, and now, he barely can. About halfway through the walk, there was a group of early 20-somethings from the United States. They were the opposite of the old man. Machu Picchu is a one way walk and these 10 kids decided to lounge in the walkway on some stairs made of stone that probably killed some Incas during the hauling. It’s 8:00am and these kids were drunk and annoying in the way kids are when they’re new to drinking— too cool. They completely missed the point of experiencing Machu Picchu and I would say Denali started creeping in around that moment.”

I’ll say this: Music oozes from him, shimmers like magic on the pads of his fingers. Stories in song slip from his mouth as if leaving on a spiritual journey. It is easy to turn up the volume and travel alongside Derick Thompson, to see life through his eyes. After viewing pieces of his heart, I found myself examining my own.

I came away from our phone conversation and messages believing that through music, Derick, looking outward and inward, touches his tender places, his calloused places, and his uncertain places. I’m looking forward to hearing more from him.

I’ll end this by sharing some of the lyrics to Song for Grandma.

Washboard road, the sound the rooster crow
Will always remind me of you
South Georgia fields will always mean
Mean much more to me
Than grey dirt, summer drive, tree going through the roof
Or like a
. . .

Taking Grandma for a ride. Never too cool for Grandma.

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