THORP JENSON: THE STORY
Richmond, Va.-based guitarist Thorp Jenson creates the kind of music that makes you want to spend all night in a Southern dive bar and wake up the next morning just to drive across the country—and his songs are at home in either scenario. Jenson’s self-produced debut, Odessa, encapsulates the free-spirited heartland-rock ethos of Tom Petty with a healthy dose of storytelling and singer/songwriter introspection. The record features Jenson’s rich, soul-warming vocals and bright lead guitar supported by musicians and co-writers who have worked and toured alongside artists like Foxygen, Matthew E. White, Natalie Prass and more.
“I wrote a lot of these songs thinking about characters,” Jenson says of Odessa. “It always ends up including a part of me—you can’t get away from that—but if you’re only telling your own story, you’re kind of pigeonholing yourself.”
This character embodiment is apparent throughout the album, no more so than in the title track—a vivid, rollicking tune in which Jenson imagines himself a soldier returning from war to a small-town home that doesn’t quite fit the one in his memory. Along with opening track “Oklahoma,” “Odessa” helps set the overarching rock & roll aesthetic of the album, which Jenson says was influenced by The Rolling Stones, whose catalog was in heavy rotation leading up to the sessions. Jenson also surrounded himself with noticeably simpatico backing musicians. “I needed to bring in the right drummer to do what I wanted to do,” he says. “Somebody who had listened to Charlie Watts at some point in their life.” That drummer was Dusty Ray Simmons, the band rounded out by bassist/keyboardist Andrew Randazzo, guitarists Charles Arthur and Andrew Rapisarda and saxophonist/backup-singer Suzi Fischer. “It helps to have some of your best friends be some of the best musicians you know,” Jenson says. “They really brought it.”
Jenson channels Ryan Adams at his most apocalyptic on Odessa’s dark yet ultimately hopeful “All We Have Is Time,” and shows off his songwriting chops on “The Garden/2nd Season,” a two-part track punctuated by a “Layla”-inspired outro, and featuring lyrics co-written with Foxygen/Matthew E. White bassist Cameron Ralston. The album’s lone cover, Jenson’s take on Modern English’s “I Melt With You” was a bold addition, he admits, but despite his childhood disdain for the track (“I hated that song growing up”), playing it at a wedding gig helped him see past the blinding ’80s sheen to the solid framework underneath, which he’s transformed into a spacey, comfortingly languid love ballad.
Growing up 25 miles south of Richmond in Chester, Va., Jenson, the son of a loving but frequently on the road truck-driver father, received much of his young education from his older brother. “I was maybe what you’d consider a ‘bad kid,’” Jenson recalls. “We were bouncing around on our bicycles, smoking pot. Small-town America—there’s nothing to do. In some ways, it’s kind of sad; but in another way, it’s poetic.”
As an early music fan who “hit the ground running” with ’90s grunge, Jenson also found inspiration from his dad’s record collection, which included ‘70s staples like the Grateful Dead and Derek and the Dominos. But, above all else, he was moved by Tom Petty’s Wildflowers, which came out when he was in seventh grade. “It’s just one of those albums,” Jenson says. “That record, to me—it’s just perfect.”
With Odessa, Jenson offers up a collection of spirited and energetic compositions, setting fire to his lyrics with incendiary lead guitar tightly woven with soaring keyboards, arresting harmonies and a pulsing heartbeat of a rhythm section. After years of building a name for himself as a side-man guitarist in the Richmond music scene, Jenson is now poised to break out as a vibrant songwriter and dynamic frontman with his own story to tell.