Richard Thompson Has Yet Another Brilliant New Album: No Surprise

by delarue

We take Richard Thompson for granted. Another year, another great album – some things never change. It is  astonishing how vital, and relentlessly intense, and memorable both his songwriting and his unsurpassed guitar chops remain after more than forty years since he debuted as a teenager with Fairport Convention in 1969. This time around he shakes things up with his new album Electric, which is largely a power trio performance, the iconic guitarist frequently backed only by longtime drummer Michael Jerome and tasteful bassist Taras Prodaniuk, whose energetic, simple new wave lines fill out the bottom end while Thompson turns loose the pyrotechnics. This was obviously a thrill for producer Buddy Miller, one of the few guitarists alive who can actually keep up with Thompson; he adds rhythm parts on several tracks, but sadly the two never take the opportunity to go head to head and shred. In any event, this is one of the most sonically superb albums in the Thompson catalog: there’s none of the cheesy synth on some of his 80s records, or the weird percussion that would gunk up the occasional track a few years later. Fiddler Stuart Duncan and backup chanteuse Siobhan Maher-Kennedy add grace and elegance to several tracks as well.

Stoney Ground opens the album with a snarlingly intricate electric guitar riff. It’s a creepy, brutal tale of an old guy who won’t leave the young girls alone: “She’s a rose all right, but she’s got thorns” is classic Thompson understatement. The morosely swaying Salford Sunday takes its inspiration from Ewan McColl, who wrote Dirty Old Town about that rundown rustbelt burg outside of Manchester. Sally B is an unexpected and wildly successful attempt at a Led Zep-style take on Britfolk, slow and heavy and vicious: the careerist femme fatale at the center of the story was inspired by an equally troublesome woman Thompson met at a fundraising event. Another real surprise that comes off just as well is Straight and Narrow, a detour into menacingly organ-fueled garage rock with what might be the album’s most memorably savage guitar solo.

Stuck On The Treadmill is a classic Thompson workingman’s anthem: “Me and the robot working away, he looks at me as if to say, I’ll be doing your job someday, stuck on the treadmill,” the bitterness enhanced by a shivery guitar solo out.  The first of the slow, suspenseful epics here, My Enemy works a sardonic and subtly triumphant theme: “The only thing eating me is what’s eating you,” Thompson deadpans. Live, it could be a launching pad for one of his signature mega-solos: here, he plays it quiet and close to the vest.

As usual, revenge often takes centerstage. Good Things Happen To Bad People rips into a faithless wife over lush, rich twelve-string guitar rhythm followed by an all-too-brief, searing Strat solo. “You cried the day I walked you down the aisle, and I know you’ve been bad from the way you smile,” Thompson intones knowingly. The equally lush, crushingly sarcastic, angst-ridden Another Small Thing in Her Favour seems to be directed at ex-wife Linda. “It’s a slippery slope, to give her more hope, and I didn’t exactly enslave her,” Thompson sneers. a reference to his late-70s conversion to Islam where he briefly abandoned his career and brought the family along with him, some have said not particularly willingly.

Where’s Home is as gorgeous as Thompson’s voice and lyrics are alienated, a backbeat janglerock tune in the Wall of Death vein. Alison Krauss lends her voice to the hauntingly skeletal, surreal acoustic angst of The Snow Goose. There’s also a final mea culpa that seems a day late and a dollar short. Thompson will be touring this album as a trio with the rhythm section on the album: showdates are below.

March 17 /// The Peabody Opera House /// St. Louis, MO
March 19 /// The Pabst Theater /// Milwaukee, WI
March 20 /// Symphony Center /// Chicago, IL
March 22 /// Massey Hall /// Toronto, ON
March 23 /// Orpheum Theatre /// Boston, MA
March 24 /// The Paramount /// Huntington, NY
March 26 /// Academy of Music /// Philadelphia, PA
March 29 /// Strathmore /// North Bethesda, MD
March 30 /// Durham Performing Arts Center /// Durham, NC
April 1 /// Belk Theater at Blumenthal PAC /// Charlotte, NC
April 3 /// Johnny Mercer Theater /// Savannah, GA
April 4 /// Cobb Energy PAC /// Atlanta, GA