Fire Note Says: Still works as a re-introduction of an artist that any serious music fan will want to hear for yourself.
Album Review: Richard Thompson has been a music critics’ favorite since his early days in the premier British folk rock group of the late 60’s, Fairport Convention, whose mix of acoustic & electric sounds and Celtic sensibilities launched a thousand imitators. Yet, in spite of an active and storied solo career, including having the live album recorded with his ex-wife Linda named one of “500 Best Albums of All Time” (I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, Island Records, 1974), Thompson remains less known than his obvious talents might suggest.
A songwriter’s songwriter, Thompson’s songs have been covered by Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, and dozens more, so fans come to his recordings with high expectations that include an appreciation of his unique guitar playing prowess, whether it be his colorful acoustic finger picking or stunning solos that stretch the boundaries of musical expectations.
On Still, recorded with Jeff Tweedy producing in Wilco’s Loft Studio in Chicago, Thompson delivers a complete album of material designed to touch all the cornerstones that have made him such a remarkable artist over the last 5 decades. Songs that reach deep into the world’s melancholy and sorrows – “Broken Doll” and “Josephine” – played alongside thoughtful Celtic pop explorations like “She Never Could Resist a Winding Road” and “Patty Don’t You Put Me Down,” and witty, pub rock in “Long John Silver.”
But truth be told, good songs and rock solid production values being a given, a lot of us come to Thompson’s albums wanting to hear his emotionally salient, often experimental guitar work. And, Still never disappoints. From the opening riff of “All Buttoned Up” and skat harmonizing of “Pony in the Stable” to the stunning solo work throughout, but especially noteworthy on “Where’s Your Heart” and “No Peace, No End,” where he stretches the boundaries of traditional scales by toying with Eastern melodies and modalities.
For some of us, the best is saved for last, “Guitar Heroes,” a reflection on the artist’s love affair with his instrument and the musical influences that required he abandon a social life in favor of practice and fine-tuning his craft. Not unlike Thompson’s attempts to educate the broad populace about a 1000 Years of Popular Music (2003), here the artist demonstrates his passion to play in the styles of Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Chuck Berry, James Burton, and The Shadows. One can imagine how much fun this long song will be live, and indeed the whole record works as a re-introduction of an artist that any serious music fan will want to hear for yourself.
Key Tracks: “Patty Don’t You Put Me Down” / “Where’s Your Heart” / “Guitar Heroes”
Artists With Similar Fire: Bob Dylan / Continental Drifters / Bruce Cockburn
Richard Thompson Website
Richard Thompson Facebook
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb