Richard Thompson: Electric

The new album Electric from English singer, songwriter and master guitarist Richard Thompson finds him still in good form. Recorded and produced by guitarist Buddy Miller at his home studio in Nashville it features Thompson as part of a trio augmented here and there by fiddle and with harmony vocals from Siobhan Maher Kennedy and Alison Krauss on a set of eleven original songs. Thompson is one of England’s greatest songwriters of the past half century – not to mention one of its finest guitarists – and on the new album he plays acoustic and electric guitars as well as accordion, keyboard, mandolin and hurdy-gurdy.

From the opening ‘Stony Ground’ we are back in Thompson-land with its frequently morose, brooding, and ironic storytelling. Thompson’s characters are as well-drawn and instantly recognisable as his inimitable guitar playing and here we find more sordid tales and heartbreaking vignettes of love and life on the edge. There are several songs where he exhibits his rockier electric side but the title of the album is slightly misleading as there are also many gentler and quieter moments. In fact it’s these gentler songs which are the album’s greatest strength.

Richard Thompson-Electric

‘The Snow Goose’ is the most austere of all the songs, while ‘Salford Sunday’ is a masterly, spare look at Sunday morning in a grey northern town and will inevitably be compared with its counterpart ‘Dirty Old Town’. ‘Good Things Happen to Bad People’ drives along in melodic folk rock style and is one of the highlights while the final track ‘Saving the Good Stuff For You’ ends the album on an unusually optimistic note and in country style. The outstanding track, however, is the bittersweet ‘Another Small Thing in Her Favour’ which mines all the best things we’ve come to love and expect from Thompson to create a small gem.

As Thompson himself has acknowledged, when you’ve been recording since 1967 there’s a fine line between repeating yourself and having your own style. There is always the danger that your style can turn into cliché. On first listen, this sounds much like many other records of his and not all of the tracks are equally fresh, but closer inspection reveals a depth to some of the songs which is the work of a real craftsman still challenging himself and his fans with new ideas. About this album he says: “We’ve invented a new genre ‘funk-folk’ – I’m not sure the world is ready for it but we’ve done it anyway.”

Electric is released by Proper Records. The deluxe edition of the album comes with a seven track bonus disc including some of the songs which didn’t make it to the main album.

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