Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#833 in the Series) is Richard Thompson, Electric
If you are a fan of Richard Thompson, just hearing the title of his new album Electric should make you smile. If somehow you don’t know his music just listening to the first track “Stony Ground” will do the same thing. The song starts out with some clapping and percussion and then Richard Thompson and his Trio kick in to a song about “Old Man Morris” who’s fallen for the widow across the street ~ and can’t keep his mind off her “Honey pot.”
Shakespeare? No. Tremendous fun? Yes.
I hope that I can explain this, but the real treat of Electric is the overall sound of the record. The work that went into every part of this record shines through like nothing I have heard in a while. With Thompson you can always expect great playing, but the band, the songwriting, the production, the guest musicians, all work together to create a seamless sound. Thompson has said he wrote the songs for the record with the idea in mind that he would record them as a simple trio of guitar, bass and drums. A sort of “a more folkie slant on Cream or The Jimi Hendrix experience or something, a less powerful power trio.” The trio is made up of the core of the band that he has been touring with for many years. Along with Thompson on guitar the trio includes drummer Michael Jerome and bassist Taras Prodaniuk.
The record was produced in Nashville at Buddy Miller’s Home studio. Gratefully however, it is not Richard Thompson’s “country record” nor does it fall into the trap of so many albums these days of being cluttered with every single special guest artist that you could imagine. Mr. Miller does an amazing job of keeping out of the way and allowing Thompson’s own sound to come through. Miller was quoted in Rolling Stone, “I played along on the record, playing rhythm guitar for him, and I got a two-week guitar lesson while he camped out in my house.” Sounds like a “Win/Win” deal to me. The core group is joined by fiddler Stuart Duncan on several tracks as well, whose playing sounds as if he had been playing with Thompson for years. For those Thompson fans that love his singing with both Sandy Denny and Linda Thompson, both Alison Krauss and Siobhan Maher Kennedy join him here on several songs.
I have to let you know I am a big fan of most of Mr. Thompson’s work. The hardest part of writing this review is deciding who’s going to be reading I, the newcomer to his work or one of his many fans? Thompson has a legion of fans, many of them divided on which era of his career is his best. I could write for days about his musical past for those that know, and arguing for weeks with those that do about which is the best era of his playing. Is he the British Folk hero, the clever singer songwriter with an acerbic wit and tongue in cheek, or the guitar God- the guitar player’s guitar player? I think this record does a great job of capturing many of the numerous styles of music he is known for while still sounding remarkably whole. Realize that he has released somewhere close to 50 albums as a member of Fairport Convention and as a solo artist – including those with his ex-wife Linda. His discography includes live discs, solo discs, collaborations with other artists, several different bands, and half dozen different compilations of his work most of them multi-disc sets filled with greatest hits, live tracks and rarities.
So no, we are not going to cover all of that in one disc of eleven tunes. To the longtime fans – is there anything here as sublime as Shoot Out the Lights, Vincent Black Lightning 1952, Beeswing or I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight? No, I don’t think so but to be honest, that’s a pretty high bar to set for anyone.
Also, while I love the title and think the cover art is fantastic – I’m tempted to get the vinyl version just for the cover alone (although I bet it would sound amazing), don’t be fooled into thinking that the album is nothing but electric tunes and straight ahead rock. As with all Thompson discs you can never guess what the next tune is going to sound like. I’m sure that drives some listener’s crazy but I say it as high praise. Electric features an interesting selection of surprisingly different songs. Yes, it’s a rock-flavored disc but flavored with subtle bluegrass and country touches of fiddle and mandolin. The songs range through the many styles of Thompson’s career. “Stuck On The Treadmill” comes as close to the power trio sound that Thompson alluded to in his interview. One of my favorites, “Straight And Narrow” is a rocking sound out of the mid-sixties that also manages to sound brand new at the same time.
The final tunes of the regular disc are decidedly not electric. “The Snow Goose” is a spare, beautiful tune in which Richard is joined by Alison Krauss. This is not a star turn by Krauss – she simply sings the final two choruses’ with him and somehow manages to sound like they have been singing together for years. The final tune “Saving the Good Stuff for You,” a plaintively waltz this one featuring Ms. Kennedy’s exquisite harmony vocals.
Don’t make the mistake of passing on seven bonus tracks of the deluxe version of Electric to save a little money. There are some real gems you won’t want to miss. The bonus disc starts with the rollicking “Will You Dance, Charlie Boy?” Which will make you dance even if you have two left feet. The moody introspective “I Found A Stray” reminds me of some of his best earliest work. Both are likely to become staples in his live shows.
–– Rob Henry, Bethesda, Maryland USA
- “Stony Ground”
- “Sally B”
- “Stuck on the Treadmill”
- “My Enemy”
- “Good Things Happen to Bad People”
- “Where’s Home”
- “Another Small Thing in Her Favour”
- “Straight and Narrow”
- “The Snow Goose”
- “Saving the Good Stuff for You”
- Richard Thompson – Accordion, Guitar, Hurdygurdy, Keyboards, Mandolin, Vocals
- Dennis Crouch – Bass
- Stuart Duncan – Fiddle
- Michael Jerome – Drums, Percussion, Vocal Harmony
- Alison Krauss – Vocal Harmony
- Siobhan Maher-Kennedy – Vocal Harmony
- Buddy Miller – Guitar
- Taras Prodaniuk – Bass, Mandocello, Vocal Harmony
Here are more 2013 releases