Deft flourishes and considered wordplay that Thompson fans will be familiar with.
James Skinner 2010-08-17
In 1971 Richard Thompson made an impulsive decision to leave Fairport Convention, a group he helped found, in order to release his own albums. It didn’t pay off. At least, not commercially it didn’t – while Henry the Human Fly was well received by his fanbase, it apparently remains Warner Brothers’ lowest-selling album of all time.
Still, some 40 years, an Ivor Novello and BBC Lifetime Achievement Award later, Thompson has managed to turn things around a bit. The last decade has seen him release three studio albums on top of career retrospective Walking on a Wire and provide the soundtrack for Warner Herzog’s moving Grizzly Man documentary, while his recent tenure as Artistic Director for London’s Meltdown Festival resulted in the programming of a diverse range of artists from Seasick Steve to Elvis Costello.
The bulk of Dream Attic was recorded over three shows at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall in February of this year. Citing his preference for live performance over studio labour, the record is, somewhat unusually, a new set of songs delivered in a live setting. This emphasis on spark and energy pays dividends.
Thompson’s lived-in voice and dazzling prowess as a guitar player are evident from the offset: The Money Shuffle is a wry, Wall Street-baiting stomper that opens with the inspired line “I love kittens, and little babies…” before ripping apart the hypocrisy and nonsensical attitudes that lie at the heart of modern commerce, all over blistering guitar solos and leavening saxophone. The record then dives headlong into stark balladry, contemplative jams and reflections on eras past and friends departed (Stumble On is wonderfully restrained, while A Brother Slips Away is real heart-on-sleeve stuff, couched in regret and sentiment). Big Sun Falling in the River even boasts a Billie Jean-approximating bassline, and the ascent towards the record’s closing bow is nothing short of magical.
The musicianship is sound throughout, and though a few of the tracks here could benefit from a trim round the edges (the majority clock in at well over five minutes apiece), it’s difficult to begrudge a group of this collective talent spinning off each other as these songs meet their inevitable, well-earned applause. Although not unanimously blinding, Dream Attic is replete with the kind of deft flourishes and considered wordplay that fans of the singer will be more than familiar with. Chalk up another triumph, then.
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