Saturday, August 31, 2013

Music Library: Richard Thompson 1999-present (The Later Period)

And then there's the Richard Thompson of today, a statesman of sorts, an emissary of respectable music, and hardly the cult artist of yore. He can still tear it up on guitar, but his songs tend to be less surprising and more crowd-pleasing than ever. It is a natural course for a guy in his 60s, but I still have hopes, even if they are destined to be dashed, that Thompson will, like Neil Young, tell his fans to fuck off while he makes a noisy, crazy, surprising album.

1999: Mock Tudor and Semi-Detached Mock Tudor (live). Mock Tudor is Thompson's last great album, a concept album of sorts about suburban London. He got rid of Froom in the producer chair (although Froom stuck around on keyboards) in favor of the more straightforward sound of Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf, who produced Elliott Smith's XO and Either/Or. It is a great album, and the supporting tour, documented here on yet another private-label live release, featured one of Thompson's best live bands, with Danny Thompson (who is, I should mention at some point, no relation) on bass, his son Teddy on guitar and backing vocals, jack-of-all-trades Pete Zorn on guitar, sax, mandolin, and anything else he could get his hands on, and the astonishing Michael Jerome on drums.

2000: "Sights And Sounds Of London Town" from KGSR Broadcasts Vol. 8 and "Woodstock" and "Black Crow" from An All-Star Tribute To Joni Mitchell. Joni Mitchell's not someone I'd normally associate with Thompson, but the man can kick the shit out of her music.

2001: "Persuasion (Live)," "Mr. Rebound," and "Fully Qualified To Be Your Man" from Action Packed: The Best Of The Capitol Years. Three nonalbum tracks that popped up on this best-of.

2002: "Les Flammes D'Enfer" from Evangeline Made: A Tribute To Cajun Music and "Persuasion (Live)" from Live at the World Cafe: Volume 14 - The Next Decade.

2003: The Old Kit Bag, Tracks EP, 1000 Years Of Popular Music, Ducknapped (live), and several loose-end live tracks. I do not love The Old Kit Bag, although some of the songs are great and the performances are pretty good. As a whole, though, it intensifies the conservative, backward-looking nostalgia of Mock Tudor into some very folk-friendly, crowd-pleasing places, which just does not please me. And yet "Outside Of The Inside" is, in particular, an amazing track, an attempt to get into the head of jihadists. The Tracks EP has a couple of live songs from Ducknapped and a couple of 1000 Years tracks that did not make the CD. 1000 Years of Popular Music is fairly well-known by now (and, to be clear, there are two versions of it, so this is the first) as Thompson's attempt to rework songs both inside and outside of the rock era. It is a fun and fascinating experiment that culminates in a ripping cover of Britney Spears' then-popular "Oops I Did It Again." Ducknapped is yet another live, private-label release, and probably the least of all covered to this point.

2004: The Chrono Show (live) and two live tracks. Building on the Celtschmerz idea, Thompson released The Chrono Show, which features acoustic versions of many of his classics and favorite songs over time. It is pretty good, but definitely a fan-only album.

2005: Front Parlour Ballads, Grizzly Man Soundtrack, and Live From Austin TX. I couldn't be at the Live From Austin ACL taping in 2001 because I had a hearing at my work that ran late, and here, 12 years later, it still seems like bullshit. Anyway, it was recorded in the Mock Tudor era, but Thompson plays songs from as far back as Shoot Out The Lights. Excellent stuff. Many of the instrumentals that comprise the Grizzly Man Soundtrack seem based on "Andalus/Radio Marrakesh" and "The Knife-Edge" from Strict Tempo!, and they are wonderful. Weirdly, with a touch little more distortion, they wouldn't be that out of place on an Earth album. There's a truly excellent documentary about the making of the soundtrack attached to the Grizzly Man DVD that has Herzog directing Thompson and his collaborators (including Jim O'Rourke) as if they are actors in his movies. It is a fascinating mash-up of how cinema and music are created. Front Parlour Ballads has a lot of creative potential in that it is a completely home-recorded Thompson album, with Richard himself playing everything but the percussion. My problem is that the songs don't sing for me at all. There's not even the one I can point to as the brilliant standout. They all seem not fully realized. It's a shame.

2006: RT: The Life And Music Of Richard Thompson, including RT On FR bonus disc (compilation), 1000 Years Of Popular Music (2006), "The Coo Coo Bird" (with Eliza Carthy) from The Harry Smith Project, "Mingulay Boat Song" from Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, & Chanteys, and "Red Wine Promises" from Shining Bright: The Songs of Lal & Mike Waterson. The Thompson box is a boon for Thompson fans, full of live performances and demos stretching back to 1969. There's one whole disc dedicated to epic guitar workouts, the disc I play most often. I also have the RT On FR mail-away bonus disc, which features even more covers and rarities. This was also the year of the second release of the 1000 Years Of Popular Music, this time a DVD with audio release and a handful of different songs. The earlier one is better.

2007: Sweet Warrior, Live Warrior (live), and "Harlan's Bounce" from Dreams With Sharp Teeth. Sweet Warrior is much, much better than Front Parlour Ballads, anchored by the anti-war anthem "Dad's Gonna Kill Me." Live Warrior is another private-label live release documenting the supporting tour. It's generally excellent, although the man needs to drop "A Bone Through Her Nose" immediately and forever.

2010: Yep, a three-year jump. My book dropped in 2008. I was a little devastated by the cold shutout from the Thompson camp while I was working on it. The only person in the man's inner circle who would speak with me was Pete Zorn, who is a mensch of the first order. I went to talk with Thompson at a show, sent him a few letters, contacted agents for him and for Linda (who was going to speak to me, but then she suffered a death in her family), and I got a whole lot of nothing. One blanket refusal and then I was fucked. Anyway, I got through the book, but I was so put off by the unfortunateness of meeting and being summarily rejected by my idol that I could not muster much enthusiasm for his work. I'm trying to put this behind me now so that I can move forward, and I can listen to the guy again. But it took time.

Right, 2010, then: Dream Attic and Dream Attic Acoustic Demos. Dream Attic is another respectable, if also predictable, Thompson album. This time, the recordings were live following a brief period of practice. The demos were available as a bonus when this first came out. On the tour that followed, Thompson played the whole of Dream Attic in the first set, then stomped out a bunch of killer songs in the second. I vastly preferred the second set. But still, man, those double-stops in this solo.

2011: Live At The BBC (collection). Three CDs and a DVD compiling a bunch of BBC in-studio performances between 1973 (with Linda, natch) all the way to 2009. Freakin' excellent.

2013: Electric. Thompson's most recent album is a pip. Again, nothing too surprising, but the man does what he does better than anyone else. He recorded this one with Buddy Miller in Nashville mostly as a stripped-back trio, and I sort of love it that those two guys are friends. Anyone reading this far: I've never heard Cabaret of Souls (a 2012 private-label release). Should I get it?


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