Release Date: Jul 22, 2014
Record label: Relativity
Genre(s): Folk, Singer/Songwriter, Folk-Rock, Pop/Rock, Contemporary Folk, British Folk-Rock, British Folk
Though he regularly heads out on one-man tours (including the UK this summer), it’s perhaps surprising to discover that it’s been three decades since Thompson last released an album with just solo guitar accompaniment. But where 1984’s Small Town Romance was a live set originally recorded for radio broadcast in New York, Acoustic Classics revisits fan favourites in the clinical confines of the studio. It’s a bit of a shame, actually, because Thompson’s quick wit and interaction with his audience has always been an integral part of his solo shows, so to a certain degree there’s something missing here.
In which the English folk eminence reprises his formidable back catalogue armed only with an acoustic guitar. It looks like a holding operation – most of these pieces are best heard in original form, and I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight without Linda still doesn't seem right. Yet Thompson brings the experience of his years to bear on 14 dazzlingly good songs, singing more intensely while playing more nimbly.
Acoustic Classics serves as a fitting showcase for not only Thompson’s undeniable skills as a virtuoso guitarist, but also as a phenomenal songwriter capable of deftly tapping into a wealth of human emotions. Throughout, in a voice as immediately identifiable as that of his guitar work, Thompson pours his heart and soul into each performance, lending an air of intimate immediacy generally reserved for a live setting and often lost in translation when an artist enters the studio. That Thompson is able to replicate the feel of a live performance here speaks volumes to his excellence as both musician and performer, adding lines and flourishes here and there to add something new to each of these classic songs.
UK veteran Richard Thompson’s previous Buddy Miller-produced release was entitled Electric, so this oppositely named follow-up provides the unplugged response. But instead of new material, Thompson raids his existing bulging catalog to rearrange earlier tunes, adding a few obscurities, for solo acoustic guitar. Anyone who has watched Thompson hush a crowd with only his unamplified guitar and voice knows that his jaw dropping virtuosity is just as impressive, arguably more so, in that format.
As billed, Acoustic Classics showcases master songwriter and guitarist Richard Thompson recasting fourteen tunes from his near-five decade repertoire as solo acoustic numbers. Fans of his intimate solo shows know these arrangements well, and have long jonesed for a clear, non-bootleg recording of Thompson doing well-known catalog cuts like “Wall of Death,” “I Misunderstood” and “Shoot Out the Lights” stripped of accoutrements – all the better to highlight his witty lyrics and fingerbusting guitar work. For the Thompson fanatic, the setlist is almost too predictable, to the point of incorporating “Beeswing” and “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” which were solo acoustic to start with.
Despite the fact Richard Thompson has claimed that this new collection of fourteen acoustically-re-rendered old songs was cut primarily to cater for fresh-converts looking for a simple selection to pick up from his live show merch table – a point reinforced by the cheap tour-CD-like packaging – it’s hard to not suspect that there were other objectives at play. For although Thompson has also suggested that these fourteen songs were chosen on the basis of being the most requested at his latter-day stage performances, the song selection doesn’t entirely read as either a straightforward ‘hits’ set-list or a hard-core fan’s wish fulfilment. Instead, Acoustic Classics feels more like a reclamation exercise.