Release Date: Feb 5, 2013
Record label: New West
Genre(s): Folk, Pop/Rock
Richard Thompson albums are formulaic in the best sense. You expect virtuoso guitar, Jimi Hendrix with a Celtic tinge. You expect top-drawer songwriting – wry stories of soured romance and cruel fate, delivered in the 63-year-old's huffy, dour baritone. On Electric, you'll get what you came for ….
As one of the world's most inventive guitarists, a minor quibble among Richard Thompson fans is that there aren't enough flashes of that brilliance on his albums. There's not much to complain about in that regard on Electric, Thompson's first collaboration with producer Buddy Miller, no slouch himself with the six-string. Sonically, it's an ideal pairing, as Miller captures the 63-year-old British folk-rock legend in a lively setting, backed by the equally adept rhythm section of drummer Michael Jerome and bassist Taras Prodaniuk.
After the full-on, amped-up assault of 2010’s Dream Attic, Thompson has reined in his six-stringed excesses for an album which, despite its title, is noticeably less electric than its predecessor. Recorded at producer Buddy Miller’s Nashville home (drums in the lounge, guitars in the kitchen), Electric’s easy manner and open spaces help make the album Thompson’s most rewarding release since 1999’s Mock Tudor. That’s not to suggest his earlier work this century was in any way inferior, but the songs on Electric are given more opportunity to breathe and worm their way into our hearts.
Regularly swinging between acoustic and electric guitar albums, Richard Thompson opts for the latter on his newest, a vigorous 11-song collection that keeps the lyrics and melodies straightforward, allowing the complexity and uniqueness of his guitar-playing to burst through. Also unfussy are the production and arrangements, so when Siobhan Maher Kennedy lends lilting harmony vocals to Thompson's burlier lead ones on five of the tracks, it's hugely effective. Bluegrass star Alison Krauss, meanwhile, adds hers to stirring, wintry ballad The Snow Goose.
Richard Thompson’s total dedication to the twin crafts of songwriting and performance sees him release music with dependable regularity. His drive has shown no sign of diminishing with age. 2011’s Dream Attic was a furious live recording of all new material, whilst this successor is a studio set with a similar fury and energy. The two albums feel like companion pieces, Thompson’s rather alarming description of this music as ‘folk funk’ proving a little misleading.
Richard Thompson is still at the top of his game, a remarkable guitarist and songwriter driven by a furious passion and urgency. His last album of new material was recorded live, and this double set includes 15 new songs recorded "ridiculously quickly" at the Nashville home of guitar hero Buddy Miller, with fiddle virtuoso Stuart Duncan. He describes it as "folk funk", but it's classic Thompson, packed with bleak stories of male failings, usually with a woman involved.
The title is artless and blunt but it gets the job done: it makes it clear that after a decade or so of concentrating on his acoustic guitar, Richard Thompson has returned to his electric. Not that Electric is entirely recorded on a Stratocaster -- he plucks away at an acoustic for "The Snow Goose" and there are other songs where the Strat is tucked away in its case -- but Electric crackles with an amplified energy, even when the instrumentation is decidedly quieter. Much of this is due to Thompson's decision to record the album at Buddy Miller's intimate home studio in Nashville, as Miller favors a speedy solution to recording, favoring vibe over perfection.
Richard ThompsonElectric(New West)Rating: 4 stars (out of 5) Just because singer/songwriter and extraordinary guitarist Richard Thompson was one of the originators of British folk-rock with his 60’s Fairport Convention outfit, doesn’t mean his roots aren’t based in American music. To acknowledge that, Thompson was awarded 2012’s American Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award and this new album—his debut studio recording for New West– is produced by Nashville stalwart Buddy Miller. Thompson claims he was aiming for a Celtic power trio approach here, which is to a great extent what he gets.
Richard Thompson recorded Electric with Americana producing pro Buddy Miller in a Nashville studio. And man, does Music City bleed through the album, leaving a hushed honky-tonk throb with gritty production. The subject matter also seems influenced by all the area’s glittery cowboy hats and rich musical history. Thompson hoists his legendary storytelling and drops it into a pair of Levis outfitted with fashionable holsters.
Folk-rocker Richard Thompson is at that point in his career where he could be called an elder, and, as such, the accolades have poured in during recent years to reward him for that stature. He earned MOJO magazine’s Les Paul Award, Britain’s Ivor Novello Award, and he won a 2012 Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Aberdeen University in his ancestral Scotland, and also obtained an Order of the British Empire (OBE), granted to Thompson by Queen Elizabeth II for his longstanding service to music, one that covers a 45-year terrain.
The title of Richard Thompson's 22nd post-Fairport Convention album succinctly relays the folk-rock guitar hero's current mode: plugged in. Specifically, Thompson plugged in at the Nashville home studio of Robert Plant producer Buddy Miller, who adds rhythm guitar. That's not to say there aren't traditional-leaning slow-burners here, such as Another Small Thing in Her Favour, a typical solar plexus blow.
Peek at the prismatic cover art of veteran songwriter-guitarist Richard Thompson’s new album Electric and you might expect some fretboard fireworks. “Stony Ground” begins in a flurry of syncopated percussive beats and hand-claps. It’s as if the song stumbles straight into the bridge rather than the intro. It quickly resolves into a folk-rock stormer, spiced up by a tabloid tale of an old man’s fate after falling for a widowed woman and her obliquely referenced “honey pot”.
British folk ambassador returns with a fully charged electric set. Martin Longley 2013 Richard Thompson is one of the few songwriters who can still invest the most pessimistic sentiments with a streak of bitter humour. Some of the songs on this amplified band set have been road-tested during the English bard’s solo acoustic travels. These two aspects of his career share unavoidable similarities, but Thompson in an electrified state attains a very different level of intensity when contrasted with his unplugged wandering minstrel persona.
The three-syllable title doesn't fully explain Richard Thompson's Electric. In fact, two of his 14th solo outing's high points are acoustic ballads: "The Snow Goose," a cloud-filled duet with Alison Krauss, and "Saving the Good Stuff for You," as sentimental a love song as he's ever penned. Not that there's any paucity of Thompson's gnarled, electric explorations.