Release Date: Jun 23, 2015
Record label: Fantasy
Genre(s): Folk, Singer/Songwriter, Folk-Rock, Contemporary Folk, British Folk-Rock
Thompson’s resourcefulness shows no sign of waning (though, he remarks drolly, this latest title can be read as “Is he still at it?”). Newly recruited producer Jeff Tweedy brings fresh textures to a mix of bluesy rock, delicate acoustica and skirling electric folk, but mostly he stands back and lets a master do his stuff. The mood is characteristically stormy, with the gnarly Patty Don’t You Put Me Down and the barbed political outburst of Dungeons for Eyes among the standouts.
Richard Thompson is a guitar hero and exceptional songwriter who has now “done about 40 albums on my own”. So what next? Bring in producer Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, and record more impressive songs. This time he plays electric guitar, and is joined by bass and drums, with Tweedy adding extra effects. The set starts with a slow, sturdy ballad of hope and change, She Never Could Resist a Winding Road, then settles into stories of pained love and sexual frustration that will, I suspect, sound even better live.
Richard ThompsonStill(Fantasy/Concord)Rating: 4 out of 5 stars Prolific singer-songwriter of some of the best, most creative UK-inspired folk rock of the past 40 years? Check. One of the finest living guitarists capable of jaw dropping lead lines all in service to the song? Absolutely. Well-adjusted in relationships with women? Well, two out of three ain’t bad… Richard Thompson continues his remarkably consistent recorded legacy with his 42nd (by his own count) album.
Now on the 16th album of his solo career (not to mention genre-defining work with his former wife Linda, and with folk godfathers Fairport Convention), Richard Thompson is long past serving up surprises. For by now, you’re pretty sure what you’re going to get with a Thompson album – and, despite employing Wilco‘s Jeff Tweedy on production duties, Still fits very nicely into his latter-day canon. This is, as anyone who has ever heard a Richard Thompson album will testify, no bad thing.
It seems after more than four decades of record-making, Richard Thompson has decided he prefers to have a musician in the producer's chair rather than a studio wiz. After producing himself since 2005's Front Parlour Ballads, Thompson recruited fellow guitar ace Buddy Miller to oversee the sessions for 2013's Electric, which featured some of Thompson's best six-string work in years. Two years later, Thompson has returned with Still, which finds him working with another songwriter of note, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco.
Venerable folk doyen on lively form. In a valiant quest to stop himself from going stale, Richard Thompson has been seeking a little outside help of late. 2013’s Electric was produced by Buddy Miller in the latter’s Nashville studio and was a stripped-to-basics affair. This follow-up retains that album’s core trio and finds Jeff Tweedy at the helm for a sprightly bunch of songs recorded in just over a week at the Wilco man’s lair in Chicago.
Decades into his career, Richard Thompson remains a perennial critical favorite, favorite of other musicians, and cult hero; his guitar work (hybrid picking, bizarre tuning, and soloing that never feels too self-indulgent) is unparalleled and his songwriting taut, brainy, dry and dark. Still is no departure for Thompson—it's a solid, stark record, expanding on and refining themes that wend their way through his significant oeuvre. But it brings a further depth and resonance to territory that will be familiar to longtime fans, and it's vivid enough to serve as an entry point for those new to his work.
Riding a tiny surge in popularity from 1991’s slightly-more-commercially-visible-than-usual Rumor And Sigh, the first major Richard Thompson ‘best of’ came out in 1993. EntitledWatching the Dark, the three-disc set was my first exposure to Thompson’s catalog beyond the very good Rumor And Sigh and the absolutely essential Shoot Out the Lights (the 1982 sendoff to the Richard and Linda Thompson partnership). The anthology is a broad, addictively listenable representation of Thompson’s career to that point, and the central sequencing conceit has always stuck with me —songs were sorted in part to represent Thompson emerging from his Fairport Convention days fully formed, a keen-eyed teen with a writing voice and playing style that left little room to grow.
Richard Thompson is one of those people who seem to release records so regularly, that it takes something out of the ordinary for them to stand out - his exploration of 1000 Years Of Popular Music one example of his more eye-catching projects. On Still, the decision to recruit Wilco's Jeff Tweedy as producer is an intriguing one - what can the two of them have in common? When you consider it, there are some interesting parallels between the two characters, whether in those fluid, spidery guitar lines that Thompson pioneered and Tweedy's band have made their own, or even in their personas that shine through in their songs - with both you get the impression that at the best party in town you'd find them sat in a corner, itching to leave. But what effect would a collaboration between the two have on the music? The truth is, not a lot, and that's probably a good thing.
Don't worry about Richard Thompson mellowing with age: The 66-year-old folk rocker's songs are still full of dangerous women and treacherous con men. He's not easy on himself, either: In "Guitar Heroes," he admits the way his music obsession alienated his family. With the help of producer Jeff Tweedy, Thompson knows that bitterness goes down easiest when paired with autumnal Celtic-pub melodies (see "Josephine," which evokes his time in Fairport Convention).
Richard Thompson’s a canny lad. In the press for this new album, recorded with Jeff Tweedy at the production desk, he notes that not many people would notice the sonic artillery the Wilco singer brought to proceedings. But it’s precisely these subtle touches, the noises and textures, that make Still so rewarding, yet keep it familiar at the same time.
With Mavis and 'Pops' Staples tucked cleverly in his production portfolio, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy has forged a reputation for fresh embellishments of old legends. Nevertheless, at first glance, the pairing with Thompson seems slightly odd. Not that it is difficult to see musical similarities. Thompson's guitar technique, often said to have influenced such diverse acts as Television and Pere Ubu, can surely be found within the more adventurous outings of the ever-changing Wilco, it's just that it is difficult to glance the song-writing connection.
Richard Thompson doesn't get enough credit for building a large high-level catalogue of amazing songs. That's changing, though, as more people learn about his legacy and the place he holds for great artists like, say, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, who produced Still. She Never Could Resist A Winding Road is this auspicious introduction, Thompson's idiosyncratic voice tapping into a well-worn traditional melody to get the thing on its way to soaring.
Still, indeed. Richard Thompson has been at it for half a century and more than 40 albums. This one smokes, as always, with blistering guitar leads, igniting Celtic melodies and drones with a sputtering fuse of rock aggression. As in countless predecessors, there are lovely, misty British folk laments, that weave effortless witchery out of minor chords and modal progressions (“Josephine”).
Richard Thompson performing with the Thompson Family Band at the City Winery in New York City on Jan. 31. Richard Thompson performing with the Thompson Family Band at the City Winery in New York City on Jan. 31.. On the closing track of his new album, "Still" (Fantasy), Richard Thompson sings about ….
Recently Richard Thompson has been aesthetically restless when it comes to the record-making process; vacillating from the live-cut Dream Attic (2010) to the nearly-all-plugged-in Electric (2013) to the bare-boned Acoustic Classics (2014). So the decision to build a new LP with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy as producer initially seems to be another volte-face, with Thompson declaring the need to be challenged. Intriguingly though, the resultant studio partnership is less about radical retooling and more about bringing some balance to the table, as in practice Still is one of the most evenly eclectic albums from Thompson in some time.
Richard Thompson — Still (Fantasy Records)Richard Thompson made his debut with Fairport Convention 48 years ago this September. Since that first Summer-of-Love influenced collection, Thompson has written and played on over 50 studio albums and live recordings, both in solo mode and in collaboration, with Sandy Denny and Linda Thompson of course, but also with Fred Frith, The Golden Palominos, Buddy Miller, and many others. Count his appearances on albums with with another artist’s name in the marquee, like Bonnie Raitt, and that number jumps to over 100.