Saturday, 20 November 2010

Dream Attic

After my brief mention of Richard Thompson's latest album, Dream Attic, in a recent article I received an e-mail from the man himself *.   He said

You little s***, how dare you blow me off like that?  You've got a hide, using me as a stepping stone to a review of an album by that young upstart Martha Tilston.  I was sharing stages with her dad when she was still in nappies.  I may even have changed her nappies myself - I can't be sure, there was a lot going on at the time.  Anyway, did you even @#$% listen to my album, you *&^%$?

I have to admit he has a point.  RT is one of my musical heroes.  And I had only listened to the cd a couple of times when I used it as a starting point for my review of Martha Tilston's beautiful album.  Kind of a march of the generations thing, you know.  So, with reverent apologies to the great man, here's a more mature reflection on his latest. 

Thompson is known for three things - his brilliant and unique guitar playing which mixes the folk styles of his Fairport Convention years with a strong rock sensibility; his prolific songwriting; and his acerbic and at times gloomy lyrics.  All three are in evidence on this album.  The acoustic demo disc that comes with the deluxe version shows he is quite capable of carrying a set of songs on his own, playing complex multiple acoustic guitar parts that drive the song along. 

The main album is recorded live in a number of small US venues, with the man himself on electric guitar backed by a band that includes bass, drums, violin and a choice of saxophones.  There's no studio trickery here, it's exactly what you would have heard if you were in the concert hall - a tight, well rehearsed and skilled set of musicians.  Having the band frees Thompson to let loose on guitar and there are some sizzling solos, but he also allows his band to shine, with lovely parts for the sax and violin. 

What made me initially dismissive?  A couple of times his bile goes over the edge; on the opener "The Money Shuffle" - did he lose money to a dodgy financial manager in the GFC? - and more particularly on "Here Comes Geordie" in which an unnamed but easily identifiable Newcastle-born superstar gets stung.  It's not funny or clever, it's just cruel, even if the man concerned is a bit of a prat.

It's a shame these appear early in the album, because it gets better as it goes on.  Later up-tempo numbers are more fun, including the eminently dancable "Demons in her Dancing Shoes" and the energising "Big Sun Falling in the River".  The band, including Thompson's guitar, get a great workout.

On this album, though, its the downbeat numbers that really shine.  The beautiful but desperately sad "Among the Gorse, Among the Grey", the enigmatic "Burning Man", the elegaic "Crimescene" and "A Brother Slips Away", and the scary "Sydney Wells" each has its impact, with thoughtful lyrics and beautiful arrangements . 

He saves the best for last, and even ends with a little hope in "If love whispers your name".

Next time I promise
I will be ready
Ready to move
When the clouds roll apart
Next time I promise
I will do it better
When the sun shines on me
And pierces my heart

If love whispers your name
Breathes in your ear
Sighs in the rain
Love is worth every fall
Even to beg, even to crawl

I won't act so cool
Won't be the fool
Next time
I won't quote the law
Won't be so sure
Next time

'Cause I once had it all and
I once lost it all and
I won't miss again
If the chance should come my way
If love should look my way

Love is worth every wound
Each lonely day
Each sleepless night
Love is worth every wound
The price that you pay
To live in the light

Almost cheerful for the King of Gloom!

* It's possible I only dreamt this.

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