46 years after co-founding Fairport Convention, 63-year-old Richard Thompson has become one of the most revered musicians of his generation. His guitar-playing skills are up there with the best and he’s no slouch as a songwriter, either, but commercial success has always been elusive. Chances are, at this stage in his career, that won’t change, but if there is any justice in this world, Electric should find an audience wider than is usual for Mr Thompson.
Richard Thompson’s previous album of new material, 2010’s Dream Attic, was taken from a series of live concerts. This time around, he has chosen to record at the Nashville home studio of producer Buddy Miller, who is also a guitar player of some repute.
Miller’s home studio provides a great setting for Thompson’s music. The sound is funky, loose and lively. It’s not a “live-in-studio” recording, but it sounds like it. Thompson is accompanied by long-time drummer and bassist Michael Jerome and Taras Prodaniuk, respectively. Dennis Crouch sits in on bass on a few tracks as does fiddle player Stuart Duncan and Miller, who adds his own guitar here and there. Siobhan Maher Kennedy fills out the sound with harmony vocals on five tracks and Alison Krauss shows up on one other.
Even though the studio is located in Nashville, Thompson’s music still retains much of the Celtic influence that has been a part of his music for the whole of his career.
Stony Ground starts things off in fine style. The song tells the story of an aging man lusting after a local widow…Buxom Betty…whose brother and his “henchmen” give him a right seeing-to. It’s an excellent piece of songwriting and Thompson livens things up with a ripping guitar solo.
Thompson seems to be on a late-career high with his songwriting. Sally B has biting political implications and another stinging guitar solo. Stuck On A Treadmill details blue-collar existence in America (and elsewhere, no doubt), while My Enemy is a slow, brooding number that is ultimately uplifting.
Richard gets personal on Where’s Home…the displaced Brit (now living in California) wistfully wonders where he belongs as a mandolin and a fiddle remind us of his Celtic roots.
There isn’t a bad track on the album. In fact, some of the later tunes are the strongest including Another Small Thing In Her Favour, a country-tinged breakup song that would sound good coming from the likes of George Jones. Straight And Narrow is an organ-driven rocker with more fine guitar playing from Thompson and The Snow Goose is a beautiful ballad flavoured with Alison Krauss’s harmonies.
Last, but certainly not least, is Saving The Good Stuff For You…a fine bit of self-reflection featuring some Irish-sounding fiddle playing. Thompson seemed to be saving the best song for last.
If you find yourself needing more, there is a two-disc version of the album featuring 7 more songs on the bonus disc. The best of these is Will You Dance, Charlie Boy a rockabilly-fuelled rocker with more of that acclaimed Thompson guitar work.
While I’ve always appreciated Richard Thompson’s songwriting and guitar playing, I’ve been put off by his singing. His vocals have always sounded kind of leaden and flat. That is not the case here. And thank goodness, because he has come up with his strongest collection of songs in a very long time. Let’s home he revisits Buddy Miler’s house for his next album.
Click here to listen to Saving The Good Stuff For You from Electric: