Review : Richard Thompson - Dream Attic
PopmattersConsider this: In 1999, Richard Thompson released Mock Tudor, which is one of his two or three best albums, if not just the best. That’s 32 years into his recording career. Imagine if Paul McCartney had released Flaming Pie and it was as good as or better than Revolver. While we’re at it, imagine that everything he’d released in the interim was nearly as good, too. That’s the level of talent at work here.
Mock Tudor represented a back-to-basics approach following a series of records with more experimental production courtesy of Mitchell Froom. This method has continued since and has possibly reached its apotheosis with Dream Attic, an album of 13 new songs recorded live, in front of an audience. This is hardly Thompson’s Time Fades Away, though, and but for the snatches of applause, it is largely indistinguishable from his recent, no-frills studio work. Well, perhaps not entirely; the spontaneity of live performance seems to have energized Thompson. On record, Thompson often restricts his incredible guitar playing to a tasteful accompanying role, but here, nearly every other song has at least one blazing solo. These solos—each one a tour-de-force incorporating knotty Celtic scales, drones, and blazing single-note runs—would reward thesis-level scrutiny, which we can’t really provide here, so let’s just say that more guitar is a good thing.
Thompson’s sense of humor is on display on the opener, “The Money Shuffle”. For someone with as dark lyrical preoccupations as Thompson (sample lyric, from the rollicking murder song “Sidney Wells”: “They found her poor remains and summoned the bereft / And took her to the church to bury what was left”), who could have predicted that the album’s opening line would be “I love kittens”? The song is a satirical swipe at Wall Street, but with an essential element of wit that elevates the song over the work of your average blustering, indignant rock star with a point to make....full text
IndependentThe dependable Richard Thompson opted to record his latest collection of well-observed portraits, parables and commentaries live, believing that would encourage something special to happen.
And so it does: whether employing his scathing wit on bankers ("The Money Shuffle"), asking for help in a chugging polka-rocker ("Haul Me Up"), or raging against the dying of the light ("Crimescene" and "A Brother Slips Away"), raw nerves are frequently scarified by coruscating solo breaks. For light relief, there's a derisory portrait of Sting ("Here Comes Geordie") perfectly skewering his mix of pomposity, pretension and righteousness, and a rousing contemporary murder ballad ("Sidney Wells"). A folk-rock mix of dynamism and sensitivity textured with sax and electric violin....full text
BbcIn 1971 Richard Thompson made an impulsive decision to leave Fairport Convention, a group he helped found, in order to release his own albums. It didn’t pay off. At least, not commercially it didn’t – while Henry the Human Fly was well received by his fanbase, it apparently remains Warner Brothers’ lowest-selling album of all time.
Still, some 40 years, an Ivor Novello and BBC Lifetime Achievement Award later, Thompson has managed to turn things around a bit. The last decade has seen him release three studio albums on top of career retrospective Walking on a Wire and provide the soundtrack for Warner Herzog’s moving Grizzly Man documentary, while his recent tenure as Artistic Director for London’s Meltdown Festival resulted in the programming of a diverse range of artists from Seasick Steve to Elvis Costello.
The bulk of Dream Attic was recorded over three shows at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall in February of this year. Citing his preference for live performance over studio labour, the record is, somewhat unusually, a new set of songs delivered in a live setting. This emphasis on spark and energy pays dividends.
Thompson’s lived-in voice and dazzling prowess as a guitar player are evident from the offset: The Money Shuffle is a wry, Wall Street-baiting stomper that opens with the inspired line “I love kittens, and little babies…” before ripping apart the hypocrisy and nonsensical attitudes that lie at the heart of modern commerce, all over blistering guitar solos and leavening saxophone. The record then dives headlong into stark balladry, contemplative jams and reflections on eras past and friends departed (Stumble On is wonderfully restrained, while A Brother Slips Away is real heart-on-sleeve stuff, couched in regret and sentiment). Big Sun Falling in the River even boasts a Billie Jean-approximating bassline, and the ascent towards the record’s closing bow is nothing short of magical....full text
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