BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2010 Richard Thompson: Dream Attic (Proper)

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Richard Thompson: Sidney Wells
BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2010 Richard Thompson: Dream Attic (Proper)

Quite what has enraged the exceptional and much admired English guitarist/songwriter Richard Thompson we can only guess, but let's hope he stays angry because this blistering live album -- of all new material, recorded at various venues in the States -- finds him in top form.

With a small band -- guitarist Pete Zorn also pulling out saxes, mandolin and flute; Joel Zifkin on violin -- Thompson straps on electric guitar and, taking a risk, delivers up unfamiliar songs to audiences which are silenced by the energy and politely enthusiastic in their appreciation.

Few artists would attempt such a conceit -- live albums are the hits, surely? -- but this approach allows these bristling songs their full rein of nerve-edge energy.

Financiers and bankers are the subject of the brutal opener Money Shuffle: "We never pimp, we never hustle, if you just bend over a little, I think you'll feel my financial muscle".

By the closing verses of the nail-hard Crimescene (which sets the scene of a long-dry love in "broken glass, broken chair, lamp hangs by a thread") Thompson sounds like he is channeling Nick Cave's acidic disposition and delivers a violently corkscrewing guitar solo, and he seems ambivalent about the Burning Man festival ("Hey ho pilgrim, spin the wheel of sin").

Elsewhere there are the seductive women on Chapel Street (Demons in Her Dancing Shoes) and the end of a relationship (Big Sun Falling in the River). 

Sting is the subject of Here Comes Geordie, and is nailed for a multitude of sins from not speaking in his own accent ("are you from Jamaic-ee?") to his acting ("stiff as cardboard") and arriving in his private plane "to save the planet once again". "Girls all love him, say he's the end. Boys all say, the mirror's his best friend." Terrific.

Musically this album stalks the edges of hard blues rock with Thompson's folk roots (references to Scottish balladry and Celtic drones) given important nods, and of course that guitar playing scattering shards of notes like a shattering windscreen.

Some of these songs are claustrophobic in their tension (Haul Me Up), but the slower pieces such as A Brother Slips Away -- while not exactly easing the tension -- allow this album to breathe.

Thompson is so far into a long career -- it's been more than four decades since he appeared with Fairport Convention -- that these days we might have simply expected box sets (and there have been a few) or retrospectives.

But this album -- which comes in an edition with an important extra disc of acoustic demos for all the songs -- finds him still taking chances, writing material which can be counted among his best, and delivering with a rare passion.

Highly recommended . . . except perhaps if you are Sting.

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