Richard Thompson: Rumor and Sigh (1991)

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Richard Thompson: I Misunderstood
Richard Thompson: Rumor and Sigh (1991)

Like Elvis Costello, Christy Moore, the late John Martyn and a few others in a very select company, English singer/songwriter and guitarist Richard Thompson made timeless albums.

Pick up any of his from the early Eighties or even the late Seventies and they make as much sense today as they did then. Yet after more than 45 years in the game, he's still not a household name . . . and that's surprising.

His guitar playing can be terrifyingly good (“if Neil Young has a rival it is he,” said Q magazine, and that was in the late Eighties, he's got better) and his songwriting puts him effortlessly in the Costello/Moore category. Even today his dedicated followers still talk in hushed tones about albums like the 1973 l Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight (with then-wife Linda) and Shoot Out The Lights (a decade later as they were breaking up).

From his days with Fairport Convention in the Sixties, which was in the vanguard of a particularly British kind of folk-rock, through to tours with The Pogues and Costello or recording with Crowded House, this very unphotogenic, enormously talented gentleman – who has a rather unfair reputation for being a sourpuss – remained one of the best-kept secrets in British rock outside of the critical community and dedicated band of loyalists.

So to say Rumor and Sigh was another Richard Thompson album is to say be prepared for doses of unnerving genius and an album with a lot of plays in it from here on out.

Ironically the immediate grabbers -- the chill atmosphere of Mystery Wind like J.J. Cale on valium and the jokey Don’t Sit on My Jimmy Shands about his passion for Jimmy Shands 78s – are the two tracks which pall the fastest. But it is aces all the way on the other 12.

Grey Walls is a harrowing, brittle account of psychiatric committal (Thompson has known his dark days), God Loves A Drunk has the tone of an Irish lament yet lyrically acknowledges the nonconformity of the alcohol-impaired, and 1952 Vincent Black Lightning acclaims all the right things -- redheads, motorcycles and live-fast-die-young. Curiously enough it has become something of a standard on the bluegrass circuit after it was covered by Del McCoury.

Producer/keyboard player Mitchell Froom (Crowded House) lets the Celticness of Thompson‘s music breathe as easily as it rocks out or veers off into a John Cale-like monologue (Psycho Street). 

And the musicians on call (Jim Keltner, Alex Acuna and Fairport friend Simon Nicol among them) understand intuitively the underlying tensions and humour in Thompson's music.

It was also an accessible Thompson album – some can be rather grim – and cuts a path from folk to harder rock.

Footnote: Because this was such a great Thompson album I interviewed him and put him on the front cover of the newspaper entertainment section alongside uber-fan Bob Mould. I fully expected this ploy would hook in the Mould fans and the Thompson interview would be the one which took him to middle New Zealand. I would make him the mainstream star he deserved to be. For weeks afterwards a friend of mine at EMI would call with an update: "123 copies sold so far Graham" . . . the next week ""156 copies so for" . . . and so it went. It sold maybe 250 copies if I recall.

These Essential Elsewhere pages deliberately point to albums which you might not have thought of, or have even heard . . .

But they might just open a door into a new kind of music, or an artist you didn't know of.

Or someone you may have thought was just plain boring.

But here is the way into a new/interesting/different music . . .

Jump in.

The deep end won't be out of your depth . . . 

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Your Comments

Mike Rudge - Feb 24, 2011

I bought no 138!! Never regretted it. And until last year's dream attic he had not come close.

Dean Jonasson - May 8, 2011

*Sigh* indeed! Another brilliant solo in another great performance of another witty song from another peerless album.
I've been a fan since "Bright Lights" and the Fairport Days and have had the great pleasure seeing Thompson perform several times. He opened for Crowded House back in the day (although it was pretty obvious the performing order should have been reversed... and I love CH). The last time was a couple of years back when he was honoured by the Winnipeg Folk Festival. His solo performance that night was jaw-dropping. The chances he took with the guitar, his curdling voice and the structure of his songwriting was truly astonishing... more like jazz or serious music than folk or singer-songwriter stuff.
He continues to be a profoundly brilliant creator whose sheer consistency might be his greatest weakness... a force too easy to take for granted.

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