Damian waxes lyrical about a hero
I`m sure Richard Thompson needs no introduction but just for the sake of clarification he co-founded Fairport Convention as a teenager, has received lifetime achievement awards on both sides of the Atlantic, has won a prestigious Ivor Novello award, was honoured with an OBE and was named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the top 20 guitarists of all time.
Whilst reading a recent autobiography of ex Stranglers singer and guitarist Hugh Conwell, I was surprised to learn that he was a schoolfriend and formed a short-lived band with the Punk hero.
This album is a follow up to the critically acclaimed `Acoustic Classics` in 2014.
Acoustic Classics Vol. II features acoustic renderings of classic songs from the Richard Thompson catalogue, some previously recorded by other singers, some previously available only in a band format. A second album Acoustic Rarities will be released later in the year featuring new recordings of some of the more obscure songs in the Thompson catalogue, some previously existing only as cover versions.
The album opens with the wonderful “She Twists The Knife Again” originally released on Richard`s third album 1985`s Across a Crowded Room. Although acoustic none of the edge or acerbic sharpness of the lyrics such as “Never leaves me my dignity Makes a dunce of me in mixed company. No bygone can be a bygone She puts the spanner in, she puts the screws on.” is watered down. A cracker of a track to ease us in. “The Ghost Of You Walks” a lament reflecting on a past romance. The picked and plucked guitar allows us to really enjoy the depth and warmth of the artists vocals. This song originally part of the 1996 release `You?, Me?, Us?`
“Genesis Hall” was a contribution to 1969`s Fairport Convention album Unhalfbricking. Genesis Hall was an abandoned hotel in London’s Drury Lane, originally the Bell Hotel. It had been occupied by hippie squatters. The London police had evicted the squatters, and eventually caused the building to be razed. Thompson’s father was a member of the London Police force at the time and the lyrics refer to the incident. It may be nearly fifty years on but the pain and pleading that can be heard in the vocals are as heart breaking now as then.
We get reworkings of a couple of Richard and Linda Thompson tunes from 1975`s Pour Down Like Silver album with “Jet Plane In A Rocking Chair” It was written at a time that Thompson had embraced the Sufi faith and was reflecting his new faith and the relief that he had found in that faith. The other being from the Hokey Pokey album in the guise of “A Heart Needs A Home”
There are some very profound lyrics shared wonderfully on “Pharaoh” originally from 1988`s Amnesia release. The intricate guitar playing allows us to absorb the deep and at times unsettling commentary.
“Gethsemane” from 2003`s Old Kit Bag deals with the disillusionment and pressure that follows an idyllic childhood. An anti-war song of sorts maybe? Simple guitar chords allow the words to resonate throughout this song. A track from the quite uplifting and up tempo 1982 release Hand of Kindness follows with probably the one exception with the very dark and melancholy “Devonside” although quite bleak, the song highlights Thompson`s superb writing and dexterity of guitar playing. From even the dark comes light!
The classic “Meet On The Ledge” from Fairport`s second album What We Did on Our Holidays released in 1969 gets an airing. The track has become the band`s unofficial anthem. The song’s title comes from a large, low hanging tree limb on which Richard Thompson used to play as a child and which he and his friends had dubbed “The Ledge”. He has acknowledged that some people interpret “the ledge” as some sort of code for the afterlife and that it is popular at funerals. Thompson added: “I had to sing it at my own mother’s funeral. It was in her will. That’s about the hardest thing I’ve ever done” I adore the original but this is such a brilliant version, it`s hard to choose. I defy anybody to listen to this without a tear in their eye. Absolutely stunning.
“Keep Your Distance” is a reworked track from what is probably my favourite Thompson album 1991`s Rumor and Sigh. A warning, cum plea to a former lover to keep their distance as the singer probably isn’t strong enough to refrain from succumbing to their charms. The chorus of “Keep your distance, keep your distance, when I feel you close to me what can I do but fall, keep your distance, oh, keep your distance, with us it must be all or none” are sublime.
“Bathsheba Smiles” from 1999`s Mock Tudor is a skit on the biblical wife of King David and her perceived charms. An almost throw away song.
The song “Crazy Man Michael” was co-written with Dave Swarbrick and released in 1969 on Fairport`s album Liege & Lief. A murder ballad of sorts, a tragic tale of doomed love and dark magic, written when the band were recovering from a car crash suffered in May of 1969 that killed their 19-year-old drummer Martin Lamble and Thompson`s girlfriend. The song is felt to be an allegory for the guilt and loss felt over the death of Thompson`s girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn. A thought provoking listen.
“Guns Are The Tongues” from 2007`s Sweet Warrior is yet another observation on war. It has been alluded that the scenario is Northern Ireland and the story describes manipulation and fanaticism, right to their catastrophic consequences for the young men who get caught in the middle. Some people have assumed that the song depicts an Irish Republican cell but Thompson has neither accepted or denied this, stating that the song is fiction and not based on any real characters. This much-stripped back version really allows the lyrics to be highlighted and increases the brutal nature and intensity of the song
The closing song is another from 1991`s Rumor and Sigh with “Why Must I Plead?” A song of romantic despair and has a real melancholic lilt.
This is an outstanding album. There is something here for everyone, long term fans will enjoy hearing familiar songs performed with a different perspective and new converts will wallow in the outstanding guitar fretwork and rich vocals. The intelligent song writing is sublime covering all emotions at times it`s sad, then uplifting, inspiring and always thought provoking
This album is a work of pure genius
Rating 9.5 /10
The post Review : Richard Thompson – ` Acoustic Classics Vol. II ` appeared first on MaximumVolumeMusic.
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