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RICHARD THOMPSON Dream Attic Proper Records (2010)

Richard Thompson

Ah Richard Thompson. For so long the potential superstar of the folk/rock circuit, the former Fairport Convention guitarist left the UK long ago to ply his trade in the States. And while he seems to have done OK for himself, he's never quite captured the crossover audience that his dazzling guitar style and poignant lyrics deserved. For here is a guitarist who probably missed hero worship status by virtue of his folk roots antecedents. Who after all can remember a folk rock guitar hero?

Perhaps his singing - which on this album is rare to middling - also has something to do with the fact that he never quite crossed over. So where does a critically revered artist in his mature years, if not the twilight of his career, place himself? The answer is Proper records, home of a crop of similar quality artists from Dr John to Los Lobos and beyond. It's a relationship that promises a fruitful return for Thompson as the label is capable of marketing his brand of wry observations, thematic subject matter and as on this live album of all new material - some scintillating playing.

Lyrically Thompson may not be Dylan but 'Dream Attic' is shot through with clever observations that shift from the caustic 'The Money Shuffle' - an unbelievably biting critique of bankers and the contemporary financial crisis - to the satirical swipe at Sting's global eco crusade and celebrity culture on 'Here Comes Geordie'. He also channels his more solemn and heartfelt emotions into the moving 'A Brother Slips Away' but he rises again with the spirit of personal reaffirmation on the rocking 'Bad Again'.

And being a live album Richard's material sparkles to the full. The wide range of material is evidenced by the two-step polka of 'Haul Me Up', which features a jumping bass line and some scorching guitar, while the dark subject matter of 'Crimescene' is chiselled into the a slow building guitar piece. In contrast the following relationship song 'Big Sun Falling in the River' settles for a more immediate melodic groove with strong harmonies and a chooglin' bass line.

'Dream Attic' is an album full of poignant observations and stinging comment but it embellishes its themes with the core musical dynamic of a live band. 'Sidney Wells' for example, is routed in folk and enjoys an extraordinary journey that transforms the song into psychedelic tinged acid rock work out, while the penultimate celebratory rocker 'Bad Again' skips along as the band picks up the pace and Thomson slips into bristling picking mode. The acoustic demo bonus disc understandably focuses more on the words. And both electric and acoustic discs neatly set out the equally important facet of Thompson's skill as an arranger.

'Dream Attic' is unlikely to break Richard Thompson to a bigger audience but for the moment it's a welcome return to form on an adventurous project that showcases a strong song-writer, a stellar guitarist, and an astute socio-political commentator. Come to think of it we used to call that folk music!

****

Review by Pete Feenstra

 


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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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