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Richard Thompson (Pamela Littky)
Richard Thompson (Pamela Littky)

Disc of the week

Richard Thompson is still alive and kicking on new disc Add to ...

  • Rating 3/4

Dream Attic Richard Thompson (Beeswing/ Shout! Factory)

"I love kittens and little babies." Those are the first sung lines of the new Richard Thompson album. My response to the singer? Who are you, and what have done with our man Thompson, the biting lyricist who would never be so warm and fuzzy.

But then the song, a burly number with a purposeful saxophone riff and backbeat stride, continues on. It's all about stock-market shenanigans and the swindlers who initially appear trustable - with kittens and babies, say - only to be quite oily. "If you'll just bend over a little," the thickly throated Thompson encourages, "I think you'll feel my financial muscle."

On his latest album, a compelling live recording of all new material, we feel the British folk-rock legend's might. Taped during a series of West Coast dates - the performances used came mostly from the tour's final three shows, at San Francisco's gorgeous Great American Music Hall - the disc captures Thompson and his spot-on four-piece band in moods that are sometimes sombre, sometimes romping. There's an up-tempo murder ballad ( Sidney Wells) and a bluesy Celtic dance tune ( Demons in her Dancing Shoes). Lyrics are by turn elegiac, satirical, poetic and ...

Funny - blindingly funny on Here Comes Geordie, a flute-fluttering Celtic ditty that savages one Gordon (Sting) Sumner, a mirror-gazer who surely must recognize the cut-to-the-bone caricature. Sample lines: "Here comes Geordie in his private plane, got to save the planet once again/ Good old Geordie, righteous as can be, cut down the forest just to save a tree."

If der Stingster doesn't call the police for this defamation - definition? - he should at least unleash a lawyer toward the chuckling Thompson.

It's not just Thompson's pen that is wicked: On the depressive Crimescene and especially the album-closing If Love Whispers Your Name, a reflective ballad in 3/4 time that breaks into While My Guitar Gently Weeps-level majesty, he unfurls distinctive solos that excite and further their respective songs. Many of the bursts are fairly brief, though the work on If Love Whispers Your Name is quite a beaut. It's as if Thompson, one of Rolling Stone magazine's top 20 guitarists, is inventing an elegantly wild signature solo on the spot. Memo to Fender: Send this guy a case of Stratocasters, just to keep him on your side.

There's not much happening on Bad Again, a retro-casting Eddie Cochran knock-off. But A Brother Slips Away, as soulful a lament ever written by Thompson, is highly stirring, with gospel harmonies and a downcast fiddle for texture.

On Haul Me Up, a roots-rocker with the good-time chug of Eric Clapton's Lay Down Sally, the 61-year-old icon is frustrated - trapped in a game, no longer knowing its rules. "I'm kicking so hard," he worries, "but I'm still falling."

He's got it half right: Thompson isn't falling, but he does still kick - hard, and with alarming accuracy.

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