Monday, August 09, 2010

Richard Thompson - Dream Attic

Now some 40+ years into his career Richard Thompson shows no sign of playing it safe. Far from it. In fact when it came to recording his latest album he rejected the cosy confines of the studio and decided to put it all out there in front of a live audience (at The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco). The resultant release, Dream Attic, is as vibrant a record as you’re likely to hear this year.

Opening track, Money Shuffle, is an open (and, let’s face it, entirely justified) attack on the greedy ‘bankers’ (cockney rhyming slang ahoy) who’ve arguably got us in the biggest financial pickle in history. It’s a rollicking way to start the album, you can almost hear the bile swelling up in Richard’s throat. Taking in jazz, gypsy and Middle Eastern influences the track storms along threatening to overshadow everything in its wake. Happily we’re in expert hands here though and there’s plenty to keep the casual music fan, as well as the more committed Thompson-ites, entertained throughout the album. For the purist folk folk ‘Among the Gorse, Among The Grey’ and ‘Burning Man’ sees Richard on more familiar territory, ‘Haul Me Up’ is a straightforward country classic hoe down, whilst the Celtic flavoured ‘Here Comes Geordie’ (am I right in thinking this is a thinly veiled attack on a certain Gordon Sumner?) raises more than a smile or two. Another highlight, ‘Sidney Wells’, is an everyday tale of a homicidal lorry driver and proof, if proof were needed, that folk can be every bit as relevant in 2010 as it was in 1810. Of course there are plenty of opportunities for Richard to show off his guitar skills (as well as winning an Ivor Novello award for his song writing he’s also the recipient of a Gibson award for being the best Acoustic Guitar player in the world...not too shabby eh?).‘If Love Whispers Your Name’ for example sees a furious guitar solo towards the end of the track, earning impromptu applause that reminds you once again that you’re actually listening to a LIVE recording here.

It’s got to take balls to record a brand new album of brand new songs in front of a live audience and, even bearing in mind Richard’s considerable experience and musical chops it can’t have been a stress free process. The mere fact that he’s still willing to take such risks is impressive. The fact that he’s still pulling great tunes out of the air is something really special. A dream of an album from a true national treasure.

PS: The acoustic version of the album (included in some limited edition copies of the release) strips the material back to its pure folk roots. Richard’s vocals and guitar playing are a joy and, although it’s a studio session, I’m guessing by the freshness of the performance that it was recorded live, in one take, too. ‘Sydney Wells’ and ‘Money Shuffle’ are particularly impressive. Oh to have been a fly on the wall that day.

Dream Attic is out on 30th August on Proper Records. A special limited edition two-disc set containing a second disc of all 13 demos and a double-vinyl edition will also be released.

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