29th June 2015
She Never Could Resist A Winding Road opens this set with a theme familiar to Richard Thompson followers – love, loss and the call of the road. Unlike the male commitment-phobics of America’s country music, a good number of Thompson’s women are drifters and his message is love them while you can, they don’t need you and they’ll be off shortly. One of the folk tradition’s great songwriters, if only because of his different slants, Thompson’s other big attraction is his wonderful guitar playing. Straight-forward yet expressive and intricate where needed, the simpler settings he favours these days showcase it.
Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco fame) has given the album a simple feel. Here we have Thompson plus drums and bass recorded as if in a room with you, almost live. There was a time when Thompson’s albums were over-produced and live shows with a full electric band can overcome the songs a bit, but here, all is organic. Beatnik Blues is a good walking about song but a mere amuse bouche for the next of Thompson’s big themes. Patty Don’t You Put Me Down is a stomper about a cruel lover, lying in bed but just adding him to her collection of heads. Thompson’s women are as tough, active and nasty as the men. Or he’s just had a rough time with women…. All Buttoned Up suggests the latter, being a diatribe about his girlfriend who won’t shag him. It makes for a slightly uncomfortable unreconstructed listen.
Broken Doll is an unusually hackneyed metaphor until the melody of “all the tears in the world, won’t mend a broken doll” washes away the doubts. He does a good line in melancholic hooks. There are more traditional songs, like Long John Silver, a bluesy rocker with a stinging guitar line. Where’s Your Heart is an angry, sad song of puzzlement about a girl “with pieces missing” and again features a guitar line of wondrous expressivity. No Peace No End rocks and rolls furiously. Dungeons For Eyes is the dark lyricism we are used to, this time about a filthy politician, and a strong steady push before the strange novelty song that closes the set. Guitar Heroes is a new twist on his 100 Years Of Song project. It is fundamentally an excuse for him to mention then mimic the guitar style of his heroes. He ain’t half a great guitarist and the playing is superb but the idea is shallow. Working through Django Reinheardt, Les Paul, Chuck Berry, The Shadows, etc.
Jeff Tweedy seems to have mostly just pressed “record” and stayed out of the way. He adds the odd bit of tone or colour but pretty much lets Richard do his thing. After about 40 solo albums, Richard Thompson’s audience know what to expect and have come to expect it good. They won’t be disappointed.