Critics have long valued Richard Thompson as a great songwriter and virtuosic guitarist, but his actual albums have tended to receive a muted reception, meaning that a purple patch of recent albums, including "Mock Tudor" and "The Old Kit Bag", have passed the mainstream by. Now RT has decided to produce his least commercial album in well over a decade ... and people have suddenly started noticing him again. Go figure!
Recorded at his home studio in California, this is an album that sees Thompson stripped down to the essentials: voice and acoustic guitar, with a little percussion and electric guitar for colour. Colour is what is needed as well, because this is intimate, ambitious songwriting, with melodies that meander in the direction of the "art song" and stretch him both as a songwriter and, evidently, as a singer. It's a brave move, but one that misses as frequently as it hits.
Those who like Thompson as a folk singer will enjoy "Old Thames Side" ... those who like him as a rocker may warm to "Let It Grow" ... those who appreciate him as one of Britain's finest songwriters may admire some of the more innovative material. As a whole, however, the album is sombre and demanding, lacking the contrasts of light and dark that have thrown his work into relief on previous albums. New listeners shouldn't start here, and old ones may not want to stay too long.