One studio album every three years is beginning to seem like a guarantee that every new Richard Thompson release will be a gold-plated delight. The Old Kit Bag
arrives three years after Mock Tudor
, which in turn appeared three years after You? Me? Us?
. And if not exactly a trilogy, the three taken together represent some of his most consistently rewarding work. On the new album Thompson is unusually relaxed--indeed he's positively genial in places--and even when he dials the mood down it's done with deliciously self-mocking irony ("I've got no right to have it all"). In the country-inflected "Sight Unseen" he actually goes so far as to sing of love without bitterness, and only with "Outside of the Inside" do his lyrics really sting ("God never listened to Charlie Parker / Charlie Parker lived in vain / Blasphemer, womaniser / Let a needle numb his brain").
Musically The Old Kit Bag employs a stripped-down band and back-to-basics production reminiscent of early Fairport and as on those albums acoustic folk instruments ("One Door Opens") here rub shoulders with that inimitable electric guitar ("A Love You Can't Survive", for example). Danny Thompson does his solid thing on double-bass (check out the wonderfully languid "First Breath" and "Got No Right"), while Judith Owen's backing softens Thompson's familiar gruff vocals. Like every Richard Thompson album this one's a grower, but it's well worth the effort. --Mark Walker
Now entering his 31st year as a solo artist, and still garnering the same old 'Britain's best kept secret/cult' remarks in the press -but why? To everyone in the know (and this is probably a lot more people than you'd think) RT is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the greatest British post-war songwriters. Not only this, he is the master of a guitar style that is as influential and as distinctive as that of, say, Hank Marvin or Steve Howe. And not just in the folk idiom either - without Thompson there would be no Tom Verlaine for starters...Now he returns with another text ripped from the pages of suffering and heartache, but more importantly, the guitar is aflame once more.
This album marks a far more stripped down approach than of late. Backed only by Danny Thompson's fleet-footed bass and solid drums courtesy of Michael Jerome, Thompson shows he's not lost the ability to evoke the bleaker side of the human condition. While the album's title implies the necessary resilience needed to forget one's woes and carry on with the game of life, the songs themselves speak of a life filled with lost loves (''I've Got No Right To Have It All''), bitter regrets (''A Love You Can't Survive'') and people of untrustworthy motives (''Pearly Jim'', ''I'll Tag Along'').
Inexplicably split into two halves: 'The Haunted Keepsake' and 'The Pilgrim's Fancy', this collection of ''Unguents, fig leaves and tourniquets for the soul'' may come with a standard 'olde worlde' folk sleeve but is full of Thompson's skill in taking a contemporary subject matter and placing it within a story-telling tradition. The aforementioned ''A Love You Can't Survive'' is a standard tale of misfortune and twisted fate, but concerns a coke smuggler and the first half's songs are peppered with some of the spikiest six-string mayhem for a good while. Yet songs such as ''Jealous Words'' could come from any of the last two thousand years.
It's this timeless quality that allows Thompson to float above the crowd and stake his claim as a true British classic. He may be working on the West Coast these days and his muse may still reside in Middle England, but Richard Thompson remains a world-beater. --Chris Jones
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