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A rare thing,
This review is from: Action Packed - The Best Of The Capitol Years (Audio CD)
This compilation from four of Richard Thompson`s most musically uncompromising albums, dating from 1988-99, is a real boon, as it cherry-picks the best tracks from those albums to give the grateful listener a feast of Thompsoniana that includes two of the finest songs - by anyone - of the last forty years. In fact, why don`t I just come out and say it: this man is the greatest contemporary songwriter, bar none. He`s certainly the subtlest, though his friend Loudon Wainwright is funnier, and Dylan simply untouchable. But RT, since the 70s, has been surely the most consistently brilliant.
According to the excellent booklet notes by Rob Bowman, the unimprovable song 1952 Vincent Black Lightning is `the most requested song on National Public Radio in the United States` - quite an achievement for an old folkie from W London. I can believe it though, since once heard the song is impossible to forget. Like so many RT songs, it`s about real people in credible situations, a poetic, witty lyric which shows both compassion and a wry empathy for their humanity. I love its opening lines:
Says Red Molly to James, `That`s a fine motorbike,
A girl could feel special on any such like`.
Says James to Red Molly, `My hat`s off to you,
It`s a Vincent Black Lightning Nineteen fifty-two`
The names he chooses for his characters are always just right. Red Molly...!
Chuck Berry never wrote a better, more affecting song than this, and that`s the highest praise I can think of.
Beeswing is the other obvious unforgettable song here, a gentle mid-tempo nostalgic ditty set in the Summer of Love, which may well be the most beautiful song in his repertoire. He`s tenderly remembering a girl:
She was a rare thing, fine as a beeswing...
It`s such a wonderful song you want to rush out and play it to anyone who`ll listen.
But these 77 minutes are packed with beauties, starting with the opening track, Turning Of The Tide, boasting one of RT`s gutsiest vocals, then comes Waltzing`s For Dreamers, a sad and lovely ballad that reminds me of his earlier songs for himself and his then-wife Linda.
Then there`s the rambunctious I Feel So Good, about a man fresh out of prison, featuring another tremendous RT vocal:
I feel so good I`m gonna break somebody`s heart tonight...
You believe him. A great performance of an urgently edgy song.
There are 18 tracks in all, including two unavailable before on disc, and one with son Teddy sharing vocals, sounding like a fresh chip of the old block.
Not every track is as good as the best ones here, this era of RT`s recording career producing a few rather `cold` songs, at least musically. But as a whole I`d say this is an exemplary compilation, and as such an essential one.
A hugely underrated singer, a superlative guitarist, a songwriter of genius.