I think this is a really good Richard Thompson album. As the title suggests, it features Thompson's lead guitar very strongly in yet another group of very fine, melodic and lyrically intelligent songs which are superbly played and sung.
Naturally, the whole album is tinged with Thompson's trademark bleak take on life. Don't look to this for an uplifting, smile-inducing bunch of songs - but then Thompson devotees will already know that. Titles like Stuck On The Treadmill and Where's Home? give an idea of the atmosphere. Breaking relationships, financial hardship and the daily grind of life all feature strongly throughout the album, but there is a great variety of moods in the music including a strong Country tinge in places (as one might expect with Buddy Miller producing). As examples, the album opens with Stony Ground which has echoes of Thompson's Fairport roots with slightly folky-sounding harmonies coupled with Thompson's distinctively brilliant lead guitar. Sally B is much more of a rocker but with a quirky, almost chromatic melody. My Enemy is quieter and darkly atmospheric, and The Snow Goose is backed by just Thompson's acoustic guitar and some delicate harmony vocals from the great Alison Krauss, and is very beautiful and haunting.
I think 2012 saw some truly great albums from vintage singer-songwriters - Leonard Cohen's Old Ideas, Loudon Wainwright's Older Than My Old Man Now, Springsteen's Wrecking Ball, Neil Young's Psychedelic Pill (let's just draw a veil over Americana) and arguably Dylan's Tempest. I put Richard Thompson in the same league as these giants and it's great to see 2013 opening with such promise. I think it will take some time to know for sure whether Electric is truly one of his great albums, but I think it might well be. It is certainly a very good one indeed: it had the same initial impact on me as Mock Tudor which I think is a towering masterpiece, so that's a very good start.
Very, very warmly recommended.
(By the way, I think it is worth getting the Deluxe Version with a Bonus CD. I know that "bonus material" can often be sub-standard filler but most of this is excellent and well worth the extra cost.)
Having followed Thompson's career since being a teen in the late '70s, I've always found it difficult to rate his albums. I've generally enjoyed his output thru the years but have rarely been blown away by anything. That said, he does have a discography overflowing with one solid record after another. My favs are still his earliest (Human Fly, Hokey Pokey & Bright Lights). Was pleased to learn of his association with Buddy Miller, another artist of whom I've followed since his earlier years (Mark Heard, The Electrics). It seems as though Miller's production imprint does not possess a specific trademark, rather he evaluates each artist's strengths and weaknesses and steers them towards their strengths. And in Thompson's case that means writing extremely literate, melodic songs while injecting those searing guitar solos that we've come to expect. And ELECTRIC gets off to a strong start; 'Stoney Ground' is an uptempo track employing those tried and true Thompson songwriting ingredients while 'Salford Sunday' does the same from a slower, acoustic perspective. "Sally B' (wow, what a guitar solo!) and my favorite 'Treadmill' (I'm on one of those treadmills) with it's funky beat and off-kilter guitar line accompanied by Thompson's scathing lyric continue this album in fine fashion. Unfortunately nearly every Thompson record has a song or two that I find myself skipping over due to tedious and repetitive refrains, melodies, etc: In the case of ELECTRIC two such songs, 'My Enemy' and 'Where's Home' fit that bill. Those are the only two blemishes on this record. 'Another Small Thing' is classic, heart-wrenching Thompson and along with the caustic 'Straight and Narrow' right this ship in a hurry. Appropriately, he closes this fine album on a more reflective and folksy manner 'Saving the Good Stuff' reminding us of his multifaceted songwring acumen. Oh, and for a singer in his mid sixties his voice sounds as good as it did 30 years ago.
From first listening, it's obvious that RT hasn't lost the magic. It took several days to get into "Dream Attic", well worth the effort, I assure you, but "Electric" grabbed my attention straight away. From the cheekily funny "Stony Ground", through the ironic "Another Small Thing In Her Favour" to the harsh reality of "The Snow Goose", RT continues to dazzle and amaze. I love this album!
Judging by some of the comments I've read concerning the high levels of compression on the CD version, I think I made the right decision buying the vinyl. The mp3 version (which you get a free link to when you purchase the vinyl) sounds horribly loud - all subtlety has been lost and everything is louder than everything else (great for HI NRG dance music, but not this stuff!). Luckily, the vinyl version has been mastered separately and sounds as nature intended. RT's voice and guitar sound great - a real warm, live sound, which brings out the benefits of using 16 track analogue tape to record to. I'm not too sure about the mix of the bottom end - the bass and drums seem to have been given a bit of a 'swampy' mix, but that's just personal preference - I guess that decision was made to give the record a more dirty sound? Overall though, I like the live feel to it. I think 'Electric' is another strong RT album, following on from the impressive 'Sweet Warrior' and 'Dream Attic' sets from recent years. Can't say I've found a dud track on here - can see (off the top of my head) Salford Sunday, Sally B. My Enemy and The Tic-Tac Man really coming into their own when played live, although that probably could apply to any of the tracks here. Roll on the Salford (Sunday) gig....
Will not repeat other reviews other than to say BUY THE DELUXE EDITION - bonus tracks are actually a REAL BONUS for a change - some treasures - but then what else would you expect from this long-standing maestro......and it's only a couple of quid more - don't be mean, treat yourself, you know you're worth it! BTW, if you haven't seen RT in concert, you are missing an even bigger treat.
I always look forward to new Richard Thompson albums but I was especially eager to get this one as I also love Buddy Miller (who produced and also played on the record). I was not disappointed. From the opening track "Stony Ground", with its great lyrics and superb guitar break (which has a kind of forceful mixed Celtic-North African feel to it) to the final waltz time "Saving the Good Stuff for You" everything here is brilliant. Even though you can see or hear most of these songs at diverse places on the Web you must get your own copy of the album.
I saw Richard Thompson play in Boston this year and was knocked out by his tremendous performance, I wanted this CD to remind me of a very memorable night when he shared the bill with the equally wonderful Emmylou Harris