Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Richard Thompson -- Dream Attic

Dream Attic
Shout! Factory

In a long career that began with Fairport Convention, the seminal British folk-rock band he founded in the 1960s, which continued in a duo format with then-wife Linda Thompson in the ‘70s, and as a solo artist/band leader since, Richard Thompson has earned a well-deserved reputation for both his commanding guitar work and his sometimes-astounding songwriting.

In live concert settings, I’ve seen him play several times as an acoustic solo artist and several times with a band playing electric guitar. By and large, I’ve preferred the solo acoustic shows and the live recordings of his that I’ve gone back to have been the solo ones. I’d rather hear him shine the attention on the songs than impress me with his guitar technique – although even in the solo context his playing can still amaze.

Dream Attic, Thompson’s brand new album, is a live album of all-new material, recorded with a great band, in which he does astound with the guitar playing, but in which the songwriting shines through as if it were an acoustic set.

There’s obvious anger and heavy doses of sarcasm in the lines to some of these songs. The CD opens with “The Money Shuffle,” which rocks hard and skewers the bankers and stock brokers whose greedy practices brought financial ruin to so many people. In “Here Comes Geordie,” which has a lilting English folk-rock arrangement, he drips sarcasm all over a self-righteous target who sure seems to resemble, if not be, the artist who grew up as Gordon Sumner.

“Crimescene,” is a harrowing song which seems to portray the aftermath of an explosion, perhaps a terrorist attack, while “Sidney Wells” is a long ballad about a serial killer with instrumental fills that seem driven by the character’s violence.

The album’s saddest song is “A Brother Slips Away,” a memorial that recalls a couple of friends from much younger days who have passed on.

Most of the songs on Dream Attic are relatively long – most are in the five-plus minute range and a couple approach eight minutes. This gives Thompson on guitar, multi-instrumentalist Pete Zorn and Montreal violinist Joel Zifkin – a high school friend of mine – lots of room to solo and add musical colour. Drummer Michael Jerome and bassist Taras Prodaniuk are a solid rhythm section and give the others all the support they need.

--Mike Regenstreif

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