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Richard Thompson and Fairport Convention

Reviewed on this page:
Fairport Convention - Liege And Lief - House Full - Babbacombe Lee - I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight - (guitar, vocal) - Gold Dust: Live At The Royalty - First Light - Shoot Out The Lights - Small Town Romance - Across A Crowded Room - Gladys' Leap - Daring Adventures - Live, Love, Larf & Loaf - Dreams Fly Away - Amnesia - The Five Seasons - Invisible Means - Rumor And Sigh - Sweet Talker - Mirror Blue - You? Me? Us? - Industry - Mock Tudor - Teddy Thompson

British folk-rock guitar phenom Richard Thompson is one of those critic's faves who has never been a major commercial force despite a lengthy career. But who cares about chart performances? This guy is every bit as good as you might have heard on the grapevine. With a flawless command of his genre, extraordinary guitar technique, and a gritty, disarming, Celtic-flavored vocal delivery, he does for folk what his contemporary Eric Clapton does for the blues: wrap it in digestible rock packaging while leaving in all of its emotional nutrition. But unlike Clapton, Thompson has never lost interest in songwriting, and he actually gets better and better as he ages, perfecting his skills and honing his unique musical vision.

Thompson's history is intricately tied up with that of Fairport Convention, perhaps Britain's most famous 60s folk-rock group. Although Sandy Denny was an equally important front for the band, and second guitarist Simon Nicol was the one to keep it going for three decades, Thompson's chameleon-like ability to ape any and all guitar styles was really what made it unique. But he departed quite early on, and some of the group's most reputable albums don't feature him. I'd love to say more, but their records are damned hard to find in this country, so I'll have to fill in those blanks as I go along. It doesn't help matters that despite innumerable lineup changes, Nicol's "Fairport" continues to release a steady stream of discs, with multiple live releases originating from the band's annual summer reunion at the Cropredy Festival (I've listed only the ones that might be available in the U.S.). Meanwhile, Denny and original male vocalist Ian Matthews both had significant solo careers in the 1970s; I've listed Denny's albums because I own one of them, but I haven't started yet with Matthews' catalogue.

As for Thompson, he spent the 70s and early 80s working with his wife Linda Thompson in a duo. Still, though, he wrote most their original material, and to my ears he was their chief selling point - nobody can imitate his rich, jangling guitar tones, bizarre, highly geometrical rapid-fire riffs, and huge grab-bag of musical styles. Throughout the 80s and 90s he's continued to release solo albums, with (I believe) steadily increasing commercial success. I've got many of those records and my discussion mostly has to do with them.

I have reviewed several Richard Thompson concerts elsewhere on this site.

There are a couple of overly flashy Richard Thompson fan web pages, of which Henry The Human Fly Caught In The Web is relatively informative (but slow). There's also the reasonable semi-official "forum for fans" Fairport Convention web site. (JA)

Lineup (Fairport Convention):
Judy Dyble (lead vocals); Ashley "Tyger" Hutchins (bass); Martin Lamble (percussion); Ian MacDonald (lead vocals); Simon Nicol (rhythm guitar, backing vocals); Richard Thompson (lead guitar, backing vocals). Dyble replaced by Sandy Denny (lead vocals), late 1968. MacDonald left, early 1969. Lamble died in car crash, replaced by Dave Mattacks; Dave Swarbrick (violin, viola, vocals) added, late 1969. Denny left, Hutchings replaced by Dave Pegg (bass, vocals), 1970. Thompson left, 1970. Nicol left, Jerry Donahue (guitar, vocals) and Trevor Lucas (guitar, vocals) added, 1972. Having married Lucas, Denny rejoined in 1974, left again in 1975. Mattacks replaced by Bruce Rowland (drums, vocals), 1975. Donahue and Lucas left, Nicol returned, 1976. Denny died after falling down a flight of stairs, 1978. Group disbanded, late 70s, reformed with Mattacks, Nicol and Pegg, 1986. Maartin Allcock (all manner of stringed instruments) and Ric Sanders (violin) added, 1987. Allcock replaced by Chris Leslie (vocals, mandolin, bouzouki, violin), 1997. Mattacks replaced by Gerry Conway (drums), 1998. All the members played additional instruments, including autoharp, banjo, bouzouki, dulcimer, fiddle, Jew's harp, jug, mandolin, and 12-string guitar.

Fairport Convention (1968)
A solid, but not fully realized debut album. The band is collaborating heavily here, with balanced arrangements and lots of song co-writes, mostly involving Thompson and Hutchings. But Thompson's key role is obvious from the first track: their catchy, high-energy rendition of "Time Will Show The Wiser." His rock solos are as good as anyone's were back then, but his broad mastery of folk styles is also clear. There's only one problem; the band can't decide on a sound to adopt and doesn't quite have one of its own. So they flit between Lovin' Spoonful-style jugband music ("If (Stomp)"), Yardbirds-style blues-rock ("It's Alright Ma, It's Only Witchcraft" - here Thompson sounds astoundingly like Jimmy Page), early Airplane-style acid pop (Dylan's "Jack O'Diamonds," complete with recorder solo), Elizabethean folk ("Decameron"), mellow jazz balladry ("Sun Shade"), flaccid late 60s experimentation ("Lobster"), and luminous, Byrds-style folk-rock (Joni Mitchell's moody "I Don't Know Where I Stand"; they also do her unforgettable "Chelsea Morning"). All of this is impressive, but it's also bewildering and incoherent. (JA)

What We Did On Our Holidays (1968)
The group's first lineup change was the substitution of Denny for Dyble. Although there are again covers of tunes by Dylan ("I'll Keep It With Mine") and Joni Mitchell ("Eastern Rain," which didn't appear on any of her own albums), everything else is original, with less collaboration and a more dominant role for Thompson. By now Ian MacDonald had changed his last name to Matthews. (JA)

Heyday (rec. 1968 - 1969, rel. 1987)
A compilation of radio appearances recorded in late 1968 and early 1969, dominated by covers of tunes by the like of Leonard Cohen, Dylan, Mitchell, and even Gene Clark. I'm actively looking for this one. (JA)

Unhalfbricking (1969)
Same lineup except for the departure of MacDonald/Matthews. Not one but three Dylan covers this time, plus a traditional tune and two originals each by Denny and Thompson. In 1969 the band had it's one and only big-deal hit in Britain, "Si Tu Dois Partir" (a Dylan song sung in French). (JA)

Liege And Lief (1969)
By now Hutchings had convinced Fairport to focus on reviving and electrifying English folk music. With just a few originals, this album is dominated by such material. It's considered a landmark in pop music for good reason. Their earlier, gentle and upbeat folk-rock sound hardly surfaces (Thompson's "Farewell, Farewell"), and when they take the same approach on "The Deserter" it unexpectedly builds to a thunderous crescendo. New fiddler Dave Swarbrick (who'd worked before for several years with folk guitarist Martin Carthy) is astoundingly dextrous and soulful, propelling the band through a break-neck four-minute instrumental dance medley ("The Lark In The Morning/Rakish Paddy/Fox Hunter's Jig/Toss The Feathers"). And Denny puts on the performance of a career - her cool delivery masks a hurricane of feeling, and she's spotlighted on two tense, understated ballads ("Reynardine"; Thompson and Swarbrick's "Crazy Man Michael"). Not to mention Thompson's usual wizardry (Denny and Hutching's joyful folk-rock invocation "Come All Ye"). It all comes to a head on two epic, long-format medieval story-songs ("Matty Groves," a terrifying tale of betrayal with superb solos; the magical "Tam Lin"). Brilliantly conceived and performed, the record's real strength is its endless emotional reservoir. Produced by Joe Boyd; new drummer Mattacks became a mainstay of the band. (JA)

Full House (1970)
And yet more lineup changes: Denny and Hutchings had both left, Denny for a solo career and Hutchings to found the well-known folk rock band Steeleye Span, which featured singer Maddy Prior and (for a while) guitarist Martin Carthy. So the band recruited a new bass player (Pegg, the other half of the group's "classic" rhythm section) and assigned the vocal duties to Swarbrick and Thompson. The track listing is split between originals by Thompson/Swarbrick and traditional folk songs. (JA)

Fotheringay (Fotheringay: 1970)
Denny quickly put together a new band - Trevor Lucas (rhythm guitar), Jerry Donahue (lead guitar), Pat Donaldson (bass), and Gerry Conway (drums) - and released this eponymous album. (JA)

House Full (rec. 1970, rel. 1976)
A live album recorded at the Troubador in L.A. Two radically different versions are available: the original 1976 release, and the 1986 CD overhaul, with half of the tracks replaced by alternate versions or entirely new songs. I've got the latter. Denny's absence is felt, with Swarbrick and Thompson delivering warm, on-key vocals (the lovely ballad "Banks Of The Sweet Primroses") that just don't rise to her level ("Matty Groves"). But the band is incredibly fast and fluid, and the largely traditional folk material is solid, from the engaging, convincingly medieval "Sir Patrick Spens" and "Staines Morris" to the stately waltz "Battle Of The Somme." Swarbrick is brilliant on the blistering 4/4-3/4 dance number "Toss The Feathers," and Thompson plays a jaw-dropping solo on his rambling, moody minor-key epic "Sloth" (co-authored by Swarbrick, it's the band's only original composition here). And with Denny or not, "Matty Groves" is a virtuoso display that makes nine minutes flash by like a second. Some of this stuff is pure showmanship, like the overdriven, head-spinning reel "Mason's Apron," but it's hard to imagine a better snapshot of the band's legendary live prowess. Co-produced by Joe Boyd and Frank Kornelussen. (JA)

Live At The L.A. Troubadour (rec. 1970, rel. 1977)
Another batch of tunes from the 1970 tapes featuring Richard Thompson, which also resulted in House Full and one track from (guitar, vocal). One track ("Poor Will And The Jolly Hangman") is actually a studio outtake with newly overdubbed vocals by Richard and Linda Thompson. (JA)

Angel Delight (1971)
Thompson was out of the band at this point, and the remaining four members switched off instruments frequently on this collection. Swarbrick, working with Nicol or Thompson, was responsible for the few originals. (JA)

The North Star Grassman And The Ravens (Denny: 1971)
On Denny's first solo record, which includes key tracks like "John The Gun" and "Wretched Wilbur," she's backed by Thompson, Donaldson, and Conway, with Ian Whiteman on piano, and guests including Lucas, bassist Tony Reeves, drummer Roger Powell (presumably not that Roger Powell), and pedal steel player Buddy Emmons. Denny wrote everything except a traditional tune, a Dylan cover ("Down In The Flood"), and a blues song. Co-produced by Denny, Thompson, and John Wood. (JA)

Babbacombe Lee (1971)
By 1971 concept albums were already out of style, but Fairport charged ahead anyway with an elaborate musical depiction of an 1885 murder and the perpetrator's bizarre survival of three attempts to hang him. Shades of John Barleycorn, no? Well, not really. Nicol, who co-produced with John Wood, tries so hard for an updated sound that the folk elements seem completely incongruous - with Swarbrick's fiddle sailing over Pegg's fat bass lines and Mattack's crashing drums, they're more like the contemporary, late-period Jefferson Airplane than a British folk-rock band. That said, they're far more creative, with many well-planned transitions between bouncy rock and legitimate folk. Mandolin, electric piano, and accomplished acoustic guitar spice the mix. But in spite of the careful production, the stagy spoken monologues between songs and the dead-pan, affected lead vocals (mostly by Swarbrick) are totally distracting, and there's nothing like Thompson's unpredictable genius to hold your attention through the seven-minute running times. (JA)

In 1972 Fairport was pretty much on hold, and the record company released two greatest hits records, one of which (History Of Fairport Convention) included a new track featuring the new Donahue/Lucas lineup. The two guitarists had earlier belonged to Denny's group Fotheringay. (JA)

Sandy (Denny: 1972)

Starring As Henry The Human Fly! (Richard Thompson: 1972)
Folkie Linda Pettifer, then calling herself Linda Peters, previously mixed up with Martin Carthy and later Joe Boyd, and soon to be Mrs. Thompson, sings backup on Thompson's first solo album. So do Hutchings and Denny. (JA)

Rosie (1973)
Gerry Conway plays drums on several songs, and there are a bunch of other guests, including Denny, Thompson, and Thompson's soon-to-be-wife Linda Peters, all on the title track. Almost all original tunes this time, most of them by Pegg or Swarbrick. Nicol was absent for this album and the next few. (JA)

Rendezvous (Denny: 1973)
Denny attempts to go mainstream, bringing in guests like Thompson and Steve Winwood, and including high-profile cover tunes like "Candle In The Wind." (JA)

Nine (1973)
Apparently a reference to this being their ninth album. Pegg wrote almost nothing here, with Lucas taking up much of the songwriting slack. (JA)

Also in 1973, Danny Thompson, Pegg, and Mattacks formed the rhythm section on John Martyn's extraordinary album Solid Air, while Richard Thompson and Nicol made guest appearances.

Live Convention (1974)
A live album that was retitled A Moveable Feast and given new cover art for its U.S. release. Sandy Denny rejoined the band at this point; she appears along with Swarbrick, Donahue, Lucas, Mattacks, and Pegg (but not Nicol, who was out of the band for a couple of years). (JA)

I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight (Richard & Linda Thompson: 1974)
The first of the duo's albums, and one of Richard Thompson's best efforts ever. He'd suddenly matured into an outstanding songwriter, and there's one great turn after another: the anthemic title track, with its ringing, Stax-Volt like guitar lines, fine pop harmonies, and incongruously swinging krummhorn arrangement; the excellent, fast-paced Celtic dance tune "When I Get To The Border"; "The End Of The Rainbow," which spotlights his surprisingly smooth vocals and dark, psychologically intense lyrics; the glacial, doom-laden "Calvary Cross," which milks a primeval vamp with remarkable effectiveness; "Down Where The Drunkards Roll," whose mellow electric piano and sing-along vocals bely its sarcastic misanthropy; and best of all, "The Great Valerio," whose stark melody and disturbing lyrics demonstrate Thompson's inimitable talent for blending horror and beauty. Richard's subtle guitar licks are devilishly clever, and Linda's vocals are consistently strong, especially on the slow and stripped-down numbers (the romantic ballad "Has He Got A Friend For Me"; "Great Valerio"). There are some expendable tunes, but they're still well-crafted (the somewhat dull, country-western influenced "Withered And Died"; "We Sing Hallelujah," where the krummhorn parts and forced Celtic cheer verge on being tacky; "The Little Beggar Girl," yet another sharp, danceable folk song). A key record, mellower and more folky but no less extraordinary than Shoot Out The Lights. Co-produced by Thompson and John Wood; the band is John Kirkpatrick (accordion), Pat Donaldson (bass), and Tim Donald (drums), with a few guests like Nicol (here on dulcimer) and Trevor Lucas (backing vocals). (JA)

Hokey Pokey (Richard & Linda Thompson: 1974)

Rising For The Moon (1975)
Denny's second and last album with the band after rejoining them, and the last record before Nicol returned. She's credited with about half the songwriting; Lucas and Swarbrick wrote most of the rest. Her ballad "One More Chance" is particularly good. Mattacks left the group and was replaced by Bruce Rowlands about half-way through the sessions. Produced by Glyn Johns. (JA)

Pour Down Like Silver (Richard & Linda Thompson: 1975)
The last of the three critically acclaimed LP's from their early years, before they took a three-year break from recording. (JA)

The Prospect Before Us (Albion Dance Band: 1976)
Another Fairport spin-off group organized by their original bass player Ashley Hutchins, plus drummer Mattacks and rhythm guitarist Nicol. It's basically Morris music with a rock rhythm section - all traditional dance songs, no originals, and with a caller (Eddie Upton) and a live Morris dance troupe adding atmosphere on several live-in-the-studio cuts. Band members Phil Pickett, John Rodd, and John Sothcott add a long list of archaic instruments, and the addition of a second drummer (Michael Gregory) and guitarist (Graeme Taylor) provides some punch. And although singers Shirley Collins and John Tams aren't very exciting, the mix of instrumental and vocal tracks keeps things from getting dull. (JA)

Gottle O' Geer (1976)
Nicol showed up again here to play guitar on one track; Lucas and Donahue were gone, so the core band of Swarbrick, Pegg, and Rowland is augmented by a hodgepodge of extra players, and they record is credited to "Fairport" instead of Fairport Convention. Produced by Rowland. (JA)

(guitar, vocal) (Richard Thompson: 1976)
This is a compilation going all the way back to 1968 and the Convention's first record ("Time Will Show The Wiser," the best song here but also the only easily available one). Almost all of it consists of out-takes and early B-sides. The first half is Fairport Convention material going up to 1970, the second half is new Richard & Linda stuff, with three exhaustingly longwinded tracks from a 1975 concert that featured Pegg, Mattacks, and grating button accordion player John Kirkpatrick ("Calvary Cross"). It's hard to generalize about a mishmash like this one; there's everything from the band's 1970 take on Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Rock 'N' Roller," which is roots rock unlike anything else of theirs I've heard, to their classy cover of the Byrds' mellow "Ballad Of Easy Rider," to the duo's saccharine 70s pop song "A Heart Needs A Home" and their powerful interpretation of the classic country ballad "The Dark End Of The Street." Wildly uneven and too often just dull, this is only a decent buy for serious fans. (JA)

The Bonny Bunch Of Roses (1977)
Nicol's first full album after rejoining the band, which now included Swarbrick, Pegg, and drummer Rowland. Ironically, from this point on their albums weren't being released in the U.S., so they're impossible to find here. Mostly traditional tunes such as "Royal Seleccion No. 13," which became a concert staple. But they also perform one original each by Swarbrick and Pegg, plus covers of tunes by Richard Thompson ("The Poor Ditching Boy") and Ralph McTell. Self-produced. (JA)

Like An Old Fashioned Waltz (Denny: 1977)
After returning from a two-year break, Denny released a final solo album and went on tour. (JA)

Gold Dust: Live At The Royalty (Denny: rec. 1977, rel. 1998)
An extraordinary live record cut months before Denny's death. All but two of the 17 tracks are Denny originals, with Denny often accompanying herself on piano (solo on "The Lady"). Some of the material isn't exactly catchy ("Stranger To Himself"; "The North Star Grassman"), but it's always pretty ("Nothing More"; "No More Sad Refrains"). Many of the songs are masterful (the majestic "I'm A Dreamer" and "Solo," uplifting "Who Knows Where The Time Goes," and doom-laden "John The Gun"), and even the middling tunes ride on massive waves of emotion ("Take Me Away"; "Wretched Wilbur"). The melodies practically define the term "wistful" ("The Sea"), and the uptempo stuff is exciting (Thompson's "I Wish I Was A Fool For You (For Shame Of Doing Wrong"; title track, which is practically funky). A light country arrangement of Bob Dylan's "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" seems out of place, and I'm not sure why "One More Chance" gets more chances for eight full minutes. But the record is essential for fans of British folk rock. Pete Wilsher's eerie, luminous steel guitar lines create just the right tension, and while Jerry Donahue had to re-record Rob Hendry's damaged electric guitar parts, he's so good that it only helps ("It'll Take A Long Time"). Simon Nicol and Chris Leslie also added some new backing vocals to the mix. The rest of the almost-Fairport backing band is Lucas (acoustic guitar, backing vocals), Pat Donaldson (bass, backing vocals), and Mattacks (drums). Co-produced by Donahue and Jerry Boys. (JA)

Tippler's Tales (1978)
Same lineup as their 1977 record, also self-produced, and about half traditional and half written by Pegg. (JA)

First Light (Richard & Linda Thompson: 1978)
The Thompsons had converted to Sufism in the early 70s, and for the last several years they'd lived in a commune. Not that they weren't interested in making some cash: the duo's comeback album, co-produced by Richard Thompson and John Wood, is a very calculated soft rock effort. They often use folk instrumentation like button accordion (Kirkpatrick again), mandolin, and dulcimer, and there is a low-key Morris dance instrumental ("The Choice Wife"), but otherwise it's just plain slick. The pro rhythm section of Weeks and Newmark works a disco beat into "Don't Let A Thief Steal Into Your Heart"; it's annoyingly perky and hip here, but revealed as an angst-ridden masterpiece on Small Town Romance. Weeks and Newmark also funk up the Little Feat-like "Layla" (not the Clapton tune). Many of the lyrics also have heavy religious themes, like the dull ballad "Strange Affair" - someone must have told Richard to keep it to himself, because he quickly stopped doing that kind of thing. Nonetheless, with some exceptions (the sludgy "House Of Cards") the songwriting is often very strong here. There are a couple of smooth, upbeat pop songs with hummable refrains ("Restless Highway"; title track); the ballad "Sweet Surrender" is syrupy but beautiful; "Died For Love" is an elaborately arranged, cleverly tension-building effort; and the chilling character sketch "Pavanne" is one of their best tunes. Nicol is on guitar, Neil Larson is on piano, and there are a bunch of guests such as Mattacks and many indistinct backing vocalists: Andy Fairweather-Low, Maddy Prior, Lucas, Matthews, etc. (JA)

Farewell, Farewell (1979)
A live record put out after the group had briefly disbanded, including new versions of favorites like "Matty Groves," "Mr. Lacey," and of course "Meet On The Ledge." (JA)

Sunnyvista (Richard & Linda Thompson: 1979)
Their second and last Chrysalis record. Nicol and Pegg are in the mix; the McGarrigle sisters guest on "Sisters," and Glenn Tilbrook on "Lonely Hearts." (JA)

Smiddyburn (Swarbrick: 1981)
One of just two Dave Swarbrick solo albums I know of; it's essentially a reunion of Fairport circa late 1970, with Thompson, Nicol, Pegg, and Mattacks, plus a few guests like Rowland. Both LPs have been put together on one disc for CD release. All the tunes are traditional instrumentals apart from a cover of Denny's "It Suits Me Well" sung by Swarbrick. (JA)

Moat On The Ledge (1982)
A live album recorded at one show in 1981, with all of the players on Swarbrick's solo album. Original Fairport vocalist Judy Dyble shows up on one song, and Ralph McTell on another. Not released in the U.S. (JA)

Shoot Out The Lights (Richard & Linda Thompson: 1982)
A critically acclaimed, accessible commercial breakthrough. The material - all of it Richard's - is consistently attention-grabbing, from the exciting opening notes of the galloping "Don't Renege On Our Love," to the thudding, swooping, reverby title track, to the oddly cheery, jangly retro rocker "Wall Of Death." It's mostly radio-friendly, mid-tempo rock, but there's enough folk here for purists, including the plodding sea chantey "Back Street Slide." There are some minor problems: the arrangements often drag, and Linda's vocal spotlights are uneven, either slathered with melodramatic pop flavorings (the glacial, country-influenced "Walking On A Wire") or slowed down past the point of monotony ("Just The Motion"). Still, she's effective on the morbid, but hauntingly beautiful "Did She Jump," which apparently refers to Sandy Denny's accidental death in a fall. I'd be surprised if anything else in their catalogue turns out to be as well-written and performed as this. The CD has a decent bonus track ("Living In Luxury"). Their last album together; afterwards they divorced, Linda cut a solo record, and Richard continued on his own. Produced by Joe Boyd; the band is Nicol, Pegg, and Mattacks, with Pete Zorn taking over bass from Pegg on some tracks, and a brass section including Brian Jones (the other one) in a few places. Ironically, an early version of the album with the same track listing was recorded in 1980 with Gerry Rafferty producing, but a half-dozen labels turned it down. (JA)

Flittin' (Swarbrick: 1983)
Another pile of traditional tunes recorded during the Smiddyburn sessions, with the same players. (JA)

Strict Tempo! (Richard Thompson: 1983)
A quickly recorded instrumental album consisting mostly of traditional tunes ("The Knife-Edge" is an original). The only performers are Thompson and Dave Mattacks, so Thompson takes the unusal step of recording multiple overdubs. (JA)

Hand Of Kindness (Richard Thompson: 1983)
Thompson's first serious effort at a solo album in a decade is a curious let-down, marred by uneven songwriting and failing to back up the sentimental soft-rock gloss of Shoot Out The Lights with enough substantial emotional content. Only three tracks are keepers, and two of them are fast-paced polkas with catchy riffs ("Tear Stained Letter"; "Two Left Feet," which verges on zydeco); the other is a mid-tempo rocker with a vaguely New Wave-style beat (title track). Produced again by Boyd. (JA)

Small Town Romance (Richard Thompson: 1984)
This is a live acoustic album that was recorded at a couple of club dates in New York. The stark, solo vocal-plus-guitar format gets a bit tiring after a while - 17 tracks without a break. Thompson doesn't seem too comfortable either, cracking some jokes but also playing a lot of difficult, introspective pieces. The track listing is uneven, with some masterpieces both moody ("Genesis Hall"; title track; "The Great Valerio"; "Never Again") and manic ("Woman Or A Man?"; "Love Is Bad For Business"). But he overemphasizes the former category, leaving the sum total a dreary experience despite the individual strength of the tunes. He also stays away from obvious choices, with just a couple of crowd-pleasers like "Bright Lights Tonight," "Meet On The Ledge," and his devastating "Don't Let A Thief Steal Into Your Heart," plus one oddly chosen cover (Hank Williams' "Honky-Tonk Blues"). However, Thompson's mastery of folk guitar technique is so impressive ("How Many Times Do You Have To Fall?") that it's worth hearing in this unvarnished form. Thompson later demanded that the record be taken out of print, but it's been reissued. (JA)

Across A Crowded Room (Richard Thompson: 1985)
By now Thompson had established himself commercially, so he moved from minor label Hannibal to Polygram. But the record's no better than Hand Of Kindness: tons of crackling, twangy, super-trebly guitar parts buried by Joe Boyd's bland production, with the only updates being Mattacks' slightly mechanical New Wave 4/4 beats (the nerdy love song "You Don't Say") and some fretless bass work by Bruce Lynch. Accordionist Alan Dunn, a pumping horn section, and backing vocalists Christine Collister and Clive Gregson are all overused; Nicol's guitar is inaudible; and the tunes are listless, whether Thompson's sleepwalking through another creepy ghost story (the New Age-y "Ghosts In The Wind"), stumbling through another cheery drinking song ("I Ain't Going To Drag My Feet No More," which is harmless fun), striding through a generic folk-rocker ("Walking Through A Wasted Land"), or thumping along with cutesy, overdriven polka-rockabilly hybrids ("Fire In The Engine Room," which wastes an athletic lead riff; "Little Blue Number"). And the record wheezes to a stop with the depressing six-minute "Love In A Faithless Country," where pompous mock-medieval backing vocals by the Soultanas distract completely from Thompson's spastic soloing. The disc does sport a lot of great guitar work and scrumptiously bitter lyrics, plus two first-rate tunes: "She Twists The Knife Again" is an almost danceable, dark-edged foray into New Wave, and the stately, Motown-flavored feel-bad anthem "When The Spell Is Broken" is outstanding. But it's easy to hear why this was Boyd's last appearance as Thompson's producer. (JA)

One Clear Moment (Linda Thompson: 1985)
Her only solo album, well-regarded by critics despite her always having played second fiddle to her ex-husband. Afterwards she was forced to give up her music career by a long-term illness that ruined her singing voice. The up-beat title track, with its chugging New Wave beat, is a smooth, enjoyable pop song, well worth hearing - Jerry Donahue's lead guitar is remarkably Richard Thompson-like. Produced by Gerry Rafferty's associate Hugh Murphy; much of the material was written in collaboration with keyboard player/backing vocalist Betsy Cook. (JA)

Faithless (Richard Thompson: rec. 1985, rel. 2004)
A live record on Thompson's Beeswing label with Gregson and Collister, plus a rhythm section of Rory McFarlane (bass) and Gerry Conway (drums). The track selection looks pretty predictable, dominated by Richard & Linda numbers ("Shoot Out The Lights") and recent solo tunes ("Tear Stained Letter"; "Twists The Knife Again"), with possibly no Fairport numbers, although there are some titles I don't recognize. (JA)

Gladys' Leap (1986)
The first record by Fairport's "new" Nicol/Pegg/Mattacks lineup (they'd continued to play reunion shows through the early 80s with Swarbrick and Rowland). The group's new formula of sluggish, New Age-y soft rock results in one five-minute running time after another, and there are gobs of Nichol's sleepy baritone crooning, Pegg's fretless bass, and Mattacks' buzzing keyboards and popping electronic percussion. Ralph McTell contributes one tune and collaborates with them on two others, but his sentimental folk baladeering is forgettable ("Bird From The Mountain" and McTell and Mattacks' tear-jerking "The Hiring Fair"; they also slaughter John Richards' nostalgic, semi-acoustic naval anthem "Honour And Praise"). Things get even more unfocused when they back singer Cathy LeSurf on her burbling, disco-y folk-pop tune "My Feet Are Set For Dancing." Worse, they get Thompson to solo freely on Dave Whetstone's thumping, generic New Wave rocker "Head In A Sack," and then undermix him badly. They do better with a hand-clapping cover of Thompson's country hoedown number "How Many Times"; McTell and Nicol's herky-jerky medieval dance tune "Wat Tyler" is a little fun; and there's some stately lite funk/Celtic folk fusion ("Instrumental Medley '85"), with future member Ric Sanders adding a respectable fiddle solo (he's also on a couple other tracks). But there isn't one track here I'm eager to hear again. (JA)

Expletive Delighted (1986)
Finally, Fairport cuts a record that dispenses with gushy lyrics and ponderous vocals, and dishes out tons of elaborate solos and an intelligent English folk-rock sound. The return of Richard Thompson? Not exactly; instead it's an all-instrumental effort that makes you wonder why they later went straight back to ruining their work with woeful pop vocals. Allcock and Sanders became permanent band members at this point; credited separately, they and Pegg wrote most of the record, and Sanders' rapid-fire fiddlizing is prominently featured. Both Thompson and Jerry Donahue guest on a medley. (JA)

Daring Adventures (Richard Thompson: 1986)
Thompson's first collaboration with producer/keyboard player Mitchell Froom is a mixed success. Thompson's songwriting is still a little bit rote at this point, and Froom gets carried away with some flashy arrangements that reduce Thompson either to a bland pop-rock singer ("Nearly In Love," where they try way too hard for a hit single sound) or a sideshow freak ("Cash Down Never Never," ruined by Froom's haunted house theramin and organ parts; "Al Bowlly's In Heaven," a classy, but pointlessly picture-perfect recreation of down-tempo, finger-snappin' 40's jazz). Still, though, "A Bone Through Her Nose" rocks so hard that it stands as one of Thompson's best tunes ever, and the minor stuff here is all solidly enjoyable, from smog-shrouded laments ("Lovers' Lane") to aching, soulful balladry ("Jennie") to Celtic-flavored, Richard & Linda-style pop ("Missie How You Let Me Down"; "Dead Man's Handle") to ecstatic rockabilly ("Valerie"; "Baby Talk," also a nod to polka). Track this down if you enjoy Froom's later productions. The band is mostly studio pros known to Froom from the King Of America sessions: Jerry Scheff (bass); Alex Acuña (percussion); Micky Curry (drums), replaced on a few tracks by Jim Keltner; plus Thompson's old cohorts John Kirkpatrick (accordion) and backing singers Gregson and Collister, as well as several bit players. (JA)

In Real Time (1987)
Have this. A pseudo-live record, actually cut in the studio but with crowd noises overdubbed. Includes some competent but not terribly exciting performances, with many of the tunes being Fairport standards like "Matty Groves," "Crazy Man Michael," and "Meet On The Ledge" yet again. (JA)

Live, Love, Larf & Loaf (French Frith Kaiser Thompson: 1987)
On a lark, Thompson now went in to the studio to record a sometimes goofy, sometimes serious, and always low-key album with three like-minded, avant garde folk-rockers: John French (drums, vocals; ex-Beefheart band), Fred Frith (bass, vocals), and Henry Kaiser (guitar). Clearly, a good time was had by all. French, Frith, and Thompson split the songwriting and singing about equally, which makes it a real group effort instead of a mere shadow band a la Tin Machine. They gleefully slaughter the Beach Boys' "Surfin' USA," put across a traditional Okinawan folk song in Okinawan ("Hai Sai Oji-San": it sounds just like any Japanese folk number), and cook up a bunch of fresh and creative original material: some taut, riffy low-volume rock ("Wings A La Mode"; "The Second Time"; "Where's The Money?," like the Who at their funniest), and even a moody folk epic that would have fit in well on an early Fairport record (Frith's "Bird In God's Garden/Lost And Found"). The instrumentals drag (French's abstract, jazzy "Disposable Thoughts" and five-minute solo "Drumbo Ogie"), there's a dull blues cover (Willie Dixon's "The Same Thing"), and Thompson's writing overshadows his colleagues' (the zany polka "Killerman Gold Posse"; "Drowned Dog Black Night," with a devastating solo; the creepy Celtic folk-rocker "Tir-Nan-Darag"). But the record's joyful, collaborative feel is a nice change of pace from Thompson's usual gloominess. Produced by Kaiser. (JA)

Dreams Fly Away (Linda Thompson: rec. 1972 - 1987, rel. 1996)
A fine 20-track, single-CD compilation spanning Linda's career. Only five recordings are lifted from Richard & Linda albums, and only half the tunes are Richard Thompson compositions, with the rest split between covers, traditional folk songs, and her mid-80s collaboration with songwriter Betsy Cook. The Cook material is interesting but uneven, slightly mushy (the hummable, New Age-y "Insult To Injury") when it's not plain poppy (a remix of the New Wave-ish title track of One Clear Moment), and slathered with the same echoey, piercingly metallic synth effects that Pete Townshend was using at the same time ("Talking Like A Man"; "Telling Me Lies"). But Richard-heads will revel in the obscurities: the 1980 Gerry Rafferty-produced version of "Walking On A Wire" and cover of Sandy Denny's "I'm A Dreamer"; the demo of "First Light"; stark live takes on "Pavanne" and "The Great Valerio"; their 1972 version of poet Brian Patten's wistful "Sometimes It Happens"; and Linda's remake of "Dimming Of The Day," the only track from her unreleased, Herb Pedersen-produced, 1987 solo country-pop album with Bruce Hornsby, David Lindley, and David Grisman. It's also refreshing to hear her strong, stately soprano on track after track, especially when it's unadorned ("Many Dreams Must Fly Away," an a capella duo with Cook; the British folk tunes "Shay Fan Yan Ley" and "Blackwaterside"; "I Live Not Where I Love," from a 1987 Simon Nicol solo project). And the liner notes are excellent. (JA)

Amnesia (Richard Thompson: 1988)
Thompson's first album on Capitol, produced again by Froom. They're still trying too hard: most tracks are crammed with bit players - Kirkpatrick, Collister, Gregson, a brass band, etc. - and Froom's keyboard playing (mostly on organ) is occasionally heavy-handed. So half the tunes have a slick, overworked sound that drowns Thompson out, most frustratingly on the mournful archaeological epic "Pharaoh." The up-tempo numbers have an incongruous feel-good vibe (the sock hop rock 'n' roller "Turning Of The Tides"; the downright peppy folk-rock hand-clapper "Yankee Go Home"), and there's an unusually dull acoustic ballad ("Waltzing's For Dreamers," complete with weepy fiddle). That said, Thompson's songwriting is fairly strong, starting with "Turning Of The Tides": "I Still Dream" is a good example of his Richard & Linda-era ballad formula; "Jerusalem On The Jukebox" is a fun, galumphing rocker; and the thudding, echoey "Gypsy Love Songs" works a massive vamp to death. And bassist Tony Levin's percussive sound compliments Thompson's usual reverby tone on three fine tunes: the melodramatic "Can't Win," with an awesome Thompson solo and Fred Tackett on acoustic guitar; the pulsing, downright funky "Don't Tempt Me"; and the suave, poppy breakup song "Reckless Kind," the LP's best track. But the disc just isn't a real step up from Daring Adventures. The core band is Froom, Keltner alternating with Curry, Scheff, and Alex Acuña. (JA)

More Guitar (Richard Thompson: rec. 1988, rel. 2003)
A live set on the Beeswing label featuring Gregson and Collister, Kirkpatrick, Pat Donaldson (bass), and Kenny Aronoff (drums). I've been told that Henry Kaiser selected the recordings from several different concerts, trying to spotlight Thompson's most impressive guitar solos. Surprisingly, it's almost entirely contemporary stuff from his last three studio albums, but they do "Shoot Out The Lights" again, there are surprise covers of "Here Without You" and "We Got To Get Out Of This Place," and I don't know "The Angels Took My Racehorse Away." (JA)

Red And Gold (1989)
A studio album produced by Nicol. A few tunes are by Sanders or Allcock, but like usual they're low on ideas, covering a Dylan-Band number ("Open The Door Richard") and taking yet more donated tunes by Ralph McTell (title track) and Dave Whetstone. (JA)

The Five Seasons (1990)
A deadly dull New Age folk rock record co-produced by Mattacks and Nicol. Nicol sings lead throughout, and his warm baritone is more monotonous than ever. Allcock hardly plays any guitar, and instead you get tons of slow, sappy, sentimental ballads slathered with synth ("Gold"; "Ginnie"). There's no original material other than a couple of traditional folk instrumentals that spotlight Sanders' intricate fiddling (his "Mock Morris," and Allcock's "Cup Of Tea!"). So the band leans on hack writers like Dave Whetstone ("Rhythm Of The Time"; the misogynistic "Sock In It," with an incongruous lite funk beat), plus the usual mid-tempo folk songs (the chantey "Claudy Banks," which does have a comforting old-timey flavor; the danceable gimmick tune "The Card Song/Shuffle The Pack"). Somehow it comes as no surprise that they deliver a light-weight country-western tune ("All Your Beauty") and a pretentious, tear-jerking, seven-minute nature ode ("The Wounded Whale"). In the end, the only real high point is a half-way energetic live track appended to the 1995 CD release (Whetstone's "Caught A Whisper"). (JA)

Invisible Means (French Frith Kaiser Thompson: 1990)
A reunion record that somehow manages to be both less experimental and less entertaining than their first effort. You get plenty more of the French's totally unpredictable rhythms and Kaiser's wiggy, slightly Robert Fripp-influenced guitar lines. But the amps and everything else are turned down way too low. The writing is split four ways, so Kaiser has space this time for his pretentious quasi-classical avant garde experimentation ("Kalo Takariva"; "The Book Of Lost Dreams"; the high concept "Days Of Our Lives," with a long voiceover). Only "The Nearsight Heron," with its mellow Japanese vibe, is any fun. Frith favors feathery instrumentals ("Lizard's Tail"; "Hunting Sunsets"; his meditative "Quick Sign," which has a good hook). French - the only other vocalist - is surprisingly commercial, with an irritatingly melodramatic pop song ("To The Rain"), an incongruous roadhouse blues (title track), a humorous reggae-polka-Zappa hybrid ("Now That I Am Dead"), and a limp art-pop number ("Suzanne"). Meanwhile, Thompson's cuts are too few and too slight. There's a creepy, wacked-out mini-opera ("March Of The Cosmetic Surgeons," complete with a solo by mezzo-soprano Catherine Keener), an overlong and not very coherent mid-tempo number ("Killing Jar"), and a depressing, minimalistic folk song ("Begging Bowl"). Everything does come together on his up-tempo "Peppermint Rock," and some of the rest really does work - French's groovy funk-rocker "The Evening News," and a fun, energetic, Buddy Holly-influenced rock 'n' roll take on the traditional "Loch Lomond." But Thompson has rarely put his name on anything as weak as this. Again produced by Kaiser. (JA)

Rumor And Sigh (Richard Thompson: 1991)
Thompson's songwriting talent and Froom's densely layered, oddball production style both suddenly go into overdrive, and they end up with an extraordinarily good record. But it's flawed - and for the strangest reason: Thompson tries hard here to show off a lot of stylistic variety, and although it's impressive, it dissipates some of his emotional force. Everything's here: sluggish blue-eyed soul ("Why Must I Plead"), solo acoustic Brit-folk ("1952 Vincent Black Lightning"), double-time country-western ("Mother Knows Best"), slick folk-pop ("Keep Your Distance"), moody country-blues ("Mystery Wind"), a goofy Scottish polka ("Don't Sit On My Jimmy Shands"), and plenty of his patented, eerie rock ("Grey Walls"). But it's so professional and complexly produced that it often sounds like imitation or homage instead of a personal statement. Still, though, the heights here are really high: "Read About Love," an energetic folk/pop/rock hybrid; the mid-tempo "I Feel So Good"; "I Misunderstood," a wrenching breakup song; "Backlash Love Affair," dark, brutal, and beautiful; and "Psycho Street," a hysterical, unpredictable catalogue of sociopathy. His solos are as amazing as ever, his vocals have astounding authority, and the few weak tracks won't distract you too much. Just make sure you get the later records as well. Produced again by Mitchell Froom, who by now also was working with Elvis Costello; Froom adds a bunch of bizarre keyboard parts. Jerry Scheff, Jim Keltner, Mickey Curry, Alex Acuña, and Simon Nicol are all back, joined by assorted bit players on fiddle, accordion, backup vocals, etc. (JA)

Sweet Talker (Richard Thompson: 1992)
A soundtrack album. There's one excellent, carefully produced Celtic pop-rock song in his usual 90s style ("Put Your Trust In Me"), one harder-edged number with a pumping horn section ("To Hang A Dream On"), and one bleak, semi-acoustic ballad with loads of soft rock sheen ("False Or True"). But "Put Your Trust" gets recycled repeatedly (the bluegrass-styled "Harry's Theme"), and there isn't one other vocal tune worth hearing - the only other serious effort is an irritating county-western polka ("Boomtown," with a generic macho man vocal by John Andrew Parks). The rest is instrumental, and when Thompson's not going with mild, New Agey guitar solos ("Persuasion"; the muzaky "Beachport") and canned-sounding folk (the nautical-themed "Roll Up"), he's weighed down by treacly synth-string arrangements courtesy of keyboard player Ian Lynn ("The Dune Ship," with a yet another reprise of "Put Your Trust"; title track) and numerous lite jazz sax solos by old hand Peter Zorn. Thompson's a genius as always, but with only three quality tunes the disc is just plain expendable. Co-produced by Thompson and Peter Filleul; the enormous band includes Kirkpatrick, Filleul (keyboards), David Paton (bass, often fretless), Liz Kitchen (percussion), either Mattacks or Bob Jenkins (drums), Nicol on half the tracks, and many guests like Collister and Danny Thompson. (JA)

25th Anniversary Concert (1994)
Hutchings, Swarbrick, and Thompson show up for a reunion on a half-dozen tracks, Donahue on some others, and then there's a bunch of guests including Robert Plant. (JA)

Mirror Blue (Richard Thompson: 1994)
A record so brilliant I can't even explain it. Every song is perfectly conceived and executed, every guitar solo is jaw-droppingly creative, every lyric is fascinating. As usual, his range is impressive: everything from stark and beautiful Celtic acoustic ballads ("King Of Bohemia"; "Beeswing") to catchy, clever, and entirely up-to-date pop-rock songs ("I Can't Wake Up To Save My Life"; "Mascara Tears") - the same formula as Rumor And Sigh, just more consistent. There's yet more of Thompson's lovingly arranged rockabilly ("Shane And Dixie"), another nutty social commentary piece ("Fast Food"), an ethereal acoustic waltz ("Taking My Business Elsewhere"), an unclassifiable Scottish reel/hot rod song ("MGB-GT"), an extraordinary folk-rocker ("For The Sake Of Mary"), a gorgeous acoustic love song ("The Way That It Shows"), and a couple of his characteristically dark, disturbing mood pieces that are so dramatic they're breathtaking ("Mingus Eyes"; "I Ride In Your Slipstream"). Every tune is worth every cent - buy this record. Again produced by Froom, and again the band is affiliated with Elvis Costello: Froom on keyboards, Attractions drummer Pete Thomas, and Jerry Scheff on bass (he's memorable on "Slipstream"). Danny Thompson contributes a fabulous acoustic bass line to the jazzy, impressionistic "Easy There, Steady Now." The other guests are bit players on traditional instruments (concertina, fiddle, pipes) and backup vocalists. (JA)

Jewel In The Crown (1995)
A self-produced studio album with very eclectic material, including a few originals (mostly by Allcock), tunes given to them by Ralph McTell, Steve Tilston, and Clive Gregson, and a Leonard Cohen cover. (JA)

The Attic Tracks (Sandy Denny, Trevor Lucas, and friends: rec. 1972 - 1984, rel. 1995)
A compilation of obscurities that appeared on four limited-release tapes from 1988 to 1994. Twelve of 18 tracks are Denny solo, two are Fairport, and the other four are Lucas. Some interesting titles in the list such as a cover of "Easy To Slip." (JA)

Old.Borrowed.New.Blue (1996)
Mattacks isn't on this acoustic record, so there's no drummer. Half live, half studio. They cover everyone from James Taylor to Loudon Wainwright, and on the live set they once again go with standards like "Matty Groves," "Genesis Hall," "The Deserter," and "Crazy Man Michael" (but not "Meet On The Ledge"). (JA)

You? Me? Us? (Richard Thompson: 1996)
This is a double album with an interesting theme: on disc 1 ("Voltage Enhanced") Thompson brings back his usual rock band (Froom, Nicol, Scheff, alternately Keltner and Thomas on drums), but on disc 2 ("Nude") he drops them, spotlights acoustic bassist Danny Thompson, and focuses on moody, down-tempo folk songs. Disc 1 is every bit as good as Mirror Blue, with acidly witty lyrics, impressive stylistic variation, and intense performances. There's taut and edgy rock ("Dark Hand Over My Heart"; "No's Not A Word"), biting character assasination ("Put It There Pal"), funky neo-folk ("Business On You"), exciting country-western ("Am I Wasting My Love On You?"), an eerie epic ("Bank Vault In Heaven"), and another great acoustic love song ("The Ghost Of You Walks"). But disc 2 is thin. The two best tracks are merely demo-like versions of the two best songs from disc 1: "Razor Dance," a self-referential deconstruction of verbal warfare, and the cathartic "Hide It Away," which may well bring you to tears. "Baby Don't Know What To Do With Herself" is starkly beautiful folk-blues, "Cold Kisses" is a devastating anti-love song, "Train Don't Leave" is enjoyable, up-tempo rockabilly, and "Sam Jones" is a memorably creepy sea chantey. But the rest is mostly so mournful and mellow that it's monotonous ("She Cut Off Her Long Silken Hair"; "Woods Of Darney"). Even though this one has a few weak tracks (like most double albums), I'd still recommend it to anyone who enjoys Thompson's late period. (JA)

Who Knows Where The Time Goes? (1997)
By now Allcock had been replaced by string instrument whiz-kid Chris Leslie. Thompson and Roy Wood guest on one track here. There are a few originals by Leslie or Sanders, but they also cover Sandy Denny (title track) and Ian Anderson ("Life's A Long Song"). Co-produced by the band and Mark Tucker. (JA)

Industry (Richard Thompson & Danny Thompson: 1997)
After first appearing in rival groups (Fairport and the Pentangle) and much later working together on Richard's records, the two Thompsons - unrelated but musically quite similar - finally cut a duo album. It's a huge letdown. Danny Thompson seems to have minimal interest in Richard's guitar playing, so on his five instrumental tracks he gives his ultra-uptight, low-volume acoustic jazz band Whatever most of the solo room: Paul Dunmall and Tony Roberts (sax), Peter Knight (violin), and most pointlessly Dylan Fowler (guitar) - who needs to hear another guitarist on a Richard Thompson record? The compositions are dense, much like mid-70s Brit fusion a la Soft Machine; but they're every bit as cold and clinical. Meanwhile, Thompson contributes six routine vocal tracks. There's another old-timey swing number ("Sweetheart On The Barricade"), another rockabilly shouter with big, fat horn parts ("Big Chimney"), another beautiful acoustic ballad ("Drifing Through The Days"), another vaguely Celtic folk tune ("Lotteryland"), and another dreary lament ("Last Shift"). The one really striking effort has Richard picking away at an odd, geometric riff while Danny bows a double bass with neurotic abandon ("Saboteur"). The sum total is academically interesting, but so drab and monotonous it's not nearly as entertaining as most of Richard Thompson's solo work. Produced by the Thompsons; Christine Collister and Dave Mattacks show up on a couple of Richard's songs. (JA)

Mock Tudor (Richard Thompson: 1999)
A new studio album that doesn't really break any new ground, but does meet Thompson's usual high standards ("Bathsheba Smiles," the most commercial cut). Producers Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf stay out of the way of Thompson's laser-sharp, darker-than-ever songwriting ("Two-Faced Love"), although they do let him indulge consistently in four-minute running times. He does recycle everywhere (the enjoyable polka "Cooksferry Queen"), and some of the material edges into bathos (the cowboy love song "Dry My Tears And Move On"). But the record is full of taut rhythms and hummable melodies ("Sibella"; "Crawl Back (Under My Stone)," unclassifiable like so much of Thompson's work, but with an interesting, reggae-like rhythm). Thompson's as deft as ever with his caustic character sketches (the deceptively upbeat folk song "Sights And Sound Of London Town") and emotionally intense epics ("That's All, Amen, Close The Door"; the memorable "Hard On Me," with a savage guitar solo). There's also some unexpected humor (the irresistable country-western singalong "Walking The Long Miles Home"), and he does stretch by adding some smoky Eastern flavor to a lush, mournful ballad ("Uninhabited Man"). And the album closer "Hope You Like The New Me" is downright terrifying. The band is son Teddy (guitar), Atom Ellis (bass), Danny Thompson (standup bass), Froom (keyboards), and Mattacks (drums), with a horn section and incidental players. (JA)

The Wood And The Wire (1999)
A new studio album. Mattacks is replaced by former Fotheringay drummer Gerry Conway, who'd known the band for three decades. The record is dominated by Chris Leslie, who wrote most of it with his collaborator Nigel Stonier. Co-produced by Nicol, Pegg, and Mark Tucker. (JA)

Teddy Thompson (Teddy Thompson: 2000)
So many children of 60s icons have flopped with musical careers that it's surprising Teddy Thompson even got signed by a major label. Indeed, his acoustic rhythm guitar playing is utterly average ("Days In The Park"), and although his tenor is pleasant and confident ("Missing Children"), it's also bland and boring, without any of his father's angsty emphasis. On the plus side, producer Joe Henry earns his keep, assembling a crack L.A. studio band (Greg Leisz, pedal steel; Jon Brion and others, guitar; Jennifer Condos, bass; Curt Bisquera, drums; Sally Dworsky, backing vocals). He also recruits some stellar guests: Rufus Wainwright (backing vocals, cowrite on "Missing Children"), Emmylou Harris (duet on Don Everly's "I Wonder If I Care As Much"), and most importantly Richard Thompson, who adds a few of his unmistakable leads ("Love Her For That"; "Days In The Park," with just the two of them). But he also plasters distracting horns on the chugging "Thanks A Lot" and sugary strings on the comparatively upbeat waltz "Brink Of Love"; stretches every tune to at least four minutes ("A Step Behind"); and crafts a tasteful country-pop sound that just doesn't have any personality ("All We Said"). Teddy's songwriting is competent enough - the opener "Wake Up" is a fine tune, the torch song "So Easy" has just the right smoky atmosphere - but the tempos sag ("All I See"), and the lulling melodies don't demand a lot of attention. Recommended only if you're a Richard Thompson completist. (JA)

XXXV (2002)
The title refers to the band's 35th anniversary. In keeping with the theme, they re-record several tried and true songs (Sanders' "Portmeirion," from Expletive Delighted; "The Deserter"; Angel Delight's "Banks Of The Sweet Primroses"; the old Thompson-Swarbrick single "Now Be Thankful"). But Leslie kicks in several numbers, Sanders contributes an instrumental, they dig up some more traditional tunes ("The Happy Man," another Morris dance), and they borrow the amusing, upbeat "Crowd Song" from writer annA rydeR. There are several incidental guests, including Ian Anderson (flute on "Portmeirion") and rydeR. (JA)

The Old Kit Bag (Richard Thompson: 2003)
Let's count our lucky stars, Richard Thompson is alive and well and still recording studio albums. (WARR fans: there is not one hint of sarcasm in the preceding statement. We're not always so predictable!) Produced by John Chelew; the unusually minimalistic band is Danny Thompson and drummer Michael Jerome, with backing vocals by Judith Owen. Some pressings include a bonus CD with two songs and some video clips. (JA)

1000 Years Of Popular Music (Richard Thompson: 2003)
Like a lot of other musicians, Thompson has started his own label (Beeswing) and is selling discs on his web site (see Faithless and More Guitar above). This live release is a lengthy selection of covers from all over the place, starting with a bunch of medieval and folk tunes, continuing with mid-20th century standards like "Cry Me A River," and ending with a very eclectic array of rock classics ("A Legal Matter"; "Tempted"; "Kiss"; Money"; "It Won't Be Long") and even (honestly) "Oops! I Did It Again." He's accompanied this time only by Jerome and Owen. (JA)

Ducknapped! (Richard Thompson: 2003)
A new live record compiled from several March, 2003 shows, including multiple Old Kit Bag tracks as well as not-entirely-predictable older tunes like "Valerie" and "Bank Vault In Heaven." The band is Pete Zorn, Danny Thompson alternating with Rory McFarlane on bass, drummer Earl Harvin, old hand Christine Collister singing on two tracks, and Judith Owen on three. (JA)

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