While no one in their right mind would say that Richard Thompson, solo, acoustic, is anything less than riveting it has to be admitted that when he straps on his electric guitar and cuts loose there’s a certain frisson of delight. Frequently cited in polls and lists of the “greatest guitarists” Thompson can rarely be mistaken for anyone else with his biting razor sharp playing which owes little to the usual blues roots and has a uniquely British sense despite him having lived in L.A. for the past two decades. News that his follow-up to 2010’s live album, Dream Attic was to feature a “power trio,” be produced by Buddy Miller and to be called “Electric” was tantalising to say the least and here, at last, is the beast.
Recorded in Miller’s home over a two week period and captured on analogue tape the album is another feather in Miller’s producer’s cap with a warm and crisp “live” sound heard to best effect on the one song that does sound a little like a power trio, Sally B, with drummer Michael Jerome almost aping Ginger Baker’s style. That the opening to the following Stuck On A Treadmill sounds dangerously similar to Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir is a red herring although it does allow Thompson to blaze away with an amazing solo of the type that he generally reserves for live performances. Album opener Stony Ground sets the scene well with Thompson’s guitar set to folk rock as he relates a sad tale of a toothless old man lusting for the widow next door. With lyrics reminiscent of those on Hokey Pokey Thompson describes his comeuppance at the hands of the widow’s sons
“Kicked him in the head, poked him in the eyes, shoved him in the gutter and there he lies, dripping with blood, dripping with snot, but he’s still dreaming of her you-know-what.”
Straight and Narrow takes Thompson almost into sixties garage territory with its Farfisa sounding keyboard and affords him another opportunity to solo with his notes dripping like quicksilver on a song that pulses with energy. As good as this is the highlight of the rockier songs here is undoubtedly the amazing Good Things Happen To Bad People. This is a stunning song with its muscular beat and ringing guitars that thrash and flail as Thompson (in fine voice) denounces a Jezebel who “cried the day I walked you down the aisle.” Presumably, the acoustic guitar here is by Miller but it lays down a fine challenge to Thomson who unleashes a wicked solo that tears and bites with a ferocity appropriate to the protagonist’s wounded anger.
There are some quieter moments on the album with Salford Sunday in particular standing out. An impressionistic take on a hung-over Sunday morning in a dreary northern town it has an incongruous jauntiness in its step. Another Small Thing In Her Favour is classic Thompson miserabilism, it details the end of a relationship with a tender vulnerability both in the lyrics and the playing. The Snow Goose reminds you of just how good Thompson is when solo as he picks his way through a typical slice of pessimism singing
“Northern winds will cut you, northern girls will gut you, leave you cold and empty Like a fish on the slab.”
Sparse, with only acoustic guitar and occasional accordion, it is cold and lonesome and the introduction of Alison Krauss on harmony on the chorus only serves to emphasise this. A wonderful song and a fine reminder that Thompson might be one of the finest guitarists around but more importantly he is one of the finest songwriters we have.