Most of the advance publicity for Still, Richard Thompson’s latest album has honed in on the producer being Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and we must admit that the thought of Thompson and Tweedy together was tantalising. The reality is that Tweedy has done what a good producer should do; he’s all but invisible here, apparently on some backing vocals but not ostentatiously so. Tweedy’s quoted as saying, “Richard’s been one of my favourite guitar players for a very long time. When I think about it, he’s also one of my favorite songwriters and favorite singers. Getting to work closely with him on this record was a truly rewarding experience” while Thompson adds, “Jeff is musically very sympathetic. Although some of his contributions are probably rather subtle to the listener’s ear, they were really interesting and his suggestions were always very pertinent.”
Obviously, we’re not privy to what went on in the Chicago sessions that formed the album but Still is probably the most satisfying Thompson album we’ve heard in several years. There’s a variety to the songs that captures Thompson’s various musical guises, the melancholic folk singer, the music hall entertainer, the pessimistic dissector of human emotion. In addition Thompson’s guitar, acoustic and electric, shines throughout the album and again his variety is well captured, bagpipe like drones, quicksilver tones and fifties inspired rock licks are all present and correct and if Tweedy has done nothing else he’s captured Thompson’s guitar sound with a deadly accuracy. The ringing clarity of Where’s Your Heart the primary evidence here. As for the writing Thompson has delivered a solid set of songs with a few that, given time, might be considered among his classics.
The album opens with one of these, the excellent She Never Could Resist A Winding Road. A song that recalls his early solo career with martial drums and a wonderfully corkscrewed guitar solo it’s a tremendous opener. Patty Don’t You Put Me Down is another song that perks up the ears, a solid four beats to the bar thump that allows plenty of space for Thompson to solo on several occasions while the aforementioned Where’s Your Heart just drips with melancholy as Thompson’s guitar rings throughout with a spectacular solo turn that is somewhat gob smacking. There’s an almost Byrds like chime to the guitars on the darkness of Dungeons For Eyes and Josephine has an almost medieval feel with acoustic guitars adorning the Tennyson like lyrics. His drollery is well represented with All Buttoned Up one of his back terraced tales, this time about a girl who frustrates her boyfriend with her refusal to go all the way while he closes the album with the lengthy and perhaps autobiographical Guitar Heroes. A bit of a throwaway song when considered against its peers Thompson sings of sitting home alone, rejected at school, losing jobs all due to his need to practice and learn from his heroes as he plays some famous riffs from the classics including The Shadows, Chuck Berry, Duane Eddy et al. It’s good fun with Thompson admitting at the end of the song that he still doesn’t know how they did it (despite the evidence to the contrary).