Richard Thompson’s decision, back in 2014, to record some of his back catalogue with just him and his acoustic guitar (Acoustic Classics) might be one of the best of his career. Hailed immediately by fans and critics he recently followed it up with Acoustic Classics Vol. 2, another cracker, and now, just two months later, he unveils a third instalment. Essentially, there’s no real need to read further on if you enjoyed the previous volumes. Rarities stands beside them, tall and proud.
The format is the same. Thompson, voice and acoustic guitar, revisits his catalogue. Here the bait (if any was needed) is six previously unreleased songs and a few recorded by others but not previously by Thompson. Alongside these he digs deep into his recorded past revisiting Fairport Days, his obscure solo debut, Henry The Human Fly, and two numbers originally recorded with Linda Thompson.
Sloth, originally a lengthy electric folk dirge on Fairport’s full House, is stripped back but still sends shivers down the spine with Thompson’s unique guitar style a triumph. Poor Will And The Jolly Hangman (a song that was recorded for Full House but which didn’t make the final cut, only emerging some years later) allows Thompson to stake, yet again, a claim to be one of our finest troubadours in the folk medium. From the duo years with Linda, Thompson selects the dark Never Again and the even darker, End Of The Rainbow, the latter given a magnificent reading and as relevant today as it was back when it was recorded, a bleak prophecy for a fresh faced bairn.
Henry The Human Fly (his first solo album in 1972) was, allegedly, the poorest selling album ever released by US label Warner Bros/Reprise and Thomson was reportedly dissatisfied with it. This reviewer still has his copy bought back then and still thinks that The Angels Took My Racehorse Away and Roll Over Vaughn Williams stand amongst Thompson’s best songs. Here he selects The Poor Ditching Boy for a royal makeover with accordion accompaniment, a version which begs the question as to whether, for a future instalment, Thompson could deliver the whole of the album acoustically.
As for the unreleased songs, some will be familiar to gig goers over the years such as the humorous Alexander Graham Bell, here given some Django like guitar runs, while Push And Shove was a live favourite some twenty years ago. Rainbow Over The Hill was offered to The Albion Band and it’s a neat reversal of the rainbow metaphor from The End Of The Rainbow with its optimism. What If is a fine example of a spiky Thompson diatribe while She Played Right Into My Hands rolls along with a fine pub session folk feel and They Tore The Hippodrome Down wanders down a nostalgic alley. Best of all however is the stark folk ballad Thompson offered to Blair Dunlop, Seven Brothers. Here he revisits his reimaging of classic folk ballads that helmed Liege & Lief and Full house with a song suffused with portents of doom.
So, number three in an excellent series. Wholly recommended to Thompson fans and hopefully not the last of them to surface.