Richard Thompson ‘Acoustic Classics’ Album Review

The pre-eminent folk craftsman of our time delivers up a stellar acoustic set of his classics.

Our personal appreciation of Richard Thompson‘s considerable talents extends back to his emergence with Fairport Convention, the English group that brought something both old and new to the folk music scene: exquisite ballad writing that might have come out of the 17th century, and an instrumental wizardry that defied the attempts of all subsequent imitators. Mind you, we’re talking imitators of high order: John Martyn, for instance, and the redoubtable Mark Knopfler, who learned everything he knows about guitar-playing from Thompson. And yet, neither quite approach the masterly Thompson for playing, singing and writing. That’s our bias and we might as state it up front.

Then when Richard teamed up with the luminescent voice of his (now former) wife Linda, they achieved together a sonic bliss that isn’t easily forgotten once experienced. That came crashing down in the midst of their early 80s American tour designed to promote their tour de force, Shoot Out The Lights, in which indeed the marital lights were extinguished in a blaze of personal discord. Not his talent, though. Thompson has continued to produce a body of work unmatched by any other contemporary songwriter. He’s been voted one of the greatest guitarists of all time in several polls. Lately he’s alternated touring with a band and touring solo. Either experience is not to be missed, though they differ considerably in aesthetics.

The ultimate fan experience would be to see Thompson and his band one night, and Thompson solo the next. And then again. You see, he’s that rarity in music these days – he doesn’t need digital tricks or overdubbing or a pitch corrector to produce his magic. With a band, he’s terrific. Solo, he’s more. As in – less is more. The beauty of the songs reveal themselves in unexpected ways, though, when in acoustic performance.

The new record then: Acoustic Classics consists of fourteen newly recorded tracks. You’ll know them all. They include ‘I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight’, ‘Dimming of the Day’, ‘1952 Vincent Black Lighting’ and ‘Beeswing’.The arrangements are not note for note when compared to the originals; they contain just enough of new inventions to entice, to please and to make one wonder once again at Thompson’s virtuosity. And the voice- damn if it isn’t getting better with each passing year.

And yes, if there’s any justice, there’ll be a second volume. Those incomparable tracks contained on his 1999 masterpiece Mock Tudor, for instance, deserve this treatment, as do a few dozen others from his 40 year catalogue that his fans clamor for every time he comes to their town.

Richard Thompson was named by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the Top 20 Guitarists of all time. The recipient of a BBC Lifetime Achievement Award, Mojo’s Les Paul Award and curator of the prestigious Meltdown Festival at the Southbank in 2010, Thompson was most recently honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting by the Americana Music Association.