Tuesday, August 2nd, 2005
Watching The Dark
I think it would be an exercise in futility to try and offer up any sort of proper introduction to Richard Thompson for those unfamiliar with his work – kind of like trying to introduce Bob Dylan to someone but without at the least being able to say, “Blowing In The Wind – surely you know that one?”. What I can say without an ounce of exagerration or hyperbole, is that Thompson is one of the finest singer/songwriter/guitarists alive today. From his early days with 60s English folk-rock legends Fairport Convention through his present-day solo career, Thompson has released countless records featuring his droll, dry English wit, dark and incisive songwriting, distinctive baritone and searing fretwork on both acoustic and electric guitars.
I read somewhere that apart from maybe Neil Young, no one else ever arrived on the music scene as such a fully-formed creative entity. Young is actually an excellent parallel for Thompson, as both are equally at home in folk and rock idioms, forged their own often-unfashionable career paths and have been gifted with incredible longevity for it. Granted, Neil is a little bit more of a household name, but the comparisons are valid. It’s probably not surprising, then, that I’m such a fan of both. I’d like to go so far as to say that RT’s been a big influence on my guitar playing but that’d be grossly overstating my abilities – his bagpipe/Celtic-influenced style is so singular I don’t think anyone could say they’ve copped his style. Instead, I’ll just mention that I bought my acoustic guitar based largely on how much it looked like Thompson’s Lowden and my Telecaster has the same odd pickup configuration as his custom Ferrington. And I used to have a Fender Vibroverb reissue like him, but couldn’t get it to sound any good. Win some, lose some.
While he always has and probably will always remain beneath the radar of the mainstream, it’s nice to see he’s getting some attention on the eve of the release of his new album Front Parlour Ballads (out next Tuesday) – The media page at Thompson’s website does a fine job of rounding up RT-related links on the interweb. He tells The Times about coaching Arnold Schwarzenegger’s son in football and the joys of working in the cultural void that is Los Angeles, while The Sunday Herald finds out about the problems of being a Muslim – even a white one – in the current political climate. And a few months ago Being There ran a piece on one former Thompson-hater’s proverbial moment on the road to Damascus.
Thompson’s bio offers a better summary of the man’s work than I ever could. Interested parties could start with his Watching The Dark three-disc compilation, Action Packed!, which collects his work for Capitol in the 80s and 90s, or wait for the 5-CD box set (plus a bonus disc with early pressings) planned for release in early 2006.
Here’s a sampling of both the folk and rock sides of Thompson’s work in a live setting – “Vincent Black Lightning 1952” comes from his Rumour & Sigh album and may be as close to a signature song as he has (though I’d still vote for “Shoot Out The Lights”). “Hard On Me” comes from 1999’s Mock Tudor and has some truly terrifying guitarwork. And don’t worry – his songwriting is strong enough to appeal even to non-guitar geeks.
Guitar Player, incidentally the first place I heard of Thompson (natch) proves to be a good source of blog-fodder too, with interviews with Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker and New Order’s Bernard Sumner and Phil Cunningham.
For a minute this post over at Brooklynvegan got me all excited because it looked like the National/Clap Your Hands Say Yeah tour had actually been rescheduled a bit such that the Toronto show was now on September 3 instead of the 18th – in other words, when I was still in town! Unfortunately, closer inspection shows that CYHSY will be in town at the Horseshoe on September 3 for their own show, and will not be accompanying The National across the border a couple weeks later. Boo. Clap your hands and say whatever. Also boo – For The Records reports that Jens Lekman has cancelled his October 18 show at the Music Gallery, but hopes to make it up here in November for a solo show. Again – boo. But finally, a yay – The Fiery Furnaces will be at Lee’s Palace on October 10. I’m not the hugest fan of their records but am convinced that the live show is something I must see.
The Nonist has published a helpful brochure to assist those suffering with Blog Depression. My God, I thought I was the only one! Thanks to Lots Of Co for the pointer. I’m not alone! I can be free! I quit!
See you tomorrow.
np – Uncle Tupelo / No Depression