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coverpic flag England - Full Moon 220 - 08/10/14

Richard Thompson
Acoustic Classics
Beeswing Records

I have in earlier menus here at Luna Kafé stated that I prefer Richard Thompson more or less alone only armed with his acoustic guitar to his electric renditions with a full band behind him. Which means Acoustic Classics ought to be a dream come true for me. Still, on first listening I was a bit disappointed. Some of the songs included on the album rank among his most treasured, the guitar playing is as exquisite as can be - which means a lot! -, Richard sings his heart out with his nasal voice as he's always done and the production is impeccable. So why then was I less than satisfied? Well, the album seemed too perfect. Richard's folk-tinged mainly melancholic singer-songwriter kind of songs, as they stand here in sparse acoustic arrangements, don't need to be perfectly recorded. His heartfelt and humorous glances at life's miseries ( 'I thought she was saying good luck, she was saying goodbye...' off "I Misunderstood" is just one example) might sound even better with a few warts and other imperfections on board. That said, his songs always need time to grow, and judging from this album, that also include well known old ones in new wrappings. And yes, the entire album certainly is a grower. And yes, most songs here have been improved compared to earlier versions, not least due to sparser arrangements.

Another matter is the songs chosen for the album. Maybe it's too many slow low-key sad ones to bring enough variation to the album. The songs span almost 30 years of his 40 years plus solo and duo career. Starting with the expectant and quite quick "I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight" from 1974, maybe his most well-known song after he'd left Fairport Convention, the title track from his first album with his then wife Linda, to 2003 with the half-merry "One Door Opens" off The Old Kit Bag. Shoot Out The Lights (1982), his final album with Linda, is represented with as much as three tracks, the melancholic "Walking On A Wire" and even sadder "Wall Of Death" in addition to the one of a kind title track. Especially the latter certainly demonstrates that Richard still is one of the greatest guitarists that have ever trodden this earth.

Richard recently said that 'I really wanted to have something that would reflect the acoustic shows, but we didn't have anything like that. Just some old, slightly scratchy recordings of solo sets that I wasn't really happy with.' He probably refer to some less than completely satisfactory solo live albums and DVDs through the years and the much celebrated Live At The BBC box set three years ago. The latter includes versions of more than half the songs on Acoustic Classics. In my opinion the most convincing songs of the new album are not represented on Live At The BBC. "Persuasion", originally an instrumental from the soundtrack album Sweet Talker in 1991, that Tim Finn of Crowded House etc. later wrote lyrics for, is a hauntingly beautiful sad ballad. Even more heartbreaking than the duet version with son Teddy Thompson that popped up on the Richard compilation album Action Packed in 2001. "From Galway To Graceland" (only available in live versions earlier, I think; first on the boxed set Watching The Dark from 1993) is the tragic and still amusing story of the lady who left her native Ireland after 20 years marriage to be with the love of her life, Elvis, by his graveside, day after day... And then there is "Beeswing" (originally from Mirror Blue, 1994), maybe Richard's prettiest tragic folk ballad of them all. It's not a coincidence that the name of the company releasing Acoustic Classics is taken from this song. Here with the most sublime guitar-mandolin interplay and solo you can imagine. The new recording of the song even outshine the fantastic original with violin and fiddle in addition and is alone worth the investment in the album, so beautiful you?/me?/us? might cry:

I was nineteen when I came to town, they called it the Summer of Love
They were burning babies, burning flags. The hawks against the doves
I took a job in the steamie down on Cauldrum Street
And I fell in love with a laundry girl who was working next to me

Oh, she was a rare thing, fine as a bee's wing
So fine a breath of wind might blow her away
She was a lost child, oh she was running wild
She said "As long as there's no price on love, I'll stay.
And you wouldn't want me any other way."

Brown hair zig-zag around her face and a look of half-surprise
Like a fox caught in the headlights, there was animal in her eyes
She said "Young man, oh can't you see I'm not the factory kind.
If you don't take me out of here I'll surely lose my mind."

Oh, she was a rare thing, fine as a bee's wing
So fine that I might crush her where she lay
She was a lost child, oh she was running wild
She said "As long as there's no price on love, I'll stay.
And you wouldn't want me any other way."

We busked around the market towns and picked fruit down in Kent
And we could tinker lamps and pots and knives wherever we went
And I said that we might settle down, get a few acres dug
Fire burning in the hearth and babies on the rug
She said "Oh man, you foolish man, it surely sounds like hell.
You might be lord of half the world, you'll not own me as well."

Oh she was a rare thing, fine as a bee's wing
So fine a breath of wind might blow her away
She was a lost child, oh she was running wild
She said "As long as there's no price on love, I'll stay.
And you wouldn't want me any other way."

We was camping down the Gower one time, the work was pretty good
She thought we shouldn't wait for the frost and I thought maybe we should
We was drinking more in those days and tempers reached a pitch
And like a fool I let her run with the rambling itch

Now the last I heard she's sleeping rough back on the Derby beat
White Horse in her hip pocket and a wolfhound at her feet
And they say she even married once, a man named Romany Brown
But even a gypsy caravan was too much settling down
And they say her flower is faded now, hard weather and hard booze
But maybe that's just the price you pay for the chains you refuse

Oh she was a rare thing, fine as a bee's wing
And I miss her more than ever words could say
If I could just taste all of her wildness now
If I could hold her in my arms today
Well I wouldn't want her any other way

Go for it!

Copyright © 2014 JP e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Richard Thompson articles/reviews: Cologne, Germany 29.05.2000, Dream Attic (Deluxe Edition), Electric, Still.

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