First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2010, Volume 17, #10
Written by John Metzger
Wed October 27, 2010, 06:30 AM CDT
From his work with Fairport Convention to his collaborations with Linda Peters to his lengthy string of solo outings, Richard Thompson has accomplished a lot in his career. Nevertheless, nearly everyone is in agreement about his flaws: Although Thompson typically has made a strong case in the studio for his talents as a songwriter and vocalist, he too frequently has brought such a refined perspective to his projects that he has failed to showcase his skills as a guitarist adequately.
Thompsonís latest endeavor Dream Attic was recorded during a series of concerts held along the West Coast this past February. The outing largely seems to have been designed specifically to address the perceived failings in his approach. Oddly enough, though, the collectionís successes often come at the expense of Thompsonís strengths.
The range of subjects tackled by Thompson throughout Dream Attic doesnít differ dramatically from the other outings in his canon. As always, he revels in rummaging through the darker corners and passageways of life, shining a light on many of mankindís imperfections. Once again, Thompson isnít shy about delving into political issues: The Money Shuffle is a bilious account of corporate greed, while Here Comes Geordie is a thinly veiled swipe at the inconsistencies in Stingís public persona. Elsewhere, however, Thompson offers his personal reflections on the importance of relationships (If Love Whispers Your Name) and the death of old friends (A Brother Slips Away) as well as a finely detailed character sketch about the fate of a serial killer (Sidney Wells).
Although it is impossible to make a blanket statement about the albumís contents, there also is no denying the fact that Dream Attic is considerably less cerebral than most of the efforts in Thompsonís extensive catalogue. By most standards, his latest batch of songs is quite cultured. When, however, they are examined against the backdrop of his past works, not all of the material on Dream Attic is nearly as refined, at least from a lyrical perspective. This might be part of the artistic process that Thompson was exploring on the set, or it could simply be one of the reasons why he opted to record his new compositions in front of an audience. Either way, he appears to be seeking a method of attack that is more visceral, one that strives for an immediate emotional response to the music of his band.
Fortunately, Thompson and his ensemble ó electric violinist Joel Zifkin, multi-instrumentalist Pete Zorn, bass player Taras Prodaniuk, and drummer Michael Jerome ó succeed in bringing his vision into focus. Sounding at times like a small orchestra, the outfit applies a broad range of colors and textures to Thompsonís compositions. Inevitably, their virtuosic performances fill his songs ó from the spirited flights of Sidney Wells to the mournful resignation of A Brother Slips Away ó with heart and soul.
Dream Atticís main attraction, though, is Thompsonís guitar playing. Throughout the endeavor, he oscillates between igniting the material with muscular fury and painting its fringes with subtle, graceful beauty, at times sounding like a cross between Mark Knopfler and Jerry Garcia. Taken in full, the deft musicianship of the group obscures the fact that many of Thompsonís new tunes arenít nearly as well defined as they could have been. The end result, however, is what matters: Dream Attic is yet another solid contribution to his canon. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
Dream Attic is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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