While many of his major label contemporaries have either faded into obscurity or ceased to put out anything of interest, Richard Thompson has been tirelessly mining his own rich seam of quality songwriting for over forty-five years. The eleven tracks that make up Electric show that he has absolutely no sign of slowing down, and further cement his status as a veteran songwriter.
For Electric, Thompson decided to take the core of his live band, bassist Taras Prodaniuk and percussionist Michael Jerome, and experiment by writing in a trio band format. The result is a concentrated and hard-hitting sound that Thompson describes as “a more folky slant on Cream or Jimi Hendrix Experience”. This set-up accentuates and complements Thompson’s style perfectly. Prodaniuk and Jerome lay out solid, muscular grooves throughout which offer a platform for Thompson to launch off from and show off his formidable guitar-work, while also enabling him to play off their presence. The album is a lot funkier than Thompson expected it to be, creating a form of folk-funk which Thompson says lies “somewhere between Judy Collins and Bootsy Collins”.
Never one to rest on his not-inconsiderable laurels, Thompson has toured relentlessly and Electric (along with 2010’s live recording Dream Attic) shows that Thompson is at the top of his game - his guitar-work is as twitchy and dynamic as ever. He is capable of spitting out searing solos that could singe your eyebrows one minute, then picking out a gentle melody the next. Album opener Stony Ground is a foot stomping jig, while Another Small Thing In Her Favour is a classic Thompson ballad, full of sage and melancholic sentiments. The album also sees Thompson pushing his boundaries and flirting with genres he wouldn’t normally be associated with, given his folk-rock reputation. Good Things Happen to Bad People is a down-tempo rocker with tinges of psychedelia, featuring one of Thompson’s most demented guitar solos to date. Meanwhile, Straight and Narrow is a ska-influenced jaunt which has been given a classic Thompson twist.
Although the focus is definitely on the electric pyrotechnics on display throughout the album, it is definitely acoustic meditation The Snow Goose that takes the prize for me. It stands out as one of Thompson’s most haunting and poignant songs, based around a brooding acoustic melody and Thompson’s captivating voice. Beautiful harmonising vocals are provided courtesy of Alison Krauss, who admirably complements Thompson’s rough and bruised baritone. The bonus CD featured in the deluxe edition also houses some extra goodies. All are a joy, but the best of them is the traditional celtic reel So Ben Mi Ch’a Bon Tempo, which originally featured on Thompson’s 1000 Years of Popular Music.
The album title, Electric, is appropriate. Not so much that the majority of the album showcases Thompson’s intimidating electric guitar-work (in fact the latter end features some touching acoustic ballads), but because the album proves that Richard Thompson’s songwriting continues to be as exciting and vital as ever. His reputation as an elder statesman of impeccable songwriting remains undiminished, and I choose my words carefully when I say that he is a national treasure.
Electric will be available on 11th February and Richard Thompson will begin a UK tour on 20th February.