Richard Thompson – Dream Attic

Release Date 30/08/2010 (Proper Records)

By Andrew Smith

For a man who began his career in the 60’s, Richard Thompson claims to have never made any money. His place on the periphery, a guitarist’s guitarist nestled beyond the radar of the supermarket CD shopper, ensures that his income comes from live work.

Such is the predicament of the musician today, many listeners having sadly decided that all music should be available free on the internet. However, there’s a certain romance in having to sing for one’s supper, a hope indeed that the passion that inaugurated the musical journey remains kindled, rather than die amid the bloated excess of wealth and complacency.

Dream Attic is indeed a showcase of this man’s livelihood, an album of new material recorded live on a recent US tour. A recipient of the Orville H. Gibson award for best acoustic guitar player, Thompson shows he’s no slouch on the electric either, providing some of the finest guitar playing these ears have heard.

Quite the artisan, Thompson plays with a near-perfect blend of technical accomplishment and emotion, his ardent lines both tasteful and unpredictable – when he appears to be approaching a familiar blues phrase he will morph into something folky or Celtic, incorporating jagged notes that could have your eye out and melodic jangles that will mop your brow and make you a nice cup of tea.

Lyrically, Thompson is unafraid to confront – The Money Shuffle tears strips from bankers, whereas Here Comes Geordie appears to be giving Sting a thorough kicking. Elsewhere, Sidney Wells describes a grisly murder and body disposal while A Brother Slips Away contemplates mortality.

Despite this, the songs themselves sometimes fail to ignite, bound at times by plodding rhythms and pedestrian arrangements that can stray into the middle of the road. Haul Me Up and Bad Again are touch too stadium-era Dire Straits for comfort, A Brother Slips Away, though admirable in sentiment, is somewhat treacly and The Money Shuffle leans toward sterility, though partially redeemed by some exquisite, Eastern-tinged horn playing.

There are of course occasions when it all comes together – musically, Sidney Wells is a folky, impassioned romp that features the entire band at the top of the game, capturing a quintessentially live performance beyond the wit of conventional studio recording. The merry juxtaposition of Here Comes Geordie’s bitchy lyrics with jaunty, spirited melody is also a high point.

On top of this, almost every song here has a frankly wonderful guitar solo, Thompson momentarily infusing his ditties with stringed shots of adrenaline, aided by some superb violin and saxophone deputisation.

There is an inherent worthiness to this album – this is music made by great musicians for all the right reasons, with credit deserved for performing every note live. However, it can be a touch too precise and tasteful, lacking some rawness and rough edges despite the live performances. Still, a commendable statement from one of music’s elder practitioners that could teach some of his callow peers a thing or two.

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