Most of the reviews on the Two Left Feet site are gig reviews. These reviews of the Mock Tudor CD were posted to the Richard Thompson list. I hope you enjoy them, too!
This album takes its inspiration from the experience of growing up in the suburbs of North London. Just as a desert can stop you getting bogged down in the trivialities of life, so the suburbs seem to have spawned inspiration from cultural emptiness; the nearest oasis may be a friend's bedroom, or the jazz club ten miles away in the middle of town, but you're guaranteed to be thirsty by the time you reach a watering hold.
for the article I've written about RT for the local entertainment weekly, so I'm inflicting it on everyone. There are two intended audiences: a small group of local fans, and folks who are no better than vaguely aware of Thompson's work. Another local writer suggested that I do the piece with the later group in mind. None of this will be news to you folks, I suspect. If the photo arrives at the newspaper by deadline (!!), it will be accompanied by an unpublished live shot by photographer Dick Waterman, best known for rediscovering and managing Son House in 1964 (or perhaps for discovering Bonnie Raitt); he's built an amazing library of blues, r&b, and rock photography over 30+ years of attending a dream-list of concerts from Dylan in Greenwich Village forward. Here's the review:
Mock Tudor, Richard Thompson's new record, has arrived in the stores.
A few Oxford Town readers have been looking for a record from Thompson for quite a while, tiding themselves over with mail-order live releases and a wonderful solo show on Valentines Day in Memphis. It's been worth the wait. Mock Tudor begins with "Cooksferry Queen", a near-rockabilly rave-up, and quickly establishes the feel for the entire album: A live band at work in the studio, with intense, aggressive drumming from Dave Mattacks.
The record is divided into three groups of songs. The first group of five songs is called "Metroland," after a London suburb established by the Metropolitan Railway, and apparently filled with ersatz Tudor-ish houses, England's version of the fake Greek Revival Taras found in Southern suburbs. The other two groups of songs, "Heroes in the Suburbs," and "Street Cries And Stage Whispers," highlight the general theme of the songs: life in the London streets and suburbs, ranging back to Thompson's youth.
One of Thompson's goals as both a songwriter and a guitarist has been to produce a particularly English idiom for rock, looking to English and Scottish sources and rejecting the blues-based voicings of many of his contemporaries and near-contemporaries. This has been a self-conscious and successful effort to find a natural and individual voice for his music.
Thompson's electric guitar playing is immediately recognizable, with unexpected shifts and disharmonies combining with very forceful note bending, and with influences as disparate as Scotts piping and the soloing of John Coltrane. The aggressive guitar work on "Hard On Me.," a highlight on the new album, both jolts and sweeps over the listener. "Folk rock" isn't a broad enough tag to encompass this music, and it certainly doesn't describe music that needs to be played this loud.
He has a similarly personal and distinctive style as an acoustic guitarist, with dazzlingly complex multi-part playing, best evident here on "Sights and Sounds of London Town", a series of vignettes of street life and street people in London. As in live shows for the better part of the last decade, his acoustic playing is accompanied by Danny Thompson (once a member of the English band Pentangle) on stand-up bass.
The songs themselves work themes that have been consistently fruitful for Thompson, such as disappointed love of varying degrees of bitterness ("Dry My Tears and Move On" and "Walking The Long Miles Home," in which the singer has missed the last bus back to the suburbs), and eruptions of repressed anger ("Hard On Me" and "Hope You Like The New Me," both of which have provoked speculation that they are darts aimed at music critics and other musicians). Here, as elsewhere, Thompson's songwriting is allusive storytelling, sometimes through the voice of one of the characters, and with allusions that range through English music and culture, pop and otherwise.
Thompson is generally credited as one of the inventors of English-folk rock, with a career that began with the band Fairport Convention (whose album Liege and Lief arguably launched the genre) and has continued through a half-dozen albums with his then-wife Linda Thompson and over a dozen solo recordings and side-projects. Shoot Out the Lights, his last album with Linda Thompson, is one of the few records that I can still remember in precise detail first hearing. Two others recorded with Linda Thompson received almost no attention in the U.S. at the time they were recorded (in the 1970s) but are near matches: Pour Down Like Silver and I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight. In the last decade and a half, he has perfected a live performance style both solo and with band that produces one of the most dependably magical concerts in rock. Band tours have gone along with the issue of a solo album every two or three years, notably Rumor and Sigh, which was recently named among the best albums of the 1990s by Spin magazine. The nineties have also brought other excellent solo work, both for general release (particularly You? Me? Us? from 1996) and three limited release, mail-order live albums. Watching the Dark, a full perspective of entire his career before his last three solo albums, is also available. It has provides a glimpse of Thompson's power as a live performer in both solo and band settings.
The clear, intense sound of the new CD is a welcome departure; in all other respects, this recording is of a piece with Thompson's recent work. It pairs with any one of the others mentioned above to make an excellent introduction to Thompson's work.
Uncle Buck's Records has a supply of both Mock Tudor and the non-mail order releases mentioned above. Those interested in the mail-order live albums can find details on how to order them at http://www.amug.org/~deeg1225/rtbcds.html .
His albums consistently garner raves. He's an amazing guitarist. His songs feature sophisticated lyrics and clever melodies. He's been praised by other musicians and songwriters, most notably with a 1994 tribute album, "Beat the Retreat," that includes performances of his songs by R.E.M., Bonnie Raitt, Los Lobos and others. Yet after more than 30 years in the business and more than 20 as a solo artist, Richard Thompson is hardly a household name, especially in Los Angeles.
"This isn't my best town. It's a funny, fickle town," says Thompson, whose deadpan sense of humor extends beyond his songs. "I can do three times the business in San Francisco. I can sell out 2,000 seats in Boulder, Colo. It's just a funny town."
But Thompson, who makes his home in Pacific Palisades part of the year and London the rest, will be playing with a five-piece band to a sold-out house at the Roxy on Wednesday as part of a small tour that he calls advance promotion for his new album, "Mock Tudor," which comes out in August.
Part of the reason for Thompson's inability to go beyond cult status - though it's a very big cult status, with his albums selling in the hundreds of thousands rather than millions - is his lack of radio play. Despite catchy hooks and memorable choruses, Thompson's songs are often too edgy - and even adult - to fit into most radio formats.
Take a song like "I Feel So Good" from his 1991 album "Rumor and Sigh." It's a jaunty tune with a fun guitar hook. But the first verse is "I feel so good I'm going to break somebody's heart tonight/ I feel so good I'm going to take someone apart tonight/ They put me an jail for my deviant ways ..." and there you know you're not in pop radio territory anymore.
"I try to stick the jokes into the darker songs, or kind of have an ironic content to the darker songs," he says.
Working in what he calls the folk tradition of making up fictional stories, Thompson has explored the subject of relationships and love from seemingly every possible angle - from the more grotesque, like "I Feel So Good," to a tender and beautiful ballad like "Beeswing."
"A love song can encompass a lot of things - politics, spirituality," says the 50-year-old Thompson. "Just generally, the subject of relationships is a very broad one. To do it justice, you have to dig a little deeper, and you can uncover all kinds of things."
One of the ways that he works is by looking back both musically and personally.
He says he's more likely to listen to music from the past than what's on the radio now. "Sometimes you have to go backward to go forward. It's better for me to listen to stuff from the '30s than the '90s sometimes, because I see more ideas there. There's more things that I can be inspired by. Whereas in the '90s there's a lot of repetition of the '60s, '70s and '80s. There aren't necessarily that many fresh ideas in rock 'n' roll, for instance."
Thompson, who begin his career as a teen in the late '60s as part of the legendary British folk band Fairport Convention, says that he had a lot of garly musical influences. His dad was a guitar player, and so as a kid he listened to the likes of Les Paul, Django Reinhardt and Buddy Holly. During the early days of Fairport in swinging London, the band would reinvent itself every week in order to get bookings - country one week, blues the next - and this helped Thompson develop his unique guitar stylings.
As for subject matter, Thompson also looks backward for inspirations. In "Read About Love," another song from "Rumor and Sigh," he explores how teens learn about the birds and the bees. It's a comic story of a young man who knows "what makes girls sigh" because he read about it in magazines. Thompson says the song stems from his experiences when he was younger in a post-Victorian society.
"You had to do serious espionage work to find out anything about girls," he says. "There was never anything really out there in the media or newspapers, and your parents never told you anything. So you had to find out about it from other kids, and sometimes it was complete fantasy."
"Mock Tudor" also looks at the past. Thompson calls it a look back at London in the '60s '70s and, in some cases, the '80s. "The album is all inspired from past events, while trying to be contemporary," says Thompson. "It's not trying to be nostalgic or evoke an era. That's just the starting point for the songs."
It includes the stunning "Hope You Like the New Me," which he says comes from thinking about his own stage persona and how he borrowed bits from other people, citing Loudon Wainwright's comedic side as an inspiration. But he also approached the subject from another angle.
"I was thinking about people in the music business who kind of stole things from you and were kind of unapologetic in the end," he says, declining to name anyone in particular.
But Thompson isn't discouraged about not being a superstar. "It helps to not be that commercially successful so that people expect you to do a certain thing all the time and you feel you have to live up to it," he says. "So I'm kind of glad I've been quasi-successful."
And this has helped him keep turning out artistically great albums when other of his contemporaries are treading water, or rehashing old stuff, or have simply packed it in.
"I'm kind of dissatisfied with everything I've ever done, really. I don't think anything really stands up, so I'm always looking to do it better. ... It's usually that question of, `Have I really nailed it this time?' and the answer is usually 'no.'"
And Thompson says he still loves to be on the road. "I still like touring, though it's nice to be home as well. Nice to be home with your family, says Thompson who has five children, including a 7-year-old. "Playing live in front of an audience is the most rewarding thing I do, and I love to do it."
Thompson expects to play L.A. again in September at a larger venue after "Mock Tudor's" release.
In the meantime, Thompson admits it would be nice to be more successful, but that he would be happy doing it "if there was a living there if there were only 50 people or 25 people in the audience."
"I'm mildly ambitious," he says. "I don't think I'm a megalomaniac, but I'm slightly ambitious."
a great song with lots of chart potential. But the one that has me cold in my tracks is "Uninhabited Man".
That first verse beautifully sums up the unintentional dangers and damage of the 60's and early 70's sexual revolution. It's like RT is saying "Safe sex? Recreational sex? Well, you can put a condom on your body but what do you put on your heart?" without directly addressing the issue. This material is mature and yet so poetic at the same time. His understanding of the deeper issues, the spiritual impact of our actions is wonderful and unique in rock or a lot of folk music. He certainly writes deftly his opinions and observations, opinions and observations that go strongly against those of our popular-media-bound culture.
I must say I have a very mixed opinion about RT becoming really famous. He certainly deserves it, he's an artist of a very high order. But I just can't see the mainstream wanting to hear what he has to say. Hopefully I'm wrong. Hopefully he can break it big and maintain his artistic intergity or escape betrayal by Pharoah and the Biz. Hopefully Mock Tudor will do it.
David Langdon - Who used to live on the land in Northern California, occasionally sports
tie-dye (to this day) and who is wood shedding
"Uninhabited Man" for a coffeehouse in mid July.
Songwriter/guitarist calls album both a reflection on his youth and a return to sonic basics. staff writer Christopher O'Connor reports:
Richard Thompson, the 50-year-old British songwriter and guitarist who will release Mock Tudor, his first album in three years, on Aug. 24, said Tuesday the album is his commentary and reflection on growing up in suburban London. The album was produced by Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf, the co-producers of Beck's 1994 album, Mellow Gold, and last year's Elliott Smith album, XO. According to Thompson, the tracks of Mock Tudor are thematically related.
"The songs are grouped into three different sections," a gracious and warm Thompson said as he sat in a New York conference room at Capitol Records, his label. "The first part is called 'Metroland.' Metroland was the idealized suburb snaking out from central London following the course of the metropolitan runaway. This is a sort of idealized suburban dream.
"The second subtitle is 'Heroes in the Suburbs.' It's an [ironic] title. I was thinking of versions of Greek tragedies happening in the suburbs and Greek gods going across that landscape. And the third section is called 'Street Cries and Stage Whispers' ... it's the denouement, I suppose."
Thompson, who began his career as a member of the seminal British folk-rock band Fairport Convention, is known for incorporating Celtic folk elements into his versatile guitar playing and for lyrics that touch on dark emotions (RealAudio excerpt on working with Fairport). Thompson and his ex-wife, singer Linda Peters Thompson, released six albums together in the 1970s and early '80s, including 1982's highly regarded Shoot Out the Lights, which touched on such topics as depression, suicide and divorce.
No thematic turnabout for Thompson, Mock Tudor unfolds like a love story gone wrong. It begins with a theme of childlike love on the rollicking folk track "Cooksferry Queen" (RealAudio excerpt). On "Crawl Back Under My Stone" (RealAudio excerpt) it moves to adolescent confusion and rejection. By album's end it's dealing with the broken dreams of adulthood.
At the beginning of the "Street Cries and Stage Whispers" section, Thompson unleashes the quiet folk of "The Sights and Sounds of London Town" (RealAudio excerpt). The song explores the plight of four different Londoners - a young mother who works as a prostitute, a French immigrant stuck washing dishes, an aspiring actress strung out on heroin and a gangster shaking down people for money.
"There are traditional songs about London that are hundreds of years old, like the rigs of the time" (RealAudio excerpt of interview), Thompson said of that song and of the album's hardest rocker, "Hard on Me" (RealAudio excerpt), which addresses what he called the "boredom" of his childhood. "There was a continuing genre until the '60s, when Ralph McTell, who's a good friend of mine, wrote a song called 'Streets of London,' which was a huge hit. Which kind of killed off the genre. It's a real shame, because you've got this large city with fascinating history and population and things happening, and in a sense the tradition should continue." Thompson said he chose Rothrock and Schnapf as a move away from the style of Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake, the Los Lobos producers who manned the boards for Thompson's 1996 record, You?me?us?
Froom and Blake, said Thompson, used studio techniques of recording songs slightly off microphone to add a lushness to the music. This time, he wanted a straight-ahead, organic sound.
"For me, the final product is kind of a transparent record in the sense it seems like my record without any filters" (RealAudio excerpt of interview), he said. "There doesn't seem to be anything between the music and the intention, which is high praise."
On July 19, Thompson and his touring band played an intimate, 10-song set at New York's Tonic, a club in the East Village. He was backed by his 23-year-old son, Teddy, on rhythm guitar (RealAudio excerpt of interview on working with his son) longtime bassist Danny Thompson (no relation) and metal drummer Michael Jerome.
Thompson, with a lime-green electric guitar and an assortment of acoustic guitars, blazed through several Mock Tudor songs and played a vicious rendition of "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight," a 1974 song originally sung by Linda. The gathered crowd of around 75 gave the band a five-minute ovation as it barreled out of the club immediately following the performance.
One 39-year-old fan, Fred Scholl, traveled from Hillsdale, N.J., to attend the show. Afterward, he put his finger on the main draw for many Thompson fans: "In general, with most of Richard's music, he is able to use his virtuosity as a guitar player and combine it with artistry," Scholl said.
Everything good about folk, jazz and rock, in one 50-year-old guitarist.
No review of a Richard Thompson album is complete without a plea for a larger audience to discover his rare virtues. But it's probably time to let that vain hope go. In the course of more than three decades -- beginning with Fairport Convention, continuing with his former wife, Linda Thompson, and culminating in his distinguished solo career -- the singer-songwriter-guitarist has gone about creating superb music in accordance with his own tastes and with no regard for trends. He continues to do so on his fine new album, Mock Tudor. Producers Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf (Beck, Foo Fighters) toughen Thompson's sound a bit. On the opening track, "Cooksferry Queen," a harmonica solo bathes in distortion, and the rhythm section lights a fire under "Two-Faced Love." "Hard on Me," meanwhile, is a six-minute tour de force in which Thompson takes two slash-and-burn guitar solos. Beyond that, Thompson mines the veins that have always replenished him. His melodies recall timeless ballads, while his playing -- sometimes set in tricky (but not showy) time signatures -- moves among jazz inventiveness, folk resonance and rock & roll power. He's so deft that his extraordinary originality seems utterly natural.
In his many songs about broken romance ("Uninhabited Man," "Dry My Tears and Move On"), Thompson views love as a kind of perceptual problem: How can you trust what's in front of your eyes when you've so often been deceived -- and been a deceiver? The difficulty of recognizing the real thing, of course, has implications for the fate of the wryly titled Mock Tudor, as well -- implications that Richard Thompson will no doubt ignore as he goes on making spell-binding music for whoever cares to hear it. --
Anthony DeCurtis (From Rolling Stone No. 820, Sept. 2, 1999)
Today's Irish Times:
Reviewer: Joe Breen
Richard Thompson: Mock Tudor (Capitol)
If I say that Richard Thompson's new album is more of the same, the uninitiated might take this to understand that there is little of note in Mock Tudor. Die-hard veterans of the Thompson cause will know the opposite to be the case. These songs of moral outrage, vengeance, coiled anger and cruel self-examination are the stuff of which great Thompson songs are made; and there are a couple here, steeped in his trademark style of roots rock meets English tradition. The impression given during his recent riveting Dublin shows that, even by his own high standards, the British guitarist was hitting a purple patch is reinforced by tracks like Cooksferry Queen, Hard On Me and Dry My Tears And Move On. This album has a theme - living in London - but the conceptual approach does not blunt Thompson's razor-sharp playing or observations. Spread the news.
Reviewer: Dan Glaister
Richard Thompson Mock Tudor (Capitol)
(4 stars out of a possible 5)
Following the collaboration with namesake Danny Thompson two years ago, Richard Thompson returns with his first new album for three years. He hasn't changed. The songs, although new, sound largely familiar: the folky-rocky voice is the same, the guitar as sinuous as ever, and the great singer-songwriter's mood does not seem to have changed. Two-Faced Love, Hard On Me, and Dry My Tears and Move On all show that Thompson and unrequited love are as attached as ever. But this time the sentiment comes neatly wrapped up in a concept, for this is that most curmudgeonly of beasts, the concept album.
Mock Tudor chronicles London Town and its - and quite possibly Thompson's - progression from Metroland via Heroes in the Suburbs to Street Cries and Stage Whis peers. Fortunately the concept never interferes with the music, which sees Thompson's blend of English folk, pop rock, and even a little pomp chuntering on as ever. This very consistency could be Thompson's problem, and help to answer the question of why he will never really move beyond his cult fan base. But to borrow a phrase, if you like this, you'll like all his other albums too.
John O Dwyer
Friday August 20 1999
***** (5/5 star rating)
Mock Tudor is ostensibly a musical map of London charting folk-rock veteran Richard Thompson's relationship with the city. But really it is a map of the human heart - Thompson being an unflinching surveyor of romantic disenchantment. Invigorating guitarwork and singing slash through some of these songs like a knife drawing blood, while even on gentler tracks Thompson's lyrics turn over stones more cautious performers wouldn't dare go near. By turns sensitive and sinister, Mock Tudor is essential - if only to make you feel better about your own love life.
sent by Paul Homer
Richard Thompson, co-founder of legendary folk-rock pioneers Fairport Convention, departed that group in 1971 for a solo career based on his idiosyncratic songs and forceful guitar work. His latest, with producers Tom Rothrock andRob Schnapf, features a dozen vivid originals inspired by Thompson's memories of growing up in London and its "wasteland" suburbs.
The more fatalistic songs are the strongest, especially "Sibella" and "Hard On Me", the latter also containing an arresting guitar solo. Other bright moments include the poignant "Walking The Long Miles Home" and the Celtic- rockabilly driven "Cooksferry Queen" (3 Stars).
Sort of reminds me of the record company " blurbs" that used to accompany promo albums sent to radio stations. Wasn't it Chuck Berry that once got arrested for playing his guitar in an " obscene manner" in some Southern town way back when?
NP: "Miles From Our Home" - Cowboy Junkies doing a Clannad imitation, but which contains the most beautiful eery song I've heard in many a moon: "Blue Guitar" (written by Townes Van Zandt).
REVIEW: Richard Thompson, _Mock Tudor_ (Capitol)
- Don Share
Whatever the decade, whatever the trend, Richard Thompson has been with us from his folk-rock days in the 60's with Fairport Convention, to his 70's collaborations with former wife, Linda, all the way up through his quirky solo albums of the 80's and 90's. Dark, but wittily un-depressed lyrics underwritten by uncopyable guitar solos have always been his hallmarks. 1973's classic _I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight_ and especially the singular and harrowing _Shoot Out The Lights_ from 1982 (a must-own for anyone going through a divorce!), should be in everybody's record collection, and after that, there are about a dozen worthwhile albums, including this one, to investigate. Thompson is so deadly smart with a lyric and a guitar that you'll very likely end up curious about everything he's done; if so, this is a fine album to start with, or keep going with.
Working with producers who've been on the job with Elliot Smith, Beck, and Foo Fighters, and a band that includes veteran Dave Mattucks on drums, and two other Thompsons, son Teddy on guitar and vocals and Danny (no relation) on double bass, _Mock Tudor_ is proof that time has not mellowed or dulled Thompson's remarkable skills. Perhaps more than its predecessors, this is a focused, richly detailed collection of songs that, as always, start off sounding odd and grow and grow on you.
One slight change is that the music here is a bit more on the radio-rootsy, i.e., Dave Matthews/Springsteeny side, than fans would expect. Still, you never heard those other guys sing about a "Cooksferry Queen," or an opportunist club-owner named Mulvaney who trades in mohair for tie-dye faded jeans. The opening track I'm describing growls like a train, and blows like a smokestack. "Sibella" features pounding, aching bass and drums, with a literate, but far from bookish lyric: "Some say you can learn a lot from books / Thrill-ride to second-hand living / Life is just as deadly as it looks / But fiction is more forgiving."
"Bathsheba Smile" is swelling and angry, as well, but even sharper is the self-explanatory "Two-Faced Love," which features inspirational lines like the cubist "Two-Faced love feels so wrong it must be right," and the characteristically wry couplet, "Pardon my naive caress / tenderfoot tenderness." Similarly wonderful are the no-pun intended "Hard On Me," a great grim thumper, and "Uninhabited Man," in which the rhythm section chips away at the melody the way life has worn down the guy who sings, "If there's no me then there's no sin."
Some of the songs are nearly country, like "Dry My Tears and Move On," and "Walking the Long Miles Home," which is about missing, literally the bus... instead of missing the woman. These are vintage clear Thompson vignettes: "The whole town's asleep / or maybe they're deep / in the old voulezvous." But exactly what country is it? "Sights and Sounds of London Town" features "Gillian... a Doncaster lass," so we know were not talkin', say, Nashville or Asbury Park.
Best of all is "That's All, Amen, Close the Door," almost Tom Waitsy in its bumptious grind, by way of some Jarvis Cocker irony ("There's beauty in what's brief / There's beauty in what's small / That's all.") and "Hope You Like the New Me," which I won't spoil by quoting. These songs are what we've counted on Thompson for all these years. They're not just sob-stories -- in every dark situation, Thompson finds bright new light. It's a little old-fashioned, even a bit scruffy, but you have to be thankful he's still making such music. As he sings in "Crawl Back Under My Stone," "I've got a nerve just showing my face, don't you think?"
"When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us." --Alexander Graham Bell
Rock Beat: Richard Thompson
By DAVID GERMAIN
LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Ever the self-deprecator, Richard Thompson ponders what he did wrong to become one of modern music's most acclaimed cult figures while missing the wide success many think he merits.
"Maybe my big mistake has been not realizing you've got to have an image,"
Thompson said over lunch at an Italian restaurant near his home in the coastal Los Angeles community of Pacific Palisades. "I've got no concept of self-image, really. I've got no desire to have one."
For his core of devotees, though, the British folk-rocker has a definite image that has ripened through three decades of pious musicianship.
It begins with his days as a teen guitar sensation with the English folk band Fairport Convention in the late 1960s. It continues through the duo years of the 1970s and early '80s with then-wife Linda Thompson - their marriage ended soon after the release of "Shoot Out the Lights," an album on many critics' top-10 list of the '80s. It culminates with his nearly two decades as a solo artist whose latest album, "Mock Tudor," hit stores Aug. 24.
It's an image of a brilliant musician and songwriter who early on preferred to be somewhere to the left and rear of center stage and ultimately got his wish: Thompson's quirky, sardonic music has captivated his merry band of followers but failed to grab the record industry or mainstream listeners.
"If he was to ever have a hit, it would mean that the bar of excellence would have been raised so much in pop music that I would lay down and flop like a fish," said Bonnie Raitt, who covered Thompson's "Dimming of the Day" on her album "Longing in Their Hearts" and her live recording, "Road Tested."
"He's underrated and under appreciated," Raitt said.
At this stage, as he just turned 50, Thompson shrugs it off with a loud, laconic, "It's OK, it's fine."
After all, Thompson remains signed to a major label, Capitol, at a time when many second-tier musicians have found themselves cut loose through record-company consolidation. He packs smaller venues with adoring fans, touring with a band of old friends and now, even family. His son, Teddy, has joined his current tour.
And Thompson has inspired a legion of musicians, prompting two tribute albums that featured R.E.M., David Byrne, Los Lobos and Victoria Williams. "He's a major influence of mine," said Shawn Colvin, who toured with Thompson in the early 1990s. "I learned so much on that tour. It was like songwriting college. I thought, 'I'm a finger painter and this guy's Picasso."'
"If you go to a Richard Thompson concert, you see rabid fans, enough so that the guy has a career, thank God," Colvin said. "It could be worse, but it could be better."
Thompson said he would like to have a hit - though he quickly distinguishes, hit album, not single. "I'm not looking for a single hit," he said. "Album would be fine."
Hits may have eluded him, but Thompson has managed to have his way with his music, blending albums that draw on rock, folk, blues, Scottish traditional tunes, jazz, jug-band music - anything and everything that has caught his ear over the years.
Though strains of those influences are apparent, "Mock Tudor" is mainly a straight-ahead rock album, unlike the rock and acoustic mixes of Thompson's other 1990s efforts such as "Rumor and Sigh," "Mirror Blue" and "You? Me? Us?"
Thompson said the rock treatments suited the songs, a dozen tunes that he grudgingly concedes amount to a "walk down memory lane" of his London years from the 1950s to the 1980s.
"I hate that term, really, but it probably is," Thompson said. "It's stories about people that still have some relevance for me now. You still meet the same types of people. There's still the same type of creeps out there.
"I suppose there's people that you miss, that's another thing. There's a lot of people that didn't make it out of the '60s and '70s. I suppose it's a way of me trying to define my relationship with them. If I write a song about it, it helps me to understand that."
Among Thompson's fallen comrades were two friends killed in a van accident in 1969 that Thompson survived as well as former Fairport lead singer Sandy Denny, who died of injuries from a fall down the stairs in 1978.
"Mock Tudor" refers somewhat affectionately, somewhat derisively, to the architectural style of tract-housing construction in London between the World Wars. What was intended as an escape for middle-class city dwellers turned sour as urban London spiraled outward.
"You moved out in the suburbs, and it was supposed to be like the country, but it ended up being like the suburbs," Thompson said. "You started off with a field behind the house, and you went, 'Oh, fantastic, look at this, I'm right in the country.' But, of course, the next year, they'd built another mile behind your house."
"Mock Tudor" is the most personal album yet by Thompson, who is fond of distinguishing between the singer and the song. Some of the musical recollections are based on his own experiences, some on others he knew, some on fictional characters.
"A lot of creative writing, I think, is in a sense to try to decode something," Thompson said. "It's trying to decode your own life and subsequently other people's lives and their circumstances. Where you come from, who your parents were. Why am I in this mess? Why am I deranged? "If you write songs about it, you can kind of get under some of those layers."
The opening track, "Cooksferry Queen," is based on a smalltime hood Thompson knew who was transformed into a flower child by a hippie girlfriend.
"Sights and Sounds of London Town" is a gazetteer of the old city through the eyes of some seamy denizens. "Walking the Long Miles Home" comes from Thompson's youth, hoofing it home from club shows after missing the last bus.
The closing track, "Hope You Like the New Me," deals with rip-off artists:
"I stole your jokes - just the good ones, how the gang all laughed with glee, I also stole the way you tell them, hope you like the new me."
"If you're in the music business for any length of time, people steal from you to a greater or lesser extent - other artists, managers, agents, publishers," Thompson said. "It's the sort of business, like the film business, it attracts some of the wrong kind of people."
Thompson fights one type of rip-off artist, bootleggers who sell unauthorized recordings of his concerts. He's released a handful of "official bootlegs," available by mail-order through fan clubs.
"I do get heavily bootlegged," he said. "The only way I can fight back really is at the end of every major tour, to have something ready to go that's better recorded than anybody else would have and that's representative of that tour. I really don't like having my copyright stolen."
He's just as pragmatic about creating music. Though he jokes that he does his creative work in a "small monastic cell, where I thrash myself with birch twigs," Thompson treats music as a business, his songwriting as a job. He said that when writing for an album, he tries to put in a workmanlike, 9-to-5 day shift.
Summing up his career, Thompson hurls out a string of whimsical epitaphs:
"Tortured, unappreciated genius," "He died with his boots on," "I didn't know people were still making music like that."
In the end, he said, he's happy to keep recording, get on stage and play. "The music industry's in such chaos at the moment, anyway," Thompson said.
"There's such huge changes every week. No one quite has a clue how the dust is going to settle.
"I'm happy to be on the fringes and gaze cynically across the bedeviled landscape and just hang on until I see which way the dice have fallen."
my favorite breezy national newspaper (as Mort Sahl said: "All the news you can possibly read while waiting for the traffic light to turn green.") gave a enthusiastic review to Mock Tudor today (09-28-99) running this review second only to Barbra Streisand's latest smaltzfest.
"Richard Thompson, Mock Tudor (three and a half star of out of four): The underacknowledged British guitar hero, now residing in Los Angeles, chronicles his life in London's suburbs on this superb concept album. Though less cynical than recent works, Tudor has an edgier, more aggressive sound, as evidenced by the rhythmic frenzy of Two-Faced Love and the heady guitar solos in Hard on Me. A remarkably versatile guitarist and enchanting yarn-spinner, Thompson gracefully folds country, folk and rock into durable melodies full of serrated wordplay and keen insights. Nothing here is disposable, from the colorful narrative Cooksferry Queen, kissed by blues harmonica, to such introspective tunes as the touching ballad Dry My Tears and Move On and the energetic Walking the Long Miles Home. Though it's focused on the past half-century, there's a timeless quality to Thompson's musical diary, which closes in the present with Hope You Like the New Me. It's impossible not to."
Oh, my. With this superb and accessible CD plus ceaseless touring, is a low-level breakthrough into general public consciousness now unavoidable?
RV (Recently viewed) "Unhook The Stars" with Gena Rowland (co-written and directed by her son Nick Cassavetes.) I was delighted to hear OH singing out from a juke box in a bar <sorry - have spaced out on the song's two word title, didn't recognize it.> To top this off OH was followed by a Lucinda Williams track. What choice selections.
Thompson's Latest Stands Up to Little-Known Body of
By Dave Ferman
Between his work with the groundbreaking English folk- rock group Fairport Convention, his masterful recordings with former wife Linda, and his solo career, Richard Thompson has made more great music that has been heard by fewer people than anyone in rock history.
At age 50, the London-born Thompson is perhaps the ultimate cult artist, a man whose skills as a songwriter, vocalist and guitarist are virtually unmatched (yeah, that includes Eric Clapton) but whose CDs sell only modestly and who receives almost zero rock airplay.
Thompson's music takes in English folk, rockabilly, country and more as he spins darkly poignant, sometimes malevolent tales of seedy folks, troubled love affairs, deceit, loathing and loneliness.
The man's career is almost a musical highlight reel; no rock fan should be without Fairport's `Unhalfbricking,' his own `Hand of Kindness' and any one of several collaborations with Linda, including 1974's `I Want To See the Bright Lights Tonight' and 1982's `Shoot Out the Lights,' which may be the best record of that entire decade.
`Mock Tudor,' his latest release, deserves to stand in that august company. Easily one of the best CDs of 1999, its theme is "London and growing up in the suburbs," as Thompson told `Billboard' magazine recently.
Thompson deftly integrates character studies of people he's met along the way, as on the hard-rocking opener `Cooksferry Queen' and the acoustic tale of down-and-outers, `Sights and Sounds of London Town,' with studies of the regret of failed love affairs on `Crawl Back (Under My Stone)' or `Dry My Tears and Move On.' Thompson is a great solo acoustic artist, but here he leans more toward electric guitar, spinning out amazing solos right and left.
And as a storyteller, a chronicler of denizens of the street or people who are left alone to ache in silence, he's rarely been better. There isn't a bad or weak song here, and even one, `Stone,' that is just poppy enough to garner maybe a little airplay on more adventurous rock stations.
But don't bet on it. Richard Thompson must be sought out but offers rich rewards for all who do so.
`Mock Tudor' is as good a place to start as any.
Thompson fans will also want to check out `Meet On the Ledge -- The Classic Years (1967-1975),' a new two-CD set that chronicles the golden early years of Fairport Convention. Containing generous chunks of `Unhalfbricking,' `Liege & Lief' and `Full House,' `Ledge' is a stirring introduction to one of the best bands to ever come out of England.
A truly unique band, Fairport merged ancient folk songs, Bob Dylan tunes and band originals into a whole that still sounds fresh and vital today; Thompson's guitar and Sandy Denny's vocals are the catalysts, but the band was a wonderful ensemble -- and still is. Thompson left the band in 1971, but Fairport continues to record and tour.
Richard Thompson `Mock Tudor'. Capitol Records
4 1/2 (out of 5)
sings a decidedly grave Richard Thompson two tracks into his fourth Capitol record. Nothing new there:
Scornful resignation has been part of the writer's world view since Fairport Convention cut his 'Tale in Hard Time' in '68. But the combination of vehemence and eloquence that earned his rep as one of our premier artistes is revitalized for this new studio date. Mock Tudor is a cut above the guitarist's recent outings because it banks on fierceness. The 'mock' of the title is a characteristic barb from the genial guy who frequently writes with a misanthropic cackle. These new tunes loosely deal with his old London stomping ground, but a Muswell Hillbillies nostalgia fest it ain't. In some spots you can see the venom coming a mile away. 'Hard on Me' milks that ominous minor chord he uses to vent anger and create guitar pandemonium; 'Two-Faced Love' addresses treachery as if it was a routine part of romance. Explaining how the deceitful, shit-upon. and willfully ignorant should have seen their fate coming, the singer has only Randy Newman as an equal. Mock Tudor reminds us of his authority as [a] well-spoken cynic."
From this week's Providence Phoenix (which means it might have appeared in the Boston Phoenix as well), by Jim Macnie:
Seems to me that MT is hardly as cynical and dark as McNie would have it, but perhaps I've become so inured to the Thompson worldview that I can't see how it looks to outsiders anymore. 8^)
His fans constitute as devoted a cult as any in music, and many of his more celebrated peers openly worship his work as both a songwriter and rock guitarist. All that praise and envy, however, only perpetuate Richard Thompson's title as the most popular musician no one's heard of - even, it seems, in his own country.
"No review of a Richard Thompson album is complete without a plea for a larger audience to discover his rare virtues," wrote Anthony DeCurtis in his recent Rolling Stone review of Thompson's new record, "Mock Tudor."
Thompson has plenty of virtues, though they aren't necessarily all that rare. "Mock Tudor" is yet another strong, smart, well-produced Thompson record. It's spiked with the kinds of tart, aromatic traits that never get by the guards' desks at most commercial//Top 40 radio stations: irony, commentary, misery, politics, sarcasm and wit.
"I don't have a choice," Thompson said recently from Eugene, Ore. "I'm not commercial. I don't play mainstream American music, so I'm sidelined slightly. The audience has to make an extra effort to find my music, and I have to make an extra effort to find my audience."
Still, in the past 10 years alone, Thompson has put out at least as many acclaimed studio records as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen or Tom Petty, artists who sell out arenas and amphitheaters but don't need to spend half a day in a hotel (registered under their given names) taking redundant phone calls from music journalists.
"(Thompson's) career," music commentator Tim Riley once wrote, "is a lesson in how even major labels falter with even the greatest pop talents." Even in Britain, where Thompson helped invent folk rock 30 years ago as a founding member of Fairport Convention, he doesn't get the recognition he deserves.
The cover story on the August issue of Q, a British pop music magazine, was titled "100 Greatest Stars of the 20th Century - As Voted by You!" John Lennon (No. 1) and Paul McCartney (No. 2) were on the cover. Inside, however, among a list of artists that included George Michael, Oasis and Liam Howlett of Prodigy, Thompson's name is absent. Granted the list includes lots of ephemeral pop stars, but it also includes many "prestige" artists such as Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, Patti Smith, Lou Reed and Ravi Shankar. "Well, George Michael: There you go," Thompson said, chuckling dismissively. Though later, he said, "I'd like to see a copy of that list."
Thompson's low profile in America is less baffling. He is a wry, low-key, well-educated Englishman. "I don't really have an image," he said. "Perhaps I should work on one."
On top of that, his music style is ecumenical, blending folk, rock, blues, jazz and Celtic music, and his tunes can get pretty epic, acerbic and indulgent, even for some of Thompson's most loyal fans. "No recent Thompson albums have been free of clunkers," wrote a Dirty Linen critic in a positive review, "and `Mock Tudor' is no exception."
But some of Thompson's best songs, particularly his ballads like "Tear Stained Letter," "Dimming of the Day" and "Withered and Died," set dark, simple lyrics afloat on stunning pop melodies, a formula that can easily evoke a Top 40 aroma.
"If he was to ever have a hit," Bonnie Raitt once said, "it would mean that the bar of excellence would have been raised so much in pop music that I would lay down and flop like a fish."
Despite its pop virtues, "Mock Tudor" isn't likely to set her flopping. It's a concept album of sorts, split into three, four-song segments, each addressing a different phase of life in suburban London. However, it does include several tunes that would fit perfectly in several radio formats.
Hoping they'd help him produce something a bit more "accessible," Capitol Records suggested Thompson hire fashionable producers Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf, who have worked with younger, successful artists like Beck, the Foo Fighters and, most notably, Elliott Smith, a singer-songwriter whose style is as eclectic and distinct as Thompson's. The results are very appealing.
"Sibella" will oblige anybody fond of the melodic pop//roots-rock styles of guys like Petty or John Mellencamp; "Bathsheba Smiles" is a brisk folk-rock tune built on a twist of the bass line from the Police's "Every Breath You Take"; the opener, "Cooksferry Queen," is a folkabilly jaunt studded with tasty bits of rock guitar and blues harp; and "Walking the Long Miles Home" is a sweet bone for the country-folk crowd.
Overall Thompson has produced a record with lots of durable, "accessible" pop sounds and textures without compromising his standards or corking his intellect.
He still drops in highfalutin, academic words and phrases like "oracles" and "pre-Raphaelite hair" and references to people like Jack Kerouac and Marie Antoinette; he still musters clouds of gloom, doom and presuicidal dread; and he still composes the occasional long, gray acoustic-folk tune. "I suppose there's music that I want to hear that I don't hear other people doing," Thompson once told Dirty Linen magazine, "and because it doesn't exist, I have to do it. Or else become a seething psychopath."
"Mock Tudor" has less of that kind of psychopathology than other Thompson records. Nonetheless, so far it has prompted a typically faint commercial response, less of one, even, than new records by John Prine and Nanci Griffith.
Thompson seems pretty weary of that kind of talk - about why so much of his fine music has found a relatively small audience; or why at times he is so maddeningly forgotten and peripheral.
Two years ago, Rolling Stone ran a list of "200 essential rock records." Though the Rolling Stone Album Guide ranked several of Thompson's albums between "excellent" and "classic," none made the magazine's Top 200 list. Jackson Browne's "Late for the Sky" and Billy Joel's "Greatest Hits" both made the Top 200 list, though both received fewer stars in the Album Guide than several Thompson records. Go figure.
"Everyone's ambitious," he said. "Everyone wants to sell more records and get more people into the clubs. It's great to have the very loyal fans I have. Bless 'em all. And, yes, it's always great to hear that other musicians like my music. Frankly that's the highest form of praise: respect from your fellow musicians."
Maybe David Byrne, a fellow musician who is also a devotee, found the right perspective when he said a while back: "Personally, being somewhat envious of Richard's songwriting and guitar playing, it's somewhat satisfying that he's not yet achieved household-name status. It serves him right for being so good."
Just for starters, there's no more excuse for knowing who Richard Thompson is than for not knowing who Van Morrison or Neil Young are. Amazingly, Thompson has a US following that is strong but slight. Hopefully, "Mock Tudor," Richard Thompson's new release, will grab more people's attention, because it is as good a record as you're liable to hear this year. And easily better than any record either Morrison or Young have come up with since the early part of the decade.
I remember an old quote about both Neil Young and Richard Thompson along the lines of, when they play acoustic it sounds like rock and when they play electric it sounds like folk. And it is as true with this record as it ever was. This is the rockingest folk record since God knows when. It is the first Thompson record in ages not produced by Mitchell Froom, and the clean sound from Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf sounds like a big improvement to me. And it has a refreshing quality about it compared to the last few RT records, a smooth, effortless quality to it, that doubtless took a hell of a lot of work and is reminiscent of Thompson live.
Thompson live is like the opposite of a rock star. A guitar virtuoso who doesn't look like he should have a caption under his picture that says "suffering genius pouring his heart out". An intelligent, sensitive, and painfully honest songwriter that makes jokes and banters with his audience. Sounds like a folkie, right? Well, just listen to "Mock Tudor."
The opening track, Cooksferry Queen is a rave-up worthy of John Fogerty, if not early Elvis Presley. Maybe it's about London suburbia, but the music's heart is American rock and roll and the blues and rockabilly it all came from. But instead of a song of teenaged yearning, it's middle-class, middle-aged yearning. Not to mention being pretty damned weird.
Sibella is one of Thompson's patented er-love songs. Not many folks would attempt a chorus of:
We don't make sense together
But my hearts with you
I find myself strangely true
Haunting stuff. With a melody that has overtones of the classic Kinks singles circa "Sunny Afternoon".
Songs about poisonous women, unhappy love affairs, tortured men, victims of the class system, slighted men. With upbeat melodies, killer guitar solos, some great harmonies, it's everything I hope for from a new release from Richard Thompson. Hey, the guy has authorized bootlegs called "Gloom and Doom From The Tomb".
One comment about the harmonies, it seems like he has found the best backup vocalist since his ex-wife Linda in the person of his son, Teddy. He sounds more than a little like her. Does anyone else find this somewhat creepy?
Perhaps this record won't win him any more fans. There really aren't any enthusiastic or truly romantic songs that will appeal to people who really shouldn't like Thompson in the first place (e.g., Beeswing or 1952 Vincent Black Lightning). The instant favorite off the record is catchy tirade, Crawl Back (Under My Stone), but the acoustic grabber is The Sights and Sounds of London Town with the stories of the various victims of the city. And any longtime fan of RT would love his classic dirge "That's All, Amen, Close The Door". The closer is the chilling "Hope You Like The New Me". With black humor worthy of Alfred Hitchcock more than Elvis Costello or Randy Newman, behind a grim, sparse arrangement, Thompson sings:
I stole your soul - when you weren't looking
I reached inside and cut it free
It suits me more than it ever suited you
Hope you like the new me
Fortunately Thompson has not changed his style or his soul. Perhaps in his memories of the London suburbs he's found a subject that can make him as pissed off as Linda once did. Whatever it is, Thompson has created perhaps his best solo record ever soon after reaching the big 5-0. He's a dysfunctional inspiration to us all.
Any new release by Richard Thompson is eagerly awaited by his minor legion of extremely loyal fans worldwide. But anticipation was especially high for Mock Tudor. It's his first studio release since 1995's You? Me? Us?, and he's working with a new production team for the first time since 1986's Across a Crowded Room. The buzz began to build in early August when the music press on both sides of the Atlantic started running laudatory reviews. It reached a fever pitch when Thompson and band started opening live sets with five or six songs off the disc.
What has emerged to answer the expectations was a bit unexpected: a concept album rife with Baby-Boomer nostalgia. Mock Tudor explores the people and places of Thompson's past, growing up in London and its suburbs in the Fifties and Sixties. Brimming with musical and lyrical echoes of that era, Mock Tudor is the most accessible, most "pop" collection of tunes Richard Thompson has ever released.
Nearly every song on Tudor draws liberally from the musical styles of the Sixties, including skiffle, R&B, Beatlesque pop, Byrds jangle, Who stutters, and even some blues, a real departure for Thompson. Notable by their near-total absence are references to British folk and dancehall music, Django-style jazz progressions, middle-eastern and -- except for some hurdy-gurdy buried deep in the mix -- eastern European influences.
Thompson has further reinforced the nostalgic theme with numerous quotes from fairy tales and children's books -- "One pill to get bigger, another pill to get small"; "I swear by the pricking of my thumbs"; "who's been sleeping in my bed?" "the golden goose" -- as well as radio, TV and films. Even the album art evokes Post-World War II prosperity with its idealized visions of life in the suburbs: cars, lawnmowers and various household appliances.
The album has all of Thompson's trademarks: songs about quirky and colorful characters from the wrong side of the tracks; tales of love gone bad told with wry, dark humor; intelligent lyrics; and his own absolutely unique brand of virtuoso electric and acoustic guitar.
But gone are the murky settings that have characterized much of Thompson's Nineties work with longtime producers Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake. The production team of Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf (who have worked with rock acts including Beck, Elliott Smith, and the Foo Fighters) have given these songs a sound like the best records of the Sixties and Seventies: sharp and clear, the vocals out front, drums and bass laying down a solid groove, guitars and other instruments embellishing.
And what songs they are.
"Cooksferry Queen" starts the CD in high gear with its swinging skiffle-like beat ably laid down by long-time Thompson collaborators Dave Mattacks on drums and Danny Thompson (no relation) on double bass. Thompson's twanging guitar licks twine sinuously around a swaggering blues harp. And Thompson shows off very strong and confident vocal chops on this rave-up about a small-time Sixties hood enamored of an acid-dropping hippie chick.
From there, Tudor moves from strength to strength.
"Sibella," a song of mismatched lovers, is propelled by a driving tom-tom beat reminiscent of The Raiders' 1967 hit, "Indian Reservation." "Bathsheba Smiles" has a swampy, gypsy-like feel on the verses that soars into a Stones-like chorus with multi-tracked backing vocals by his son Teddy Thompson. "Two-Faced Love" has a pulsing R&B groove with an abundant bottom-end supplied by a honking baritone sax and Froom's keyboards.
This first section of the CD roars to a climax on "Hard on Me," a throbbing mid-tempo rocker on which Thompson spits out two of his inimitable solos. "Hard on Me" also seems to be a bold declaration of the autobiographical nature of much of _Mock Tudor._ Thematically and musically, this song closely resembles one of his old standbys, "Shoot Out the Lights," down to actual quotes in one of the guitar solo sections. But the subject matter -- the rage of a teenager toward parents and other authority figures -- is much more explicit here, and Thompson has said in more than one interview that the song draws heavily on his relationship with his policeman father.
"Crawl Back (Under my Stone)" has a lot going on. Thompson's vocals have never been stronger than on this song, a bitter tirade by a man rejected as a suitor because of class differences. It is among his catchiest tunes ever, paying homage to the Beatles and Buddy Holly, with an Everly Brothers-style bridge between the second and third verses. Froom supplies some humorous touches with swirling accompaniment on the Hammond B3.
"Dry My Tears and Move On" is straight out of Memphis in the Sixties, a Stax-Volt "Big Boys Don't Cry" to answer the Four Seasons' song. "My suits got creases and my shoes got shine/ Let me know soon, I'll find a better use for my time..." Are you sure Ray Charles didn't do this one? If he hasn't, he should. Thompson frequently uses a horn section on his records, but mostly in the style of English "silver bands," working class bands that compete among the various towns, mines and mills. Here, though, the horn arrangement is definitely in the Memphis soul style.
"Walking the Long Miles Home" is another soulful but uptempo number about a fellow walking home to the suburbs after breaking up with his city girlfriend. It has one of the record's best lines: "Got the rhythm in my shoes to keep the blues away."
"The Sights and Sounds of London Town," an acoustic number featuring Richard and Danny, continues the nostalgic theme of Mock Tudor. An homage to Ralph McTell's Sixties anthem, "Streets of London," it offers four vignettes of London street characters. Interestingly, they are set in reverse chronological order, starting in the Nineties with a family woman from the suburbs spending the weekends as a streetwalker in the city, going back through the Eighties and Seventies to a slick-dressing Sixties hustler. Melodically, it's reminiscent of one of Thompson's most durable songs, "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," except with an even catchier, hook-laden chorus.
Two of the slower numbers -- "That's All, Amen, Close the Door" and "Uninhabited Man" -- are more in line with the best of Thompson's Nineties work. Both are deceptively quiet songs, their languor masking a seething cauldron of emotion just under the surface. This is the kind of song that has drawn his die-hard fans and keeps them hanging on: all smoldering angst and pain, couched in bitter metaphor, and occasionally breaking forth in cathartic whip-lashes of virtuoso guitar wrangling.
"That's All" on the surface is a painful paen to the end of a love affair. With its soaring bridges between the verses, thumping bass-drum line and bluesy feel, this could be a lost Roy Orbison song.
On the other hand, in a recent, unusually candid interview, Thompson called the song a plea to fans of the late Sandy Denny to let her rest in peace. (Denny, lead vocalist with Thompson's Sixties folk-rock group Fairport Convention, died after a fall in 1978.) "She gave as much/As she had to give/Please don't ask for more..." pleads Thompson in one of the disc's strongest tunes.
"Uninhabited Man" is a demanding and rewarding song, musically and lyrically. The imagery is complex, drawing on Western and Eastern religion, mythology and fairy tales, to paint a picture of Man without Love. Thompson is a practicing Muslim, and like many Muslim poets, writers and mystics through the centuries, his love songs can also be interpreted spiritually. Thus the uninhabited man is one who is ready to be filled with God's presence: "What an old dry shell I am ... I'm left no skill no art/to meet you heart to heart/you'll find no me beneath the skin."
The album ends on something of a down note. "Hope You Like the New Me," is a bleak and chilling number that explores the psychological need to meld with another by "stealing" their style, laugh, friends, walk, wife and soul. Though Thompson's wry sense of irony is present as usual ("I stole your jokes, only the good ones..."), one senses that this theme is not entirely a laughing matter to him, given that he has previously dealt with it in two excellent tunes this decade: "Cold Kisses" (from You? Me? Us?_) and "Slipstream" (from Mirror Blue).
Unlike any of his previous albums, Mock Tudor contains several songs with strong potential for radio play and even hit status. Time will tell whether this recording will finally see Richard Thompson deservedly emerge from cult status, as Bonnie Raitt did earlier this decade with "Nick of Time." Or is it destined to be yet another Thompson disc on the order of his Shoot Out the Lights (1982) hailed by critics and fellow musicians but largely ignored by the public?
BY LYDIA VANDERLOO
Richard Thompson keeps the rock coming with a thematic look at his home city.
RICHARD THOMPSON TURNED 50 this year. The guitarist/songwriter has been fusing British folk traditions with effusive rock 'n' roll for 30 years, first with the Fairport Convention, then with his (now ex-) wife Linda, and for the past 20 years as a solo artist. Yet he sounds freshly energized on his current album, Mock Tudor (Capitol).
"I get told that I'm stagnant and out of ideas by some people," he relates on the phone from London. "I try to think of music as being experimental, as being a journey [where] you don't know what's at the end."
That may be why Thompson took two stylistic risks with Mock Tudor--one of which involved trying out the potentially dangerous concept album idea, the other jettisoning a longtime collaborator.
For a theme, Thompson chose to study his hometown of London, past and present, and it gives the album a sense of cohesion largely missing from 1996's sprawling two-disc set you? me? us?. "It was a theme [around which] I'd collected a couple of songs," he says. "I had a couple of ideas reserved in a corner, amongst others, so it just seemed like it would be a good focus at that time. And it proved very easy to write along a theme."
The songs are brought to life by Thompson's emotion-fueled vocals; his heady electric guitar solos, which have the potency of Tom Verlaine on tracks like "Hard on Me"; and his captivating characters. "I don't think they're made up," he says of the gangsters, hookers, and beguiling lovers populating the songs. "They're probably slightly fictionalized, but they're generally based on real people."
Although Mock Tudor is about London, it was written anywhere but England's capital city. "It doesn't make any difference, really," Thompson says of the geographical location from which he's approaching his subject matter. "Sometimes it is good to be further away from something in order to get some perspective. I'm not sure if it made any difference. In fact, I probably wrote it in various places around the world at various times. I've been trying to train myself not to be so precious about where I am, to just sit on the train or the bus and write." So now that he's successfully tackled the theme album, does Thompson have any ideas for future topic-based projects? "Oh, I can't tell you! I've got various projects in mind for records, but it's a matter of which is the right one for the right time. There's the one about the Muppets," he jokes, "and there's a musical about Deep Throat."
WHILE THOMPSON is evasive about his future endeavors, he's more forthcoming on the subject of his finished albums. He's got plenty to say about the second big change he made for Mock Tudor--switching from trusty producer Mitchell Froom, who's worked magic with Los Lobos and Suzanne Vega and on most of Thompson's albums this decade (including the stellar Rumor and Sigh from 1991) to Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf, best known for their work with Beck and Elliott Smith. "I think it was time for a change. It was probably overdue, really," admits Thompson. "I enjoy the records that Mitchell makes, I'm a real fan of his work. But it was time to have some different personalities in the team. And it was great fun to find Tom and Rob because they really are terrific people, and also very skillful. And I think it was a very different kind of record."
In fact, it's more along the lines of Smith's XO in that the songs take center stage, the production bypassing lush or grandiose sound in favor of simple arrangements that spotlight the highly crafted melodies. "I think it sounds different, and I'm not sure why that is," Thompson reflects. "Whatever they brought to bear on the record, it's taken it into a slightly different area. It's an even more straight-ahead recording. And I think that's really because the songs demanded something fairly straightforward. And then having recorded it, there wasn't much else to do with it. It sounds better pretty much as it was done."
Mock Tudor ranks with his best work, but he's not one to rest on his laurels. His lengthy career, filled with soaring highs and a few flat lows, attests to that. "As a musician," says Thompson, "it's your duty to explore and see what's out there. And sometimes you don't make it. You fall flat on your face. But that's OK in the context of what you're trying to do. So it's good to not play it safe, to take chances, to stretch your technique and ideas, and see where it goes. Some nights it works and some nights it doesn't. But you have to go down trying."
Richard Thompson has always been a curmudgeon who aspires to optimism. The darkness that pervades his best work is the inevitable product of an acutely perceptive, unforgiving perfectionist who thinks that people should behave themselves — particularly if they’re in some sort of relationship with him. Hardly a hypocrite, Thompson's high expectations are also applied to his own work, which may explain why virtually every one of his albums is a faultless little collection of acidic folk-rock. What separates Thompson’s brand of cynicism from garden-variety rock cynicism is his unfailing sense of erudition. It always smarts more to suffer the slings and arrows of a learned troubador than a punk with a bad attitude, and at his best, Thompson's barbs are as visceral and literary as Hamlet accusing his mother of high crimes and misdemeanors. Mock Tudor comes loaded with lyrical and musical landmines just waiting to explode. He mixes and matches genres — country, blues, folk, rock — with undeniable craft, detailing the lives of his mismatched protagonists. Witness the narrator who can’t stand the smug righteousness of the title character in “Bathsheba Smiles” or the neglected, angry lover who feels he should “Crawl Back Under My Stone.” This album reunites Thompson with Fairport Convention drummer Dave Mattacks and frequent collaborator bassist Danny Thompson. These sidemen provide a solid foundation for Thompson's brilliant temples of doom. They’re not built in the Tudor style, but they definitely mock the folks who might inhabit those faux-regal palaces.
—Tim Carman, Sidewalk
I'm not copping out when I say Richard Thompson's Mock Tudor has it all. There can't be an animal, vegetable or mineral on this planet that won't find something to like in the bounce, doubt, scrawl, screech and loveliness of this record. Replete with melodic moans of a past that is vividly present, Thompson takes you on an unforgettable tour of subsuburban London, but this is a rock-and-roll train ride to Anytown, Anycountry - you can find your own place in the groove.
Thompson weaves conversational lyrics around lively, wholesome and completely unpretentious melodies backed by thumping and aware rhythms, while adding countless brilliantly timed flourishes. "Crawl Back Under My Stone" features a tongue-lashing vocal -- it's a confession, but the bends and turns in the music complicate the scene. He's not just acknowledging a bad influence, he's scoffing at it and reveling in his freedom. The organ rolls and guitar embellishments tell of a rich life being led elsewhere. "You won't have to stand next to me / You won't have to introduce me / You won't have think about, talk about, care about / You won't have to ask about, fuss about, discuss about / You won't have to mind about, sweat about, forget about me."
Of course there are those looking to Richard Thompson for ripping guitar. Not to worry, there is plenty of athleticism here. And the best way to find it? Turn this thing up loud! Mock Tudor is one of those rare recordings you'll start out playing at invasive levels, and slowly creep it up to near obscenity. "Hard on Me" has enough guitar wankery to satisfy the hungriest of customers. "Hope You Like the New Me" has enough gloom to darken the sun. The recording is lush and crisp and rich with just the right dash of rawness. The short review? I like it a whole lot.
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