More Comments about

Richard Thompson's Work


"If Dylan was born in Britain, raised on Celtic folk music rather than the songs of Woody Guthrie, he might have become a lot like Richard Thompson. Like Dylan, Thompson is a genius of the English language, a poet inspired by the indigenous music of his native land as well as by the electricity of rock and roll. What Dylan did was called folk-rock. And Thompson's contribution - first made as a founding member of Fairport Convention - was simply called British folk-rock. But it's more than just a merging of musical forms. It's the union of poetry and the popular song."

-Paul Zollo


Watching the Dark: The History of Richard Thompson (1993)


Wow!! You must be pretty dedicated to have drilled down to this third level of RT pages. It's no accident that I used the term, "Dickhead." I'm firmly convinced that RT fans are just as dedicated as "Deadheads." In fact, there are a lot of similarities. A major similarity between the Grateful Dead and RT is that there is a lot of live performance material circulating. Some of this is official and some is not. I do not support taking money out of any performer's pocket by purchasing illegal bootleg recordings, but I think that the widespread nature of this practice reflects the demand for RT's work.

On this page, I'm trying something a little different. I'm going to comment on solo albums, compilations, live performances, early/unusual work, and a video. Maybe something will strike your fancy. This is still just a sampling of RT's work.

Categories (click on category to go directly to it):


Richard Thompson solo albums

Small Town Romance (1984)

RT has said that he wishes that this album would be withdrawn. He feels that it is flawed. I have to agree. Taken from live performances in NYC in 1982, the guitar work and vocals are both unenthusiastic and flat. Even the banter between songs is subdued. I can only speculate that he was contractually obligated to a live album. The best track on the album is an instrumental, "Roll Over Vaughan Williams." You will probably see this in stores like Best Buy, but I would avoid it unless you're already a moderate fan.

Across a Crowded Room (1985)

What a comeback from 1983's Hand of Kindness! Produced by Joe Boyd, the album has a lot of energy and integrity. "You Don't Say" is outstanding, with a compact and utterly unpredictable guitar solo (see the video comments below). "She Twists the Knife Again" is as bitter as music gets, while "Love in a Faithless Country" is incredibly touching. This remains one of my favorites, perhaps in part because I have the associated tour video. This is a good album for rock music fans to listen to in order to get an RT introduction.

Rumor and Sigh (1991)

Perhaps one of the more overtly commercial efforts by RT, R&S is still chock-full of excellent songs. These include the concert staple, "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" (heard by me first at a performance in Raleigh) and "I Misunderstood," which is another personal favorite. "I Feel So Good" is also a standout. I highly recommend this album as being more accessible than many, but its very effort to be broadly appealing makes it somewhat disjointed. It should have done better on the charts than it did.

You? Me? Us? (1996)

This album is an interesting one. The only RT solo studio double-album, the material seems to have been assembled from a variety of ideas that had been kicking around. This doesn't mean it's not great, though. Most people hate "She Steers by Lightning," while I love it for its energy and story (?). My wife loves both versions of "Razor Dance," which she first heard in concert and often plays for friends. "She Cut Off Her Long Silken Hair" has one of RT's most beautiful melodies. And speaking of obsession...can you say, "Cold Kisses"?

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Fairport Convention

Liege and Leaf (1969)

Fairport Convention was extremely prolific at the height of their short career and this is one of the albums that contains some of their more traditional work. "Matty Groves" and "Tam Lin" demonstrate their power in updating and arranging traditional songs. This album does not necessarily highlight RT's talents, but it does show you where he was musically at an early age. Sandy Denny's vocals are, of course, gorgeous. This is probably not for hard rock fans.

Unhalfbricking (1969)

This is the album with all the songs that didn't fit on Liege and Leaf. That's not to say that there aren't some traditional songs (for example, RT's beautiful "Genesis Hall" and "A Sailor's Life"), but it is definitely more modern in style and content. If you are thinking of buying a Fairport Convention album to check them out, I would suggest the compilation album Meet on the Ledge.

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Flypaper Albums

Two-Letter Words: Live 1994(1994)

Flypaper (the Official RT fan club) has released a series of albums of live performances. This double-CD compilation of performances is from RT's 1994 North American tour and it is simply perfect. You would never know that this was compiled from different venues. It showcases a superb backup band (Danny Thompson, Pete Zorn, and Dave Mattacks) and the sound is crystal clear. This is the RT album that I grab when I want to listen to a variety of his work. His vocals are unstrained and everybody is clearly having a good time. The bad news is that this is a very limited release. You can contact Flypaper about getting a copy, but I do not know if they are still available. Good luck!

Celtschmerz: Live UK '98 (1998)

Another gem from Flypaper. This is notable for the live version of "Persuasion," which is superior to the version on Action Packed. RT's son, Teddy, joins his father for several numbers and it's clear that Teddy has inherited his mother's voice. Another plus for me is the cover of "She May Call You Up Tonight" that they do as a duet. I'm a fan of The Left Banke and this was one of their few genuine hits. Also, check out "Why Must I Plead"...

"...You've been licking his stamps,
And taking his dictation."

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Compilation Albums

Watching the Dark: The History of Richard Thompson (1993)

I have mixed feelings about this triple-CD set. It has about 3-1/2 hours of music and spans RT's entire non-chronological order yet! But, out of necessity, it omits quite a lot of material that is essential to fully appreciate his work. Furthermore, many of the more popular songs are live or alternate and previously unreleased versions. On the other hand, you also get treasures like his best version of "Galway to Graceland" and some traditional music that never made it to album. All in all, I would not recommend this as an introduction to RT unless there is already some interest on the part of the listener.

Fairport Convention: Meet on the Ledge (1999)

This double-CD set is an excellent introduction to Fairport Convention. I hardly have to say more. All the essential tracks are here. If you are not a fan already, I would get this album now and then work backwards towards the original albums. All of these tracks have been previously released. Tracks to pay attention to: "Who Knows Where the Time Goes," "Now Be Thankful," "Sloth," "Genesis Hall," and "Poor Will and the Jolly Hangman." These have a high RT content.

The Best of Richard & Linda Thompson: The Island Years (2000)

RT & LT recorded five albums for Island Records. The songs here are a lovely assortment and highlight Linda's voice, as well as RT's songwriting and guitar work. Again, hard-rockers will probably not care for this album as much as for RT's later work. For the average person, though, be assured that there is not a dud in the bunch. This is a must-have if you do not have copies of all of their Island albums.

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Rock On! (1972)

This rare album (yes, I actually own one of these) was a group effort by RT, Linda Peters (soon to be Linda Thompson), Sandy Denny (what a voice!), and friends. It is ragged and disorganized, and much more charming because of it. No polish here, folks! This is a bunch of musicians having a good time singing other people's songs. Each of them gets his or her chance to step up to the mic and belt out a tune. A single ("When Will I be Loved?"/"Willie and the Hand-Jive") was released, but the real standout is the last track, "Learning the Game."

Strict Tempo (1981)

RT produced this eclectic album, which is a collection of instrumentals, including reels, jigs, polkas, and traditional folk songs. The musicians are RT, Dave Mattacks,, well, it's just RT and Dave Mattacks. This is a helpful album if you want to learn about RT's depth and his command of different musical styles and traditions, but it is not (to me, at least) very entertaining. A "must-have" for Dickheads, but don't buy it if you are just interested in finding out what RT sounds like.

Live, Love, Larf, and Loaf (1987)

[John] French, [Fred] Frith, [Henry] Kaiser, and [Richard] Thompson made this album in 1987. The first of two collaborations by the boys, it is not the best showpiece for RT's talents. In my humble opinion, though, his contributions outshine those of the other members. This is strictly for hardcore fans of RT, though some of the other guys have strong followings and their fans may value it more than I do. It sort of vacillates between folk and experimental jazz. Go figure.

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Tribute Albums

The World is a Wonderful Place (1993)

This is a tribute album in the truest sense of the word. It is not very commercial and the dedication that the artists put into it is apparent. Not to be missed are Victoria Williams' version of "Reckless Kind" and Plainsong's "Galway to Graceland," both done a capella. Sally Barker's version of "I Misunderstood" is also a standout. Ultimately, though, I think that many of the performances are just too nice. They subtract from the biting edge of RT's songwriting. ( that the adults are in bed, I can tell you that track 13, which is unlisted, is the title track of the album and it is sung by Linda Thompson, RT's ex-wife. Keep it a secret!) A pretty album.

Beat the Retreat (1994)

This is a much more interesting tribute. With covers by Bonnie Raitt, R.E.M., Los Lobos, David Byrne, Graham Parker, and Shawn Colvin and Loudon Wainwright III, this is also the more commercial of the albums. The artists take a few more liberties with the songs and it is fun to compare them to the alternate versions on The World is a Wonderful Place. Compare Dinosaur Jr.'s version of "I Misunderstood" to June Tabor's or even to RT's original. A good album, but not great.

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Import albums

A Rare Thing (1994)

The Italians have (had?) a much more relaxed view of artists' rights and they are notorious for producing all sorts of unofficial recordings. I have a problem with this, since musicians like RT deserve every penny they earn with their art. BUT, since I'm probably going to Hell anyway, I have to tell you that this import is one of the best out there. It is a pure digital recording from a performance on Aug. 13, 1994, at the Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill, NC, USA. I have seen RT there several times and this album does an excellent job of capturing the event. Great sound, great performances, good song selection...boy, do I feel guilty!

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Across a Crowded Room (1972)

Yes, I own two copies of this on VHS and one on laserdisc. If you ever see a copy, buy it. You will not regret it. This Sony music video production is excellent. There are a few unnecessary production effects, and the camera is a little slow to pick up on his guitar work at times, but the overall production values are way above average. Featuring much of the material from his recently-released Across a Crowded Room album, this performance also includes older material and even an early version of "Nearly in Love", which would later appear on Daring Adventures. You also get a great backup band, including Clive Gregson and Christine Collister. Everyone is having fun during the performance, though it appears that Sony took the liberty of excising any comments made between songs (which comments are very common for RT.)

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Richard Thompson: The Biography (2000)

This book by Patrick Humphries is obviously intended for fans. It is dry, though it occasionally offers genuine insight. I had this book pre-ordered for months and started reading it the day it arrived in the mail. It is some reflection of the writing style that it took me over two months to finish it. I would not recommend this book to anyone who is not already a big fan. It appears to be quite accurate regarding RT's biographical data (though some fans argue and nitpick about the random fact or date), but it does not do much to explain RT as a creative artist. For the hardcore only.

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That's all for now, folks! I limited myself to things about which I wanted to comment. There's still a lot of RT's work we haven't even touched on.  

Come back again and maybe I'll have whipped up another page. Better yet, drop me a line if you want to discuss something in particular.

Please take me back to the main Richard Thompson page. 

If you want to correspond with me about RT, I'd be happy to give you my poor opinions. Just send mail to me. I would be particularly interested in your comments on the artist.

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