Released: June 2015
He has countless credits on a multitude of albums, plenty of music awards and an OBE under his belt, but you’d be forgiven for having never heard of Richard Thompson. He began his career with Fairport Convention and has since played with and written for just about everybody who’s anybody, yet his subtle and modest approach to recording has made him a bit of an unsung hero (if someone with an OBE can be described as such). This attitude is present on Still, his latest solo venture, in which Thompson explores folk and country from both sides of the Atlantic, possessing a powerful voice and unrivalled guitar skills without ever displaying the arrogance and showmanship of the archetypal guitar hero.
This is half a classic rock record and half a perplexing exploration of medieval folk ballads. The blend is an odd one to come to terms with but as the album progresses both styles intertwine pleasantly as Thompson’s mastery of the art of music is made blindingly clear. Still has all the behind the scenes elements of a modern rock and roll album – recorded in a Chicago studio with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and released on a plethora of deluxe/double/vinyl/limited editions – and it delivers sonically, as Thompson proves his axe-wielding prowess and songwriting nuance in equal measure.
The album opens with very much an Olde English vibe as the London-born rock legend looks to the past to carve his own future. At 66 years old he sounds more alive than ever as he enters into the dark and sinister melodies of Middle English folk music, viscerally describing beautiful maidens on She Never Could Resist a Winding Road and immersing his listener in an old county carnival on Beatnik Walking. As the album progresses a more American sound begins to emerge, and though the subtle acoustic sound of the earlier numbers is charming enough, it’s this Springsteen-esque stomp that sees Thompson reach full power.
Patty Don’t You Put Me Down and All Buttoned Up present some stunning lead guitar work, with the latter boasting a strong, resilient riff over minimalist and authoritative drums like a classic Stones or Black Sabbath anthem. Broken Doll is a predominantly instrumental track, eerie and mysterious with some intriguing electronic injections that are made whole by the introduction of Thompson’s deep and warming voice in its final quarter. One could easily be speeding through a southern American highway as they listen to Long John Silver, a classic snippet of old-school Americana, and tracks such as No Peace, No End and Dungeons for Eyes fuse the dark folk tones of Old England with more up to date American vibes to form a pair of unusual but compelling hybrid songs.
His voice has the warmth and power of Elvis, his guitar the smoothness and intricacy of Springsteen and Hendrix, and the songwriting on here, as Thompson describes gorgeous girls, stunning landscapes and ancient tales, could be anyone from Dylan to Lou Reed. A fine collection of songs from a true veteran, Still is unashamedly rooted in the past and doesn’t care what you think. Bold, proud and with an air of integrity and sophistication missing on so many late-career albums, this kind of LP is a rare beast indeed.