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WITH RICHARD Thompson’s recent formation of Sour Grapes and Sandy Denny’s return to Fairport, it looks as though all the disorientated bits of F.C. have at last found the framework in which their various talents can best flourish.
Meanwhile, this is the album that Richard and Linda completed last summer, only for its release to be consistently put back. But all things come to those who wait.
Everything is pared down to essentials – Thompson has no time for superfluous decoration. That way, the voices and the songs come through unimpeded. Richard has been cultivating his rusted, brown-ale vocal chords, much favoured by such as Martin Carthy and Tim Hart. Linda’s singing is in similar vein, though she demonstrates a fine range, and one song can be hard and guttural, and on the next very mellow sounding not unlike Sandy Denny. (And Richard occasionally sounds like Trevor Lucas, too).
There are ten songs, each independent and memorable. The songs would not work without their strong melodies, which give a deceptive impression of simplicity. There are some constant delights, such as Richard’s own guitar playing, whether acoustic or electric, and Simon Nicol’s dulcimer, and come occasional ones such as John Kirkpatrick’s anglo concertina on “when I Get To The Border” (one of the most impressive tracks) and the Manchester C.WS Silver Band on the title-track. Also two Gryphons turn up with krummhorns (that’s how it’s spelt here) on “Down Where The Drunkards Roll.”
In face my only reservation is the emotional slant of the album. The major themes, in the well-worn traditions of English folk-song at its most lugubrious, are of despair poverty and helplessness.
Sometimes it’s difficult to understand how Thompson personally relates to the circumstances he’s singing about. Is he really familiar with places “down where the drunkards roll?” Can he fairly claim that “this cruel country has driven me down?” How does he justify the nihilism of “there’s nothing at the end of the rainbow/nothing to grow up for anymore”.
Strangely the exuberant title-track is quite untypical of the material surrounding it, and helps to alleviate the prevailing atmosphere of world –weariness.
Which shows there’s more to Thompson than sour grapes. Some of these songs are minor classics, and will be remembered for a long time; side one particularly provides a succession of tracks that are exhilarating musically, if depressing emotionally.
So while I wish Richard Thompson would forget that he has “only sad stories to tell to this town”, this album is a solid reminder that whatever comes out of the West Coast, British is best. Something as good as this is not easily emulated.
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