Review of Richard Thompson's "Front Parlour Ballads"
edited: Thursday, March 09, 2006
By Phillip E Hardy
Not "rated" by the Author.
Posted: Thursday, March 09, 2006
Become a Fan
A review of the latest Richard Thompson CD
MUSIC, LIFE, & CULTURE
Front Parlour Ballads
Richard Thompson has been recording since the l960’s and yet his musical output has not diminished in quantity or in quality. In recent years, albums like Old Kit Bag, Industry and Mock Tudor have added impressive collections of topical, satirical and often highly personal songs to a previously impressive catalogue of work. As a songwriter, Thompson is a journeyman tunesmith that delivers memorable melodies and storytelling lyrics that provide a small glimpse into his introspective psyche. As a musician, he is simply one of the greatest guitarists on the face of this old earth. Recently, Thompson has become increasingly acute about capturing the essence of his sound and his songwriting. Old Kit Bag found him returning to a grittier, stripped down electric band approach, which was very effective in enhancing the emotional aspects of his unique material. Front Parlour Ballads, though entirely acoustic, continues to employ a leaner sounding methodology in presenting the music. So lean in fact, that he plays all the instruments himself with the exception of occasional percussion parts added by Debra Dobkin. Sparse instrumentation aside, the new record sounds clean, punchy and doesn’t suffer from the poor mixing of his last acoustic outing You, Me, US?.
The disc kicks off with “Let It Blow,” a snappy, prototypical Thompson track with analogical lyric references to ancient performers Marjan Rawicz and Walter Landauer, who once performed the Warsaw Concerto during the 1930’s; as well as Pinky and Perky, two cute little puppet show pigs who once frolicked on the BBC. As with Thompson’s “Al Bowlly’s in Heaven” a nostalgic pre World War II lamentation named after a long departed English torch singer, these are the cool, esoteric references I have come to appreciate from this gifted songwriter. Leaving the cheekiness of track one behind, Thompson delves into a much darker theme on “For Whose Sake?” a story of love’s demise and the cynical, bitter thoughts that often follow. Taking a turn to the lighter side, “Miss Patsy” offers some adept finger picking and a pub glass swinging, seafaring melody that is a trademark of most Thompson records. By mid record the mood again shifts with “My Soul, My Soul” which is a nice groove tune with sexual double entendres augmented by seductive percussion.
Speaking of all things seafaring, “Row, Boys, Row” is another somber ballad that tells the story of a suffering sailor who hates his life at sea but after reading the lyrics through a few times, I think the theme is a metaphor critical to a certain American President and possibly his neighbor living at Number 10 Downing Street. If I’m wrong send your nasty comments to Letters at Sound The Sirens. “The Boys of Mutton Street,” a fast finger picking track, feels reminiscent of other Thompson songs “Sights and Sounds of London Town” and “Vincent.” The lyrics are inspired by the songwriter’s amusing days as ten year old gang member, who along with his mates enjoyed the pleasures of cigarettes and beer by the campfire and wreaked havoc on rival young hooligans.
For my money (and I am holding onto it with a death grip), nobody writes a sad, love song like Mister Thompson. While driving at night, I have on more than one occasion had a tear brought to my eye while listening to his deeply poignant, forlornly romantic stories which are nearly mini romance novels; and not the ones available at your supermarket. I’m talking the stuff of Thomas Hardy and F. Scott Fitzgerald. “Precious One” fits this category with cryptic yet moving words about a man who has failed in providing the requisite emotional support for his grieving lover.
Front Parlour Ballads is not Richard Thompson’s most accessible record. The material may not enjoy the attention that Old Kit Bag received on adult oriented radio but it is a powerfully understated work that grows on you each time you hear it. For me, each Thompson record I acquire is akin to procuring a great bottle of wine. Therefore, this is a disc to be savored at the end of a long day while sipping a vintage Port. Neither of which comes along very often.
Phillip E. Hardy
November 22nd, 2005