Monday, October 13, 2014
Nobody leaves me in awe with their mastery of the electric guitar quite like Richard Thompson. He pre-empted Television with "A Sailor's Life" when he was barely 20 and has never grown complacent since. Like fellow Stratocaster pioneer Hendrix, he speaks through the instrument; some players are better, many more are worse, but nobody sounds quite like him.
How such a guitarist sounds on an acoustic guitar is a test that many fail. I've heard what happens when Tom Morello picks up an acoustic, but I wish I hadn't. An electric guitar gives you presence; an acoustic makes you work for it.
Thompson, of course, has nothing to prove when it comes to playing acoustically. His best known song "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" is already acoustic (making its inclusion here somewhat redundant), he recorded acoustic studio versions of almost every song on his live album of new material Dream Attic and he even runs an acoustic guitar camp. "1952..." aside, Acoustic Classics puts a mostly electric set of songs spanning most of Thompson's solo career to the MTV Unplugged test of whether they can cut it acoustically when they weren't necessarily designed to do so; even this is nothing new, as Thompson plays acoustic shows regularly; he wanted to release something that sounded like those shows, but couldn't find a live recording that cut it in terms of fidelity. An acoustic "Shoot Out the Lights" is a bridge too far, but elsewhere Acoustic Classics reveals the intrinsic beauty Thompson's compositions. In particular, "Walking on a Wire" and "Wall of Death" from 1982's Shoot Out the Lights, one of his slicker sounding albums, sound great with the greater sense of space offered here, while the Eastern modality of "One Door Opens" works just as well acoustically as electrically.
Acoustic Classics is a welcome release just a year after the well received Electric. Instead of an effortless cash-in, Thompson has issued a reminder of his greatness that merely sounds effortless.
Richard Thompson - Shoot Out the Lights (live)
Richard Thompson - Electric
Richard Thompson - Dream Attic