A few years ago there was programme on the BBC called "Songwriters Circle". Its format was to take three heavyweight singer song writers, sit them in front of a live audience and let them belt out versions of their own favourite songs. Sometimes the three singers joined in together, but on other occasions it would not have been appropriate. One such occasion was when Suzanne Vega and Loudon Wainwright sat in shock and awe as our greatest guitarist the magnificent Richard Thompson played a version of "1952 Vincent Black Lighting". After watching the brilliance of Thompson's fingerpicking performance on U Tube, one poor commentator admitted in exasperation that "My guitar is now a coffee table. What's the point"?
Having these acoustic classics nicely locked into one CD is an out and out joy. One reviewer here rightly points out that it is an obvious choice of songs; a sort of acoustic greatest hits. This is true, but from another angle its Richard Thompson reworking and reshaping some of his best work and in this sense the sun is truly shining. Highlight's come fast and thick, not least a brilliant "Down where the drunkards roll" where Thompson's playing is at its economical best. Granted you may have heard many other great versions of "Beeswing" and "1952 Black Vincent Lightning" but that's because Thompson is always so good that the quality barometer never dips below freezing. These acoustic versions give a stripped back newness to some of the songs although this reviewer has always considered the brilliant "From Galway to Graceland" an acoustic song. You could also argue that the original version of "Dimming of the Day" cannot be improved upon and all would agree. That said the version here finds Thompson in fine voice and while the heart breaking tones of the original are not captured this is a very fine version. If push came to shove the acoustic version of "Shoot out the Lights:" has firm vote from this quarter as Thompson's 12 string guitar is a hugely effective substitute for the usual heavy band accompaniment.
Richard Thompson has explained that the reason for conceiving this album was "I really wanted to have something that would reflect the acoustic shows. But we didn't have anything like that. Just some old, slightly scratchy recordings of solo sets that I wasn't really happy with." On the evidence of this album he has now filled this gap and he should be delighted with the product - as no doubt will you.
Review by Red on Black