Richard Thompson – Dream Attic
Review by Jack Foley
RICHARD Thompson is nothing if not prolific. Months after completing his directorship of Meltdown, he now delivers a sprawling album that’s all the more remarkable for having been recorded in front of a live audience.
The songs were performed during a West Coast tour in February of this year, having been penned during a short and inspired burst of creative outpouring, and the bulk of the performances that made the album come from three shows at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.
Explains Richard: ““I don’t think musicians playing on their own are particularly interesting, it’s only when they play in front of an audience that something interesting happens.”
Hence, the 13 tracks that comprise the album are as indulgent as you’d expect a live show to be, with a lot of songs featuring extended instrumental moments and stretched to long lengths.
But Thompson’s skill as both a guitarist and wordsmith is very much to the fore throughout and the album touches on many contemporary themes, both personal and further reaching.
Robust album opener, The Money Shuffle, which Thompson has cheekily “dedicated to our good friends on Wall Street who did such a fine job lately” is, in the singer’s own words, “a mild satire”… but one that very much rocks with back-up violins and sax at various points. It’s a lively start and shows Thompson is both having fun and means business.
The ensuing album then takes in rooted balladry (Among the Gorse, Among the Grey), an intriguing character study (Here Comes Geordie), image-filled observations (Burning Man) and recollections of bygone eras (Demons in Her Dancing Shoes, set in the East End of London in the ’60s).
Sidney Wells, meanwhile, offers a traditional murder ballad in modern dress, Crimescene is a raging reaction to the inexorable ageing process, and A Brother Slips Away is a moving elegy to friends the 61-year-old Thompson has lost within the last year.
The album ends with If Love Whispers Your Name, a ballad in ¾ time that works itself up to a breathtaking wide screen climax.
Admittedly, there are moments when Thomspon’s style takes a little getting used to, while his vocals are quite harsh and occasionally dreary… as in the sparse Among The Gorse, Among The Grey, which takes its to allow the fiddle-laden instrumentals to take hold.
But fans of Thompson will love the epic length and diverse style of proceedings and the way that Thompson mixes it up so readily. Hence, while some of it requires patience, there are also instant favourites such as The Money Shuffle and the fleet-footed, soulful Big Sun Falling In The River or the cinematic, sprawling Sidney Wells (where the sax makes a welcome intro).
Of the tender, more introspective moments, the tender and deeply personal A Brother Slips Away is a real tear-jerker… Thompson’s own Tears In Heaven that’s backed with a wonderful combo of tender guitar licks and violin.
Dream Attic therefore bears all the hallmarks of an album from an artist at the top of his game, which only looks set to enhance Thompson’s reputation still further.
A special limited edition two-disc set containing a second disc of all 13 demos and a double-vinyl edition is also available.
Download picks: The Money Shuffle, Here Comes Geordie, Big Sun Falling In The River, Sidney Wells, A Brother Slips Away, If Love Whispers Your Name