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Richard Thompson's latest album, Electric, produced by Buddy Miller, comes in what is arguably his most creatively productive period in a career that stretches back some 45 years, back to his emergence as a teen guitarist and songwriter with the groundbreaking Fairport Convention-the band that essentially invented the term "English folk-rock." And that's saying a lot, with his dozens of albums consistently high on critics polls and guitar skills that have earned him a Top 20 spot on Rolling Stone's list of Best Guitarists of All Time.
Richard Thompson's many facets only seem to get more, well, multifaceted.
And multi-fascinating. The recognition continues and has become even stronger in the last few years: his long-acclaimed guitar work-piercing, delicate, often both at once-brought him MOJO magazine's Les Paul Award; his equally gripping songwriting earned him the 2012 Americana Music Association's Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to him by Bonnie Raitt, and Britain's coveted Ivor Novello Award; and he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Aberdeen University in his ancestral Scotland.
Oh, and there was that Order of the British Empire (OBE), bestowed upon him by Queen Elizabeth for service to music, summing up the whole artistic package. All the while he's been expanding his roster of accomplishments into theater with his multi-media extravaganza Cabaret of Souls, scoring the gripping Werner Herzog documentary Grizzly Man and curating London's prestigious Meltdown Festival. Not to mention that he's an avid birder and hockey fan.
On Thompson's new album, all of that is boiled down to its intense essence. Well, maybe not the hockey part-though there is a decidedly full-contact quality to his music and words, as always. "The title's Electric, and the music sometimes is," he says.
Mostly electric, to be accurate, and always electrifying. Whether featuring electric or acoustic guitar, the songs are built around the tightly focused core of Thompson's current, sharply honed trio: drummer Michael Jerome (Better Than Ezra, John Cale) - who's anchored his bands for more than a decade - and bassist Taras Prodaniuk (Lucinda Williams, Elvis Costello) complementing and often pushing the leader through a full range of emotional explorations. The album was produced in Nashville by Buddy Miller (Robert Plant's Band of Joy, not to mention his own acclaimed albums both solo and with wife Julie Miller) at his cozy home studio.
"It strikes that desirable balance between aggression and reflection that we are always aiming for," he says, before reflecting, "I wasn't being too serious with that. But perhaps it does work."
It works very well, both as a description and as a body of work, a new chapter in his ever-unfolding musical saga.
Thompson terms the Electric material "funk-folk, or folk-funk." But that is to large extent just a matter of economy-and limitations-of language, something he's employed to great effect throughout his career both in lyrics and interviews.
"I commented facetiously somewhere that its between Judy Collins and Bootsy Collins," he notes, wryly.
But as a starting point in getting to know the new music it's a good description, if for no other reason than it was the starting point of the writing.
"I wrote this record very much with the trio in mind," he says. "And I thought we could do something that was kind of folk, in an English-Celtic sense, and also funky, in the more '70s sense of the word. And I like the idea of sort of a "Celtic power trio." So that was the idea I was aiming for when I was writing. And I think to some extent it is that."
Electric was recorded in concise, largely live sessions at the Miller abode. Miller's role, Thompson says, was "to make the coffee - and do everything else brilliantly. He's such a great musician, and also a great musical associate because he does what's necessary. His ego isn't a factor in making decisions. He'll play rhythm guitar, or nothing. He'll make the most self-effacing suggestions and also has really good ears. Everything he did was complementary to the project."
Throughout, the music conveys the subtle shades and wide range of emotions in the songs as compellingly as the lyrics.
Sometimes there are strong hints of country's British folk roots, such as the yearning "Where's Home" and the Celtic-country waltz "Saving the Good Stuff for You," while "Another Small Thing in Her Favor," Thompson says, reminds him of what Robert Burns did with old Scottish melodies.
And "The Snow Goose," with acoustic fingerpicking and Alison Krauss's heart-breaking harmonies, finds the narrator everything but free as a bird. Thompson, though, acknowledges that he'll take a little heat from some of his fellow birders for the choice of said bird.
"I should apologize to listeners in Canada and the U.S. where the snow goose is a more common bird," he says. "In Britain they are rare. In the lyric it's pale and rare and footloose. The birding community will say, 'You could have picked a tundra swan or something, Siberian warbler.'" Common bird maybe. Common music, never from Richard Thompson.
Find more info at: www.richardthompson-music.com Sarah Blacker opens the show!Just recently named, Female Performer of the Year in the New England Music Awards, 2012 Boston Music Award nominee for Singer/Songwriter of the year, Sarah Blacker, was recently called "one of the brighter artists to grab our attention recently," by national Roots publication, No Depression. She is a full-time singer/songwriter on the verge of releasing her 3rd album, which has already begun receiving airtime on local NPR station, WUMB. Last year, Blacker was also nominated as New England Music Awards 'Female Performer of the Year,' and her music video for her single, 'Knocked the Winds' won runner up in the Limelight Magazine's Video of the Year, wherein she was nominated as Singer/Songwriter of the year in 2012. She was the winner of the Radio 92.9 / Boch Subaru contest and became the face and voice of their New England ad campaign for "ooh ooh it's love," NE Subaru, and was also named 'Artist of the Year' by My Rural Radio in 2011. Her song, 'Smell of Caramel,' was recently featured on the MTV show, Jersey Shore, and she was an emerging artist at the historical Falcon Ridge Folk Festival this past summer. In just under 3 years, she has garnered these accolades, performed at SXSW, CMJ and a sold-out tour of Germany, and has shared the stage with America, Rusted Root, Paula Cole, The Wood Brothers, Sara Bareilles, Jason Isbell, Carbon Leaf, Rusted Root, and Anais Mitchell to name just a few. Her entrancing voice, poignant and emotionally charged lyrics, and mature songwriting has this artist on pace to go nowhere but up.
Find more info at: www.sarahblacker.com