Richard Thompson "Still"

A sage bard teams with producer Jeff Tweedy on a dozen witty, brilliantly executed songs.

Richard Thompson opens his sixteenth solo album with a pensive ballad that captures one aspect of his brilliant career. “She Never Could Resist a Winding Road” with its marching snare drum, twirled guitar chords, and accordion is a reminder of his early roots in Fairport Convention. So is the sad, sweet message of wandering love, something that Thompson has cultivated over his nearly half century career.  Still continues the themes of broken hearts, frozen hearts, and lecherous hearts. There are a few side-steps – a dash of blues, a sprinkling of rock, but always at the core of his work is Thompson’s erudite prose and brilliant guitar work.

Following a stint with producer Buddy Miller, another exceptional guitarist, Thompson settled into Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy’s Chicago studio for a nine day recording session. For those excited by the pairing, keep your emotions reined in, Tweedy wisely allows Thompson to do his thing without much interference. This is a mostly subdued record with small flourishes and intricate details. Guitars bow to vocals with a focus on language, that amazing multitude of words that pours out of Thompson, sometimes seething, sometimes wittily cutting, often wrenching. He’s an amazing singer whose phrasing competes with that of his guitar. If Tweedy’s influence can be heard at all it might be in the rhythm of songs, particularly the precision of “Pony in the Stable.”

Thompson doesn’t typically use personal experience for musical fodder preferring to invent. However he makes exception here with “Beatnik Walking” a tune about walking through Amsterdam with his son Jack strapped to his back. Two songs, “No Peace, No End,” and Dungeons For Eyes” are scathing political commentaries. The latter chastises a nameless leader. However, Thompson has no issue with calling out Rupert Murdoch for a bit of wicked humor.

Appropriately, Thompson wraps the album with an eight-minute tribute to his heroes on “Guitar Heroes.” Not only does he name-drop his favorite players, but he imitates their styles, thanks to Tweedy’s extensive collection of vintage guitars. Perhaps one day some future guitarist will do Mr. Thompson the same honor.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)