Back when I compiled my “Best” Guitarists list, my hope was to reframe the discussion, making people see that there are different ways of evaluating talent. The good news is that most folks seemed to get the idea. Oh sure, the reading comprehension-challenged did show up occasionally with their variations on “Where’s <insert their fave guitar player here>?” But hey, that was to be expected. For every person who digs the twists and turns delivered by Jerry Garcia (My favorite comment there: “You can’t be serious!”) there’s another axe fan who’s all about chains of 64th notes spewed out over the sparks shot from a flaming codpiece. To each his own, as they say.
And then there’s Richard Thompson. Writer types (not this one) have often referred to him as the “Guitar Player’s Guitar Player,” which to me has always come across as a damned with faint praise sort of thing. What, guitar players with their special insight are the only ones who can appreciate the subtlety of the super-talented? C’mon, that’s a big loada if I’ve ever heard one.
I won’t hesitate to admit that my younger ears had more of an appreciation of crushing power chords and screeching solos. And so what did said ears think of Across A Crowded Room, the first Richard Thompson LP brought into the house? No doubt that record was listened to through a sort of R.E.M.-prism. Peter Buck’s jangle still had a powerful effect on me and a similarity between these two players emerged in my head. Further investigations lead me to Hand Of Kindness. There was still a little distance between me and the edgey brilliance of Shoot Out The Lights (heck, I didn’t even know about Fairport Convention yet), but there was just something about his guitar playing. I’d never really heard somebody transform folk music in such a way. That nearly out of control guitar solo on “Tear Stained Letter” made me break out in a sweat. Roots tunes whopped upside the head with a Fender Stratocaster? Hell, yeah!
Oh, so you’re waiting for the lowdown on Electric? Here ya go: Richard Thompson, Buddy Miller, guitars, Alison Krauss, guitars, stripped down, blah, blah, blah, guitars. Seriously, my SomethingElse! cohort Nick DeRiso has already published a more fact-based review. Me, I’m still too gassed by Thompson’s string twiddling to do much straight thinking. Whether it’s his guitar shadowing the vocals on “Sally B,” the twangy snarl of “Straight and Narrow,” or the wicked solo on “Good Things Happen To Bad People,” you will dearly appreciate being whopped upside the head by these tunes. The album’s title does mislead a bit, as there’s plenty of acoustic guitar as well, the best of which is the beautiful and wistful closing track “Saving The Good Stuff For You.” It’s a country ballad that’s full of harmony, fiddle, and admissions. Maybe an odd way to close out an album titled “Electric” but sometimes the realization of the passage of time can carry it’s own jolt.
I wanted to make some joke here about Richard Thompson and flaming codpieces or something, but Thompson doesn’t seem like that kinda guy. On the other hand, he did cover a Britney Spears song, so maybe there’s hope for you shredders yet. Yeah, I know that made no sense. Where’s Slash?!!