Richard Thompson Front Parlour Ballads

You could subtitle this one Richard Thompson Unplugged. It is his first strictly solo CD since 1981's Strict Tempo, and, perhaps surprisingly, his first-ever acoustic studio album of original songs. Even those descriptions aren't completely accurate as a couple of cuts feature a guest percussionist and find Thompson unable to resist picking up his electric guitar. The English folk-rock veteran has always balanced both genres in his groundbreaking work, but this album lands squarely in the folk camp. His characteristically rich and resonant voice takes centre stage, while the quality of his songwriting remains typically high. Some instrumental variety is provided by the occasional addition of mandolin, accordion and electric bass (all played by Thompson), but a sparse and minimal feel is the prevailing tone. Those of us constantly thrilled by the liquid silver quality of his electric guitar playing will enjoy the two electrified cuts, "My Soul My Soul” and the opening song (and an album highlight) "Let It Blow,” a saucy and socially satirical narrative involving a wayward aristocrat and an Air New Zealand hostess. "Row Boys Row” is a warning tale about the music business ("swimming in a shark-filled sea”), while the tender and plaintive "Precious One” is another gem. In a career spanning four decades, Thompson has never put out a bad record and he's not about to start now. (True North)