Richard Thompson The Old Kit Bag

Admittedly, it’s hard to approach a new Richard Thompson record objectively once you’ve been hooked by his uniquely dark worldview and immaculate guitar playing. If you’re one of these people (and I am), you probably take much pride in being part of the sick clan that avidly follows Thompson’s moves, and selfishly discourages that clan from getting any larger. Still, there’s something tragic in the fact that Thompson’s genius isn’t acknowledged more often than it already is. Through a 30-plus year career that spans six albums with British folk-rock legends Fairport Convention (all essential, and recently reissued), and several landmark releases with ex-wife Linda, Thompson’s recent solo work has had to withstand much scrutiny in relation to his back catalogue. It not always has been able to, despite many glowing moments worth discovering. So where does The Old Kit Bag fit in? With the new twist of Thompson playing everything, barring the rhythm section, musically the album possesses a refreshing clarity that was lacking on many of the ’90s albums produced by Mitchell Froom and others. There are the handful of requisite breathtaking guitar workouts, but generally there’s an emphasis on tight arrangements and an earthy vibe reminiscent of the one producer John Chelew got on the Blind Boys Of Alabama’s great Spirit Of The Century. Lyrically, there’s a return to more universal storytelling following the overt English references on the previous Mock Tudor, with "A Love You Can’t Survive,” and "Happy Days and Auld Lang Syne” standing out. The latter actually contains a perfect explanation of Thompson’s appeal: "Sometimes you can’t connect with a song/till it’s telling you the way that you feel/Putting words to your story, all the pain and glory/How can it be written so real?” Yet, be warned. When it comes to Thompson, when you’re in for a penny, you’re in for a pound, as the old English saying goes. (True North)