RT: The Life and Music of Richard Thompson Free Reed
It has been said by both critics and fans that the body of Richard Thompson's studio work doesn't do justice to the breadth and passion of his music. The British label Free Reed has made an ambitious, even audacious attempt to rectify the problem with five discs comprising 85 tracks' worth of rarities, most of them from live recordings; even the most avid grubby-fingered tape trader will find new material here. The presentation is uneven: The accompanying 168-page book, with witty writing and a wealth of arcane supplemental material by Nigel Schofield, is riddled with small errors, and documentation of the sources is scant and poorly organized. But the sequencing is ingenious: Schofield has grouped the material on the discs by theme (e.g., "epic live workouts," for that nearly 13-minute version of "Sloth"), and, in many cases, one song informs the next. When a technically crappy but artistically sweet 1972 recording of Thompson and wife-to-be Linda performing "The Great Valerio" is followed by a wrenching recording of the same duo--10 years, one marriage, and one marital meltdown later--dancing in the light of its burning home on "Walking on a Wire," the tears will come. RT is not perfect, but it's an impressive archive of an artist who consistently thinks outside the box.
First printed in Mar/Apr 2006