A new release from Richard Thompson is always the signal for us to pause awhile in our rich and busy lives in order to ponder the transitory nature of existence, and to ask ourselves, “How come, when he’s recorded so much stuff over the last three-and-a-half decades, the new album is so obviously up there with the best he’s ever done?”
The great trick with a new Thompson offering is to try to spot the next ‘Beeswing’, ‘Dimming of the Day’ or ‘Vincent Black Lightening’. Well, on current listening, I can confidently narrow the choice down to one or two of thirteen, the total number of new Thompsongs on ‘Front Parlour Ballads’. In each case the lyric feels as if it has been under the microscope and through the fire until it contains the distilled essence of its subject. Each song is delivered with an intensity of guitar and vocal which, as usual, appears to indicate that his life depends on every word and note. This intensity is thrown into even sharper relief by the absence of former Fairport colleagues, L.A. session players or Danny Thompson. The only credit apart from “Richard Thompson, several things” is “Debra Dobkin, percussion”, and Debra is certainly not overworked. Many tracks are accompanied by a single guitar (though it usually sounds like five or six), with sprinklings of accordion and mandolinny-things here and there.
If, like me, you are hopelessly addicted to his live performances, then you are going to find ‘Front Parlour Ballads’ especially satisfactory. The impossibly high standard that he set with his previous work is more than maintained, with the acoustic nature of the product as an added attraction. He can be vitriolic, nostalgic, enigmatic, romantic and probably lots of other “-ic” words as well, but there is no doubt that he is the finest singer-songwriter that we’ll ever see.