Rainbows in the Dark is, somehow, new territory for me. But it isn’t often that I get to discuss my appreciation for folk rock through Nine Circles, and given the gap in the Sunday schedule, I decided now was a good time to cover one of my favorite musicians, Richard Thompson. Full disclosure, this is not a new release, well… not really. Still is Mr. Thompson’s most recent effort, dropping June 29th of last year. However, it wasn’t until I was given this album as a gift this past holiday season that I really sat down and began to appreciate it. And I gotta say, given the fact that Richard Thompson has been consistently active since 1967, it’s an impressive collection that proves he is still one of the masters of the folk rock universe.
While I have quickly grown to appreciate the London-born Thompson’s take on folk and acoustic rock and have acquired a number of his works to this point, it was only the summer of 2013 that I first discovered his music. Super late to the game, I know. The story is as follows: Every summer, Prescott Park in downtown Portsmouth hosts a number of outdoor concerts that vary in music from country to jazz to rock, ya know… the safe shit, for the kids. So one Saturday I was walking through the area, probably hungover, and the incredible precision of the acoustic “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” opening bars emerged from the park. I was instantly impressed. Naturally, given that these concerts are by donation only (or free if your 2013’s broke Corey), I stayed for the remainder of the set. Two years later he came back, same situation. I was prepared this time. In fact, in 2015’s show he actually opened for himself, playing a 30 minute acoustic set before bringing out his band. Both shows were impressive and I am convinced that the song that turned me onto his music, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”, is one of the best acoustic folk songs of all time. Anyway, that’s enough story telling. Let’s get into Still.
Still is the 16th studio album in Thompson’s library. So at this point, it goes without saying that he know what he is doing. For those unfamiliar with his music, you need to start with the guitar and work upwards. His hybrid picking style on his preferred Fender Stratocaster is evidenced throughout the record, but doesn’t surface anymore impressively than on “Beatnik Walking”, an upbeat followup to the opening “She Never Could Resist A Winding Road”, which is far more deliberate and thought-provoking. And it’s this style of playing that has largely defined his career, and specifically this album. His ability to incorporate a percussionary element to his incredibly precise finger-picking sets his abilities above others and allows for a wonderful diverse record from start to finish. From the upbeat, simple tracks like “Pony in the Stable” and “Long John Silver” to the slower, far more emotional “Josephine” and “Where’s Your Heart”, Thompson proves that his creative ability is still fully intact and knows exactly how to implement folk, country, and acoustic elements into one cohesive masterpiece.
But what I have always appreciated most about his music is its familiarity. No, I’m not referring to the music necessarily, but rather the lyrical content. And Still is another example of what I’m referring to. As a result of how immaculate the interplay between the authentic nature of his singing and guitar playing is, it is incredibly easy to relate to the content of his music. Somehow, the frustrations behind “All Buttoned Up” and “No Peace, No End” hit incredibly close to home, whether we can associate directly with the words or not. While each word may not be directly relateable, the way his thoughts and emotions are exposed in his song writing allows them to project easily onto an audience, giving impressive personal depth to the music. It is Richard Thompson’s music, but it is our personal listening experience. And that is what makes the development of his music so incredible.
Start to finish, Still is an impressive and ambitious album from one who has already long proven his value in the folk rock world, and that is commendable. From simpler riffs to the closing track, “Guitar Heroes” which is entirely devoted to showcasing his skills, Richard Thompson proves that he can still compose and perform with the best of them after all these years. Still is an album that turns new stones with every moment that passes within the record and is sure to keep an audience fixated throughout. He has been long known to consistently tour his craft all over the world. With Still‘s release, my only suggestion is that you keep an eye out for when he rolls through. Because if you’re any fan of folk music, you would be doing a grave disservice in missing what he has brought to the genre for so long.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”