Richard Thompson talks lengthy diverse career

It’s safe to say that Richard Thompson is a cult figure boasting a career that’s lasted over four decades. Always artful staunchly his own Thompson’s output ranges from the often ahead of its time occasionally too "renaissance fair" work of Fairport Convention to a near decade of perfect albums made with his then wife Linda Thompson and a steady stream of solo records thereafter. Thompson has produced a body of work that rivals the greats yet at least on this side of the Atlantic has not become a household name. But to be sure his accolades range far and wide. Thompson is your favourite songwriter’s favourite songwriter.

Untouchables from the fogey set champion him above all else: Bonnie Raitt REM Elvis Costello and on and on. Other generations also cite him as King: Jason Molina (Songs:Ohia Magnolia Electric Co.) purportedly wrote a song for Thompson to sing and Bob Mould’s newest biography dedicates passages to Thompson’s influence. He’s also your favourite guitar player’s favourite guitar player. Rolling Stone rated him in the top 20 guitar players of all time (yes much higher than Dimebag Darrell).

He treats this sudden interest in so-called neo-folk and his own slight resurgence with a certain sense of humour: “Interest in the old stuff is fairly steady" he tells me. "Occasionally there is a kick in sales when someone under 25 realizes the Mumfords didn’t invent folk music! The vinyl pressings don’t exactly set the charts alight but it’s good to see them out there with more and more items being re-released.”

Even with the re-release of the landmark Linda & Richard Thompson divorce album Shoot Out the Lights some years ago (by highly respected reissue label 4 Men with Beards) it shows how exemplary his presence is. For a considered “folk artist” it’s incredibly fascinating how his body of work has managed to stay dark and heavy. Heavy in tone and sentiment but also especially for someone rooted in a folk past impressively musically heavy.

In a genre generally considered soft and lightweight Thompson produces intricate electric guitar solos over deeply sombre and dark musical and lyrical themes; a mode which continues into his new work. Thompson treats his mining of the dark and heavy with a certain wry knowing commenting “Perhaps I’m harder to please or still driven by the demons that got me out there in the first place — or I keep finding new demons?”

It would be easy to rest on past laurels but Thompson continues to push onward: “There is a lot [of songs] to choose from” Thompson adds. “I try to cycle through different eras and play a set that’s chronologically balanced. There’s always a bias towards newer stuff though.”

That newer stuff heard on Electric Thompson’s newest recording is no departure. It is as strong as anything in his back catalogue. Simply put Thompson doesn’t make stinkers just consistent records every time. While he had the option to go fully expansive both in sound and instrumentation curiously with Electric Thompson stripped the entire record and the accompanying touring band into a power-trio.

This decision came organically Thompson says. “The original idea of the trio was economic — everyone lives in L.A. we can all jump on a plane and play at a festival or two on the weekend without having to deal with visas and other expenses of the ‘big’ band. But having seen this as the commando-raid arm of the larger organization I began to enjoy the challenge of writing with the trio in mind…. A trio concentrates the mind wonderfully — there is no time to coast or relax you are basically exposed all the time.”

And relax he doesn’t. With an ever-expanding body of songs as well as a relentless tour in support of the new record Thompson sees no need to slow. And if he stays this good forever let’s all hope he doesn’t.

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