I read the news today, oh boy: “James Taylor earns his first-even No. 1 album.” Good for Sweet Baby James, his many New England fans, and to singing-songwriting senior citizens everywhere.
Such as Richard Thompson. Especially Richard Thompson. Now that Dylan has taken to rasping out old Sinatra songs, does anyone deserve the title “Bard of Anglophonia” more than the 66-year old Thompson? Name me someone who has traversed more musical territory, told more compelling tales in song, and remained as vital for as long a time, while also playing some of the best guitar in the business. (You’ll get a kick out of Thompson’s tribute to some of his “Guitar Heroes” on the last track of the new album.)
Not that a No. 1 album is in the works for Thompson. His lead characters, most often female, are too forlorn, their lovers’ affections insufficiently requited for commercial success. We meet several of these sad ladies on the new album “Still,” including she who could never resist a winding road, Patty whom the singer asks not to put him down, a broken doll whom all the tears in the world won’t mend, Josephine into whose hall all the leaves blow in — and that’s just the first half of the album.
But for listeners of certain tendencies, these tales of woe produce emotional uplift, not whatever the antonym to uplift is, thanks in large part to Thompson’s musical craft. Every song has a mood, a style, an interesting harmonic path and an honest-to-goodness melody. Lots of songwriters can fill up a CD booklet with lyrics, few can make those lyrics come alive in music. And of course, there’s that soulful voice, captured with great immediacy by producer Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. Listen.