Exactly how much more praise can we lavish upon Richard Thompson before his head explodes? How many more times can we hail his fluidity and invention as a guitarist in both acoustic and electric settings, his elegant brilliance as a songwriter, his honey-with-a-double-bourbon-chaser voice and his almost supernatural consistency before he turns into a pile of ash like a not-at-all-teenaged vampire?
Well, let’s give it one more shot, because Thompson’s latest album, Dream Attic, is — take a deep breath, everyone — fantastic. While our people check on Thompson’s physical well-being, let’s dig a little deeper into Dream Attic and try to keep our compliments at a non-lethal level.
For his newest release, Thompson chose the oft-attempted device of recording brand new songs in a live setting as a way to adrenalize himself and his band.
Not surprisingly, it worked like a voodoo charm. But half the battle in this kind of situation is the songs, and Thompson provided 13 gems for his audience-in-the-studio experiment. Now, in any other hands, a CD that leads with the lyric “I love kittens” would likely be doubling as a coaster by the third or fourth track, but that’s how Thompson opens “The Money Shuffle,” a scathing rebuke of Wall Street greed. There hasn’t been an easier or more obvious songwriting target in recent memory, but Thompson applies his standard humor and intensity to the task and thus circumvents criticism for easy subject matter merely by writing the best possible song on the subject.
And that seems to be Thompson’s formula for the rest of Dream Attic; if he and his infinitely talented cast want to explore British Folk balladry or Celtic reels or propulsive Rock rhythms or ethereal Pop, in the service of murder ballads or character studies or fist-pumping anthems or quiet odes to love lost and found, they simply nail it all down tighter than God’s alibi, Thompson blazes away on solos that are the envy of guitarists a third his age and it all comes out the other end as one of Richard Thompson’s best albums ever.
And even though that claim could be made regarding a good 40 percent of his catalog — and the remainder all falls into the second best category — it hardly diminishes the absolute hair-raising goodness of Dream Attic.
OK, we’ve gotten confirmation that Thompson is just fine, so it turns out he in fact can't be complimented to death. Maybe he’s superhuman after all.