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Richard Thompson - Front Parlour Ballads

Speaking of banging on about my favourite performers, I've still got several albums in the review pool. Sometimes, a bit of a delay in reviewing a record is a good thing: when I first heard Richard Thompson's Front Parlour Ballads, I didn't like it that much, at least compared to other Richard Thompson albums. I initially felt that the changes on the surface – Thompson's continuing stripping down of his sound since 1996's You? Me? Us? were beginning to mask a lack of real development in Thompson's songwriting. There's a lot on Front Parlour Ballads that I'd already heard on previous records. Also, unlike his last studio album, The Old Kit Bag, which highlighted the growth in Thompson's vocal abilities, the new one, with its rough and ready production approach, revealed his limitations.

Since then, though, I'm glad to say that the album has grown on me a lot. The faults are still there, but the songwriting and the guitar playing, on repeated listening, are great as always. In fact, the album reminds me a lot of Thompson's very first solo album Henry the Human Fly, one of my favourite Thompson albums, reissued last year. Ballads has the same kind of lyrical storytelling, the same kind of character vignettes painted in broad strokes. Ballads is more sophisticated and less alcohol-fueled than Henry and has a greater musical range despite being recorded with little in the way of acccompaniment apart from Thompson's guitar.

"Miss Patsy" with its jaunty 3/4 rhythm, could easily have been a track from Henry, as could the youth gang fun of "Mutton Street" and the wonderfully sinister closing song "When We Were Boys At School" – about a boy who was bullied and ridiculed at school and is now a sinister, unseen presence in the corridors of power. I didn't know Thompson went to school with Tom Riddle!

Since Henry, Thompson has developed a much greater insight into human relationships, and that reveals itself in "Should I Betray" in which the viewpoint character agonises over breaking his female friend's already very brittle illusions concerning her husband. Another favorite of mine is the opening track, "Let it Blow", a gleeful tale of a cad (and possibly also a bounder) who has made one last catch. That one has some percussion and some lovely melodic electric guitar overdubbed on the basic track, making it almost a band performance. A few more tracks like that and the record would have been more balanced and accessible. As it is, it's really very good; it just takes a few listens to get into.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 4, 2005 11:06 PM.

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