For Richard Thompson fanatics (and those who admire the brilliant songwriter and virtuoso guitarist tend to be quite ardent about him), this five-disc set of obscurities, outtakes, live performances, and previously unreleased material is the holy grail. Earlier releases from Free Reed found the label mining the riches of British folk-rock from the likes of Fairport Convention (which featured Thompson in its most popular incarnation), but here they've hit the mother lode. This isn't the place for a newcomer to start with Thompson, as other "best-of" anthologies and career-spanning compilations might provide a better introduction. Instead, this is a treasure trove that will offer discovery for even the most devoted fan. Each disc has a theme--epic ballads, discarded songs, the essential canon--with the disc of cover versions particularly fascinating. From performance tapes, Thompson makes everything from the Who's "Substitute" and Squeeze's "Tempted" to the traditional "Danny Boy" and "Shenandoah" sound like his own. The expansive selection illuminates Thompson as an artist of great range and subtlety, humor and heart, from the intimacy of his solo acoustic performances to galvanizing, electrically charged renditions of masterpieces such as "Shoot Out the Lights," "For Shame of Doing Wrong," and "Calvary Cross." An accompanying 168-page book provides biographical context and exhaustive annotation (though somehows seem to tag "Shoot Out the Lights" as solo acoustic when it's plainly full-band electric). --Don McLeese
A 5 CD celebration featuring classic, rare and previously unreleased recordings from Richard Thompson's entire career. Free Read. 2006.