Customer Reviews: Sweet Warrior
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on May 30, 2007
I can't believe that it's been about twenty-five years since Richard Thompson set off on his solo career. I know, some may gripe with that date, (rightly) pointing out his 1972 album "Henry the Human Fly," but he subsequently teamed with then-wife Linda for a series of stunning albums that will remain masterpieces of their genre. I am referring to the part of his career that followed all that hubbub. Either way, I have bought every official album and every `semi-official' website release with his name on it. If you count everything since "Henry," that's about forty albums of material I own, so I feel very qualified when I say that "Sweet Warrior" is Richard Thompson's best collection of songs in quite some time.

The most rewarding aspect of being a fan is when an artist is talented enough to be consistently challenging, yet kind enough to maintain a predictable level of consistency. I have never bought a Richard Thompson record that left me unmoved, but the above characteristics occasionally thwarted one another. Recent works, like "Front Parlor Ballads" and the "Grizzly Man" soundtrack, were interesting, challenging works, but the very nature of these projects rendered them less consistent than I would have hoped. "Sweet Warrior" marks a return to fully realized compositions, with full band accompaniment and what is by now a predictably stunning degree of songwriting prowess. Every song here rewards multiple listens, but a few grow to gargantuan proportions. "I'll Never Give It Up" rocks with a wrath that matches the lyrical intensity, while "Take Care the Road You Choose" may be the most gentle and poignant tale of regret I have ever heard. "Mr. Stupid" is a rocker that captures the sting of divorce by wrapping it in bitter irony, while the upbeat rhythm of "Bad Monkey" (which resembles "Tear Stained Letter") somehow manages to takes a playful look at emotional abuse. The centerpiece, though, is "Dad's Gonna Kill Me," (It took me a while to figure it out - I'm a bit dense - but `Dad' is shorthand for Baghdad), told from the perspective of a soldier who has grown fully aware of his awful predicament. A revealing comment arrives in the song's bridge, when the soldier observes, "At least we're winning on the Fox Evening News."

By now, it's a cliché to discuss the brilliance of Thompson's guitar playing, but he's firing on all cylinders throughout "Sweet Warrior." The band is also top-notch, especially the entrancing accompaniment of Thompson's longtime acoustic bassist Danny Thompson (no relation). It would be rude to call "Sweet Warrior" a return to form, but this collection boasts a thoroughly satisfying combination of intriguing lyrics, fully realized songs, astounding instrumentation, and heartfelt vocalizing. Once it grabs hold, it never lets go. Whether you judge from the earliest phase of his career or from his twenty-five year run of solo releases, "Sweet Warrior" rates with the very best work of Thompson's long and varied career. A Tom Ryan
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on June 7, 2007
Boy, I feel like a naysaying nitpicker to rate this album a measly 4 stars, but such are the standards to which Richard Thompson has accustomed me. It's a really good album, just not transcendent like BRIGHT/POUR/SHOOT/KIT. The songs are as polished as we have a right to expect from such a consumate tunesmith, though only a few truly knock me on the head ("Dad", "Johnny", "Guns", "Take Care").

But superlative craft is a given with this guy. For me he truly shines when he's goaded by deeply felt issues: 9/11, mortality, a failing/failed marriage, Margaret Thatcher. When he turns his acerbic scrutiny on fashionistas and suburban living he just sounds like a clever crank.

People like Robert Christgau will quibble about the songs but assert that with RT "guitar's never a problem". That's not entirely true (again with the high expectations). Even a player as original as Thompson can get into a rut, his idiosyncratic riffs sounding like personal cliches. So even worthy collections like AMNESIA and MOCK TUDOR failed to get me off guitarwise. They offered no surprises from a man I cherish for his talent to surprise me, like the first time I saw him live in '85.

SWEET WARRIOR is another story entirely. The guitar playing throughout sends shivers down my spine. Thompson's fretwork is so energized here, so playful and fresh, even if it never hits the nail-your-scalp-to-the-wall wail of SHOOT OUT THE LIGHTS. "Bad Monkey" almost sounds like a kids song (where is that kids album anyway?) but the guitar breaks are nuts! I bet it will be this tour's encore rave-up, finally replacing "Tear Stained Letter". And virtually every track is like that. From a guy who's nearly 60. It really sounds like he's bringing an entire life's worth of wit and chops to bear. Total fireworks. God bless him.

On another note, Thompson's singing has come a remarkably long way since HENRY (a much abused album studded with treasures). I think it peaked on KIT BAG. But now that he's got some breath control he's holding notes in these long, deep sighs. Sorry, I liked it better when he bit off his lines like hunks of meat, a la ACROSS A CROWDED ROOM.

Of course, this is like complaining about the height of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Thompson's a treasure, and SWEET WARRIOR is another worthy effort. As he's written, "There's some who dare, and some that shine, and some who only drag behind". Richard Thompson often dares and always shines.
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on June 12, 2007
This is the strongest Thompson album in years and time might prove it to be one of the best albums in his already extensive and high quality catalog.

Richard Thompson and his studio collaborators (inclduing the underheralded Michael Jerome on drums, Nickel Back's Sara Watkins and the marvellous Danny Thompson on double-bass) deliver a set of marvellous performances here. These tracks have a real spark to them - they sound like a bunch of great players playing live rather than a bunch of recordings laid down in a studio. All the fireworks here come from the players and their instruments - this album is not big on studio trickery being used to beef up the sound.

And in this considerable company Thompson still shines with his guitar playing. In terms of his own playing and of delivering convincing performances Thompson is at the top of his game here. He remains a technically elite player, but as always the technique is not there for it's own sake but is used to get the message across. His solos here are sometimes biting and half-a-step away from being totally crazed ("Bad Monkey" , "I'll Never Give It Up") and at other times unbelievably tender without being cloying (EG "Take Care The Road You Choose").

The album deals broadly with war in various realms of life. Two of the standout tracks address modern warfare from different points of view.

"Dad's Gonna Kill Me" is in the first person with the narrator describing, in GI slang-laced language, the confusion and terror he experiences in Iraq. "Guns Are The Tongues" is set in Ireland but the tale is more universal: A femme fatale seduces an inexperienced and awkward young man into doing her lethal dirty work. The latter track is a show-stopper as Thompson and Co slowly up the tension and then explode (pardon the pun) into the song's mighty chorus. This is a considerable performance and one of the finest things Thompson has laid down in the studio.

Oh... and at the age of 58 and after 40 years as a professional musician Thompson still rocks mightily and with utter conviction.
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on May 29, 2007
He is one of the greatest songwrters and guitarists. He is a legend.
He adds that, although, the album wasn't assembled thematically, on reflection it seems to keep returning to the subject of "combat, in love as well as in war." The songs and guitars on "Sweet Warrior" are equally electrifying - including the acoustic ones - but it is a particular treat in the electric guitar department. "Dad's Gonna Kill Me" may prove the first great, enduring song about the current war in Iraq.
Richard says that his new CD is "a kind of a war record, not just political war but also domestic war or relationship war. There's a sweetness to it as well".
Unlike last year's Front Parlour Ballads, this is for the most part an electric Thompson offering, the first such since 2003's The Old Kit Bag, and first impression is very much that the man hasn't lost his touch one iota, the quality of songwriting is uniformly high throughout, consistent to a fault you could say, and the whole affair is unmistakably "RT".
That doesn't mean it's predictable, just predictably brilliant. But then, we'll feel like... biased.Richard's signature electric guitar work had always been rated very highly indeed, and he's unique among exponents of that instrument in still being able to reduce the listeners to tears (of whatever kind) with the sheer expressiveness of his playing.
On "Sweet Warrior", Richard get the chance to open up and stretch out on 68 minutes' worth of music containing 14 new songs that run a typically varied Thompson gamut from reflective doom-and-gloom and tenderly yearning romantic creations to vitriolic bile and provocative, scathing political comment.
Almost half of these new songs are likely to be considered Thompson classics. For most of the time Richard's backed by his current core touring band (Michael Hays on rhythm guitar, Taras Prodaniuk on electric bass, Michael Jerome on drums and Judith Owen on harmony vocals), but for just over half the tracks Danny Thompson takes over on acoustic bass, while two feature Joe Sublett on tenor sax and a further three Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins on fiddle, and one ("She Sang Angels To Rest") even has a string-trio arrangement.
So as you'll gather it's not a bland unadventurous stock-electric-combo sound, and Richard himself injects imaginative colours into the mix with occasional bursts of mandolin, whistle, accordion, autoharp, harmonium, hurdy-gurdy and organ.
Individual highlights include the almost unbearable melancholy of the beautifully-paced "Take Care The Road You Choose" and the mournful closer "Sunset Song", the almost cinematic narrative sweep of "Guns Are The Tongues", the powerful soldier's-eye-view of "Dad's Gonna Kill Me" (the inspiration for the album's title?), the less-is-more neo-classical understatement of "She Sang Angels To Rest", and the deceptively cheeky nod to traditional song within the pithy commentary of "Johnny's Far Away".
Elsewhere, "Bad Monkey" rings the changes on its opening Tear-Stained riff and develops into a satisfying retro-rocker in the best Thompo twist-the-knife tradition (and I'll bet it comes with a killer guitar solo live!), whereas "Francesca" is a moody ska-inflected number with deep twang underpinning the enigmatic questioning of the lyric and "Sneaky Boy" is an edgy Costello-style putdown; only the humdrum riffing of "Mr Stupid" palls on repeated hearing perhaps.
Vocally, Richard i's on splendid form throughout this set.
"Sweet Warrior" will shortly come to be regarded as one of the finest in the Thompson canon.
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on November 11, 2010
Thompson takes the album title from Edmund Spenser's Sonnet LVII: "Sweet warrior when shall I have peace with you?" The lyrical thread connecting the 14 brilliant pop gems here is war, both real war as in Iraq, Afghanistan and Ireland, and the emotional combat of lovers.

This album is astonishingly good. Thompson's craft just grows stronger with the years, in contrast to so many musicians who are not able to sustain their early inspiration.

For me, what really sets it apart are the political songs: "Dad's Gonna Kill Me" about the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, "I'll Never Give It Up," which is Bush and bin Laden trading insults, and "Guns Are the Tongues" about the Irish Republican Army's guerilla war in Northern Ireland. It was "I'll Never Give It Up" which led me to pick up SWEET WARRIOR. I'm not sure why I missed it on its release in 2007, but that song was a highlight of the live show I saw recently. I remember seeing Thompson and his band perform "Dad's Gonna Kill Me" on TV back in '07 and being quite impressed with the song from the point of view of a U.S. soldier. I guess I was distracted.

"Take Care the Road You Choose", "She Sang Angels to Rest" and "Sunset Song" are beautiful sad songs, the last with one of Thompson's trademark bad protagonists. "Poppy-Red" features a very strong melody, the sort that sticks in your head for days, and a very unreliable narrator. "Mr. Stupid," "Bad Monkey," "Sneaky Boy" and "Johnny's Far Away" are all up-tempo character sketches, either about humans behaving badly, warning against same, or playing to stereotypes.

Richard Thompson is a one of the finest songwriters working today, and one of the best guitarists. SWEET WARRIOR is one of the best in a long line of his excellent albums.
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on May 3, 2008
I think that the cd's he put out in the 90's and '00's are better then this offering. This does not have the guitar solos and storytelling that I love so much in RT's music. Just my opinion! Also - why is "Dads gonna kill me" listed as an I-tunes exclusive? It is on my cd!
Get this cd if you are a die-hard but if you are looking for some winning cd's check out: Rumor, Mock, Kit bag and Austin live from RT.
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on April 19, 2012
I've been a Richard Thompson fan since his Fairport Convention days, but somehow I missed this cd until I purchased it in the Spring of 2011. It's become my favorite of all his cds. I like all 14 songs on the cd, but my favorites are 14. Sunset Song - music heard at the end of a relationship-guitar esp. good here 5. Dad's Gonna Kill Me - I didn't know Dad meant Baghdad either until I read it some of the other reviews 13. Guns Are the Tongues - about recruiting a young man into the IRA. 2. I'll never Give It Up -a hit me with your best shot kind of song. 8. Francesca - who keeps having bad things done to her - who's going to save her now? 12. Johnny's Far Away 6. Poppy Red - about an ex-girlfriend who has passed away, and 1. Needle & Thread - needed to sew his soul together again. Of course the guitar playing is excellent(Rolling Stone did name Richard one of the best guitarists in Rock n Roll some years ago - all the players and backup vocalists are very good (including Danny Thompson (no relation) formerly of Pentangle.
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VINE VOICEon June 4, 2007
Death, taxes and another good RT album. SWEET WARRIOR is another fine addition to Thompson's long resume that stretches back to Fairport Convention in the late 60's. It's a good album, but not without a couple issues.

This time out I'm a little underwhelmed by some of the songs Thompson has offered, specifically MR STUPID, SNEAKY BOY and BAD MONKEY (TWO LEFT FEET redux?). These bile tinged tunes are not among the best that he's recorded and seem almost cheap in their cranky emotions. FRANCESCA is an indifferent reggae workout and I swear I've heard the opener NEEDLE AND THREAD on at least one or two of Thompson's previous records.

That being said there are plenty of great songs and strong performances here. The topical DAD WIL KILL ME (Dad being Baghdad) tells a tale of woe from the point of view of a soldier stationed in that horrific situation over a charged arrangement. It boasts two killer lines in "At least we're winning on the Fox Evening News", and "Nobody's dying if you speak double speak", which pretty much sum up the current situation in Iraq. Other highlights are TAKE CARE THE ROAD YOU CHOOSE, POPPY RED and the last three songs, a great sea shanty JOHNNY'S FAR AWAY, the brooding GUNS ARE TONGUES and the serene closer SUNSET SONG, which end the disk in style. Thompson's guitar playing is especially sharp and inspired throughout and the band just plain cooks, even on some of the lesser songs. This album may feature the best overall playing in Richard's long and storied career.

Though far from flawless, SWEET WARRIOR is a strong record that should please most RT fans and could even win some new ones. I would imagine that if he takes this band on the road that there should be some amazing shows featuring some of this material. Judged on it's own this is a great disk, but against the entire Richard Thompson catalog, it's just pretty good.
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on July 27, 2007
This is the BEST sounding record I have heard in a LONG time. (And I hear a LOT of music). The only thing better was hearing him do these songs live at the 9:30 club in DC! (BTW... NPR's website has a podcast of that show). This CD gets me through my pain in the butt commute to work in *lovely* over-populated N. VA. The first two songs are sure to get my blood pumping in the morning! The musicians that Thompson uses on this CD (mostly the guys he tours with) are fantastic. (Danny Thompson is one of my favorite bassists!). But everything about this CD sounds great... the songwriting(!), the arrangements, the musicians' performances and the production. I can NOT get tired of this album. What strikes me the most about this CD - as all of Thompson's music - is that he sounds like NO ONE ELSE. His songwriting is unique, and his lyrics are interesting. He gets away with lyrics that would sound weird written by anyone else ("Mister Stupid"). But the way he puts songs together just WORKS! He is at times political without being obnoxious about it. And then there's THAT guitar playing. I can't comprehend what he does with a guitar most of the time (even after seeing him live), but I LOVE the way it sounds! The first half of the album has a lot of punch to it, and gets mellower toward the end (I smell a record label's influence there!). But it remains powerful throughout with stellar performances all the way to the beautiful "Sunset Song" at the end of the disc. I NEVER hit "skip" with this CD (except to get back to the beginning of the CD at the end of the last song!).
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on January 5, 2009
Excellent Richard Thompson CD, The lyrics attract me to RT's music, this CD is packed with Xcellent Story telling through music by the Genius of Richard Thompson. Each song has a story to tell - each one is pure enjoyment. If you are a RT fan or just beginning to explore his music this is a great CD. His voice is pitch perfect, emotions with his singing voice, and to each song. One of my favorite RT's CD's. Think this is perfect match for the music lover who enjoys the lyrics as much as the song. This is not a 'yeah, yeah, yeah' singer songwriter. His songs have meaning. I can connect with each song on some level in my personal life. He speaks/writes/sings of life, stories told in words, music that surpasses any artist or is on par with the greats.
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