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Front Parlour Ballads
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This is Richard Thompson's first acoustic solo album since 1981 and first-ever album of all-original material. Front Parlour Ballads includes 13 songs featuring Thompson on vocals, guitars and other instruments. Cooking Vinyl. 2005.
This selection of largely acoustic, predominately solo performances finds Richard Thompson trading the guitar pyrotechnics of his electric albums for greater intimacy, vocal subtlety, and emphasis on his storytelling lyrics. Though this is Thompson's first acoustic release of all-original material, "Row, Boys, Row" and "The Boys of Mutton Street" could pass as traditional British folk balladry, while the droll humor and stately musical grace of "Miss Patsy" recall some of Thompson's early work with Fairport Convention. The songwriting is as ambitious as the arrangements are minimal, from the bitter misanthropy of the character study in "A Solitary Life" to the bittersweet yearning of "Cressida" to the hypnotic insistence of "My Soul, My Soul." In "Let It Blow," Thompson applies his sharp wit to the tale of a serial husband with a penchant for quickie marriages, as the weddings signal the end of the romance. Even when he turns down the volume, he never tones down the creative intensity. --Don McLeese
Recommended Richard Thompson Discography
Fairport Convention, Unhalfbricking
Fairport Convention, Liege & Lief
Fairport Convention, Full House
Richard & Linda Thompson, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
Richard & Linda Thompson, Shoot Out the Lights
Hand of Kindness
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There is no reason to preach to the choir. To the uninitiated or newly curious, starting here may not be your best choice, but it is still a good decision.
The emphasis seems to be more on song & less on Thompson's virtuostic playing. Which will lead to some disappointment for those looking for the raging solos of SHOOT OUT THE LIGHTS. Though his trademark shredding has taken a backseat here, there are a fair share of brilliant moments on things like the brooding "My Soul". But Thompson has always proved himself to be a wickedly playful lyricist & PARLOR's acoustic approach provides the appropriate backdrop.
The catchy opener,"Let It Blow" cynically lampoons a nation's obsession with celebrity marriage. "Boys Of Mutton Street" praises the all-too-fleeting joys of gang violence. Though I might add, musically it's a bit reminiscent of "Vincent Black Lightning 1952".
"Miss Patsy" introduces us to a terrorist who's been "fighting shadows on the wrong crusade". Despite having 2nd thoughts after handed the cyanide pill, Thompson still damns his protagonist to "rot & pine away in a foreign prison". An interesting notion, considering Thompson converted to Islam in the 70's.
"Row Boys Row" questions the wisdom of "kneeling with your arse poking free" and the idyllic pleasures of misanthropy are recalled in " A Solitary Life". Finally, "Boys At School" closes the book with a chill.
Personally, I found this a lot more to my liking than OLD KIT BAG which just didn't grab me except for "Gesthemene". And though his albums since RUMOR & SIGH have had their share of irreplaceable gems, I always felt the production was a bit heavy handed. So I've been wanting to hear him strip things down like this for quite a while. Which is one of many reasons why FRONT PARLOR BALLADS has left me a very happy fan indeed.
"Let it Blow" opens with a rollicking combination of acoustic (and electric guitar thrown in to accent the music if my ear doesn't deceive me) could easily become a radio hit with its catchy melody. While it may lack the immediate fireworks of "Rumour and Sigh" but makes up for that with amazingly assured songcraft and strong melodies. There's few songs I can think of here that would have benefited from a backing band and booming electric guitars and drums.
Thompson plays almost everything here and is accompanied by Deborah Dobkin on occasional percussion. Produced by Thompson in collaboration with Simon Tassano, "Front Parlour Ballads" benefits from the stripped down approach here. While I love many of the albums that Thompson made with producer Mitchell Froom, Froom's overly decorative production touches wouldn't fit here. Tassano and Thompson use the less is more approach not too dissimilar to the unadorned approach by producer Joe Boyd on some of Thompson's albums.
Highlights for me include: Let It Blow-- a wickedly funny story about the love life of an unnamed member of British royalty; Miss Patsy-- a musically upbeat tune with a Celtic feel and a lyric that I read as the narrator singing about his need to stand up for himself; Old Thames Side-- a literately expressed tribute to a woman's beauty: and Solitary Life-- filled with sardonic, dark humor about matters of life and death.
And while, as noted, this is not a CD where guitar solos take center stage, the jazz inflected electric guitar on My Soul, My Soul and the acoustic fills and runs on the achingly beautiful Cressida are reminders of RT's well-deserved status as one of the best guitarists around.