Peek at the prismatic cover art of veteran songwriter-guitarist Richard Thompson’s new album Electric and you might expect some fretboard fireworks. “Stony Ground” begins in a flurry of syncopated percussive beats and hand-claps. It’s as if the song stumbles straight into the bridge rather than the intro. It quickly resolves into a folk-rock stormer, spiced up by a tabloid tale of an old man’s fate after falling for a widowed woman and her obliquely referenced “honey pot”. A searing guitar solo, that at times borders on atonal, electrifies these graphic revelations.
Solos like this crop up regularly, played with a raw intensity that those familiar with Thompson’s pioneering folk-rock work with Fairport Convention might describe as “A Sailor’s Life” on heat. The overriding feel of the album is one of attack although conscious maybe that light and shade is always to be found within the Thompson palette, there are gentler, reflective songs here like the dryly regretful “Salford Sunday” and the tender, self-searching “The Snow Goose”. Alison Krauss adds some ghostly harmonies to the latter. Elsewhere Thompson enlists the delicate vocal of English singer-songwriter Siobhan Maher Kennedy as a foil on several songs, notably on the stand-out, “My Enemy”, a song structure that evokes Thompson’s past work with Sandy Denny.
Thompson reminds us that he can lay down a killer lyric. “Like a caged bird that’s broken free / You want to fly high and mess on me,” he sings on the portentous “Good Things Happen To Bad People”. Strong melodies and ripping solos constantly feature; themselves hallmarks of one of the finest guitar players to come out of Britain. While the Dire Straits-like solo on the downbeat “Another Small Thing In Her Favour” might give you a feeling of deja-vu, from the Stranglers inflected garage rock of “Straight And Narrow” to the more soothing optimism of closer, “Saving The Good Stuff For You”, there’s no doubt that Thompson is on sparkling form throughout this record.
Essential tracks: “Stony Ground”, “My Enemy”, and “Good Things Happen To Bad People”