When Richard Thompson left Fairport Convention in 1971 he worked with his then wife Linda and released six albums of original compositions that met with commercial apathy. The first three were cut for Island, whereas the final three were released under the Chrysalis label. This compilation gathers together the most salient tracks from their first three records, as well as two songs from Richard’s first solo album (Henry The Human Fly, released in 1972 – a very whimsical record that sold abysmally).
It is often debated whether these three albums indeed represent the Thompson’s finest moments on record or not. I have not listened to the Chrysalis recordings so I can not say for sure, but what I have noticed is that whenever you watch a Richard Thompson documentary the songs that are always featured with wife Linda are the ones found on this compilation.
On the surface, they have a mostly uniform tone that belies the complex emotional twists and turns that an attentive listen reveals, and they showcase Richard’s artistic and societal vision perfectly. He once explained that he likes to write about criminals, drunks and all-around misfits since they are more revealing of human nature than ordinary people. This is evidenced on a song like “Down Where The Drunkard Rolls”, where abandon and imbecility go hand in hand to form a brittle façade that no character in the song bothers to tear down since they all know what they won’t find behind. Likewise, the Great Valerio explores themes of inadequacy and jealousy set to just Richard’s guitar and Linda’s haunting vocal delivery. The streamlined approach also works efficiently in “Never Again”, a song Richard started writing after his girlfriend (Jeannie Franklyn) died in a car crash in 1969. The accident also took the life of Fairport Convention’s drummer Martin Lamble. Richard wrote the first two verses almost instantly and then much later on he finished it all of a sudden. It is a song that lacerates the soul – not out of cruelty, but rather out of a desire to show what is beneath, how it has been broken and posit whether or not it could be repaired.
Conversely, if you are looking for more hummable moments and full instrumentation give “When I Get To The Border” a spin, and you will be tapping your feet from start to finish.
One of my personal favorites is probably “A Heart Needs A Home” (which is actually an alternate take), a song that deals with themes of redemption and which offsets some of the darker material very well. I am also quite fond of “Withered And Died” (I previously had listened to Elvis Costello’s version), and “Dimming Of The Day”, although more moving live versions do exist.
I am not very keen on “Beat The Retreat” (a song that outstays its welcome) and “Night Comes In”, albeit the latter features a rich solo by Richard. Speaking of which, the album closer is a 13-minute live take of “Calvary Cross”, with Thompson taking no prisoners.
Overall, a very enjoyable album. I think that “Action Packed – The Best Of The Capitol Years” is a better introduction to the Richard Thompson most of you must know, but this is also indispensable for knowing where that man came from. This, and a Fairport Convention anthology, obviously.
Would I recommend purchase of this compilation: Yes
Do I feel like digging deeper into their catalog after listening to it: Yes