CD Review of Walking on a Wire: Richard Thompson (1968-2009) by Richard Thompson
Richard Thompson: Walking on a Wire: Richard Thompson (1968-2009)
Recommended if you like
Fairport Convention, Warren Zevon, Ashley Hutchings
Label
Shout! Factory
Richard Thompson:
Walking on a Wire:
Richard Thompson
(1968-2009)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

D
on’t get the wrong impression. The dates mentioned as part and parcel of the title aren’t meant to imply some sort of obituary. In 2009, singer/songwriter/guitarist Richard Thompson is very much alive, even though he’s still denied the superstar status that ought to have been accorded him after a 40-plus year career. Sad to say that even today, any mention of Thompson’s name might be just as likely to draw looks of bewilderment as it would to garner a grasp of recognition.

So consider this well stocked four-CD set more an intro for the uninitiated than a keepsake for his fans. In fact, the former ought to make Patrick Humphries’ excellent 60-page treatise, one of the highlights of this package, required reading. Following on the heels of various anthologies released over the past two decades or so, this new offering contains no rarities or unreleased offerings that will whet the appetites of diehard devotees. However, it does provide a well-stocked compendium of Thompson’s prolific career, over 70 songs spanning his initial efforts with Fairport Convention up through his most recent solo outings. Consequently, it ranks as his most complete collection to date, and with the inclusion of such classics as "Sloth," "When I Get to the Border," "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight," "Wall of Death" and "Dimming of the Day," Walking on a Wire offers nearly every highlight that can be reasonably culled from his extensive catalogue.

Thompson’s haggard vocals and unapologetically down-turned disposition make him unique among his peers and not surprisingly, then, these four CDs represent a broad sampling of his abilities, from the ace guitar play that’s had some hailing him as a guitar guru of superior stature, to the accomplished songwriter whose material runs the gamut from irony to insight. The sadness and despair of "The Angels Took My Racehorse Away," taken from his very first album (supposedly the worst-selling record in Warner Bros.’ history), is but one example of the way Thompson toys with emotion and satiates it with satire. The darker strains of impending doom that were filtered through his work with his ex-wife Linda ("For Shame of Doing Wrong," "Down Where the Drunkards Roll," "Withered and Died") evoke a sense of dread and desperation that only the late Warren Zevon could master as well.

Ultimately, Thompson sets a standard that few artists have the vision to understand, much less embrace. The wistful desire of "Galway to Graceland," the lingering and longing of "Waltzing’s For Dreamers," the unabashed celebration of "1952 Vincent Black Lightening" place him on a pedestal aside Ray Davies and Pete Townsend as an artist that’s successfully encapsulated everyday emotions and observations, and then transformed them into a thing of profundity and grace. Indeed, as its title suggests, Richard Thompson’s always walked on a wire, one that navigates a divide that pays equal heed to observation and to insight.

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