Reviewed by: Geno Thackara
Some people mellow out with age. Some may get happier or more complacent. Others can’t shake the restless habit of always looking for a different angle. Richard Thompson has some predictable consistencies – his perennial favorite themes are still love gone wrong, life gone bad and, umm, life gone even worse – but it’s delivered with his own flair and a mix of humor and genuine heart, almost like a Leonard Cohen who doesn’t leave you wanting to shoot yourself.
He offers a certain degree of comfortable familiarty with Still, as is probably inevitable for anyone approaching their 50th year in music, but of course Thompson doesn’t simply coast. He’s continuing the past decade’s theme of shaking up the recording process each time. On this occasion that meant recruiting Jeff Tweedy to produce, and the result is a no-frills production largely centered on his longstanding trio with Michael Jerome and Taras Prodaniuk. Tweedy and a couple of his collaborators add a few tasteful touches here and there, and everybody keeps it simple and keeps the focus on the songs. It starts out folksy, includes some haunting ballads and dirty blues, then winds up with a wildly eclectic piece that makes “The Rite of Spring” look like “Sugar Sugar” (as the man himself put it while introducing the song onstage last week). Not a bad range to pack into 50 minutes.
There’s noticeably less of his wild fretwork than on 2013’s Electric, but rest assured there’s still a nice fiery solo here and there. If guitar is what you’re really looking for, head straight for that closer “Guitar Heroes”, which pays loving homage to an impressive cast from Django Reinhardt to Chuck Berry (I think I also hear hints of Jim Hall and Dick Dale). Thompson sounds effortless in giving a tutorial of their defining sounds, then humbly admits “I still don’t know how my heroes did it.” It’s an odd but pleasant thought to hear from a virtuoso who’s long been a legend himself.
The iconic rating doesn’t feel quite right considering the sheer number of seminal albums Thompson’s career includes already. On the other hand, “Dungeons for Eyes” gets downright creepy in spots, and the likes of “All Buttoned Up”, “No Peace No End” and “Patty Don’t You Put Me Down” have enough bite for a rocker half his age. Bad-ass it is.