Album Review: Richard Thompson, ‘Still’
Musicians don't come more seasoned than English singer-songwriter Richard Thompson. In the decades since his late-'60s tenure as the leader of iconic British folk outfit Fairport Convention, Thompson has earned the reputation as the consummate "songwriter's songwriter" -- resoundingly venerated by other artists. So when you sit down with a Richard Thompson album, you can always expect wisdom and patience to ooze from the music. In fact, Still contains some songs that Thompson first started writing 20 years ago. Thompson tends to tweak his songs very slowly over time -- nibbling away at a verse here and there. In addition to his air of experience, this practice gives his music a feeling of having simmered over a low flame before finally being ready.
Not to be overlooked, Thompson's acoustic guitar playing sounds similarly effortless. His guitar lines hover in the music like clouds on a summer day -- perfectly natural, unforced and unintrusive. Having created 40 or so albums, Thompson wanted to get out of his comfort zone a little and enlisted Wilco bandleader Jeff Tweedy to produce and record this material at the band's legendary Loft facility in Chicago. On paper, a collaboration between Thompson and Tweedy represents a kind of dream matchup, but Tweedy wisely chose to augment rather than put too much of his own stamp on Thompson's vision. When dealing with an artist of this stature, a producer almost has no choice but to do so.
Tweedy's presence is, in fact, mostly felt in indirect decisions -- such as the choice to record Thompson and his core trio (along with additional musicians that Tweedy brought in) quickly over a period of nine days. From there, Tweedy provided sonic enhancements and arrangement touches that, again, support rather than overtly shape the songs. As expected for a Richard Thompson album, the songs remain front and center, and his lyrics remain a picture of economy and flourish. The characters that Thompson introduces on Still have, like their creator, traveled down many roads, and when taken as a complete work, these songs convey the full weight and depth of many lifetimes stacked on top of one another.