Music fans, have I got the hot tip for you! See, there’s this new kid on the block, name of Richard Thompson. British guy. Plays guitar like nobody’s business. And the songs? Yeah, the kid knows his away around all that verse-chorus-verse mumbo-jumbo, let me tell you. And this record of his, Sweet Warrior? Palsy, this baby’s the real deal.
Okay, so maybe ol’ RT has been around since the age of black and white TV. And maybe it’s hard to sell the average music buyer on the notion of getting all worked up about a new album from a man who’s been issuing a steady stream of LPs for forty years now. Even a non-orthodox Dickhead (as his fans are known) like myself doesn’t get excited about all of his releases. Along with the studio albums, there are copious live CDs, plus his work on a couple of soundtracks. To sort out the exceptional Richard Thompson album from the merely good, one would require the help of a qualified professional.
And, just as soon as I find one, I’ll let you know [buh-dum-bump]. Hey, that joke might be even older than Thompson’s music career.
Seriously, folks. Sweet Warrior is the consummate Richard Thompson album, offering excellent examples of all the styles he has offered over the years. There are wry rockers, bittersweet ballads, strains of British folk, and the fluid guitar interludes that have made Thompson an understated god of the six-string.
He also maintains an important tradition among the storytellers of songwriting: Richard Thompson gives voice to the current events that affect our lives. On the bluesy, violin-kissed “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me”, he displays a hip knowledge of military slang, carving a war protest tune out of a phrase generally reserved for kids awaiting their father’s wrath. In this case, “Dad” is short for Baghdad. Here’s a stanza that hits the mark:
Dad’s in a bad mood, Dad’s got the blues
It’s someone else’s mess that I didn’t choose
At least we’re winning on the Fox Evening News
Nobody loves me here
A master of inflection, Thompson injects a sharp dose of venom into the word “Fox” that would chill the heart of Rupert Murdoch, if such an organ existed. At song’s end, RT’s guitar solo bends and stabs with beauty and killer grace.
On album opener “Needle and Thread”, Thompson displays his penchant for mixing dark humor with introspection, as he pledges to use the titular objects to “sew [his] soul back together again”. Should you feel sorry for him or laugh along with him? As always, the line is fine in a Richard Thompson song, and it’s this ambiguity that makes the man’s songwriting that much more delicious.
Elsewhere, he snarls his defiance in the chugging “I’ll Never Give It Up”; ruminates on big life decisions on the lovely and airy “Take Care the Road You Choose”; and finds a thorny-yet-winning hook in the “nyah-nyah” melody in “Sneaky Boy”. Whatever the tempo or mood, the songs on Sweet Warrior are uniformly strong. His best set since 1999’s Mock Tudor, the new disc is among his most accomplished and is also immediately appealing. If you’re a lapsed Dickhead, Sweet Warrior would make for a great reintroduction to Richard Thompson. Likewise, should you require only one RT album per decade, this disc may well stand as his best of the 2000s. Or, if you’ve never before had the good fortune of having a friend implore you to listen to and love a particular Richard Thompson album, start with Sweet Warrior and work your way backward through his long and exceptional discography. Wow, are you in for a treat.