RICHARD THOMPSON > Walking on a Wire: Richard Thompson (1968-2009)

Neither 2006’s mammoth five-disc box of mostly acoustic rarities nor 1993’s three-platter, non-chronological set-overburdened with live performances and unreleased studio outtakes-made the grade for a comprehensive overview of Richard Thompson’s long, storied and rather confusing recorded legacy, at least for those who didn’t already own most of his albums

Label: SHOUT! FACTORY
Rating: ★★★★★

Neither 2006’s mammoth five-disc box of mostly acoustic rarities nor 1993’s three-platter, non-chronological set-overburdened with live performances and unreleased studio outtakes-made the grade for a comprehensive overview of Richard Thompson’s long, storied and rather confusing recorded legacy, at least for those who didn’t already own most of his albums. That has now been rectified with this four CD, 71-track compilation. It doesn’t quite span the titular years (the newest songs are from 2007’s Sweet Warrior), but effectively cherry picks material from 15 different labels spread across dozens of occasionally difficult to find side projects, soundtracks and solo albums.

The result is, not surprisingly, a sprawling opus. It focuses on Thompson’s eclectic artistry both as a dark spirited writer of generally morose, yet feisty songs, that occasionally veer to self-flagellation, and his stunning acoustic and electric guitar proficiency. Those sides have typically sparred for critical prominence, which provides a healthy yin-yang to music that revels in its artist’s inherent dichotomy.

Thompson’s early years with Fairport Convention are somewhat under-represented with only five songs, but not so his six mid-‘70s/‘80s albums with ex-wife Linda Thompson, which account for nearly a full CD’s worth of arguably his finest material. It’s here that Thompson’s gruff yet expressive voice finds a near perfect foil in Linda’s sympathetic husky trill, a union that exploded, and unraveled, with the tension evident in the couple’s white-knuckled personal and professional swansong Shoot Out the Lights.

Mitchell Froom’s overly fussy, slick studio work with Thompson has often been criticized, but the best songs from the producer’s mid-‘80s through mid-‘90s years yielded plenty of quality material, boiled down to about a CD’s worth on this collection.

The compilers have successfully woven the diverse colors of the singer/songwriter’s rootsy traditional U.K. folk, rock and pop palette, uncovering dusty gems and a few rarities while stretching the canvas to explore the many faces of Thompson’s multi-sided personality. Neophytes to his extensive discography finally have a one stop smorgasbord to sample the man’s expansive accomplishments before diving into individual releases for further exploration, all of which are guaranteed to provide additional delights.