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DVD/Video/Film Reviews

Richard Thompson Band: Live at Celtic Connections

By Published: March 17, 2012
The rest of Thompson's band comes from more recent encounters, though drummer Michael Jerome has been touring with Thompson for over a decade, and was also on the guitarist's last DVD, Live from Austin, TX (New West), released in 2005 but recorded four years earlier. Any drummer filling the shoes of past Thompson drummers like Gerry Conway and Dave Mattacks has a challenge ahead of him, but with credentials ranging from The Blind Boys of Alabama and John Cale to Taj Mahal and k.d. lang, Jerome proves capable of finesse on the balladic first encore, "Take Care of the Road You Choose," also from Sweet Warrior, to the unfettered freedom of "Can't Win," the electric guitar workout from 1988's Amnesia that becomes an early highlight of the group's second set here, with Thompson seeming to climax again and again, each time finding yet another peak to attain. Zifkin's background with Kate & Anna McGarrigle—with whom Thompson intersected in the 1970s through The Albion Band—might suggest greater strength in acoustic material like the jazz-informed "Al Bowlly's In Heaven" and trad-centric "One Door Opens," but he's just as capable of incendiary support and soloing on the zydeco-flavored "Haul Me Up." Bassist Taras Prodaniuk's C.V. links him with the country/alt-country scene, having played with Jim Lauderdale, Dwight Yoakam and Lucinda Williams, but his fretless work on "Al Bowlly" and the dark ballad "Stumble On" suggest a broader purview.

The primary emphasis of the Celtic Connection's performance is on Thompson the electric guitarist, and he continues to combine the visceral bends of unsung Uilleann pipes hero Billy Pigg with a surprisingly oblique and distinctly non-pentatonic approach to even the most rocking-and-rolling guitar histrionics—like Mark Knopfler, perhaps, through a jagged prism. Thompson is a rare electric guitarist whose language is so rich that he can manage long solos without ever resorting to cliché, while appreciating the value of every note in more limited space. Where so many guitarists posture, with facial exaggerated facial expressions, Thompson is almost dead-still; and with so many guitarists taking themselves too seriously, Thompson often has his musical tongue firmly planted in cheek, with musical quips popping up when least expected to mirror his similar wit when addressing the crowd.

For those missing Thompson the virtuosic acoustic guitarist—with only a brief acoustic segment featuring "One Door Opens" and "Al Bowlly's" during the main set—two bonus tracks from the 2011 Cambridge Folk Festival help fix that Jones. "The Uninhabited Man," one of the best tracks from Mock Tudor (EMI, 1999), and a modern day sing-along sea-song, Sweet Warrior's "Johnny's Far Away," may have been first heard in full-blown group arrangements, but Thompson's particular strength is his ability to make his songs sound absolutely complete when delivered with nothing but a single guitar and voice.

With a slew of box sets and retrospectives about Thompson in recent years, it might seem that his career is winding down, but with new albums like Dream Attic and incendiary live performances like Live at Celtic Connections, it's no leap to suspect that not only does he have plenty left to say, but the best may well, indeed, be yet to come.

Tracks: The Money Shuffle; Among the Gorse, Among the Grey; Haul Me Up; Burning Man; Here Comes Geordie; Demons in Her Dancing Shoes; Big Sun Falling in the River; Stumble On; Sidney Wells; A Brother Slips Away; If Love Whispers Your Name; The Angels Took My Racehorse Away; Can't Win; One Door Opens; Al Bowlly's in Heaven; I'll Never Give It Up; Wall of Death; Tear Stained Letter; Take Care of the Road You Choose; A Man in Need. Bonus tracks, recorded at 2011 Cambridge Folk Festival: Uninhabited Man; Johnny's Far Away.

Personnel: Richard Thompson: guitar, vocals; Michael Jerome: drums, background vocals; Taras Prodaniuk: bass, background vocals; Pete Zorn: guitars, flute, saxophone, mandolin, background vocals; Joel Zifkin: violin, mandolin, background vocals.

Running Time (feature): 132 minutes. Running Time (bonus): 11 minutes.

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