There are two sides to Richard Thompson, and both of them are on brilliant display on Mock Tudor . Thompson’s last full solo album, 1996’s you?me?us? , demonstrated his split personality by dividing the two disc set between acoustic and electric songs. Unfortunately, the gauzy production of Mitchell Froom (with whom Thompson had worked since Daring Adventures in 1986) obscured some otherwise worthy songs in rustic-sounding musical environs. Froom and engineer Tchad Blake either tend to get things just right (Ron Sexsmith, Crowded House) or go off the deep end (Thompson’s overly-ornate Mirror Blue in 1994, some of Los Lobos’ ’90s output).
Fortunately, producers Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Beck) get things right from the get go on this one. They keep the focus on the songs and use subtle background vocals and appropriate instrumentation to provide the platform for Thompson to do his thing. Opening raveup “Cooksferry Queen” is the sound of Thompson having more fun than he’s had in years. “Bathsheba Smiles” sounds a bit like a slowed-down version of “Razor Dance” from you?me?us? , but with a stronger chorus. “Hard On Me” is a “Shoot Out the Lights”-style electric guitar workout. “Two Faced Love” is like early Mark Knopfler. And “Sights and Sounds of London Town” is an acoustic gem in the mold of Thompson’s classic “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” from 1991’s Grammy-nominated Rumor & Sigh .
Thompson takes a cue from his 1997 project with longtime double bass player Danny Thompson, Industry , by making Mock Tudor sort of a concept album. The songs are divided into three sections: “Metroland,” “Heroes in the Suburbs” and “Street Cries and Stage Whispers.” And the album is dedicated to “the suburbanites of London.” But the characters and musical colors here will be familiar to anyone who has spent any time listening to Thompson over the course of his three decade long career. And coupled with the strong performances and solid production, they should be welcomed by both longtime fan and newcomer alike.
Capitol Records, 1750 N. Vine Street, Hollywood, CA 90028-5274