Richard & Linda Thompson

Richard & Linda Thompson

The Best Of: The Island Records Years

A&M/Universal

Not quite as groundbreaking as his work with the influential Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson’s early solo years — where he shared billing with his wife of the time, Linda Peters — provided many fine moments, sixteen of which are available in this tasteful, 78-minute single disc compilation. Since the duo only recorded three albums for Island from 1974-1975 before being given the heave-ho due to sluggish sales, this disc is missing tracks from three additional releases recorded for Hannibal Records. Unfortunately, one of them is the indispensable Shoot Out the Lights, an unqualified masterpiece that often turns up on critical shortlists of the best albums ever recorded. However that is such a well-conceived disc that it needs to be listened to as a whole, and is an essential addition to anyone’s library.

Still, there are many terrific tracks here. The duo mesh traditional English folk melodies with electric instrumentation, in particular Richard’s technically astounding guitar work, to produce shimmering songs of beauty and sadness. The predominantly melancholy mood, and downbeat tempos drag this collection down, but taken individually the songs are quiet gems. Linda’s voice is lovely and husky, similar to a British Linda Ronstadt, doing justice to some of Thompson’s most affecting and poignant songs like “A Heart Needs a Home,” “For Shame of Doing Wrong,” and the classic “Dimming of the Day,” a tune Thompson still performs in concert. Accordions, flutes, and organ add extra muscle, but these songs are so powerful and well written, they would sound just as good played only on acoustic guitar.

The compilation’s most head-turning highlights occur when Richard (too seldom) lets loose on guitar and unwinds with evocative solos so perfectly conceived and brimming with drama and passion, you wonder why he’s not as well respected as the showier, but arguably less talented Eric Clapton. Both the eight minute “Night Comes In,” and the album closing live “Calvary Cross,” which clocks in at a whopping 13 minutes, will leave your mouth scraping the floor as Thompson’s classy guitar solos weave and snake through the songs, finally attacking with barely controlled fervor.

The albums these cuts have been compiled from are not only spotty, but also are either out of print or extremely difficult to find, making this an fundamental addition to any Richard Thompson fan’s collection.

Universal Recods, 1755 Broadway, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10019

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