A mere two months after the release of Acoustic Classics II, Richard Thompson has given us a third collection of acoustic workings of music from his back catalogue. It’s quite a fitting way to continue to mark the fifty years since he co-formed the seminal British folk-rock band Fairport Convention.
A word about the title: Rarities often implies that it’s music that hasn’t really circulated because it’s offcuts, music that has been tucked away on b-sides, soundtrack albums or -God forbid – simply that it wasn’t really very good. In this case, put any such concerns to one side: he has amassed a number of great songs over time, and these songs are deserving of being heard, stripped down to voice and guitar.
If Bob Dylan can be considered the songwriter’s songwriter in America, then Thompson must surely be the frontline contender for the British title. A number of these titles have been covered by other artists previously -‘Seven Brothers’ by Blair Dunlop, and ‘Rainbow Over The Hill’ by the Albion Band. Six of the fourteen have been unreleased – and while all high in quality, they’re very different in approach. The album gets of to a rather dark and angry start with ‘What If’ and the reflective ‘They Tore The Hippodrome Down.’ The latter feels like a cousin to one of Muswell Hill’s other famous songwriter’s – Ray Davies of The Kinks, and their 1983 single ‘Come Dancing.’ There’s the humour of the ode to one of the most important inventors ever ‘Alexander Graham Bell’ and the very European sounding ‘I Must Have A March’ which sounds like it really should have been sung by Marlene Dietrich (except that she’s namechecked in the song) or by Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles in Cabaret.
Some of the tracks have been around for a while – there’s two tracks from the final Fairport album that Thompson appeared on, Fullhouse, ‘Sloth’ and ‘Poor Will And The Jolly Hangman.’ From the years with his then-wife Linda we get ”Never Again’ and ‘End Of The Rainbow.’ It’s not a hotch-potch; the reality is that an album that is almost entirely voice and acoustic guitar is powerful and commands your attention. If it had been written as an entire album it would still have worked.
Are there other Thompson titles I’d like to hear if he continues his acoustic series? To pick three out of the air: ‘Dry My Tears And Move On’ from Mock Tudor, ‘Roll Over Vaughan Williams’ from Henry The Human Fly and a version of Fairport’s Sandy Denny’s still astonishing ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ to name a handful – I’m sure every Thompson fan has their own ideas on what should be covered. Suffice to say, yet again, Thompson has produced an album that draws on his back catalogue and stands on its own merits.
Acoustic Rarities is out now