Richard Thompson

Across a Crowded Room

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Richard Thompson's 1985 album Across A Crowded Room (his first album for a major label since Sunnyvista in 1979) stylistically picked up where his previous set, Hand Of Kindness, had left off, and while it didn't break much in the way of new ground, it also found Thompson doing plenty of what he does best -- writing great songs and playing a lot of electric guitar. Across A Crowded Room takes a slightly more subtle approach than Hand Of Kindness; the arrangements have been pared back a bit (there are fewer horn charts, and John Kirkpatrick's accordion is sadly absent), and Joe Boyd's production is roomier and more atmospheric, making the most of the album's broader soundscape. But for the most part Richard Thompson's formula remained the same here, and if that makes it sound like he's just treading water, that might be the case for an artist less consistently remarkable. "When The Spell Is Broken" and "Ghosts In The Wind" find Thompson revisiting his favorite theme, love gone awry (the latter boasting a beautifully delicate, ethereal arrangement), while "Fire In The Engine Room" and "Little Blue Number" are unusually hard-rocking numbers with Thompson laying into the songs fast and frantic. And "Love In A Faithless Country" is a striking sketch of love under difficult circumstances that recalls nothing so much as George Orwell's 1984. There aren't many musicians who could make an album as strong as Across A Crowded Room and have it sound like business as usual, but given the consistent strength of Richard Thompson's body of work, this set sounds fairly typical ... and typically splendid.

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