Richard Thompson has been making good to brilliant albums since Fairport Convention cut their debut in 1967, but anyone who knows his music well can tell you he's also a masterful live performer whose music takes on a greater sense of color and relief whenever he performs in front of an audience. Having released a number of limited-run live discs through his website, Thompson seems to be keenly aware his fans like hearing his live work documented for the ages, and with Dream Attic he's moved to the next logical step of recording an album of new material in concert. Dream Attic documents a run of seven shows Thompson played on the West Coast in February 2010; he and his band played a 13-song set of new songs each evening, along with a second set of fan favorites not included on this disc. Since this album was pieced together from a number of different concerts, it doesn't always capture the ebb and flow of one single show, and while some songs end with hearty applause, others are sliced off before the fans can start cheering, which makes for disorienting listening, sometimes reminding the listener this is a live album and sometimes easing away from it. But Thompson and his band clearly feed off the energy and enthusiasm of a live audience, and Dream Attic captures them sounding capable, confident, and eager to show the crowd what they can do. The recording strategy works best on the songs where the band rocks out (like the anti-Wall Street screed "The Money Shuffle," the plea for survival in "Haul Me Up" or the modern-day murder ballad "Sidney Wells"), while a few of the quieter numbers sound like they might have fared better within the intimate confines of the studio, such as "Among The Gorse, Among The Grey" and "A Brother Slips Away" (though the satiric "Burning Man" and the haunting "Crimescene" work very well indeed). Nevertheless, Thompson's vocals and guitar work are superb throughout, with his soloing near the top of his game, and his band (Pete Zorn on guitar and sax, Joel Zifkin on violin and mandolin, Taras Prodaniuk on bass and Michael Jerome on drums) are tight and intuitive, knowing what to make of the songs and giving their leader all the muscle and smarts he needs. Like most live albums, Dream Attic is more about the playing than the material, which is a bit different from the way a new Richard Thompson set works, but when it captures a band this good playing with this authority, that's hardly anything to fret about.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming