Richard & Linda Thompson / Richard Thompson

First Light

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After three years spent deeply pursuing their involvement in the Sufi Muslim faith, Richard & Linda Thompson returned to the recording studio in 1978 with First Light, and several of the songs clearly dealt with the couple's spiritual quest, most notably "Sweet Surrender," "Layla" (no, not the Eric Clapton hit), and the title song. However, Richard Thompson's grasp of worldly matters wasn't quite as sure as his perspective on Allah at this juncture, and the opening track, "Restless Highway," is one of the few songs in his catalog that sounds like a throwaway. The rest of the album's material was a good bit better, but one senses that Richard was still getting back on his feet in the studio; Linda's vocals are a lot stronger on this set, and Richard's usually fleet-footed guitar work is unusually subdued. Just as significantly, for First Light the Thompsons' usual band of British folk all-stars was augmented by Willie Weeks on bass and Andy Newmark on drums, a pair of first-call Los Angeles session heavyweights, and though they play with their usual effortless skill, their attempt to inject a country-rock undertow into Richard Thompson's very British melodies ends up pushing many of the performances into a strange middle ground that isn't especially interesting. The performances on First Light generally lack fire and personality, and several fine songs (most notably "Pavanne," "Died for Love," and "Don't Let a Thief Steal Into Your Heart") never really connect here as a result. Only on the penultimate track, "House of Cards," does this album really come alive; First Light is a long way from bad, but it's easily the least essential release in Richard & Linda Thompson's catalog.

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