Richard Thompson

Across a Crowded Room: Live at Barrymore's 1985

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After Shoot Out the Lights (1982) and Hand of Kindness (1983) transformed Richard Thompson's audience from a tiny cult into a medium-sized cult, he landed a new record deal with Polydor Records, and his first album for the label, Across a Crowded Room, arrived in 1985. This was a time when a growing number of music fans were upgrading their video setups and labels were issuing home video releases on their leading artists, so someone at Polydor got the idea of producing a long-form video of Thompson in concert. A show at Barrymore's, a club in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, was shot with a multi-camera setup and saw release in 1985 in tandem with Pioneer Artists under the title Across a Crowded Room. However, in the United States the concert only appeared on laserdisc, never an especially popular format, and it quickly went out of print, becoming a much sought-after item among Thompson's fans. In 2019, Real Gone Music finally gave the Across a Crowded Room video a re-release...sort of. Across a Crowded Room: Live at Barrymore's 1985 delivers the audio if not the visuals from that 1985 performance, and captures Thompson and his band in great if not exceptional form. The recording and mix sound a bit hollow, as if Thompson and his band are far away from one another on a huge stage, and this performance lacks some of the fire of the recordings that circulate of the Hand of Kindness Big Band that toured in 1983 and 1984. But bringing Clive Gregson and Christine Collister into the road band was an inspired choice; their harmonies are superb, and their rhythm guitar work fills up the sound while leaving plenty of room for Thompson's typically excellent leads. Bassist Rory McFarlane and drummer Gerry Conway are a rock-solid rhythm section, though Conway's playing is noticeably more colorful than McFarlane's. On the night, Thompson was kind enough to let Collister and Gregson each sing lead on a song; while their numbers were edited from the laserdisc release, they appear here, and Gregson's "Summer Rain" is an especially strong performance, with Thompson's guitar subtly accenting the melody. Though the set predictably focuses on material from Thompson's most recent albums, "For Shame of Doing Wrong" and "Withered and Died" are welcome additions to the set, while the band tears through the fast numbers (especially "Fire in the Engine Room" and "Tear Stained Letter") with joyous abandon, bringing the show to a big finish. It would have been nice if the Across a Crowded Room video had been given a second chance on DVD, but Across a Crowded Room: Live at Barrymore's 1985 is a more than reasonable substitute, and it offers another opportunity to hear one of the greatest guitarists in the world work his magic in his natural environment, in front of an appreciative audience.

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