Richard Thompson has been the archetypal critics' favorite since his days with Fairport Convention in the late '60s and early '70s, a guitarist of obvious skill and originality who brings the fingerpicking prowess of folk to electric rock and, increasingly, a literate songwriter whose songs, by turns droll and dour, are sung with authority, but he is also a man seemingly incapable of making any sort of peace with broad commercial appeal. But then, why should he, when record companies have lined up to release his work, even if they ultimately cut him loose after failing to get his account into the black? Thompson has successively signed to large independents Island and Chrysalis (when they were independents), then to major imprints Polydor and Capitol. Beginning in 1988, his Capitol sojourn has been the longest, spanning more than ten years and five regular studio albums, three of which actually nudged into the lower reaches of the charts. Publicity materials for this compilation of that material do not spell out whether he is still signed to Capitol, but the label does seem to be putting some effort into promotion. Certainly, Action Packed is not your typical best-of kiss-off, but rather a well-considered collection drawing on some of the most impressive recordings of Thompson's later career as well as including rarities (the new-to-CD tracks "Mr. Rebound" and "Fully Qualified to Be Your Man" and a previously unreleased live duet between Thompson and his son Teddy on "Persuasion," a lovely song Thompson co-wrote with Tim Finn). Thompson's Capitol catalog has been uneven occasionally, especially because of the inappropriate production style of Mitchell Froom on some of it, but by gathering together the best of each of his albums, Capitol here demonstrates that, especially as a songwriter, he has frequently matched the uncompromising style of his early work, particularly on "Turning of the Tide," "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," "I Misunderstood," "I Feel So Good," and "Beeswing," songs imbued with his dark, folk-informed sensibility, yet buoyed up by his stirring guitar work. If Action Packed marks the end of Thompson's latest label affiliation, it makes a good tombstone; if it is only an interim report, it demonstrates that his talents are undiminished.
Action Packed: The Best of the Capitol Years Review
by William Ruhlmann