Richard Thompson

Front Parlour Ballads

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As a live performer, Richard Thompson has become nearly as well known for his dazzling solo acoustic performances as he has for his blazing full-band electric sets, but he hasn't displayed nearly as much enthusiasm for the acoustic guitar in the studio, usually limiting himself to one or two non-electric tunes on each of his albums (though 1996's You? Me? Us? features one disc of electric performances and another of acoustic material). Front Parlour Ballads marks Thompson's first full studio album of acoustic-oriented material since 1981's Strict Tempo!, and unlike that album, which was dominated by traditional material, this set features a bakers' dozen Thompson songs. Thompson also recorded and produced this set all by his lonesome in his home studio, and while the man has always shown good taste in collaborators, Front Parlour Ballads reveals how bright he can shine on his own. With the possible exception of the jaunty opener "Let It Blow" and the bitter "A Solitary Life," these elegantly constructed songs sound as if they would gain no aural advantage through bigger and louder arrangements, and the spare production allows the beauty of the melodies to shine through unfettered. While there's less flash in Thompson's guitar work on Front Parlour Ballads than on many of his albums, this restraint makes for a very powerful beauty of its own, especially in the counterpoint of the overdubbed guitars, and Thompson's vocals here are as effective as anything he's ever recorded as he allows his Britishness to run free in his lyrics. Front Parlor Ballads is built from modest stuff, but the finished product is as strong as anything Thompson has recorded in the past ten years; while this album supposedly began as an experiment as Thompson tested out some new recording gear, the results make it clear he shouldn't be afraid to spend a bit more time there, as this is a low-key triumph.

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