It seems after more than four decades of record-making, Richard Thompson has decided he prefers to have a musician in the producer's chair rather than a studio wiz. After producing himself since 2005's Front Parlour Ballads, Thompson recruited fellow guitar ace Buddy Miller to oversee the sessions for 2013's Electric, which featured some of Thompson's best six-string work in years. Two years later, Thompson has returned with Still, which finds him working with another songwriter of note, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. The sessions for Still were recorded at the Loft, Wilco's personal recording studio and rehearsal space in Chicago, and Tweedy and Jim Elkington (who has worked with Eleventh Dream Day and Jon Langford & Skull Orchard) sit in on some tracks. Though the sound and approach of the album is a shade more ambitious and adventurous than much of Thompson's work in the new millennium, rest assured this sounds very much like a Richard Thompson album, spare and clean and allowing his songs and guitar work to take center stage at all times. One of the best things about Still is that Tweedy clearly respects Thompson enough to stay out of his way, and the intimacy of numbers like "Josephine" and "Beatnik Walking" capture a feel that suggests you're sitting in the room with Thompson and his rhythm section (Taras Prodaniuk on bass and Michael Jerome on drums). And when the production does add some layers to the songs, they complement the material nicely, such as the spectral keyboards on "Broken Doll." Thompson sounds both comfortable and confident on Still, playing and singing with incisive force while maintaining a natural feel that recalls the man's legendary live shows, and songs like "No Peace, No End," "Patty Don't You Put Me Down," "Broken Doll," and "Dungeons for Eyes" show Thompson remains a peerless songwriter. And if closer "Guitar Heroes" stops and starts too much to keep up its momentum, hearing Thompson put his own spin on the style of his favorite pickers -- including Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, and Chuck Berry -- is a hoot. If fans were wondering if Jeff Tweedy would turn Still into Thompson's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the news (good or bad) is that Tweedy helped Thompson make just the sort of album that's made him one of our greatest legacy artists, and it's an example of why Thompson is still worth hearing 43 years into a career that shows no signs of stopping.
by Mark Deming