If one were to ask whom we regard to be the greatest living songwriter working within a traditional idiom, PW has an answer ready-made: Richard Thompson. With all due respect to Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, etc., RT is the man. What is even more astounding is the fact that he is simultaneously one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time, whether on acoustic or electric. Well do we recall one of our old compatriots in Buckdancer’s Choice listening to one of his live recordings and insisting that two guitarists were playing. (There weren’t.)
Despite having a career that extends back to the ‘60s, RT has always swum just below the surface of mainstream acceptance. 1991’s Rumor and Sigh, however, not onlygot him some commercial attention, but also a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Album (he, and Nirvana’s Nevermind, lost out to R.E.M.’s excellent Out of Time). The list of great songs on Rumor and Sigh is awe-inspiring: “Read About Love,” “I Misunderstood,” “Keep Your Distance,” “I Feel So Good.” Then there’s the solo- acoustic-and-voice “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” a ballad in traditional form with some of Thompson’s most impassioned singing and writing.
Prog bona fides? None, to the best of our knowledge. But listen to the five distinctive sections in the first minute of opener “Read About Love,” and you might get a sense for how this begins to Define Possibility. RT has the ability, while working largely within traditional forms, to do something surprising and genre-pushing while at the same time maintaining a Rush Line* at all times.
Lastly, we must admit to ripping RT off in the guitar solo at the end of “New Song”: it may not sound like it, but the modal drone and the half-step bends are completely derived from his playing.
RT looking very dapper on the David Letterman show:
*In the amazing Behind the Lighted Stage documentary, one of the dudes in Death Cab for Cutie mentions that Rush songs always seem to have a straight line running through them, such that even those who are not musically savvy can latch on and follow a song, no matter the twists and turns. We think that this is a fantastic image and have shamelessly coopted this observation with the term Rush Line. We hope that it catches on.