(Ed. Note: Important release from the past)

The Life and Times of Richard Thompson:
A Feast For The Eyes, Ears and Soul


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This review should come with a warning: Beware reader, you are about to read the ravings of a hopeless and helpless, misty-eyed sycophant. Enter at your own risk: That being established, here it goes.

If a Nobel Prize could be given for the best box set anthology in release, The Life and Music of Richard Thompson would win hands down. How's that for fan-like hyperbole? Spreading out over five CDs, it covers the years from 1971 to 2006 where Richard is still a dynamic and innovative force in popular music today. One of the clear highlights of this box-set is the demonstration of how hard-to-categorize Richard has become over the years. Is he British folk, American rock or a Celtic balladeer? For those who have recently been introduced to or the veteran fans who date back to the salad days of Fairport Convention, this anthology will prove essential in that it not only yields a valuable and engaging look at the artist himself, but like the best releases of the last 50 years, it opens the doors and windows of the music and songs the singer-songwriter, like a modern Pied Piper, leads us to. While many of his peers have had pockets of phenomenal success, seasons of retirement or creative dry spells, Richard Thompson has moved steadily ahead, consistently exploring and deepening the art of his music, lyric and performance style. He is the uncommonly rare songwriter's working man showing up to the job everyday for the last 40 years and he has yet to disappoint.

The measure of any box is the degree to which it encompasses the evolution and dimension of the artist's career. Few in the past have succeeded at this daunting task: Elvis' Elvis: The King of Rock n Roll-The Complete 50's Masters, Dylan's Biograph and Hank William's Complete Singles come to mind. But, where these classics succeed, The Life and Music of Richard Thompson has outdone them all by throwing out the box-set blueprint, and like the singer-songwriter himself, comes up with an entirely original package for the fan and the curious.

By way of comparison, The Band's Music From Big Pink and The Basement Tapes relate strongly to this compilation of music over the past near 40 years. The themes and music dig into the roots of both British and American experience. Being an artist who has traveled both shores, he shows such a variety of influences, it's sometimes staggering. Highlighting this is the Rarities disc which pulls from early and rare recordings. Indeed, there are times when the rawness and the sheer joy of the Celtic and American music, has the feeling of listening to old recordings. This is musical discovery at its finest. There is no attempt to sound like anyone else, rather he reaches deep into his soul and imagination to come up with songs of such unusual and unique themes.

Each individual CD is themed in a different way. None are chronological. Instead he opts for themes like essential songs, epic live workouts, covers and sessions, and rarities. Be assured, if you're a fan, there will be enough to merit the purchase and to engage your interest in the rare studio and live reinventions of never-before-heard collectable recordings.

Beyond all of this, the most fascinating aspect of this set is the clear evolution of a talent who has consistently chosen art over pop success. The CD that may attract the most attention is, Finding A Better Way, which draws on songs voted to be essential by Richard's league of life long fans. Rather than choosing the originally released recordings of songs like I Feel So Good, Down Where The Drunkards Roll and Wall of Death, alternative studio and live versions of the songs have been included.

In terms of studio polish, this CD stands out from the rest of the alternate takes and live CDs. But, as those who attended last month's L.A. Acoustic Music Festival can testify, live performance is where he does his magic to the song and his virtuoso guitar work, leaving the audience on their feet. His live performance are, as the live CD states, a work out with the musician taking the audience with him with sometimes surprising results.

The live CD, Shine in the Dark, a rare highlight in Night Comes In recorded during a 1991 reunion of Fairport Convention. While the cover CD includes traditional folk like Shenandoah or classic rock like The Who's My Generation, this listener found a bizarre fascination with a cover of Britney Spear's Oops, I Did It Again. This shows his strength as an interpreter of songs in as much as he makes it his own thus, in this old folkie's humble opinion, vastly improving the song. This song was included from his show, 1000 Years of Music.

Special mention should be made of the informative, artistic and entertaining accompanying book by Nigel Schofield. If anyone has earned a PhD. in Richard Thompson's life and music its Schofield. It includes excellent archival photographs. Also included is a biography, a detail analysis of his albums, a song by song commentary covering every disc and set lists from many of Richard's shows over the last few decades.

By the end of this phenomenal anthology the listener will walk away with a deeper appreciation for this Richard Thompson no matter the level of admiration you began with. Calling him a renaissance man is an understatement. Since 1970 he has been digging to the depths of traditional music forms and emerging with his brand of song. Listening to these CD's one hears the ghosts of William Blake, Segovia and Muddy Waters. But it all is uniquely Richard Thompson.

The best dimension of The Life and Music of Richard Thompson is rather than being a record company generated anthology with an eye toward record sales only, the given special attention to what would most interest and please his audience. Like his live shows, this connection is in full force with this release. And certainly this is the essence of true folk music.

The Life and Times of Richard Thompson contains:

CD1: Walking the Long Miles Home - Muswell Hill to L.A.

CD2: Finding Better Words - The Essential Richard Thompson

CD3: Shine In The Dark - Epic Live Workouts

CD4: Songs Pour Down Like Silver - Covers and Sessions

Slip-Cased Bonus CD5: Something Here Worth More than Gold - Real Rarities

Full- color book

Terry Roland is an English teacher, freelance writer, occasional poet, songwriter and folk and country enthusiast. The music has been in his blood since being raised in Texas. He came to California where he was taught to say ‘dude' at an early age.