Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Pour Down Like Silver - Richard and Linda Thompson

Pour Down Like Silver
Richard and Linda Thompson
Island Records ILPS 9348

I had the good fortune to catch Richard Thompson close out his Electric Trio tour at the Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood last May.  It was a real treat to see the great man rocking out with a power trio - I'm not kidding about that, they even did a convincing cover of Cream's "White Room."  He also reached into the past to perform "For Shame of Doing Wrong" off this album.  It was his fourth album after leaving Fairport Convention and his third album as a duo with his then wife, Linda Thompson.  It was the second album of Thompson's that I bought, I picked it up in an import bin at a Berkeley record store around 1980.  When I saw the cover, I was shocked.  I had read that the Thompsons had embraced Sufism, but I didn't know exactly what that was.  Then I saw this album and there was my hero looking more like a blue-eyed Arab mystic than an English rocker.  I was pretty dismayed.  I wasn't anti-Muslim (although with the Iran hostage crisis still fresh in my memory I wasn't particularly pro-Muslim either) but I was trying to shake loose from my own religious upbringing and here was my idol jumping off the deep end into religious zealotry.  It upset me nearly as much as Dylan's recent (at the time) conversion to Christianity.  I bought the album anyway and when I gave it a spin I was reassured because it sounded a lot like Thompson's secular music.  It is permeated with religious spirituality but contains no overt religious references.  There is no trace of the preachiness or sanctimony that made Dylan's Christian records so hard to swallow.  In fact the opening number "Streets of Paradise" would fit quite comfortably on his earlier albums "Hokey Pokey" or "I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight."  It is driven by a slow stately riff powered by the Fairport rhythm section of Dave Pegg and Dave Mattacks and colored by John Kirkpatrick's accordion runs.  The song is full of Thompson's typically sardonic humor as he sings about a poor man contemplating his future in paradise.  "For Shame of Doing Wrong" is a heartbreak song sweetly sung by Linda.  The song's downbeat lyrics are countered by an upbeat, almost cheerful melody.  Kirkpatrick dominates the song until the end where Thompson lays down some tasty guitar licks that end all too soon for my liking.  "The Poor Boy Is Taken Away" is the grimmest song on the album.  It is a bleak heartbreak song full of hopelessness achingly sung by Linda with minimal instrumental color aside from Thompson's mandolin and acoustic guitar.  Side one ends with the magnificent "Night Comes In" which is one of the more spiritual songs on the album.  It is full of evocative imagery and deep feeling but there is no explicit mention of a deity.  Thompson's heartfelt vocal expresses feelings of redemption but it is vague enough that the redemption could just as reasonably be coming from love as it could from religion.  It features Thompson's most impressive guitar playing on the record.  He starts out playing lovely decorative figures but as the song builds in strength he picks up energy delivering heavier runs.  It reminds me of his great work on "Sloth" on Fairport's "Full House."  (There is a tremendous live version of "Night Comes In" on his "Guitar, Vocal" album.)  Side two kicks off with "Jet Plane in a Rocking Chair" which is easily the most upbeat song on the record, a joyous love song that is rather unusual in Thompson's typically dark oeuvre.  The charming lyrics are jointly delivered by Richard and Linda and the tune features more instrumentation than most of the other songs on the album.  The comparatively stark "Beat The Retreat" is more typically Thompsonian.  It is a song of defeat and surrender.  I presume that Thompson is singing about returning to his God, but again the song is vague enough that it could be interpreted to mean returning to a loved one or a family.  There is no trace of piety in "Hard Luck Stories" which is vintage Thompson as he rips into a whining acquaintance with great vigor and humor.  It is one of the nastiest songs he's ever written.  Linda delivers the lyrics with plenty of invective that is slightly leavened by the amiable melody led by Kirkpatrick's perky accordion playing.  Religion returns for "Dimming of the Day/Dargai" which ends the album on a somber note.  "Dimming of the Day" features a powerful, emotional vocal from Linda supported by spare instrumentation that focuses one's attention on her quavering voice.  The lyrics express neediness and a desire for support in highly poetic terms.  They are clearly directed at a person, but I suspect that Thompson is finding his solace in a higher power.  The song is linked to "Dargai" which is a gorgeous solo guitar instrumental that is credited to Thompson on the album, but it is adapted from a mournful fiddle tune by Scottish composer James Scott Skinner.  It provides a somber, but beautiful coda for the album.  I think this is one of Thompson's best albums although it can't match the consistent greatness of "I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight" or the drama and dynamic tension of "Shoot Out The Lights."  It is subdued but all the music is memorable and I don't think Thompson has ever made such a heartfelt and plaintive record.  I'm not spiritual but I respect spirituality in others when it is sincere and intelligent and it doesn't get much more sincere and intelligent than this.  This album has an aura to it, it is remarkably atmospheric and moving.  It also has a feeling of finality to it.  After recording this album the Thompsons withdrew from the commercial music world and lived on a Muslim commune in England.  It would be three years before they would release a new album.  Recommended to people who think that "John Wesley Harding" is a more spiritual album than "Slow Train Coming."

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