Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Hand of Kindness - Richard Thompson
Hannibal Records HNLP 1313
I saw Richard Thompson perform with his power trio at the Levitt Pavilion last summer. It was a typically fantastic show and for me the highlight was his rocked up performance of "Tear Stained Letter" which was the lead track on this album. We were all singing along with him having a blast. That prompted me to pull out this album and give it a few spins having not heard it for several years. It still sounds terrific. Actually I have to admit when I first heard it back in the 1980s I was a little disappointed. It was issued in the wake of his break-up with Linda Thompson, his wife and musical partner. I missed Linda's voice and the music lacked much of the drama and intensity that characterized his preceding album, the classic "Shoot Out The Lights." Over time I succumbed to its many charms and now it is among my favorites in his extensive catalog. Like its predecessor it features a reunion of the "Full House" line up of Fairport Convention minus Dave Swarbrick: Thompson, Simon Nicol, Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks and producer Joe Boyd. My favorite track is "Tear Stained Letter" which is a propulsive country rocker driven by John Kirkpatrick on accordion and Pete Zorn and Pete Thomas on saxophone. Thompson offers up some rockabilly style guitar solos that are smoking hot. The song is about the travails of breaking up and heartache. It is tempting to interpret this as a response to his marriage breaking up but Thompson has always written about this sort of stuff. "How I Wanted To" covers the same territory but without the humor and without the beat. The song is slow and mournful, notable mostly for Thompson's heartfelt vocal and ringing guitar lines. "Both Ends Burning" is a jaunty tune about a race horse. The song is highlighted by Kirkpatrick's accordion and the honky-tonk sax solos at the end of the song. The redoubtable Fairport rhythm section drives the vindictive "A Poisoned Heart and a Twisted Memory" which is a majestic folk-rocker with a very strong vocal from Thompson. I love his howling guitar solo at the end of the song. Side two begins with "The Wrong Heartbeat" which has a riff that reminds me of a 1960s English beat group sound with a ska flavor as well. "Hand of Kindness" sounds like an outtake from "Shoot Out The Lights" with its dark hypnotic groove and cutting guitar sound as well as its desperate lyrics. It is another one of my favorite tracks and features more dynamic guitar work from Thompson on top of a rock solid foundation from Pegg and Mattacks. Very compelling stuff. "Devonside" is an even darker song although the music is more upbeat. It is a fatalistic portrait of a pair of doomed lovers that displays Thompson's gift for evocative and poetic lyrics. The song features a lovely fiddle solo from Aly Bain. The album closes on a humorous note with the rollicking "Two Left Feet" which is a folk-rock dance tune with a Cajun flavor which features some memorable playing from the two Petes on sax and Kirkpatrick on his accordion as well as some all too brief electrifying runs from Thompson himself. It gets me bopping big time and give the record an exhilarating finish. If you are a Richard Thompson fan, this is an essential record and if you are not a fan, you should be. Great guitar playing, strong vocals, brilliant songwriting, what's not to like? Recommended to people who think "Full House" would have been a better record if Thompson had been singing lead instead of Dave Swarbrick.