Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Richard & Linda Thompson Twofer

Do I need to apologize for my absence? Probably, as I have taken the largest hiatus from this blog in the five years that I been writing. I’ve been going through some changes in my life in the recent past and will be involved in more in the next several months – more on that later. Part of the problem is that I’ve not been too inspired to write, but I have been collecting songs to feature during my vacation of sorts.

Well, let’s get down to brass tacks and have a Twofer feature from Richard and Linda Thompson. Last week, I was listening to Pandora and was reminded of a tune from the then married couple of Richard and Linda Thompson from their final album together – “Shoot out the Lights” from 1982.

The title, perhaps prophetic of their marriage, is the antithesis of their first album together as husband and wife – “I Want to See the Bright Lights” from 1974. The former album’s moniker was full of hope, while the latter’s identity was “what’s the use.” Was this a history of their marriage? Perhaps, but I hesitate to say for sure. Interestingly enough, both albums achieved critical acclaim and are considered the best works by the duo and some of the best work featuring Richard Thompson. It’s hard to argue against this.

Wall of Death

For today’s Twofer, will go in reverse order and feature a 1982 cut and then round up with one from 1974. While R.E.M. recorded a version of “Wall of Death,” there’s no comparison with the original by Richard and Linda Thompson. The song champions the carnival attraction where a person would ride a motorcycle on the inside of a cylinder, which was often constructed as a pit. Centripetal force keeps the motorcycle from falling.

While Linda Thompson sings the harmony lead, “Wall of Death” is almost a Fairport Convention reunion. Richard sings lead and plays lead guitar, he is joined by Simon Nicol on rhythm guitar, Dave Pegg on bass, and Dave Mattacks on drums. Even Fairport’s producer, Joe Boyd, was brought in to produce this classic song and album. Although the subject matter is unusual, “Wall of Death” has all of the elements of hit record.

Down Where the Drunkards Roll

“I Want to See the Bright Lights” was not released initially in the US – which was unfortunate in 1974. I always loved the cover of this album. Much like Fairport’s “What We Did on our Holidays” unusual artwork that depicted a blackboard assaulted by the band, “I Want to See the Bright Lights’” cover photo included a back lit glass with the album’s title scrawled in the condensation. While both albums made it for American release, neither retained their original titles nor their artwork.

“I Want to See the Bright Lights” eventually made it these shores in 1978 as disc one of Richard Thompson’s double album “Live! (More or Less).” “Down Where the Drunkards Roll” is my favorite cut on the album and features lead vocals by Linda Thompson. Folksinger Royston Wood contributes the low vocals.

Richard plays guitar and electric piano. I am not sure there is any bass or drums on this cut – if so they are down in mix – otherwise the acoustic guitar is covering both the low end and the rhythm. The crowning addition to this tune is Simon Nicol’s Appalachian dulcimer. Good stuff from Linda and Richard Thompson.

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