Richard Thompson – Acoustic Classics

Richard Thompson - Acoustic Classics

Richard Thompson – Acoustic Classics

Despite the fact Richard Thompson has claimed that this new collection of fourteen acoustically-re-rendered old songs was cut primarily to cater for fresh-converts looking for a simple selection to pick up from his live show merch table – a point reinforced by the cheap tour-CD-like packaging – it’s hard to not suspect that there were other objectives at play.  For although Thompson has also suggested that these fourteen songs were chosen on the basis of being the most requested at his latter-day stage performances, the song selection doesn’t entirely read as either a straightforward ‘hits’ set-list or a hard-core fan’s wish fulfilment.

Instead, Acoustic Classics feels more like a reclamation exercise. For Thompson to repossess songs better known by the versions sung by former wife and musical partner Linda Thompson (such as “Down Where The Drunkards Roll”); to rescue songs whose official recordings are tainted by dated ‘80s production values (“Shoot Out The Lights”) or ‘90s Mitchell Froom polish (“I Misunderstood”); and to salvage songs that have slipped through the cracks in his vast back catalogue (“From Galway To Graceland”) or which can’t easily be gathered into a one disc set without crossing a lot of record label ownership rights hurdles.

Thus these bare-bones voice and guitar re-recordings are about Thompson reinvesting his own mercurial presence into some of his strongest material.  The results are pretty rewarding overall, even if the strictly unadorned arrangements might have occasionally benefitted from some counterbalancing extra instrumental layers.  Songs from the seminal Richard & Linda Thompson albums inevitably float to the top first; with a spirited “I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight,” a less watery “Walking On A Wire,” a languid bluesy “Shoot Out The Lights” and a cannon-fire-snare-drum-free “Wall Of Death” being amongst the keepers.

Lesser-heralded songs from his solo post-Linda career certainly benefit from the unplugged re-drawings too.  Hence, an unvarnished “I Misunderstood” is certainly a highlight, alongside a high-speed slide-guitar work-out of “Valerie” and a wistful bucolic “From Galway to Graceland.”  Even if it’s debatable whether it was necessary for a couple of his already acoustic staples to be re-recorded here too, it’s still comforting to have the sublime “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and the unapologetically romantic “Beeswing” included in here for well-measured familiarity.

Ultimately, the aims of Acoustic Classics matter little when for the most part the ensuing recordings hold up well for both pre-existing followers who can never get enough of Richard Thompson in his non-electric mode and for late-comers looking for a portable if somewhat unrepresentative starting point.

Beeswing/Proper Records