Richard Thompson – Acoustic Classics II

Richard Thompson – Acoustic Classics II

Whilst it was somewhat predictable that 2014’s Acoustic Classics would become than more a between-proper-albums stock-taking exercise for Richard Thompson, it seemed less likely that it would spawn a sequel set, let alone two, especially for someone still so prolific as a songwriter.  Yet here comes Acoustic Classics II, just ahead of the soon-to-follow Acoustic Rarities.  Although repeating the combination of bare unplugged band-free renditions from his decades-straddling songbook and painfully perfunctory packaging, Acoustic Classics II also delves a litter deeper and wider, to come up with something that warrants more than the cursory fans-only inspection that it initially seems to invite.

Although aesthetically the stripped-back voice and acoustic guitar set-up is largely the same as its name-sharing predecessor, Acoustic Classics II does add a bit of six-string and vocal layering in places to make for a slightly less austere overall presentation.  The back catalogue extraction choices do also step even further away from being just crowd-pleasing ‘hits’ minus the electricity.

Hence, Thompson again reworks songs that were once voiced by his two most heralded female foils – namely Sandy Denny during their overlapping stints in Fairport Convention and his former musical as well as romantic partner Linda Thompson – to find new dimensions channelled via his now more weathered and arguably warmer tones.  This means breathing a more mature reflective resonance into “Genesis Hall”, “Crazy Man Michael” and “Meet On The Ledge” from his early-Fairport canon and injecting greater yearning melancholy into “Jet Plane In A Rocking Chair” and “A Heart Needs A Home” from the years-with-Linda resurrections.

Another fruitful trajectory extended here is revisiting and paring back songs from the early-‘80s to late-‘90s that were once daubed in dated production polish and over-fussy group arrangements by the likes of Joe Boyd and Mitchell Froom.  Digging even more forensically into this part of his career yields a thorny tear through live staple “She Twists The Knife Again”, a sublimely spartan exhumation of “Pharaoh”, an almost madrigal-like makeover of “Devonside”, a balmy self-harmonising “Keep Your Distance”, a less laboured “Bathsheba Smiles”, a more rueful yet still quite faithful refashioning of “The Ghost Of You Walks” and a wearier more mournful “Why Must I Plead?”.

Beyond adding greyer hair to his seminal ‘60s/’70s wares and earthiness to once slickly-recorded ‘80s/’90s works, Acoustic Classics II leaves only a little bit of space for post-millennium material.  This gives us possibly the most definitive take on the misfiled “Gethsemane” (from 2003’s out of print Old Kit Bag LP) that seems to pack greater gravitas into its coming-of-age-to-growing-old narrative and a more bluesy bluegrass-tinged reading of “Guns Are The Tongues” (from 2007’s rousing war-themed Sweet Warrior) which is perhaps the album’s only really leaden transformation.

In lesser hands this could have been Stalinist rewrite of past highs and lows to make everything Richard Thompson has done seem great.  Acoustic Classics II is instead a self-effacing rapprochement with songs that have either been overheard, overcooked or overlooked, which stands up well alongside many of his best latter-day long-players.

Beeswing/Proper Records