Monday, September 13, 2010

Attic of My Dreams: Richard Thompson's Dream Attic

Richard Thompson's Dream Attic calls up the familiar sounds of Fairport Convention: an eclectic mix of instruments with just enough American blues and Celtic jigs to compliment one another, and it’s probably no fluke. As a result, Thompson gives way to the ensemble rather than his extended guitar solos. (The band features Pete Zorn on flute, saxophone, mandolin and acoustic guitar. Joel Zifkin is prominent on violin and the rhythm section features electric bass player Taras Prodaniuk up front in the mix.)  As one of the most unique and interesting players in music, Thompson makes his short solos count within the context of the song. This is evident on "Demons In Her Dancing Shoes," a tightly arranged sea shanty about the girls of Chapel Street in London. Thompson does stretch out on the moody “Crimescene,” but it’s a short, pointed solo expressing the blood and darkness of a murder.

Thompson's songwriting is very strong on this live recording of all-new compositions. He sounds confidant, focused and has conducted the band with verve allowing the musicians to add colours to each and every song. Dream Attic, which was recorded live at various venues in the United States, opens with “Money Shuffle” an uptempo number that takes shots at bank executives who “can’t find your money if you want to … I’ll save my arse and skip the country.” While Thompson feels the strong need to comment on the econonic downturn, this song is immediately followed by the beautifully optimistic Celtic ballad, “Among the Gorse, Among the Grey.” Gorse is a flowering tree that grows in Scotland. It symbolizes growth, vitality, vibrancy, light and intelligence. The gospel-country song “Haul Me Up” tries to gather all those energetic forces with an overabundance of spiritual help but it doesn’t seem to be working: “Haul Me Up, the furies are screaming/I’m kicking so hard that I’m still falling.”

Dream Attic features a complement of Celtic ballads, love songs ("Stumble On," "If Love Whispers Your Name") and character studies ("Sidney Wells") and it's the strongest record Thompson has put out in recent years. Dream Attic is full of the subtle humour and great guitar-licks for which he has become widely known. Now in his 61st year, Thompson also sounds better than ever. But it’s too bad that this live recording doesn’t feature any of his clever introductions. Perhaps he thought they would take some of the edge off this set of new songs. The band hits the road in the United States and Europe with concerts scheduled for October and November. Judging by the results of Dream Attic, those dates should be a dream indeed.

-- John Corcelli is an actor, writer, musician and theatre director.

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