CD: Richard Thompson - Acoustic Classics II Another unplugged journey around the old master's ba
Alternative versions of familiar songs, it seems, have never been more popular. The better the composition, the more they reveal new depths. That was how fans and critics saw Richard Thompson's first volume of Acoustic Classics - a kind of unplugged retrospective of his unique song-craft. It was so well-received that Thompson has now produced a sequel, Acoustic Classics II, which casts an even wider net to include the Fairport Convention era.
The album begins with "She Twists the Knife Again" from 1985, one of Thompson's most bitterly eloquent numbers. This new arrangement possesses an intriguing nervy quality. But it's also the only track on the album where the words are noticeably better than the melody. More satisfying is "Why Must I Plead?", the other big break-up number. The original was an almost-perfect evocation of romantic jealousy. This version may not scale those heights but, boy, when Thompson sings "You've been sitting on his lap and taking his dictation" you can't half feel the sting.
The real heart of the album, though, comes from earlier in RT's career. "Jet Plane in a Rocking Chair" and "A Heart Needs a Home" from the Linda period evoke spiritual self-discovery through the language of romantic fulfilment. These new, bright and uncluttered arrangements have a sense of wonder that makes the world seem a bigger and more exciting place. The Fairport songs are darker and deeper. Thompson imbues "Meet on the Ledge" with a particularly other-worldly sense; whilst the ballad of "Crazy Man Michael", the story of a man tricked into killing his true love, features one of the singer's finest folk vocals.
The rest of the album contains some less obvious choices. "Gethsemane" and "Bathsheba Smiles" remind us of a rock-guitar style Thompson employed about a decade and a half ago. "Devonside" updates a ballad from Hand of Kindness with a kind of "Beeswing" feel. Of course some fans might have preferred the inclusion of classics like "Cooksferry Queen" or "Turning of the Tide", but, in truth, the track list is much more coherent than a simple Best Of. With a back catalogue as rich as Thompson's, there's plenty of room for many more volumes to come.