Richard Thompson - Sweet Warrior 
Music Disc Reviews Audio CD
Written by K L Poore   
Saturday, 01 September 2007

format:    16-bit CD
performance:    10
sound:    10
released:    2007
label:    Beeswing Music
reviewer:    K L Poore

So McCartney’s divorce album is a caffeine-enriched dud, SUM 41 just doesn’t add up, and you think Garbage’s Greatest is an oxymoron (or maybe not). May I politely suggest that you lay your hard earned cash on the line for Richard Thompson’s Sweet Warrior?

I’m really working the soft sell here, and attempting to hold back my glee, because Richard Thompson, an artist who won my never-ending support years ago, has put out his best damn release ever!!! CAN YOU TELL I’M EXCITED? Sorry. I guess I promised not to do that. And double apologies to my ever-so-understanding editor and proofreader for the caps. But, damn it, I’m overjoyed.

Since I own just about everything he’s put out (except the instrumental CD from a couple of years ago, why’s that?), and you may know that from past reviews, it’ll probably be easy for you to write this off and recycle it into the round Hyperbole File without a second thought. That, my friends, would be your loss, and I can’t be held responsible.

With production as pure as any in the digital age, a mix as balanced as a tightrope walker, and a collection of 14 songs as eclectic, humorous, musically adventurous, thematically current, sad, and devastatingly excellent as can be imagined, Sweet Warrior should fulfill the desires of Thompson’s fans longing for a release as satisfying as Shoot Out the Lights, and for everyone else this is great music as relevant as today’s newspaper.

Still not convinced? Then I’m not certain my declaring that Sweet Warrior is a collection of songs about battles of the heart, war, and combinations of the two, will do the job either. So here are “14 Points for People Who Need Even More Reasons Why Richard Thompson’s Sweet Warrior is One of the Best Releases of 2007.” Think of them as Zeke’s Floatin’ Bait for the aurally inclined.

1) The syncopated guitar riff that opens up “Needle and Thread” may force you to leap about like a wet finger’s been jabbed into your ear, but it is merely a gateway to a treasure of a song about romantic obsession and human resilience. “Going to thread up my needle and then/gonna sew my soul back together again.” What a grand opening.

2) While listening to “I’ll Never Give It Up,” focus on Danny Thompson’s stand-up bass until you reach the two minute mark, where Richard lets loose with a guitar flurry that could have him burned as a witch in some cultures.

3) “Take Care the Road You Choose” is as poignant a song as you’re likely to experience, and a prime example of how the combination of words and music can evoke emotions so strong that you’re transported to moments you believed long past, never to be visited again. In that transported-to other world, this song is played on the radio every 30 minutes, and each time it plays you wonder what ever became of so-and-so.

4) A song about divorce from a male point of view that’s funny, sad, and hits the mark? “Mr. Stupid.” The title says it all. Listen for Judith Owen’s harmony vocals; she sounds like she means it and it makes the song even more frighteningly humorous.

5) If the soldiers in Iraq actually had the opportunity to hear “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me,” it would probably become their official theme song (Dad being Baghdad). This song is painful and eye-opening, and Thompson should be ushered directly into the songwriter’s hall of fame for the lyric “Dad’s in a bad mood, Dad’s got the blues/It’s someone else’s mess that I didn’t choose/At least we’re winning on the Fox Evening News.” Set to a throbbing beat over shuffling drums, it seems amazing, and perhaps a shame, that more songwriters aren’t looking at the world through his eyes.

6) While listening to “Poppy Red” you can’t help but wonder who the protagonist of the song is, and how his love came to die in the field where red poppies now grow. Is it a tale of Afghanistan? Is it with obsession -- or sadness -- that he sings? Repeat listens only pose more questions that remain with you like blood on your hands.

7) At 3:43 of “Bad Monkey” Thompson lets loose with an extended solo that’s as playful and humorous as the lyrics. It pokes and prods over the chord changes until finally melting into the backing horn stabs. But if you listen closely, it’s still there, driving the song to its conclusion. There are very few guitarists who can play a solo with as much feel, and even fewer who could dream the damn thing up.

8) “Francesca” boasts a skanking reggae beat, a decidedly unreggae vocal approach, and a “Scarlet Letter” story of a woman done wrong. It’s a song that will have you reaching for that “five sheeter” before you even realize what he’s singing about. The inherent sadness of Thompson’s music is making its way to the forefront and you barely even notice.

9) There’s so much good going on in “Too Late to Come Fishing” that it’s almost impossible to single out any one thing. But in this tale of the “chump” who has hooked up with a TV queen only to see the shine disappear off her fabulous career, listen for the penny whistle as it dances through the chorus. Has there ever been a sadder noise? That Thompson plays it himself only means that there’s one more thing he does better than most humans. We mortals should feel jealous.

10) The bridge is the finest moment in “Sneaky Boy.” With a bite and bile that you could only imagine coming out of Roger Waters’ pen, Thompson sings, “Spleen of Mammon, spleen of Midas/now you scold us, now you chide us/Mammon lung and Midas liver/now you sell us down the river.” I don’t know if he’s singing about a real person, or it’s just another part of the overall theme of Sweet Warrior, but I’m glad I’m not the subject. A song that, up until that point, showed only flashes of anger bares its teeth and startles you into going back to listen again.

11) My other half says that I shouldn’t be allowed to listen to songs in waltz time because I’m sucker for them. “She Sang Angels to Rest” proves it. As she walks past my office and smiles without speaking, I know what’s going through her head. Literally one of the saddest and most heartbreaking love songs ever written, it will take you back to that summer long ago and the love you lost. Once again, music and emotion are married in a way few artists can pull off.

12) You don’t find many sea shanties on rock records these days, or ever (XTC’s “Yacht Dance” is about as close as I can get), but sure enough, Thompson gives us “Johnny’s Far Away.” A tale of infidelity, both home and away, it makes your skin crawl and an unconscious sense of moral superiority rise up right behind the goose bumps. With vocals that sound like they’re being sung from the windswept deck of a sailing ship, you get the feeling the first line should be, “Call me Ishmael."

13) The combination of violin and amazing guitar solo at 4:13 only make this movie of a song all the more unbelievable. “Guns Are the Tongues” is the brilliant and disturbing tale of a child car bomber who dies in the end because he doesn’t want to scrape his knees. Everything about it is powerful and it’s a song only Richard Thompson could write and sing. In one of the finest instances of folk infiltrating rock, he takes us to a place few others can. “Guns are the tongues, Little Joe/the only words we know/the only sound that'll reach their ears.” The words bring a shudder, and memories of “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me” drift sadly into your thoughts.

14) Thompson saves the best for last with “Sunset Song.” Love and life are merely a second hand moving around the clock, and days go by. With the tick tock of stick against rim and a shimmering classical guitar, he plays the part of the traveling musician who says, “With you or without you, love/I must be moving/never meant to linger here so long/With you or without you/though it breaks my heart, to hear the Sunset Song.”

Although these 14 reasons are just a sampling of why Sweet Warrior is one of the best CDs of the year, I hope you won’t just take my word for it and you’ll make the purchase and experience it for yourself. I know I’m right, because I’m still overjoyed to be listening to it after having it on repeat for days. It will make up for McCartney’s record, I swear.

Sound
Sweet Warrior is a marvel of modern recording. The instrumentation is clean, the mix perfectly balanced, the vocals warm when it’s called for and expertly processed on the few occasions where needed. The drums are crisp and you can hear the wood in the stand-up bass.

There are huge numbers of artists out there, huge I say, living in the Pro Tools world who’d be greatly served by listening to, and studying, this recording, in order to discover what music sounds like when it’s done right.

I drove all over Long Beach with this little beauty blaring out of my car and I’d like to take a moment to thank the LBPD officer who merely motioned for me to turn it down instead of giving me a ticket. It’s a surprisingly good road record and the lad working the window at In-N-Out liked it too.

Thompson’s voice and solos are front and center, and all you guitar aficionados will be very happy to know that can hear every note of every solo. That doesn’t mean you’ll be able to play them; it just means you’ll have something to slow down and shoot for. If he decides to release this in a 5.1 version, I’ll be first in line. I haven’t been this Richard Thompson-happy since I heard “Calvary Cross (Live)” for the first time. Enjoy!







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