FLAC | LINKS
The mood of Richard Thompson’s “Austin City Limits” appearance is pervasively professional– not like a legend going through the routine again for a few fast bucks, but like a man whose livelihood just happens to be writing and performing complex, intelligent songs. On the 15 tracks collected on the souvenir album, Live From Austin TX (as if you need to qualify Austin with a state name), he plays guitar with an efficiency that’s almost corporate, deploying melodic filigrees that downsize all but the most crucial notes and draw on a highly personal style enriched by Celtic and folk traditions, American rock and jazz, and even a little reggae. To redirect the business metaphor slightly: On this CD, Thompson could be a guitar salesman demonstrating his product. See how simple it is to sound like three guitars at once. Now you too you can mimic a banjo or a slide guitar in your home or office.
In other words, Thompson makes it all– the gamboling solos; the booming vocals; the often humorous, biting lyrics– seem so easy. That’s both the attraction and the flaw of this live album: its technical proficiency is amazing, but at times a little cold. This isn’t really Thompson’s fault, but an unavoidable logistical circumstance, as his recorded appearance episode ran well beyond CD capacity. Almost all of his stage banter (which was minimal to begin with) has been excised to squeeze in as many songs as possible. Even then, the nearly eight-minute, show-closing “Put It There Pal” had to go too. (The full concert is available on DVD.)
Thompson played “Austin City Limits” in July 2001, just four months after his Capitol Records best-of, Action Packed, marked the end of his 11-year tenure at the label. So the bulk of the tracklist comes from that era, with particular attention to 1999’s underrated Mock Tudor (too bad “Cibella”, a personal favorite, wasn’t included). Backed by an equally professional rhythm section– Michael Jerome on drums and Danny Thompson on stand-up bass– Thompson opens with a jubilantly defiant version of “Cooksferry Queen”, about a suburban businessman in love with an inner-city hippie, then follows it up with a starkly intense “Uninhabited Man” and a bouncy “Walking the Long Miles Home”. But the highlights of the first half of the set predate Mock Tudor: “All Bowlly’s in Heaven” is a dark jazz lament, and “Mingus Eyes” sounds desperate and fittingly duplicitous.