Although he remains, in his uniquely mordant manner, a wordsmith comparable to Leonard Cohen at his most drolly effective, there are often times I wish I didn’t understand the language in which Richard Thompson sings. I’d love, just once, to experience the shivery drama that Thompson imparts solely through the tone of his dark-night-of-the-soul voice and the Wagnerian drama of his extraordinary electric guitar. Avoiding the common practice of live albums (too often resulting in a predictable boatload of revisited classics) Thompson ushers in fresh material on Dream Attic, the majority of which can stand without shame alongside his most memorable recent work. His decision to record live was, Thompson admits, an ultimately futile attempt to cut down on costs; the payoff came in the brutally effective intensity of the performances.
Thompson goes to lengths to prove that he can temper the gloom and doom in ravers like “Bad Again,” and “Demons In Her Dancing Shoes,” although even the uptempo stomps “Haul Me Up,” and the corrosive Bernie Madoff vivisection of “The Money Shuffle” can’t block out the dark clouds that Poor Richard always detects on the horizon. In that murky vein, it’s the peeking-into-the-abyss ballads that provide the lasting thrills. “Stumble On,” “Burning Man,” “If Love Whispers Your Name,” and “A Brother Passes On,” confront loss, mortality and the daily grind. This is Thompson at his penetrating best, his storm-infused voice suggesting world weary toil while also acknowledging last ditch efforts of perseverance. Yet, for inspiring existential chills, the titanic guitar solos on “Crimescene,” “Haul Me Up,” “Sidney Wells,” and “If Love Whispers Your Name,” each brimming over with Celtic fury and dotted with psychedelic frenzy, work more fully than words.