First Impressions: Richard Thompson, “Still”

stillThe album title comes from the first song, “She Never Could Resist a Winding Road,” and it denotes an absence of motion, not necessarily the passage of time: “To not be standing still’s where she belongs,” we are told of the song’s central character, though its best line comes a few beats later: “You say you love her, and she don’t doubt you/ But she could learn to live without you.” It’s a song about perpetual movement, the ravages of restlessness, the dark side of wanderlust, but the music suggests Richard Thompson hasn’t strayed far from his roots; he’s a folky at heart, and the song has the lilt and close-to-the-bone verbiage of a Celtic ballad. When you expect fiddles to come in and carry it home, electric guitar licks uncoil instead. Thompson’s folkie proclivities are illumined more explicitly in the next song, “Beatnik Walking,” an acoustic travelogue and a musical biography that cracks gentle jokes without dipping into self-parody: It’s knowing, it’s wisened by age, but it’s not unserious. As a songwriter Thompson is precise with his language and committed to his characters, even when he’s knowingly playing with archetypes. The gal in the first song is the quintessential wanderer, but the sadness of the song convinces you she’s a real person; “All Buttoned Up” is a nasty song about a dirty tease, and “Long John Silver” is probably a metaphor but doesn’t quite close the door on the possibility that it really is about the famous pirate. The song that’ll get the most attention is “Guitar Heroes,” a borderline gimmick not just for its title but for Thompson’s note-perfect six-string impressions of Django Reinhart, Les Paul, and Chuck Berry; it doesn’t quite have the cohesion to work as a rock and roll song but it does work as a bit of theater, because Thompson’s impressions are… note-perfect. The song that should get the most attention, though, is “No Peace, No End”—because it’s such a vivid and empathetic treatise on hopelessness, something Thompson’s always conveyed well; because, like everywhere else on the record, Jeff Tweedy’s production is warm and clear; but mostly because of that guitar, man.

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