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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 10, 2006

British folk-rocker releases music legacy

Detroit Free Press

Multitalented singer and songwriter Richard Thompson's box set spans more than 40 years of his work. Each of the five discs features a different aspect, ranging from Fairport Convention days to his solo career.

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"RT: The Life and Music of Richard Thompson" by Richard Thompson; Free Reed

English folk-rocker Richard Thompson gets a much-deserved box-set tribute on this stunning five-CD collection, which also includes an equally impressive, exhaustively annotated 170-page booklet.

It's inexplicable that a musician as multitalented as Thompson has never attained much beyond a devoted cult following in this country. His supple guitar playing regularly puts him near the top of critics' polls, besting the likes of Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, while his whip-smart songs, full of wit and insight and propelled by his sonorous baritone, are things of dark beauty. From his early days as a founding member of the essential '60s progressive folk band Fairport Convention to his 30-plus years as a solo artist, Thompson has been one seriously talented musical force.

This 85-track compilation was lovingly put together with the full cooperation of Thompson, who also gives an enlightening interview in the booklet. Amazingly, nearly all the music is previously unreleased, including alternative versions of familiar material as well as unheard original songs.

Each of the five discs chronicles a different aspect of his work, beginning with "Walking the Long Miles Home Muswell Hill to L.A.," autobiographical songs and other observations of true-life events. Setting the tone is "Now That I Am Dead," a caustic observation that belongs to the everybody-loves-you-when-you're-gone mode.

"Finding Better Words the Essential Richard Thompson" has 17 favorites as selected by fans, including "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight," "Tear Stained Letter" and "1952 Vincent Black Lightning."

"Shine in the Dark Epic Love Workouts" is delightful, and so is the guilty-pleasure "Covers and Sessions" disc, with Thompson trying on everything from the Who's "Substitute" to, yes, Britney Spears' "Oops I Did It Again" and punker Plastic Bertrand's "'a Plane Pour Moi."

"Real Rarities" is mostly aimed at aficionados and loaded with outtakes and such, although no one should miss the hysterical closing track "Dear Janet Jackson."

This set is sure to thrill Thompson devotees, but novices will probably first want to listen to some of his original classic albums, including "Shoot Out the Lights," "Mock Tudor" or the very recent "Front Parlour Ballads."

All of them will whet your appetite for this five-course meal.

Martin Bandyke

"Let Me Sing" by Annie Ross; CAP

Anyone looking for a soundtrack for Valentine's Day should consider the latest from veteran Annie Ross. Not because of the pristine beauty of her voice at 75, Ross sings with a weather-beaten rasp that bespeaks of several lifetimes of experience and the dues along the way.

But as she half-speaks her way through "Embraceable You" and "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," shadowed by a first-rate cast of New York jazzers, the honest swell of emotion and confessional intimacy becomes almost overwhelming.

She may have aged, but her craftsmanship remains sharp only a jazz singer with Ross' impeccable sense of time could pull off such deliberate tempos or the slow walking swing she adopts on "Just Friends." Ross reminds us that love isn't a Hollywood confection; it's real life with real adversity, real loss, real laughs and, if you're lucky, real triumph.

Mark Stryker