OK… I’m a big Thompson fan (I have 65 albums by him – and I have a spreadsheet to keep count and so I can tell you that those 65 albums account of 81 physical discs) but we can try (and maybe try too hard just to prove our objectivity).
See above – this is Thompson’s umpteenth recording. It was advertised as an “electric” album, and Thompson had spent some time gigging with a good old-fashioned power trio before going into the studio, but just as his last “solo acoustic” album was neither, so this one has some tracks that don’t fit with the title and it’s implications, but you have to call a record something.
I bought the “de luxe” version of this album that has some out takes from the Electric sessions and some promo tracks from other recent Thompson albums. I tried to cook up a single album for my in-car listening with the bonus tracks inserted into the running order. Bzzzzt! I get the bucket of slime. Those bonus tracks are “bonus” for a reason – either they are unfinished or they don’t fit in well with the greater album. The bonus tracks are interesting, but the main album, with out any additions or sequencing “help”, is the better listening experience.
The producer is Buddy Miller, and he takes a different approach from the recent sonically squeaky clean Thompson albums, with the sound dirtied up – most noticeably on the drums. He also was responsible for bringing in the players that augmented Thompson’s trio, including bluegrass queen Allison Krauss who adds harmony vocals to “The Snow Goose” and ace Nashville fiddler Stuart Duncan who is excellent every time he gets a look in.
The most interesting tracks on the record are those that best fit the title – Thompson with his power trio (Taras Prodaniuk and the always excellent Michael Jerome). These suggest an interesting new musical direction for Thompson (he himself has, in interviews, jokingly likened it to a fusion of Judy Collins and Bootsy Collins) and after the release of this album he toured the trio long and hard. He’s long been an outstanding guitarist – indeed he first made a name for himself as a teenage guitar hotshot with Fairport Convention – and whatever else changes that doesn’t. He’s still a potent presence on guitar with real edge and energy in his playing (contrast him to Eric Clapton who sounds half asleep most of the time these days) and that shines through here. His performance is strong too and the energy and attack on tracks such as “Good Things Happen To Bad People” and “Sally B” is terrific (as are the guitar solos). But at other times it’s Thompson-by-numbers and the record flags a little on what would have been the B-side once upon a time.
But still Thompson looks forward. It may help that he doesn’t have much in the way of hits to fall back on and for his fans to demand. Too many 60s and 70s acts are now nostalgia shows churning out the same old same old. Thompson isn’t and has no super star past to trap him, so he can keep on moving, and he does.
A note about the guitar sound. That IS Electric. Unlike many 60s and 70s (and 80s and 90s) guitar stars Thompson’s never gone for a fat tone. That doesn’t mean that his tone is not of any import. Thompson is one of the most electric sounding electric guitarists – you can hear the volts and amps. And on this record he delivers brilliant tone – very sharp and attacking and quite, well, electrifying.