Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., Dec. 8, 2006
RT: The Life and Music of Richard Thompson (Free Reed)
The perfect Richard Thompson box set would feature his beginnings with pioneering British folk band Fairport Convention, his work as a sideman with artists like Sandy Denny, then an overview of his solo work, including a healthy helping of his ex-wife Linda. It would stress his uncommon talents as a guitarist and songwriter by spotlighting his studio albums, but also contain some marvelous live performances, with rarities to accent Thompson's ability to entertain. Sadly, that box set doesn't exist. Instead, the true fanatics at UK label Free Reed, with Thompson's blessing and assistance, had a grand time plowing his archives. Of the 85 tracks spread over this 5-CD set, 29 have never been released in any form and 46 are previously unreleased versions of some of his best-known material. Sound quality varies throughout, from obvious audience recordings with the accompanying annoyances to what sounds like inferior MP3s. Still, a haunting solo rendition of "I Misunderstood" and a deliciously rambunctious band take of "Crash the Party" would be included in the perfect RT box. The accompanying 172-page book, and the essay within, is a disorganized mess, filled with typographic errors and factual inaccuracies. (KLRU is not a radio station and Syd Straw never played "grunge.") Many complained about the sprawling nature of the other RT box, 1993's Watching the Dark (Hannibal). It wasn't perfect either, but the myriad problems with this RT make the earlier collection easier to recommend.