Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., Sept. 11, 2009
Richard ThompsonRichard Thompson: Walking on a Wire (1968-2009) (Shout! Factory)
Anthologizing Richard Thompson finally got it right. First came 1993's Watching the Dark. With odd sequencing and many previously unreleased tracks, some rejected it. 2006's RT from UK folk label Free Reed was an unruly five-disc mess for obsessives only. Walking on a Wire does what a box set should: presents the artist's music in mostly chronological order while shining a light on the English songwriter-guitarist's most important work and best-loved songs, unraveling why his musical literature merits this 4-CD overview and all the others. Thompson's recorded career begins with pioneering British folkies Fairport Convention, given short shrift here with only five tracks, although the mighty "Sloth" still shakes the rafters. Rightly his work with wife Linda is expanded upon heartily. Their 1982 swan song Shoot Out the Lights takes center stage with the startling drama of the title track. From there it's almost all solo work, with Thompson's magnificent guitar-playing (catch the incendiary solo on the seeming throwaway "Valerie") and, at times, wry, often hard-hitting stories marrying folk, jazz, rock, and the occasional waltz into a truly alternative, unpredictable, absorbing whole. Thompson biographer Patrick Humphries offers a splendid snapshot of the story behind the music in his liner notes, and the remastered sound is crystal clear. With nothing in the way of previously unreleased material, Walking on a Wire won't tempt completists, but for neophytes and fans alike, it's a treasure chest of some of the most exceptional songwriting and musicianship of the past 40 years.