Literate rocker Richard Thompson's new album, Sweet Warrior, is a return to his classic electric sound, his first plugged-in album since 2003's The Old Kit Bag. Filled with 14 songs of stories of loss and betrayal, the album also contains one of Thompson's most overtly political songs to date, "Dad's Gonna Kill Me," told from the perspective of a nervous young soldier stationed in Baghdad (abbreviated as "Dad" in the song). Richard Thompson is a consummate singer, songwriter, and guitarist. His career stretches back to the late '60s, when he was a founding member of the British folk-rock Fairport Convention. In the late '70s, with his then-wife, Linda, he recorded Shoot Out the Lights, which regularly makes critics' lists of the best records of all time. In the '90s, he experienced another career renaissance with the album Rumor & Sigh and he remains an elder-statesman of alternative rock.
Back in the '80s and '90s, Richard Thompson could be depended upon to release a well-crafted collection of Celtic-influenced folk-rock every few years. But when he left Capitol after 1999's Mock Tudor, Thompson headed off on side projects, all of typically high quality, but not the solo albums his established cult expected. Those fans can now rejoice, because on Sweet Warrior Thompson roars back with his first electric set of originals since 2003, and it's a winner. As the disc's title implies, he revisits the familiar territory of love as a battlefield in these 14 originals. The concept is emphasized by a liner photo of the singer/songwriter in army gear and camouflage flanked by two beautiful women planting kisses on either cheek. Supported by longtime backing cohorts, the guitarist adds to his six-string talents with occasional mandolin, autoharp, accordion, and even organ, all used as icing on a cake of tunes that further refine his established style. Perhaps the most startling song is the viciously anti-war "Dad's Going to Kill Me," about a soldier stationed in Baghdad (the "Dad" of the title), wondering if he will survive another day. "Guns are the Tongues" finds Thompson telling the tragic tale of a young man enticed by a woman's charms ending up as a suicide-bombing terrorist. Thompson's dramatic guitar solos are kept on low boil, occasionally bubbling up but never hogging the spotlight. They are, along with his distinctive vocals, actors in a play of characteristically classy tunes that will thrill Thompson's fans, who have been waiting for just such a set of literate and challenging music from a musician who never delivers less. --Hal Horowitz
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