Hippo Manchester
September 8, 2005

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CD Reviews
by
Dan J. Szczesny

Richard Thompson

Front Parlour Ballads

***

Richard Thompson’s first acoustic release of all-original material finds him trading the guitar brilliance of his early work for an emphasis on storytelling and lyrics.

As such, Front Parlour Ballads may disappoint fans not expecting such a stripped-down approach, but those fans need to listen closer.

Thompson plays nearly everything on the album but the music is merely accompaniment to the stories and the mood. From the Victorian atmosphere of such tunes as “Cressida” to the traditional English folk balladry of “Row, Boys, Row,” Thompson bares his writing soul.

The result is mixed only by self-referential standards. One or two songs on the album feel like throwaways, “For Whose Sake” with its repetitive chorus or the deeply felt but ultimately smarmy “My Soul, My Soul” for example.

Like any good balladeer, the vast majority of Thompson’s songs on “Front Parlour Ballads” are droll and stately and deal with remorse, unrequited love and desperation.

For example, on “Old Thames Side,” Thompson defends falling in love with a simple girl. The deceptively simple arrangement, accompanied by a chorus charged with longing, makes this an easy classic and the best on the album.

Front Parlour Ballads is an album to be listened to; the songs can be read as poems as easily as lyrics. It’s heartening to know that after four decades, Thompson’s knack for songwriting is as strong and polished as its ever been.