3.5 stars (out of 4)
In 2010, the great British guitarist Richard Thompson released a live album of new material, "Dream Attic," recorded with his touring band. The album was among Thompson's best because it directly addressed a quibble that ardent fans would raise about some of his recent material: that it could be a little too polite and refined for its own good.
Thompson fanatics, especially those familiar with his tenure in the pioneering folk-rock band Fairport Convention during the '60s and with wife Linda Thompson in the '70s and early '80s, valued his ferocity and invention as a guitarist as much as his singing and songwriting. In recent decades, the guitar at times served the songs almost to a fault, as if Thompson were too modest for his own good. "Dream Attic" was looser and rougher than the guitarist had been in quite some time, a timely reminder that Thompson could still let it rip, and "Electric" (New West) follows suit.
Recorded in Nashville with kindred spirit Buddy Miller producing, "Electric" retains the core of the Thompson touring band from "Dream Attic," a "Celtic power trio," as Thompson calls them. Not that everything is all out, all the time. The album might more accurately be titled "Eclectic" rather than "Electric," because the material ranges from autumnal folk ("Another Small Thing in Her Favour") to hard-rock stomp ("Stuck on a Treadmill"). Drummer Michael Jerome and bassist Taras Prodaniuk bring the thunder when needed, but also can be sensitive accomplices. A few ringers add fiddle and female harmony vocals that evoke the Celtic and Scottish folk melodies in Thompson's musical DNA.
The quieter material, such as the melancholy "Salford Sunday" and the surprisingly poignant "My Enemy," seems even more devastating when set against the twisted ferocity of "Stoney Ground," the garage-rocking "Straight and Narrow" and the wicked "Sally B." Thompson's guitar contains multitudes, the raunchiest riffs morph into spiraling solos that suggest Scottish bagpipes, Eastern sitars or the backward psychedelic effects of "Revolver"-era Beatles. It ends on an acoustic grace note, "Saving the Good Stuff for You": "I've seen trouble from every direction, my old head is peppered with gray," it begins, and then holds out the possibility of new beginnings when one least expects it.