Richard Thompson, Sweet Warrior (Shout Factory, 2007)

Few people familiar with the music of Richard Thompson would dispute that he is not only one of rock's elite songwriters, but also one of its masters of both the acoustic and electric guitar. And yet, despite forty years of high-quality music under his belt, Thompson remains a well-kept secret. His determination to maintain a low profile has probably cost him a sizable amount of fame and fortune, but I'm sure he'd argue that it's also kept his music fresh. Thompson has kept busy well into his fifties as well, as he marks his third straight year with a new album out with his release of Sweet Warrior.

Sweet Warrior marks a return for Thompson to a full-band, electric sound after a couple of albums of mellower material. Like most Richard Thompson albums, most of the songs on Sweet Warrior revolve around love gone wrong, with some social commentary thrown into boot. Thompson doesn't normally get overtly political, but he makes an exception with the song "Dad's Gonna Kill Me," sung from the perspective of a British soldier fearing for his life in Baghdad. "Nobody loves me here," the soldier keeps repeating, conveying a convincing sense of constant despair. Musically, most of the album treads on fairly familiar ground; the lively rocker "Bad Monkey," for example, will remind long-time fans of "Tear-Stained Letter." "Francesca" provides a welcome change of pace, though, as Thompson shows he can handle a Jamaican rhythm. My favorite track is "Johnny's Far Away," in which Thompson sets a traditional-feeling song of infidelity to an edgy rock beat in a jig rhythm.

Sweet Warrior is par for the course, by Richard Thompson's standards. On one hand, this means that his fans will find plenty of songs to their liking, and plenty of cool guitar parts to try (generally without success, in my case) to figure out how to play. On the other hand, there's no real stand-out track likely to win Thompson many new fans, the way that songs like "I Feel So Good" and the classic "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" off the album Rumor and Sigh first grabbed my attention back in 1991. But if you're curious to hear what Richard Thompson sounds like, Sweet Warrior is a perfectly good place to start; just don't expect to stop there.

Overall grade: B+

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