Sound — 7
This album by husband and wife duo Richard and Linda Thompson features the couple as lead singers. Linda sounds as amazing as ever. Richard's vocals are rough but I believe that's what's appealing about him: everyone wants to hear him play guitar and we don't really care about his vocals... they're alright, I guess, and are definitely amazing at complimenting his wife's.
When it comes to instruments, the Thompsons are accompanied by Fairport's rhythm guitarist, Simon Nicol, as if Richard wasn't enough talent for one album. The session musicians were carefully chosen. John Kirkpatrick returns on accordion and concertina, after taking part of the Thompson's first album and would later be joining them as part of their live band.
Lyrics — 9
Richard Thompson writes every song on this album except for the closing track: Mike Waterson's "Mole in a Hole". Richard manages to keep as depressed (at least lyric-wise) as on the last album, touching subjects as deep and varied as living the easy life, prostitution, breakups, and I believe, oral sex, only this time he does it in an almost playful way. The melodies are fun even tough they might be touchy subjects.
Linda is the actress, as usual: the conceited girl, the depressed ex girlfriend, the brave girl in love. She always plays the part to perfection. Her voice drags you into each song's terrible emotions and her complex timings make of this experience a magical thing.
Overall Impression — 9
It's always hard to compare the Thompson's albums. I believe they are more magical than Sandy Denny's solo efforts; the Fairport's were now a fiddle-led folk rock band and Ashley Hutchings and Shirley Collins were reinventing the folk gender. I always felt Gay & Terry Woods were sort of like the Thompsons: folky, warm, emotional, self penned but sometimes traditional-sounding. Still Gay & Terry Woods never did something as remarkable as a Richard & Linda Thompson album (¿maybe The Woods Band LP or Backwoods?). So in comparison, I believe the Thompsons compete only with themselves. I like this album better than Bright Lights and Henry the Human Fly in that I feel it's more varied (not all depressed-all the time).
The standout tracks are:
1) Hokey Pokey: The title track is fun, sung by Linda, silly instrumentation, very playful and I'm pretty sure the song is about how cool it is to... (how do I put it without getting banned?) pleasing a man with your mouth.
2) The Egypt Room: The instrumentation gives this track an ancient egyptian feel. It's about a prostitute or an exotic dancer. Richard sings lead an there's no Linda.
3) Georgie on a Spree: It's another fun-sounding-song about a negative subject (the easy life, living on wealth I think). The story is one of my favorites. Linda "plays" the girl.
4) The Sun Never Shines on the Poor: Cool song with weird lyrics. Sung by Richard with Linda joining in on backing vocals for the chorus. Used to be one of my favorite songs ever.
5) A Heart Needs a Home: Weird that I add it as a standout since I hate this version. Whenever they performed it live it's just Linda on vocals and Richard on guitar and backing vocals and it's magical. The album version relies on piano and complex arrangements which I believe destroy the song.
6) Mole in a Hole: the closing track written by Mike Waterson, sung lead by Linda and Richard helping on backing vocals. Silly instrumentation again, beautiful playful lyrics. The perfect closer.
I love the way Richard learned to show his emotions through more uptempo songs. It's OK to be more sober, like on Bright Lights, but it can be quite heavy to listen to dark lyrics and slow tempo songs, specially since Linda's vocals carry you along with whatever emotion they're trying to show. In contrast, Hokey Pokey is easy to listen to.
Of course, something else I adore is to have Linda Thompson as a singer. That could make any album more glorious. I hate what they did to "A Heart Needs a Home," though. Just a guitar and the couple on vocals was more than enough for those wonderful lyrics. I'd definitely ride my llama to any corner of the world to get this album in case I lost my CD.