Another year, another album from RT and how can we possibly complain? New tunes from the world's most underrated songwriter who just happens to be the world's finest guitarist (says me) will be forever welcome. Having said that, I have to admit to finding 2005's all acoustic affair, Front Parlour Ballads, a little disappointing. Many of Richard's fans will have been hyper-keen to hear the man alone with his guitar again but the songwriting, whilst good by most standards, struck me as being too 'Thompson-By-Numbers' and much of the album was too downbeat for even this most die-hard of RT fanatics. Does his new one, Sweet Warrior, provide sweet relief? I'm much relieved to report that, largely, it does.
The battleground of personal relationships has always provided Richard Thompson with plenty of food for thought and on Sweet Warrior we encounter dysfunctional marriages, dying love, regret and pain in torrents but there is also an enterwoven theme of those even bigger and even more dangerous battles that go on in the world of war and terrorism. RT has rarely been as overtly political as he is on the album's centre-piece, 'Dad's Gonna Kill Me'. For 'Dad' read US army slang for Baghdad and you get the picture. Written from the perspective of an ordinary soldier doing his duty in Iraq, 'DGKM' is a broodingly angry attack on those who send young people to war and happily see them home again in body bags. The song conveys great sympathy for the poor blokes on the frontline and none for the twats who send them there. Spot on, as usual, Mr.T. The other 'big song' on the album is called 'Guns Are The Tongues' and, whilst I can't be sure I'm reading it right, it seems to be about a woman who runs a cell of 'freedom fighters/terrorists/criminals' (take your pick) who recruits some poor sod called Little Joe to do her dirty work and take vengeance for the deaths of her father and brother. Needless to say, she uses her womanly wiles to pull Little Joe into her bloody world. Sorry for the over-literal interpretation here. At the end of the day what's really important is the wonderful tune and fine playing by RT and chums (he's joined by regular sidemen Danny Thompson and Michael Jerome for most of the album plus Michael Hays on second guitar).
Over the remainder of the album we get high quality songs and musicianship with Thompson letting loose with some wild electric passages that should be amazing in unedited form when he plays them live. The inclusion of sax and fiddle on songs such as 'Bad Monkey' , the reggae-tinged 'Francesca' and the wonderful shanty-like 'Johnny's Far Away' give the album the same kind of joie de vivre as his 80s classics Hand of Kindness and Daring Adventures. My only reservation about the album at the moment is that the slower, more acoustic-based numbers have yet to grab my attention and I may still be suffering from the ease with which RT appears to be able knock out such things. It's been a long time since 'Beeswing' and 'King of Bohemia' and perhaps I'm expecting too much to even hope that just one acoustic song as great as those could appear on the same album again. Still, RT is back on form and Sweet Warrior is a fine record that'll rock your socks off.