Bloody Noses (ep)
Richard Thompson is never less than brilliant, never less than prolific – for me if it has his name on the spine of the album it’s an instant mark of quality. But in recent years there’s been a lot of closet-cleaning and stocktaking, volumes of Acoustic “Classics” and “Rarities”, live albums from the archives and his official ‘bootlegs’ – an orchestral film score too. All of it of value, some of it mind-blowingly good, none of it unwelcome.
But Bloody Noses feels like his first purpose-built set of songs – new songs – in a while. This “lockdown” EP is of course a wee stopgap given there’s no chance to tour currently. Thompson is a touring artist. You can’t be a cult hero on record sales alone. No one still current exists on record sales alone. Most of the lockdown live streams have passed me by or left me cold but the chance to watch RT do his thing from his living room has been one of the highlights. This phenomenal player and wry wit is something to behold in this setting. It’s another reminder of how lucky we are that he kept at it despite indifferent charts and an industry system that couldn’t make room or have thought to salary him. We’re better off – and so is he – that he was able to go it alone of course. No selling out for Thompson. Just quality music. And plenty of it.
So, to hear him in EP form is rather curious – his albums, mostly, have 15 songs or so, they play out for an hour or toward 70 minutes even. There is at least one gigantic electric guitar solo that tunnels towards a whole new civilization.
But Bloody Noses is just six songs. Bloody Noses is just here for 24 minutes. Bloody Noses is all acoustic and almost entirely solo – Thompson adding percussion, vocals, guitar and mandolin. His partner Zara Phillips (solo act in her own right) adding some harmony vocals – just as she’s been a feature of the live-streamed housebound concerts.
As Soon As You Hear The Bell is the opener, a boxing metaphor as life-instruction. A beautiful winding-path of guitar melody underneath the short-story maxims. This is business card stuff. If you’ve discovered Thompson via his current live streaming you have about 10,000 hours of listening to go before you get a badge for your cardigan sleeve to say you’re fully in the club and starting here with this opening track (and this EP) is not at all wrong. It is as close to the correct thing to do as there could be for any remaining neophytes.
If I Could Live My Life Again is a claustrophobic blues charge that reminds you of the blessing deep inside the curse of being told your voice is an acquired taste. For all of the comments in reviews over the years of Thompson’s voice not being a favourite – or being something you have to endure before you enjoy it’s remarkable how it now shines with nothing but the qualities of an ageless, peerless sound. I’ve always liked it myself. But it’s undeniable that it’s not for everyone. And now it’s remarkable to notice that it sounds the same, as good as it ever did – no tears or cracks or extra vulnerability. Remarkably robust. As sprightly in fact as his dexterous guitar work.
She’s A Hard Girl To Know is one of Thompson’s gossamer ballads – the song in no rush at all and a reminder that he’s done his research tracking songs back across the last thousand years through the weepiest and creeping-est of balladry.
Survivor shows in its opening moments why Thompson is still the gold standard for a current crop of folk-referencing guitarists like William Tyler, Steve Gunn and Ryley Walker.
The Fortress brings in some homespun percussion and harks back to early 90s ‘pop’ instincts from Richard. He’s always at his best when he’s marrying deeply paranoid character studies and maudlin monologues to great, accessible melodies. Here Phillips provides extra colour with her harmony vocals.
Closing song, What’s Up With You, is a simple folk-blues riff that has the urgency of those acoustic Led Zeppelin numbers from the early albums and again features Thompson and Phillips in unison.
This is a gem of an EP – full flavour in half the time. And just another wee missive from one of the towering giants of guitar; this one almost a message in a bottle. But then, in the truly commercial sense, that’s what they’ve always been. We’re so lucky. He’s so great.
You can support Off The Tracks via PressPatron