Thursday, March 24, 2011

Richard And Linda Thompson Shoot Out The Lights Forever

Richard ThompsonAs the Seventies gave way to the Eighties, British folk singers Richard and Linda Thompson found themselves without a record label and no clear direction. The husband-and-wife team had already recorded five albums, but none of them had achieved any level of success that they had hoped for.

The couple had toured with singer/songwriter Gerry Rafferty, who liked their sound and helped them record tracks for a new album. Unfortunately, things fell apart when Rafferty couldn’t get them a record deal. In November 1981, noted producer Joe Boyd (Nick Drake) took the Thompsons into the studio for what was to be their sixth album, recorded over the span of just a few days.

Since Linda was pregnant, it was a given that she wouldn’t immediately hit the road. Instead Richard would venture out on his own as a solo act until she could join him a few months later.

Richard Thompson heads out on his own, painfully forever.

He embarked on a small tour in December 1981, and Shoot Out The Lights was released in early 1982 on Boyd’s Hannibal label. While on tour, Richard began a relationship with the woman who would become his second wife. And Shoot Out the Lights would be the swan song for Richard and Linda Thompson.

As the album garnered critical and fan acclaim and brought an unexpected level of commercial success, Richard and Linda split (in May) and later divorced. Sad. Contrary to popular legend, Shoot Out the Lights was recorded before the dissolution of the Thompson marriage, not during. Still, the tension and urgency of its songs, Linda’s pure and fragile voice, and the finest guitar work of Richard’s career together make Shoot Out the Lights a true masterpiece.

Rhino Entertainment does this masterpiece proud with Shoot Out the Lights (Deluxe Edition, Handmade). It features the album’s original eight tracks, plus a bonus disc with 11 rare and previously unreleased live performances, all nicely packaged in a hardcover book complete with 40 pages of photographs, liner notes, and bittersweet memories.

What makes Shoot Out the Lights a real gem is that it is simple and complex all at once. The album features Linda on vocals, Richard on vocals, lead guitar (of course), dulcimer and accordion; Simon Nicol on rhythm guitar; David Mattacks on drums; and Dave Pegg and Pete Zorn splitting bass duties.

Shoot Out The LightsAll the songs are strong, but the whole album is greater than the sum of its parts. There is the bitter Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed, the searing guitar on the title track, and the jangly guitar solo on Wall of Death, which is a song of survival.

While Richard’s urgent guitar displays a virtuosity that never overshadows the songs, it is Linda’s voice that pulls it together so nicely. It’s perhaps the Thompsons’ finest moment.

“Where’s the justice and where’s the sense? When all the pain is on my side of the fence. I’m walking on a wire, I’m walking on a wire, and I’m falling,” she sings in the Richard-penned Walking On a Wire.

Shoot Out The Lights By Richard And Linda Thompson Lights A 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The Thompsons may have divorced personally and professionally, but Shoot Out the Lights still represents a high water mark. It completely repositioned Richard as the incredible songwriter, nimble guitarist, and solo artist that he is. And while Linda has battled dysphonia that leaves her unable to sing at times, she’s gone on to record some fine solo albums.

Shoot Out The Lights (Deluxe Edition, Handmade) is a masterpiece from Rhino Entertainment. As mentioned, it includes the never before released live recordings, which make it one of the finest offerings from the Thompsons anywhere.

As an alternative, you could look at the Shoot Out the Lights from Barnes & Noble, which will be adding a book from the 33 1/3 series by Hayden Childs soon. Or you could download some tunes from Shoot Out the Lights at iTunes or find the album on Amazon. But none of them really approach the depth and beauty of the handmade edition from Rhino Entertainment.
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