Richard Thomspon's back after a few lackluster recordings with a real solid piece of rock and roll. Mr T. may very well be the last vestige of raw, Sun Studio style rock left in major label land. A fat electric guitar sound, upright or electric bass, a sparse drum kit with just the right amount of reverb are the hallmark of this new record, so don't let the Brit accent throw you and you'll be OK. In fact, revel in that accent, because Mock Tudor is the most "British" record he's made in years, a song cycle about city life and suburban dreams in and around London.
"Hard On Me," the nominal "hit" of the album delivers this raw sound in aces of spades, a plodding, rude groove, Thompson's less than joyous vocals and a guitar solo that harkens back to those searing lines he laid all over Shoot Out The Lights so many moons ago. On the up-tempo side there's "Cooksferry Queen," its lean and mean tone lending danger to this stark back street love song. Its RT storytelling at its best, rivaled by the folkie-acoustic "Sights And Sounds Of London Town," with its galloping mandolin and finger-picking guitar belying its sad, cinematic sweep.
Misery is, of course, a trademark of a Thompson record. It can't get much more miserable than "Uninhabited Man," the title itself a warning of barren life gone over the edge, made all the more frightening by its "Three Bears" analogy. Desolation also plays its part in "Walking The Long Miles Home," a missed late night bus offering the protagonist a chance to heal the heart as he walks it off.
Don't get this wrong. Richard Thompson may write like the dark prince of love, but his recordings are still a joyous experience, a celebration of survival that shines through on Mock Tudor because it is just such a good piece of rock and roll (that outmoded phrase that was replaced by the more audacious "rock" in the 70s). Thompson has had his share of over-produced losers and even a few successful shots at big, orchestral moves, but he's always at his best when it's just his guitar and voice, a solid rhythm section and a visceral story to tell. - Cliff Furnald