Album Details

August 18, 2009
Shout! Factory
Pop/Rock, Psychedelic, Singer/Songwriter, British Folk, Folk-Rock, Contemporary Folk

Album Review

Richard Thompson has never had a for-real hit record (at least not in America) over the course of a career that's spanned five decades, but there are few musicians who are better respected by their peers or have a more devoted fan base, and not without reason -- he's a fine singer, a superb, inventive guitarist, and a truly masterful songwriter. This may explain why Thompson, a man who could best be described as a "cult figure," is being honored with his third multi-disc box set. The 1993 set Watching the Dark was a brilliant overview of Thompson's body of work that included classic songs from all phases of his career along with rare live material, unreleased studio sessions, and even a few new songs. Released in 2006, RT: The Life and Music of Richard Thompson took a very different approach, instead collecting five discs' worth of unreleased material drawn from Thompson's own tape archives, which seemed designed to please obsessive fans at the expense of those who wanted a reasonably clear picture of the arc of his career. And now, Walking on a Wire: 1968-2009 takes the opposite extreme -- it's a four-disc set that offers a carefully edited and intelligently compiled chronological summary of Thompson's recorded repertoire, from his early recordings with Fairport Convention to his 2007 solo album, Sweet Warrior. However, it doesn't feature a single recording that hasn't been released before, and the few tracks that could pass as rarities come from "authorized bootlegs" Thompson has released through his fan club and website (nearly all still easily available).
For many artists, this wouldn't be quite such a severe failing, but with rare exceptions a four-disc box set is most likely to be purchased by an artist's most loyal fans, and there's almost nothing on Walking on a Wire that wouldn't already be in the collection of a serious Richard Thompson aficionado, making this anthology seem both beautiful and redundant. But if you're looking for a convincing argument for Thompson's status as one of the great treasures of British rock and folk, Walking on a Wire succeeds beautifully. The programming gleans many of the most satisfying and significant moments from Thompson's recordings, and the material flows beautifully from one great track to the next, clearly reflecting the path his music has followed. The remastering is excellent, particularly on the earlier solo material, and Patrick Humphries' liner notes offer a superb thumbnail sketch of Thompson's life and music, while the booklet is filled with great rare photos. As the biggest and most comprehensive "Best of Richard Thompson" album ever, Walking on a Wire succeeds beautifully, and it's a wonderful and loving presentation of his art. But if you're already a fan, this will all seem very familiar, and while this is a splendid starting point for the uninitiated, persuading them they should start their Richard Thompson collection with a four-disc box set will probably be an uphill battle -- though it's hard to imagine anyone who appreciates music that speaks honestly to the heart and soul not falling in love with this.
Mark Deming, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Time Will Show the Wiser
  2. Meet on the Ledge
  3. Genesis Hall
  4. Crazy Man Michael
  5. Sloth
  6. Roll Over Vaughn Williams
  7. The Poor Ditching Boy
  8. The Angels Took My Racehorse Away
  9. The Great Valerio
  10. When I Get to the Border
  11. Withered and Died
  12. I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
  13. Down Where the Drunkards Roll
  14. The Calvary Cross
  15. I'll Regret It All in the Morning
  16. Old Man Inside a Young Man
  17. For Shame of Doing Wrong
  18. Night Comes In
  19. Dimming of the Day/Dargai
  20. A Heart Needs a Home
  21. Don't Let a Thief Steal into Your Heart
  22. Strange Affair
  23. Sunnyvista
  24. Sisters
  25. Rockin' in Rhythm
  26. Did She Jump or Was She Pushed
  27. Man in Need
  28. Shoot Out the Lights
  29. Wall of Death
  30. Walking on a Wire
  31. Tear Stained Letter
  32. How I Wanted To
  33. Hand of Kindness
  34. Beat the Retreat [Live]
  35. I Ain't Going to Drag My Feet No More
  36. Little Blue Number
  37. She Twists the Knife Again
  38. Valerie
  39. Turning of the Tide
  40. I Still Dream
  41. Waltzing's for Dreamers
  42. Read About Love
  43. I Feel So Good
  44. I Misunderstood
  45. 1952 Vincent Black Lightning
  46. Put Your Trust in Me
  47. From Galway to Graceland [Live]
  48. I Can't Wake Up to Save My Life
  49. MGB-GT
  50. Mingus Eyes
  51. Beeswing
  52. Taking My Business Elsewere
  53. King of Bohemia
  54. Don't Roll Those Bloodshot Eyes at Me [Live]
  55. Razor Dance [Voltage Enhanced][Version]
  56. Hide It Away [Voltage Enhanced][Version]
  57. Last Shift
  58. Big Chimney
  59. Lotteryland
  60. Persuasion [Live]
  61. Cooksferry Queen
  62. Bathsheba Smiles
  63. Hard on Me [Live]
  64. Gethsemane
  65. A Love You Can't Survive
  66. A Legal Matter [Live]
  67. Grizzly Man (Main Titles)
  68. Al Bowlly's in Heaven [Live]
  69. I'll Never Give It Up
  70. Dad's Gonna Kill Me
  71. She Sang Angels to Rest