Richard Thompson jokingly mentioned new album “Front Parlour Ballads” several times during a rewarding 100-minute perf but never once drew attention to his gorgeous score for the Werner Herzog pic “Grizzly Man.” That score is an assortment of instrumental gems, while “Front Parlour Ballads” is one of the Brit troubadour’s more casual albums, filled — as is his oeuvre — with songs of betrayal and deep commitment backed by lush and intricate guitar work. He’s one performer who should never change.
On his game as usual, the 56-year-old folk-rock pioneer was his usual witty self, breaking up songs about, well, breaking up with sharp banter and well-constructed ditties about being attracted to women with smarts (ingeniously rhyming “Siberia” with “inferior”) and the life of Alexander Graham Bell.
Given a pronounced backing from Brit jazz bassist Danny Thompson (no relation), Richard Thompson delivered rock-solid versions of recent jewels — “Crawl Back,” “Persuasion” (which he wrote with Tim Finn for the pic “Sweet Talker”), the gorgeous “Al Bowlly’s in Heaven,” the twisted polka of “Don’t Sit on My Jimmy Shands” and “I Feel So Good I’m Going to Break Somebody’s Heart Tonight.”
New songs were limited to a handful, and the low-key, one-take-in-the-garage quality of the record was matched by equally sparse perfs. Tyro tunes such as “Old Thames Side,” “How Does Your Garden Grow” and “My Soul, My Soul” amply exposed Thompson’s instrumental prowess — Rolling Stone pegged him as the 19th-greatest guitarist ever about a year ago — as well as his talent in creating a form of chamber folk and, as usual, the lyrical twists that outshine anyone else writing about the same subjects.
Thompson will perform at New York’s Town Hall Oct. 26-27 and open a show for Joan Baez in Newark, N.J., on Oct. 28.
He returns to Los Angeles May 11 to perform his “1,000 Years of Popular Music” program at UCLA’s Royce Hall.