Richard Thompson recorded Electric with Americana producing pro Buddy Miller in a Nashville studio. And man, does Music City bleed through the album, leaving a hushed honky-tonk throb with gritty production.
The subject matter also seems influenced by all the area’s glittery cowboy hats and rich musical history. Thompson hoists his legendary storytelling and drops it into a pair of Levis outfitted with fashionable holsters. He nods to the middle-class (“Stuck On A Treadmill”) with impassioned exasperation. Existentialism Lite crops up, too (“Where’s Home?”). Alison Krauss even makes an appearance (“The Snow Goose,” a track on which I really wish I heard more of Krauss’ chirpy, sweet vocals). Most Nashville of all, Electric talks about women screwing over and generally screwing up.
And there’s barefoot fun. “Straight And Narrow” corkscrew-noodles around. It’s a cautionary tale, sung to the tune of a strut number, with a sometimes surfy undercurrent.
But back to the women thing. “Good Things Happen To Bad People” is classically bitter, suspicious, accusatory. Thompson grinds a toothpick to spitty pulp between his teeth as he sings, “You’ve got a secret or two / Your hair’s in a brand new ‘do / And you’re so happy.” His jovial, kiss-off demeanor reminds me of Harry Nilsson’s similar robe-rubbing shrugging. However much I love the faceskin-to-molten-liquid guitar work and especially the narrative, it’s the latter that trips me up a bit—there’s a line, “You cried the day I walked you down the aisle.” So… is this actually a bit of an incest anthem? Probably not—Thompson’s likely singing about a cheating spouse. I don’t know. And I don’t really care. I choose to let that tiny snag wash over irrelevant because this well-crafted song—especially that Jason Falkner-ish riff opening the cut—strikes me down to my knees.
Before we knew Electric, we knew Thompson could shred. We knew he could gracefully, honestly build a blow by blow. After Electric, we now know Thompson can shave a little polish in favor of a lukewarm beer and get along just as well. I can’t wait to see what he picks for karaoke after the next round.