Sometimes the greatest talents are faceless practitioners, blessed with accolades but cursed by anonymity. Richard Thompson is one such artist. For 40 years, the English musician has earned a reputation as a guitarist and songwriter of distinction, from his work with pioneering folk-rockers Fairport Convention to his stellar duo albums with then-wife Linda Thompson and his prolific output as a solo act. Rolling Stone cited Richard as one of the world’s top 20 guitarists and recently rated Shoot Out the Lights, his 1982 album with Linda, one of the Greatest Albums of All Time. Still, popularity eluded him.
With the release of Walking On a Wire 1968-2009, Richard may finally attract wider recognition. The four-CD box set is an embarrassment of riches, featuring 71 standout tracks covering a myriad of styles. As Richard’s biographer Patrick Humphries notes: “You will find yourself discovering what is virtually an alternative history of the past four decades of rock ’n’ roll—with a liberal seasoning of folk music, jazz, rockabilly and the odd waltz thrown in.”
Whether playing acoustic or electric guitar, as he does on the incendiary “The Calvary Cross,” whether singing solo or in harmony with Linda on songs like “Wall of Death” or the anguished “Did She Jump or Was She Pushed,” which seemed to speak directly to their imminent divorce, Richard’s gifts are on full display. His admirers include Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello and R.E.M. Perhaps, with Walking On a Wire, more listeners will discover the English iconoclast’s considerable talents.