Best Of British

Ex-Fairporter's 21st solo studio album

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It’s four years since we had a new album from one of Britain’s greatest living songwriters?Thompson’s longest period of silence in a prolific career that began with Fairport Convention in the late ’60s. The Old Kit Bag is his first album since he turned 50, so he’s probably entitled to a rest, although the delay probably has more to do with looking for a new home after the expiry of his contract with Capitol.

Thompson remains the most British of songwriters. His last album was called Mock Tudor and the one before that was a song-cycle about the Industrial Revolution. The Old Kit Bag’s subject matter is more universal, but the imagery?both musical and lyrical?is still uniquely Albion across a dozen exquisite songs, supported by a rhythm section he refers to as “the chaps” (Danny Thompson on double bass and drummer Michael Jerome), with occasional backing vocals from Judith Owen.

From the get-go on the hypnotic “Gethsemane”, we are reminded that Thompson is one of our most distinctive guitarists. When it’s followed by the bluesy “Jealous Words” and the ’60s-tinged “I’ll Tag Along”, it’s apparent this is basically a rock album. Even “A Love You Can’t Survive”, which starts as a dark acoustic ballad, ends with one of his most powerful solos.

“One Door Opens” is a mandolin stomp, and “Destiny” is probably the nearest he’s ever going to get to a conventional pop song. “Got No Right” at first sounds an oddity, a jazzy, late-night tale of broken love, but develops into one of the album’s key songs. “Pearly Jim” is another tough rocker before we hit the home straight with the over-dramatic “Sight Unseen”, the sombre “Outside On The Inside” and the accordion-drenched “Happy Days And Auld Lang Syne”, which manages to sound about two centuries old but isn’t.

The Old Kit Bag doesn’t quite make it into the Thompson solo Top 10 alongside I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight and Shoot Out The Lights. But it’s good to have him back.

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