It's really hard to review certain albums...
I mean... what is there to say about two artists who have pretty much done it all, had hit records or at least made records of extremely high critical acclaim... both are still performing at the top of their game.... both are Brits living in America ... both have put out albums that feature their primary instrument front and center... and both put out fine new recordings in 2013 that not enough people really paid a whole lot of attention to as far as I can tell.
Thus I'm here reviewing them for you, dear readers of Audiophilereview.
Richard Thompson's Electric does feature his typically breathtaking electric guitar playing, but that doesn't mean the whole album is an all amped up rock 'n roll affair. Yes, there are some fine rockers, rollers and reels but there are also some characteristically gorgeous, quiet and plaintive pieces. The album has some immediate Thompson classics which feel as if we've heard them forever such as "Sally B," "Good Things Happen to Bad People" and the Farfisa organ rave-up of "Straight and Narrow." Oh, and yeah, there are some acoustic guitar numbers on Electric tucked away at the end of the album, including lovely harmonies from Alison Krauss on "The Snow Goose" and "Saving The Good Stuff For You," a sweetly swinging back porch love song.
Richard Thompson's music has always been remarkably melodious to my ear, making me wonder why he hasn't received more support from radio -- he's an international treasure who has aged like fine wine getting even better with age, for sure. Thompson's guitar playing technique never ceases to boggle the mind; he does more with his pinky than many guitarists do with all of their fingers combined. This is modern English folk music by way of California with a rocking electric guitar twist that Jimi Hendrix would no doubt have appreciated. You owe it to yourself to explore Richard Thompson's albums and this latest one, Electric, is as fine a place to start as any so pick this one up. You can easily find Electric on CD or download -- there is even an LP version I may well pick up some day soon.
Elton John's The Diving Board was put out with quite a bit of promotional hype last year. And, then here seemed to be remarkable quiet in the aftermath of that push (at least from my perspective) even though it was one of Sir Elton's highest chart releases since 2001 (according to the Wiki, anyhow). I didn't see many reviews and don't know anyone who bought the album (and I know a whole bunch of people who like music and Elton in particular, folks).
I finally got the CD and I'm glad I did as The Diving Board is a really nice recording and a fine addition to Elton's catalog. This CD sounds real nice and warm (as warm as a CD might be able to sound, anyhow) and I may also spring for the companion vinyl someday if I can find it on sale.
Less immediate than Richard Thompson's Electric, The Diving Board is one of those records that grow on you after a few listens, and its worth the effort. This is very much an stripped down affair-- I dare not compare it to any of the early studio albums as T-Bone Burnett's production is much more subdued than Gus Dudgeon's lush orchestral layers from the early 70s. If anything, The Diving Board has more in common with Elton's first live album, 11-17-70, with its guitar-free focus on his then-core power trio of drums, bass and piano -- a sound that remains fresh to this day. The Diving Board has its moments of rollicking and rolling, but its also a somewhat reflective, perhaps even somber, affair. Nonetheless, songs like "A Town Called Jubillee," "Can't Stay Alone Tonight," "The Ballad of Blind Tom" and "Take This Dirty Water" have a classic Elton sound, some with additional gospel flourishes.
I've been enjoying Elton's later period resurgence and The Diving Board sits nicely alongside fine albums like Songs From The West Coast (2001) and his 2010 collaboration with Leon Russell, The Union.
Keep it going Sir Elton, we're with you for the long haul.
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written: www.dialthemusical.com.