Richard Thompson’s superb new album, Mirror Blue, boasts no bold forays or shocking twists, only the same fervid but stringently unsentimental writing and musicianship that has always distinguished this seminal folk rocker’s best work.
Like Rumor and Sigh (1991), Blue sounds contemporary without self-consciously striving to be hip. Fitting warm Celtic textures into taut arrangements, Thompson and producer Mitchell Froom avoid quaintness even on tender ballads like “King of Bohemia” and jiglike numbers such as the cheeky “Fast Food,” on which the singer offers Burger King employees pearls of wisdom like “Water down the ketchup, easier to pour on/Pictures on the register in case you’re a moron.” “MGB-GT,” possibly the first fiddle-driven ode to a car, is equally lighthearted, as is “Shane and Dixie,” a spirited ditty about a couple of Bonnie and Clyde wanna-be’s.
As usual, though, Thompson is at his most affecting when in a pensive, rueful mode. On a gorgeous folk ballad called “Beeswing,” he recalls a youthful fling with a woman “so fine a breath of air would blow her away.” On the sensuous “Mingus Eyes,” he admits, “Never had the squint of James Dean/Or the Stanislavsky tears” — although the typically sublime guitar work with which Thompson accompanies this lament, knotty and darkly passionate, rivals either of those assets. But Thompson saves the most devastating track for last. “Taking My Business Elsewhere” is an evocative account of a heartbroken man who waits at a bar for a lover who never arrives. “I’ll never get over/The sheer surprise of her,” he sings. Richard Thompson himself offers no real surprises on Mirror Blue, but it’s a haunting, enduring effort nonetheless.