Richard Thompson

1000 Years of Popular Music (Cooking Vinyl)

There's always been an innate English eccentricity in the music of singer/guitarist Richard Thompson. But his latest opus is perhaps his most oddly ambitious. A live DVD/double-CD set detailing a millennium's worth of popular song, it paints the survey in broad strokes, melding old folk melodies, carols, and madrigals with Cole Porter, Gilbert & Sullivan, and Nat King Cole, along with more recent popular entries like "Tempted," "Cry Me a River," and "Friday on My Mind." Thompson's inclusion of Britney Spears' all-too-telling "Oops!... I Did It Again," and Bowling for Soup's "1985" betrays the occasional sardonic view, but the arched performances, wry, whimsical asides, and dead-on attitude suggest a blend of academia and entertainment. Thompson's roots are thoroughly embedded in trad turf — he was, after all, a principal player in Fairport Convention, England's prototypical folk/rock hybrid — so it's not surprising he pulls off the archival material with such obvious aplomb. Still, it's Thompson's fanciful view of the genre-defying repertoire that gives this set its nod and wink. There's only scant accompaniment — a bold bit of minimalism considering the overreach. "Trying to render an Arthur Sullivan orchestration with acoustic guitar and snare drum is pretty desperate stuff, but may, at a stretch be thought charming," he writes in the liner notes. Charming it is. Indeed, this 1000 Years is time well spent.

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