Tucson fans got a taste of several of the songs on this, the legendary English singer-songwriter and guitarist's latest album, during a solo acoustic gig when he opened a show for Patty Griffin in March at the Rialto Theatre. That night, he sounded more invigorated than he had in years.
That spirit holds true here, and he's joined by such prominent musicians as bassist Danny Thompson, harmony vocalist Judith Owen and fiddler Sara Watkins, from the American bluegrass band Nickel Creek.
The album opens with "Needle and Thread," an excellent example of what has become a Thompson trademark: country- and Celtic-tinged guitar rock. The central metaphor finds his protagonists attempting to save themselves from their own worst tendencies, i.e., sewing their souls back together again.
The unofficial master of gloom and doom, Thompson sends a dark warning with "Take Care the Road You Choose."
Through vehicles such as pub-rock dance numbers ("Bad Monkey"), bouncy sideshow music ("Mr. Stupid"), spooky swamp rock ("Dad's Gonna Kill Me") and luminescent folk ("Sunset Song"), Thompson explores themes of self-loathing, the dark heart of the soul, the war in Iraq, infidelity, waning love and "old Death a-walking."
Thompson makes some of the cheeriest scary music around.