Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars
Richard Thompson’s fourth foray into the live concert home video arena is one that truly shines and serves as a testament to his distinctive guitar-playing virtuosity, astute songwriting talents and dynamic bass-laden vocals. Lauded by critics worldwide, Thompson’s 40-year career includes being a member of the iconic pioneering folk-rock group Fairport Convention, milestone albums recorded while married to wife Linda, and over 12 solo albums in his back catalog. Filmed in January 2011 at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow, “Live at Celtic Connections” captures Thompson and his band mates in peak form.
The 2+ hour concert splits itself into two halves. The first features 11 of the 13 tracks from his most recent CD release, “Dream Attic”. The second half is a romp through his – as the ever self-effacing Thompson states at the show’s beginning – “greatest hits…with a small ‘h’.” The group demonstrates within the first two songs that they can run the gamut between straight-up rockers (“The Money Shuffle”) and hushed somber ballads (“Among the Gorse, Among the Grey”). This alternating upbeat/downbeat pattern persists throughout the “Dream Attic” portion of the show. Very few bands could pull this off but Thompson’s intricate fretwork (which once placed him at #19 in Rolling Stone’s ‘Top 100 Guitarists of All-Time’ list) and his collection of consummate musical companions do it with seamless fluidity. And Thompson’s innate ability to pen lucid and razor-sharp lyrics are consistently balanced by his in-between song stage banter in which his distinctly British sophistication and wit comes to the forefront. He’s a genuinely smart and likeable chap – one you could probably down a few pints with whilst discussing the pentameter of Renaissance-era motets. He’d probably even insist on paying the tab, too.
While “Celtic Connections” thoroughly documents Thompson’s capability as a Fender Strat-wielding electric guitar wizard that can shred a solo in a way that would cause musicians a third of his age to concede defeat, it really fails to showcase his talents as an acoustic guitarist. We only see Thompson playing his Lowden a few times during the entire 20-song performance and they’re essentially numbers in which he’s a backing player. Adding the epic “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” to the set list would have been most welcome.
Luckily, the two bonus tracks included as the sole extras on the disc, “Uninhabited Man” and “Johnny’s Far Away”, do just that and, as in much of the Celtic Connections concert, demonstrate his ability as a solo acoustic artist to effortlessly move from melancholy to merriment – all within the span of two songs. It’s such a satisfying sampler that it makes one hope that Eagle Vision will add the full 2011 Cambridge Folk Festival concert into their DVD/Blu-ray pipeline.
As one would expect from the 1080i Blu-ray edition of “Celtic Connections”, the picture quality is consistently top-notch and allows us to see all of RT’s string bends and other nimble finger work with startling clarity. The camera work captures all of the band members creating their magic, but the editing of the concert almost exclusively employs sharp cuts from one vantage point to another. This works for the giddier songs but the slower ballads and dirges would have been better served with the occasional dissolve.
Not enough can be said about the sound quality of the Blu-ray. Three options are available to the viewer: DTS-HD surround, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital stereo. In all cases, the uncompressed audio is superbly mixed and allows RT’s silver strings to resonate with maximum clarity without impeding upon the strength of the low-end bass tracks. This is a demonstration-quality disc and it raises the aural standard for all concert Blu-rays.