Royalty no longer is confined to a castle.
Aside from the legitimate claims of Queen Elizabeth and her family, there are now designations like Hollywood royalty (Jack Nicholson), football royalty (the Manning brood) and American literature royalty (Henry James). All three are void of robes and scepters, but do signify a level of individuals, ones draped in achievements and heralded as influential figures in their field.
So, with this clear, is it a stretch to refer to singer, songwriter and guitarist Richard Thompson as rock royalty?
Ask those fortunate enough to witness the prominent performer’s acoustic set inside Asbury Hall on Friday night. Throughout 21 songs that spanned decades of styles and substance, Thompson did plenty to prove worthy of the beret-shaped crown he’s claimed over his critically lauded career.
Since co-founding formative British folk-rock group Fairport Convention as a teenager in the 1960s, Thompson has been celebrated by critics, fans and fellow artists alike. In 2003, he was noted as one of the 20 greatest guitarists of all time – in front of anonymous nobodies like George Harrison and Pete Townshend – by Rolling Stone Magazine standard-bearer David Fricke. He’s produced music at a prolific clip over the past four decades, recording over 40 albums as a solo act and as half a duo with his former wife, Linda. This music has been influential for a litany of fellow recording artists – such as Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt and Husker Du’s Bob Mould, who’ve all recorded Thompson compositions. And last year, his transcendent catalog earned him a slot alongside disciples Wilco and My Morning Jacket on their Bob Dylan-headlined Americanarama Tour.
Not bad company for a guitar magician who’s somehow flown under the mainstream radar throughout his career. If you watched him wield his Lowden acoustic through Friday night’s mélange of stripped-down selections, you’d wonder how his musical virtuosity could fly anywhere unnoticed.
Thompson started his set with raw, revelatory lyrics on a subdued “I Misunderstood” before transitioning into a dizzying version of “Walking on a Wire,” his achingly delicate 1982 song with Linda Thompson. But unlike his opener, Thompson teamed his second number’s lyrical heartache with dazzling, finger-picking force, transitioning over frets at a lightning pace to send chords echoing throughout Asbury’s accommodating acoustics. On this and other fascinating solo displays, it was as if he was thundering across his guitar with an extra set of fingers.
With every one of his night’s songs, Thompson not only reacquainted the packed Delaware Avenue house with some of his finest cuts, but also gave all in attendance the opportunity to appreciate the influence he’s had on musicians who’ve followed in his wake. On “52 Vincent Black Lightning,” you could hear Josh Ritter. On his sublime version of Fairport Convention’s “Who Knows Where The Time Goes,” you could hear David Gray. And for nearly every other vocal and conventional chord progression of the night, you could hear a solo Jonathan Richman. The comparisons are recognizable, and they all start with the tremendous influence of Thompson.
For those looking for a more direct connection, they didn’t need to look much further than the night’s opener and eventual encore collaborator, Richard’s son Teddy Thompson. After opening up the show with such upbeat, country-tinged songs as “Looking for a Girl” and “The Things I Do,” Teddy returned for both of Richard’s encores to team on the night’s final four songs. On their emotive duet “Persuasion” and locomotive cover of the Everly Brothers’ “The Price of Love,” father and son united their compatible styles for two of the show’s most memorable performances.