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Record Review

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The old kit bag is that thing World War I allied soldiers were supposed to pack their troubles into so they could smile in the middle of battle. For Richard Thompson, a man who always seems to be winking behind the twisted or melancholy characters he creates, no other title could be more apt.

On this, his 25th release since leaving the legendary Fairport Convention (which he co-founded at age 17), Thompson effortlessly blends guitar styles to evoke more emotions with his instrument than most songwriters do with their lyrics. The album's stripped-down sound -- with old friend Danny Thompson on bass, Michael Jerome on drums and few overdubs -- remains full and rich.

The Old Kit Bag is Thompson's most consistent CD in years, even if there is no standout ballad or rocker. While "Outside of the Inside" -- sung from the point of view of a rigid fundamentalist and accompanied by a sinister guitar -- will get the most press, the catchy "She Said It Was Destiny" (yet another song about a man unfairly dumped) is the one that will pitch camp in your head long after the CD ends. Closer "Happy Days and Auld Lang Syne" may be Thompson's biggest departure lyrically. Coming from a man who's known to be somewhat misogynistic in his writing, it tells the story of a woman who stands strong after her lover breaks up with her at a New Year's Eve party. It's Thompson trying to stretch himself lyrically as much as he does musically.


The Richard Thompson Band plays the Variety Playhouse Wed., May 7.

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