Bawdy English folksong meets greasy, grimy rock ‘n’ roll, is followed by a turn into more sedate territory with Salford Sunday, an impressionist number set in the same dreary town and similar circumstances to those that inspired Ewan MacColl's Dirty Old Town where the narrator wakes up with a morning head, the Sunday papers and recollections of a Saturday night that could have been better. There’s a gentle lilt, a dash of regretful whimsy, but in the end it’s a dreary northern town he’ll be glad to be out of.

Apparently Thompson met the model for Sally B at a fundraising event, and it’s here that the power trio really comes into play, with definite lashings of Cream in the interplay between Jerome’s drums and bassist Taras Prodaniuk as Thompson delivers a scathing assessment of an attractive, ambitious and exploitative opportunist (Who needs books when you've got them looks, Sally B?).  The power trio thunder continues Stuck On The Treadmill, with the beefy riff merging heavy metal and Celtic elements as Jerome thumps away and Thompson addresses the frustrations of a working class existence in hard times.

After that pounding a change of pace arrives with a delicate My Enemy with ethereal harmonies from Siobhan Maher Kennedy as Thompson reflects on the symbiotic relationship a bloke has with his nominal nemesis. There’s something lurking in the distant past that has left two stubborn old men each waiting for the other to make the first move towards a reconciliation that would, at least in my reading of things, undermine the relentless rivalry that, ironically, is the thing that keeps both of them going.

While the title suggests Good Things Happen To Bad People Thompson goes to some length to assert that this is a temporary state of affairs and looks forward to the possibility of a serve of schadenfreude (that’s pleasure derived from another's misfortunes, just to save you reaching for the dictionary) when the Jezebel who cried the day I walked you down the aisle gets her eventual comeuppance.

After the bile and bitterness that has gone before, Where's Home? comes across all bright, breezy and bluegrassy with Appalachian fiddle, yearning harmonies and jaunty guitar work. Ultimately, however, it’s an intermission rather than an escape as Thompson returns to the territory he works best in Another Small Thing In Her Favour.  There’s a husband assessing the ticks and crosses, the algebra of a failing relationship as his wife leaves home (Still, she kissed me once more/ As she gently slammed the door) a gently painful study of a breakup, a portrait of the about to be abandoned partner watching her go in a complex tangle of emotions. Sure, she’s leaving, but she’s doing it with a degree of tact and diplomatic sensitivity. He might be devastated, but there’s a certain degree of well, it could have been worse.

Straight And Narrow heads towards sixties garage rock, though your average garage guitarist probably wouldn’t have been able to come up with something like Thompson’s quicksilver solo, and the average garage lyricist wouldn’t have been able to come up with the image of a woman whose conformity (she walks the straight and narrow) is matched by a grim determination to ensure everyone around her does the same (she’s got eyes in the back of her head).

Delicate fingerpicking and understated but still heart-wrenching ghostly harmonies from Alison Krauss give the dreamlike The Snow Goose a charm that launches the ballad into the same territory Thompson explored in Waltzing's for DreamersFrom Galway to Graceland and Woods of Darnay. Sparse, achingly tender, and a reminder of just how good Thompson is as a lyricist in a setting where there’s nothing to draw the listener’s attention away from the words and the atmosphere.

I’ve had wives and I’ve treated them badly/And maybe a lover or two is the admission early on in Saving The Good Stuff For You, the Celtic waltz that brings the album proper to a close with an aging bloke who’s been around (I’ve seen trouble from every direction / My old head is peppered with gray / I could never resist life’s temptations / Oh, they just seemed to fall in my way), is about to embark on a new relationship and wants the new partner to realise he still has something to offer.

That’s it for the album proper, but the Deluxe version comes with the regulation serve of bonus tracks, a rocking Will You Dance, Charlie Boy with a great fiddle solo from Stuart Duncan that probably didn’t fit with the overall sequence of the album, while I Found a Stray would probably have been one too many in the slow ones department. I might be wrong, but I’d assume The Rival and The Tic-Tac Man were considered for the album proper but didn’t make the cut because there were other contenders that fitted (or, I suspect, worked) better. There’s some flow over from other projects in Auldie Riggs and 

Auldie Riggs Dance, both of which are part of the Cabaret of Souls song cycle and, again the 1000 Years of Popular Music So Ben Mi Ca Bon Tempo.


© Ian Hughes 2012