Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Today's DVD recomendation is 1000 Years Of poular Music, a concert film of singer-songwriter Richard Thompson's peculiar theatrical conceit: In 1999, a magazine asked a variety of musicians for their picks fot the best songs of the millenium. Figuring they probably meant the last 1oo, not 1ooo, years, Thompson took the assignment literally, naming popular songs stretching back to the 1200s.

The magazine declined to run his list, but it got Thompson thinking. Why not perform these songs in concert, trying to find the common thread that links medieval ballads to American country music, or British music hall to jazz? And filtered through Thompson's voice and astonishing guitar, the similarities are easy to spot: They all sound like Richard Thompson songs!

The emphasis here is on the songs, but Thompson, with the invaluable assistance of percussionist Debra Dobkin (formerly with one of my favorite bands, Was (Not Was) and vocalist Judith Owen (apparently a graduate of the Patti Lupone School Of Annoying Mannerisms, but she has a great voice and is married to Harry Shearer, so she gets a pass), makes it clear that all ths music profoundly influenced his own songwriting. The Buck Owens honky-tonker A-11 (which features a brief but jaw-dropping solo during which you'll swear Thompson is somehow playing lead and rhythm guitar and bass all at once) clearly is a spiritual forefather to Thompson's numerous love gone bad songs, just as Shenandoah clearly inspired his heartbreaking ballads. (He could easily have dropped some of his own songs, such as Beeswing, in here, and they'd have not been out of place.)

He brings it all to the new millenium with a cover of Ooops!...I Did It Again, Britney's teen-pop fave, and though he's performing it more or less as a joke, he characteristically finds the icy dark heart inside it ("I'm lost watching the day..."). All in all, a grand event, and if this sounds more like homework, well, Thompson is the coolest professor you'll find.

If you're a Thompson neophyte, by the way, I highly suggest starting with the splendid concert DVD Live In Austin, part of a series of releases from New West Records of uncut performances from the Austin City Limits TV program. The producers of this show clearly understand music, and the camera is always in the right place at the right time. Others in this series include individual discs devoted to performances by Sun Volt, Johnny Cash (who also has a new CD in stores today--buy it!), Merle Haggard and a great one featuring Steve Earle in his mid-eighties New Springsteen period.

And crikey, as long as I'm in a music groove here, let me also suggest you pick up the brand new The Kinks: The Live Broadcasts, a swell opportunity to appreciate this still criminally undervalued band, and Marvin Gaye: The Real Thing, which proves, beyond all doubt, that Gaye was in fact the greatest singer who ever lived. (No, there's no room for argument. Check out the performance of What's Going On included here...it's one of the most transcendent things I've ever heard.)

Why are you still reading this? Start listening!