Each of the five studio albums British folk-rock great Richard Thompson put out on Capitol between 1988 and 1999 was what you might call a quality effort, a collection of smart, catchy songs punctuated by Thompson’s unpredictably wrenching guitar solos. But he seemed to be settling into a routine, and his music rarely burned with the sense of purpose that fueled his great 70s and early 80s work with his wife Linda. While his latest, The Old Kit Bag (Cooking Vinyl), still feels a bit dutiful in spots, Thompson’s singing here is fierier, his solos more knotty and searing, and his music, made with drummer Michael Jerome and upright bassist Danny Thompson (no relation), more direct than it has been in decades. As usual, Thompson’s outlook is bleak, and his take on relationships, which he sees as an endless cycle he’s unable to escape, is cynical. On “One Door Open” he spits, “If I could have my way / I’d leave it all tomorrow / There’s sorrow if I stay / I’ve other fish to fry.” And as the protagonist’s jealousy increases in “Jealous Words” (one of several tunes where Judith Owen serves as an effective vocal foil), the song grows more claustrophobic, with Thompson’s typically economical guitar lines tightening like a tourniquet. On past albums he’s occasionally lightened the mood with a humorous toss-off or two. The Old Kit Bag offers no such distractions, and that’s fine with me–Thompson’s moodiness is most successful when it’s suffocating. Saturday, April 26, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-923-2000.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Beth Herzhaft.