Reality with the top rolled off! they declared when they heard the acetate played back. All the momentum of Richard Thompson’s powerful guitar playing was there in the lacquer, all the urgency and command in his voice right there spinning back at us at 78rpm. But there was nothing to fear, nothing anyone’s ears could find out of place. It sounded as it did in the room, intimate, precise, confessional, strong. It sounded as it did in our wildest dreams.
He jokingly referred to it as his “suburban English” version. Almost a hundred years ago Clarence Ashley had taken an old English folk ballad and made it Appalachian with a turn of his banjo’s tuners. And Richard had taken it again with his deft fingers dancing over guitar strings, and made it new.
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Richard told two tales of rakish scalawags that day. In the first he became a gambler hoping to win a heart as he wins at cards and dice, while in his original, “How Many Times”, he takes on the role of a jaunty, jilted hunter, determined to capture his love in the end.