To offer up a decent Richard Thompson cover, I had to put on my thinking cap to recall a few songs that were at least as good as the originals from the triple threat (songwriter, guitarist, vocalist). So let’s first revisit 1974 when Richard and Linda Thompson released their first album together. I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight is now considered essential listening by the cult like fans who revere the Thompsons’ music. When it comes to music of inimitable beauty, they totally get it. That masterpiece album gave us plenty of great cuts that have been covered by many over the years, even though it arguably had some of the darkest music of their Thompsons’ career.
For an excellent cover of a song from that original album, I chose “The Great Valerio” as done by Maddy Prior and Martin Carthy (co-founders of the classic British folk-rock band, Steeleye Span). I looked for a cover where the covering artists make the song their own, adapt it to fit their style, and sculpt it into a rendition that might even perhaps surpass the original. The Great Valerio, of course, is a tightrope walker, and acrobat, and a great hero. But, Thompson in his unique way of crafting a song, draws us in when he wrote:
Fools who think they see the light,
Prepare to balance on the wire,
But we learn to watch together,
And feed on what we see above.
For an excellent tribute album with this and other great covers, check out the 1994 release called “Beat the Retreat: Songs by Richard Thompson.” There are many super covers on this project from the likes of R.E.M., Bonnie Raitt, Los Lobos, Graham Parker, Bob Mould, Blind Boys of Alabama, June Tabor, Dinosaur Jr., and others. You may actually discover some covers that you feel are rendered better than the originals, but I don’t want to get into that. However, let us know what you think of the album’s closer, Maddy and Martin's version of “The Great Valerio.” Do they truly get it too, or is it just another imitation?