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Richard Thompson 

Sweet Warrior (Shout! Factory)

Richard Thompson has described Sweet Warrior, his first electric axe-fueled album in four years, as a "war record." With a litany of horrors and a touch of mordant humor, "Dad's Gonna Kill Me" is indeed one of Thompson's most overtly political statements to date -- a pointed critique of the Iraq war, as seen through the eyes of a terrified American soldier in Baghdad (get it?).

So it's a war record, all right -- but not just on the military front. Domestic battles, always a Thompson specialty, loom large. The melodic rocker "Mr. Stupid" seethes with the sarcasm of a nettled divorcée, and "Johnny's Far Away" delivers a wicked portrait of mutual marital infidelity.

But let's not forget that axe: Thompson's stylistic diversity and large body of work easily outshines those of more celebrated guitar gods like Clapton and Beck. And here, the British folk-rock pioneer infuses these mostly rock-leaning songs with touches of folk, rockabilly, country, chamber music, and even ska. Whether we're talking about his work with Fairport Convention in the '60s or with ex-wife Linda throughout the '70s, Sweet Warrior is on par with Thompson's best.

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