August 30, 1999 12:00 PM

Richard Thompson (Capitol)

Looking for lyrical songs, heartfelt vocals and masterful guitar playing? Then forget Eric Clapton and pick up the latest CD from another British bard who has spent more than 30 years coaxing mellifluous strands from his Stratocaster. Unlike his more famous compatriot, Thompson hasn’t abandoned the primeval passions that have always energized his music. In the ’60s he led the Fairport Convention, a London-based folk-rock group whose influence outweighed its sales. Later, he wed a singer and the couple recorded a string of melodic, memorable albums as Richard and Linda Thompson. In 1982 they divorced, and Richard went solo. Since then he has released a string of finely crafted albums that match a Beatles-esque pop instinct with musical influences ranging from mainstream Nashville country tunes to obscure Celtic reels.

Though Thompson still sometimes indulges his quiet, folkish side, he mostly turns up the volume here. The blues-tinged “Cooksferry Queen” builds to a magnificent lovelorn crescendo, and the extended ode “Hard on Me” rocks as hard as they come.

Bottom Line: The real deal

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