Richard & Linda Thompson's final album together, 1982's Shoot Out the Lights, was widely seen as a document of their collapsing relationship, despite the fact that both of them strongly denied that was ever their intention, and when Richard Thompson released Hand of Kindness in 1983, it was similarly read as a sad and bitter letter from a lovelorn divorcee, conveniently ignoring the fact that Richard left Linda (not the other way around), and was already involved in a new (and happy) relationship by the time he cut the album. While Hand of Kindness is dominated by songs about unhappy relationships, the truth is most of Thompson's albums are full of such songs; if you want to read an autobiographical slant into the album, Thompson's well of anger ("Tear Stained Letter," "A Poisoned Heart and a Twisted Memory") and regret ("How I Wanted To," "Hand of Kindness") seem to run especially deep. But the album's darkest track, "Devonside," is a tragic tale of a dysfunctional relationship that clearly does not involve himself, and the album has a number of solid up-tempo rockers, such as the witty horse-racing tale "Both Ends Burning" and the rollicking, Cajun-flavored "Two Left Feet." Thompson's vocals and guitar work is in splendid shape throughout, and his band is particularly fine fettle, especially drummer Dave Mattacks and John Kirkpatrick on accordion. Hand of Kindness lacks a bit of the narrative depth and emotional push-and-pull that made Shoot Out the Lights an instant classic (and while "Both Ends Burning" and "Two Left Feet" are lots of fun, it's a stretch to call them great songs), but it certainly confirmed that Richard Thompson had a more than interesting solo career ahead of him. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

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