Singer/guitarist Richard Thompson's songs of darkness and despair aren't an easy listen, given his doleful vocals; tangled, turbulent melodies; and observational narratives that strike a not-so-delicate balance between irony and invective. Nevertheless as a founder of Fairport Convention, the Sixties band responsible for Britain's folk-rock fusion, Thompson is still revered for his ability to tap into the traditional. That's evident on the all-acoustic Front Parlour Ballads, which draws on early twentieth-century musical forms in its downcast tales of lovers, losers, and lechers. "Let It Blow," with its driving refrain, is the most riveting of the bunch, although the tender "Precious One" and the rousing "The Boys of Mutton Street" -- reminiscent of earlier Thompson classics "Galway to Graceland" and "Vincent Black Lightning" -- are also excellent. Elsewhere, though, the doom, gloom, and bittersweet circumstance become so ponderous they actually impede the proceedings. But despite their sometimes skewered perspective, these songs mark another triumph for Thompson.