Singer-songwriter Richard Thompson's most compelling characteristic may be his earnestness. On Tuesday night at the Birchmere, his booming voice was just as fervent when humorously describing quickie marriages ("Let It Blow") as on the melancholy "King of Bohemia." His guitar playing was equally focused, from the intricate plucking between verses of "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" to the instrumental call-and-response with upright bassist Danny Thompson on "Crawl Back (Under My Stone)."

Thompson's complete immersion in his music never let up during his two-hour set, even as he told stories he must have repeated countless times, such as the 1970s banning of his single "Hokey Pokey (The Ice Cream Song)" by the BBC because of sexual innuendo. Thompson wasn't all serious, though.

In one song he praised women with intelligence, singing "I've got the hots for the smarts" and employing limerick-like rhymes (sample: "You may like pinups / Of girls who do chin-ups / Like Xena the Warrior Princess / But I'll take to dinner / My Nobel Prize winner / With plutonium stains down her dress"). At the end of every jubilant chorus, Thompson grinned and quickly advised the audience, "There's more," keeping the crowd's full attention for his next verse. With a performer so obviously dedicated to his work, it was impossible not to absorb every word, and by song's end, the audience was singing along with the choruses, to Thompson's clear amusement.

-- Catherine P. Lewis