This spring, Richard Thompson will release his first album in three years, The Old Kit Bag. The unusually long layoff is in part the result of Thompson's departure from his previous label, Capitol. The revered guitarist and songwriter is another of the prestige acts who have had trouble securing major-label backing in recent years, though Thompson has always operated at the fringes of the mainstream, selling little while generating nearly constant critical support. (His failure to tour arenas only means that an audience with Thompson is always an intimate one.) That's not to say his appeal is limited; a vibrant singer and cunning guitarist, Thompson the performer is even more convincing than Thompson the recording artist. Priming audiences for Bag's stripped-down trio sound, Thompson takes the stage alone this time rather than with a band. Though a plugged-in Thompson concert is a stronger testament to his instrumental prowess (listen for yourself; his Web site sells CDs of such shows), his solo gigs showcase one of folk-rock's smartest, wittiest lyricists.