Following three excursions into his back catalogue in a solo acoustic format, Richard Thompson is back doing the other thing he does best. Electric guitar in hand and backed by the other two members of his trio, Michael Jerome and Taras Prodaniuk, plus guitarist Bobby Eichorn he returns with 13 Rivers, a set of dark, intense songs sequenced, as Richard puts it, with the “weird stuff” at the beginning.
The first of the weird stuff is ‘The Storm Won’t Come’. As with most Richard Thompson songs it will take me a while to get to the bottom of this. Ostensibly, it is about the desire to clear away the rot of modern civilisation, but it also seems to be about the despair of someone looking at the mess we’ve made of things. Of course, I could be wrong on both counts. Jerome’s drums pound and Thompson’s guitar rides spikily over the verses – you can almost see the dark clouds gather. ‘The Rattle Within’ is again built on Jerome’s percussion and is a vehicle for one of Richard’s angrier solos.
‘Her Love Was Meant For Me’ features Eichorn’s guitar as a counterpoint and seems to hark back to the style of some of Richard’s earlier songs. ”Like a razor to a scarecrow, her love was meant for me” – what a line! ‘Bones Of Gilead’ starts with bass and choppy guitar and, one again with this song, I need more time with it. Does the mention of London Pride refer to the plant or the beer? The bluesy ‘The Dog In You’ may be the first of the tracks described by Richard as designed to “grind your soul into submission” and boasts another superb but restrained solo to play it out.
Richard works his band with great skill with Prodaniuk’s bass throbbing underneath the songs and the drums powering them forward. Although 13 Rivers is stripped back to its rock basics the sound is full and Richard’s production is as varied as his lyrical ideas. The chiming guitar that introduces ‘My Rock, My Rope’ and all of ‘O Cinderella’ both stopped me in my tracks when I reached them.
Whether I count this as one of Richard’s greatest albums will take me a while to decide – it always does. I do know that I find it more and more absorbing as it goes on
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‘Bones Of Gilead’: