RICHARD THOMPSON – 13 Rivers (Proper Records PRPCD150)

13 RiversFollowing 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

Dai Jeffries

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‘Bones Of Gilead’:

Richard Thompson: new album in September

Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson is set to return with 13 Rivers on September 14, via Proper Records. The thirteen-song set is the Grammy nominated artist’s first self-produced album in over a decade and was recorded 100% analogue in just ten days.  It was engineered by Clay Blair (The War On Drugs) and features Thompson’s regular accompanists Michael Jerome (drums, percussion), Taras Prodaniuk (bass), and Bobby Eichorn (guitar).

13 Rivers is a bare-bones, emotionally direct album that speaks from the heart with no filters.  “There are 13 songs on the record, and each one is like a river,” Thompson explains. “Some flow faster than others.  Some follow a slow and winding current. They all culminate on this one body of work.”

A high water mark in an overwhelmingly impressive career, 13 Rivers was recorded at the famed Boulevard Recording Studio in Los Angeles.  Previously known as The Production Workshop, which was owned by Liberace and his manager, the locale served as the site for seminal classics by Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, Ringo Starr, and hosted the mixing sessions for Pink Floyd’s legendary The Wall.

Of the album, Thompson says, “The songs are a surprise in a good way.  They came to me as a surprise in a dark time. They reflected my emotions in an oblique manner that I’ll never truly understand.  It’s as if they’d been channelled from somewhere else. You find deeper meaning in the best records as time goes on. The reward comes later.”  He continues, “I don’t know how the creative process works. I suppose it is some kind of bizarre parallel existence to my own life. I often look at a finished song and wonder what the hell is going on inside me.  We sequenced the weird stuff at the front of the record, and the tracks to grind your soul into submission at the back.”

13 Rivers commences on the tribal percussion and guitar rustle of ‘The Storm Won’t Come’ as the artist bellows, “I’m looking for a storm to blow through town”. The energy mounts before climaxing on a lyrical electric lead rife with airy bends and succinct shredding from the guitar virtuoso. NPR Music has premiered ‘The Storm Won’t Come’ alongside an additional new album track, ‘Bones of Gilead’.

Richard Thompson’s musical influence cannot be overstated.  Having co-founded the ground-breaking group Fairport Convention as a teenager in the 60s, he and his bandmates invented a distinctive strain of British folk rock.  He left the group by the age of 21, followed by a decade long musical partnership with his then-wife Linda, to over 30 years as a highly successful solo artist.  In 2011, Thompson received an OBE from the Queen. The Los Angeles Times called him the finest rock songwriter after Dylan and the best electric guitarist since Hendrix and Rolling Stone has named him one of the Top 100 Guitarists of All Time.  He has received lifetime achievement awards for songwriting from the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, the Americana Music Association, and the prestigious Ivor Novello Award.  His song ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’ was named one of TIME Magazine’s “100 Greatest Songs Since 1923.”  A wide range of musicians have recorded Thompson’s songs including Robert Plant, Elvis Costello, R.E.M., Sleater-Kinney, Del McCoury, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Jones, David Byrne, Don Henley, Los Lobos, and many more.  His massive body of work includes many Grammy nominated albums as well as numerous soundtracks, including Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man.  Thompson’s genre defying mastery of both acoustic and electric guitar along with engaging energy and onstage wit continue to earn him new fans and a place as one of the most distinctive virtuosos and writers in folk rock history.

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‘The Storm Won’t Come’:

BETH WIMMER – Bookmark (own label)

BookmarkRaised on America’s east coast with her poet mother and folk-singing grandfather before moving to Los Angeles, Wimmer’s been based in Switzerland for several years, although Bookmark, her fourth album and the first in six years, was primarily recorded in Lichtenstein and Austria, co produced by Billy Watts from the Mojo Monkeys, who also provides guitar, and featuring bassists Rodrigo Aravena and Taras Prodaniuk, drummer David Raven and multi instrumentalist Dänu Wisler with Suzie Candell on harmonies.

Stylistically, this is a relatively bluesy album, although it opens in dreamier shape with the title track’s reverie, Watts adding electric guitar and bass to Wimmer’s acoustic on a celebration of a perfect relationship served up in musical metaphors. The blues kick in though on the uptempo 70s AM boogie rhythm of ‘Loosen My Grip’, Taras Prodaniuk laying down the basslines on a number basically about getting loose, letting go of the bad and going with the groove that offers up the wisdom to “keep your eye on the sweet donut, not on the hole.”

Likewise, even if the lyrics concern moving on and not crying years over a bad love, the lazing mid-tempo ballad ‘Louisiana’ also evokes thoughts of that same mellow rock era and artists such as Bonnie Raitt, Carly Simon, Wendy Waldman and Maria Muldaur.

There’s a folksier, more acoustic air to ‘Mahogany Hawk’, an airy waltz through Laurel Canyon soundscapes with hints of Joni that, in its theme and nature imagery, also echoes the era’s disdain for consumerism and commerciality and the desire to fly free of society like the lyrics’ ‘avian saint’.

Autobiographical notes sound on the Texicali coloured ‘Mexico’, Wisler providing dobro and Watts taking the acoustic solo on a suitably warm rolling rhythm and sway as she sings about moving from California to marry a man from Switzerland, but annually returning to melt winter sorrows dancing in the sun.

Strumming acoustic with Watts sliding in the pedal steel, ‘Pretty Good’ sounds another anti-materialistic note on a song that celebrates those that try and perhaps fall short rather than those who succeed and lose touch, a countrified rolling rhythm backdropping the call to do your best at what you do and to bring a glow to the vibe in your neighbourhood backyard.

Breathily but powerfully sung and again in classic soulful AM mode with resonant guitar from Watts, ‘Simplicity Of A Man’ is a near six-minute poignant love song that, unusually in a world that can often have a cynical arch-feminist perspective on men, looks inside the soul and finds a tenderness within. It opens on the image of an elderly widower mourning his bride of 52 years, continuing with a young philosopher rendered speechless on the birth of his child before narrowing the focus to a more personal, intimate understanding of how the male of the species may not always articulate their love, but this doesn’t mean they don’t feel it.

The final stretch begins with the album’s sole cover, Wimmer’s voice soaring on a gently faithful take of Bowie’s ‘Starman’ complete with la la chorus and handclaps finale before heading into ‘The Last Part’, a slow watltz dreamy ballad love song that can be best summed up in the line from Jerry Maguire, “you complete me”. It ends on another upbeat note with ‘We Can Do This’, an all acoustic percussion-free track featuring mandolin and lap steel that for some reason reminds me of Lesley Duncan’s ‘Love Song’ about how, while there may be storms to weather and it may sometimes take the scenic route, love is always worth trying to hold together.

A bookmark is defined as a something than enables you to return to or remember a place or a time with ease; this album will make you want to do both.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.bethwimmer.com

‘Bookmark’ – live: