13 Rivers – Richard Thompson
’13 Rivers’ is Richard Thompson’s 19th solo album; his 40th if you include releases with Fairport Convention, Linda Thompson, and various others. It may be among the most rock sounding record he has produced in that stellar oeuvre of work.
It’s a bare-bones approach. Most tracks feature the solid rhythm section of Taras Prodaniuk on bass and Michael Jerome on drums. This has been his touring band since 2013. Little further embellishment is required on a stirring set of thirteen songs; the 13 Rivers. Each eminates from the source spring of the ever-inventive 69-year-old.
Those who attended his superb recent gig in Belfast can stand testament to his undiminished prowess on the fretboard.
The album opens with an evidently troubled Richard Thompson wishing for a sea-change in his personal circumstances. Set against a brooding drum beat and chiming guitar, it sets the scene for a series of ominous-sounding tunes.
I’m looking for a storm to blow through town and blow these sad old buildings down. Fire to burn, what fire might, and rain to wash it all away, but the storm won’t come.
‘Bones of Gilead’ – I assume referencing the patriarchal society from ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ – again show Thompson’s guitar skills to the fore. The actual meaning of the song is beyond this reviewer, but the writer himself has stated the songs:
reflected my emotions in an oblique manner that I’ll never truly understand. It’s as if they had been channeled from somewhere else. You find deeper meaning in the best records as time goes on. The reward comes later.
Much of the album is played at pace, but Thompson’s ballads have always been a high point on his albums. This set proves no different. ‘My Rock, My Rope’ speaks of the dichotomy of love with more depth than many authors can manage with a book at their disposal.
In my pain, in my darkness, there’s more comfort and hope. In my loss, and in my sorrow, there’s my rock, there’s my rope. Give me strength
There’s always some wit and humour to be had on a Richard Thompson record and ‘O Cinderella’ is a worthy addition to his songbook.
I thought you were looking for money under the bed. You were talkin’ to the mirror. I thought you were gone in the head. O Cinderella, I’m not very house trained, it’s true but I want to make cupcakes with you.
The closer ‘Shaking The Gates’ is as fine a track as any on the album, and the album IS full of fine tracks.
Thompson has been hugely prolific over the 50 something years he has been producing music, and ’13 Rivers’ can hold its head high in the upper reaches of that fine canon of work. Anyone who is a fan of Thomson’s work will quickly succumb to the album’s many charms. Anyone who isn’t already a fan… why not?