Music

Richard Thompson Gets Back to Basics with '13 Rivers'

Photo courtesy of New West Records

The new album from Richard Thompson is a raw, unfiltered affair from a veteran artist who shows no signs of slowing down.

13 Rivers
Richard Thompson

New West

14 September 2018

Richard Thompson has been part of the musical landscape for more than 50 years – as a founding member of seminal folk band Fairport Convention, as a singer/songwriter duo with his (now) ex-wife Linda, and as a highly prolific solo artist. With that in mind, it's oddly assuring that his latest album, the brilliant, engaging 13 Rivers, manages to eschew any kind of gilded production techniques or fussy concepts. It's further proof – as if we needed any – that Thompson's songs and stellar guitar playing speak for themselves.

13 Rivers is Thompson's first self-produced work in more than ten years, recorded on analog equipment in just ten days. Joined by his faithful sidemen Michael Jerome (drums), Taras Prodaniuk (bass) and Bobby Eichorn (guitar), Thompson plugs a baker's dozen of excellent new songs into this stripped-down lineup, and the results are loud, potent and visceral. There's a reassuring power to the music, an affirmation that this 69-year-old legend is not phoning it in or going the nostalgia route. He still has a great deal of good music left to share.

The album begins not with a bang, but a simmer – "The Storm Won't Come" is powered by minor keys and a propulsive Bo Diddley drum beat, with lyrics that anticipate and welcome change but realize that it's a natural process. "I'm longing for a storm to blow through town," Thompson sings, "And blow these sad old buildings down / But the storm won't come." On "Rattle Within", he channels some noisy Tom Waits-style percussion and pairs it with plenty of raucous guitar soling (if there was any doubt as to the current state of Thompson's legendary guitar skills, rest assured – the playing on this album is typically fantastic, and the soloing is vast and plentiful).

Lyrically, Thompson has often been fascinated – some might say obsessed – with darkness and morbidity, even if the music doesn't always reflect that. "Bones of Gilead" pairs a caffeinated, quasi-rockabilly vibe with allegoric subject matter ("What's my name / Just call me Micah / Micah like the Bible says / I can't help it, it's within me / Runes are written on my face"). Likewise, the tight, funky "Trying" almost sounds like Thompson's vying for a freak mainstream hit – the addictive hooks of the chorus certainly help - but the underlying darkness would seem (thankfully) out of place alongside today's carefully marketed pop stars.

While 13 Rivers is promoted in the press materials as "a bare-bones" affair "with no filters", there are moments when the rawness is adorned with an additional sonic layer or two. But it's very much in keeping with Thompson's style. "Oh Cinderella" is a mandolin-fueled waltz tempo singalong that wouldn't sound out of place on his acclaimed 1991 Rumor and Sigh album. "You Can't Reach It" has chunky riffs and soaring melodies that almost resemble American heartland rock (a rare and enviable feat for the positively British Thompson).

But for the most part, 13 Rivers is an album that sticks close to a vision of darkness, gloom, and noise. Thompson has written his usual share of memorable songs and his small, dedicated band attack the compositions with relish. With razor-sharp wit, a seemingly endless reservoir of imaginative guitar-playing, and a restless sense of musical adventure, Richard Thompson is still blowing away the competition, even those more than half his age.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".

Music

The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?

Music

Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.

Music

Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.

Music

Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.

Music

Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.

Film

Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.

Books

Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.

Music

Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.

Film

Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.