Richard Thompson “Ship To Shore”

New West Records, 2024

Never resting on his laurels, Richard Thompson remains as vital as ever.

We reckon that a new album from Richard Thompson, surely regarded these days, by most, as one of the UK’s premier songwriters and performers is a thing to celebrate and so it is with ‘Ship To Shore’, coming after a six year gap between it and its predecessor ‘13 Rivers’. At an age when most folk might be considering their next SAGA cruise, Thompson comes up with one of his most vital and vibrant albums of late.

Casting aside the oddly intimate and slightly unnerving cover painting (“generated” by Michael Dicken it says, presumably with A.I. assistance?) of a staring-eyed Thompson accompanied by seagulls on each shoulder, ‘Ship To Shore’ finds him in fine fettle on guitar with several of the songs featuring solos which are in turns fiery and quicksilverish. There’s a bedrock of folk rock in some of the album but Thompson goes beyond that for much of the time occasionally recalling the wonderfully skewed rhythms which he featured on his collaborative album, French, Firth, Kaiser & Thompson.

The album opens on a high note with the pummelling percussion and frisky mandolin that introduces ‘Freeze’ before Thompson weighs in with what is, for him, a fairly typical lyric, “Another day without a dream, without a hope, without a scheme. Another day that finds you on your knees.” Well, no one has ever accused the man of being a barrel of laughs and he dives deeper into despair on the chilling ‘The Fear Never Leaves You’ which seems to be about combat-induced P.T.S.D. as Thomson sings “If I could unsee the things I’ve seen, comrades all to smithereens.” Meanwhile, even when there’s a whiff of optimism about as on ‘The Day That I Give In’ the singer is convinced that whatever slight spark exists between him and his lover is sure to be swiftly extinguished.

When Thompson revisits his vintage folk rock sound on ‘The Old Pack Mule’ he doesn’t shirk from the grotesque as he sings of the death of a mule and muses over who will get to melt its hooves for glue or get to eat its bone marrow, liver, tongue  or any offal on offer. ‘Singapore Sadie’ might be considered to be the latest in a line of songs kicked off by ‘The Egypt Room’ (way back on ‘Hokey Pokey’). With some fine fiddle playing from David Mansfield it has a subtle erotic feel to it, not too dissimilar to Dylan on ‘Desire’, with Thompson bringing this exotic character (like Monroe and Grable he sings) to life. Meanwhile ‘Maybe’ is, simply put, a classic Thompson rocker, underpinned by supple guitar picking and explosive solo bursts as a randy young chap lusts after a girl glimpsed in a dance hall.

Thomson closes the album on a possible valedictory note with ‘We Roll’, a song which surely must become a live favourite. Here he’s the road-weary leader of a band stuck on the treadmill of live shows, forever touring but grateful for the opportunity. Hopefully it’s not autobiographical as, on ‘Ship To Shore’, Thompson remains a force to be considered.

8/10
8/10

About Paul Kerr 438 Articles
Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.
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