Album Reviews

Richard Thompson – Ship To Shore

(New West) UK release date: 31 May 2024

Fresh and vital sounding, these songs are characterised by his familiar themes of vulnerability, disappointment and loss

Richard Thompson - Ship To Shore Richard Thompson may never have achieved the same levels of fame and public recognition as some of his singer-songwriter contemporaries, but in terms of influence and importance, he’s arguably the closest the UK has had to our own Bob Dylan. As the co-founder of the groundbreaking group Fairport Convention as a teenager in the 1960s, he and his bandmates essentially invented British folk rock, a genre he went on to develop further during a decade-long partnership with his ex-wife Linda. As well as his gifts as a songwriter and innovator, he’s also widely regarded as one of the finest guitarists ever to pick up the instrument, equally adept and expressive with both acoustic and electric forms. 

Now a veteran of 75, Thompson remains as creatively vibrant as ever, demonstrated by his latest collection, Ship To Shore, which is made up of 12 new songs. Produced by Thompson and recorded in Woodstock, New York state, it’s his first studio album since 2018’s 13 Rivers and his 18th overall. Joining Thompson are his longtime band – guitarist Bobby Eichorn, bassist Taras Prodaniuk, and drummer Michael Jerome – along with harmony vocalist (and third wife) Zara Phillips, fiddle player David Mansfield, and engineer Chris Bittner. As usual, the songs draw on many different genres, but remain anchored by the artist’s fundamental ingredients, as Thompson himself explains: “I think of my base as being British traditional music, but there’s also Scottish music, there’s Irish music. There’s jazz and country and classical. As far as I’m concerned, once you establish your base, you can reach out anywhere. It’ll still be you ringing through, wherever you decide to go musically.” 

While not quite up to the standard of his finest solo works like 1991’s Rumor And Sigh, Ship to Shore is nevertheless a remarkably fresh and vital sounding record, with Thompson’s rich baritone voice undimmed by the years and a clutch of excellent songs, mostly characterised by his familiar themes of vulnerability, disappointment and loss. The tense, menacing The Fear Never Leaves You, a study of PTSD, is full of visceral war imagery and is tonally similar to PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake, while Singapore Sadie is a classic Thompson bittersweet ballad, with a swooping fiddle line weaving in and out of the song as Thompson sings  “cause her love is a mystical thing/I swear I hear choirs celestial sing”.

Later highlights include the sadly lilting The Day That I Give In, the uncharacteristically jaunty, almost poppy Maybe and bruised yet graceful  What’s Left To Lose, on which Thompson dovetails beautifully with Phillips’s harmonies before delivering one of his trademark coruscating guitar solos. He even channels late-period David Bowie in his vocal performance on the acerbic, world weary Life’s A Show, which depicts a narcissistic performer who may or may not be a certain former US president and game show host. 

Ship to Shore closes with the agreeably chugging We Roll, a celebration of life on the road from a unique performer who shows no sign of slowing down midway through his eighth decade.

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