Richard Thompson: Ship to Shore (digital outlets)

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The Fear Never Leaves You
Richard Thompson: Ship to Shore (digital outlets)

There are any number of very creditable artist like Richard Thompson – and we've mentioned Nick Drake in this regard also – for whom no amount of favourable reviews, well intentioned interviews and profiles will much shift the needle on their audience base.

They will always – barring the accident of a hit – command a small but loyal following, somewhere between not much and not bad.

I've told the story of putting a very big interview with Richard Thompson on the front of the Herald's entertainment section in a split cover with the very hip Bob Mould of Husker Du, a Thompson fan who had played with him.

That should do the trick for the very personable Richard, right?

Nothing. Or almost nothing. Every now and again my friend from Thompson's record company would ring for a chat and mention in passing “we sold another Richard Thompson album last week” and we'd laugh like loons.

And that was for his excellent Rumor and Sigh which is one of our Essential Elsewhere albums.

Lord knows how few other less publicised albums would sell.

But we always return to Richard Thompson because he is a gifted guitarist, a song craftsman and here – at 75 and with his 19th solo album – once more delivers and makes good on what he calls a return to his roots.

Those roots aren't just in British folk but his early influences from rock, sea shanties, world music – try locating his guitar solo on the urgent opener Freeze – and his collection of old 78s.

There is archetypal Thompson tension and menace on The Fear Never Leaves You which you could imagine a young and tightly coiled David Byrne covering (“roll the dice and who decides, one man lives another man dies”), Singapore Sadie with fiddle has the melancholy swagger of an Irish folk ballad brought off a three-masted sailing ship, Turnstile Casanova is dance-floor filler.

Trust could, in a better world, give Thompson an alt.radio hit for its tension, pop groove and Thompson's fist-tight Costello-like delivery of frustration. And The Day That I Give In with its pointed guitar passage could be, in other hands, a classic lovelorn ballad: “You don't want me, you think I'm something tainted”.

Songs of loss and heartache are Thompson's metier (What's Left to Lose) but his humour is often overlooked and Life's a Bloody Show has that acerbic edge.

Southbound_Records_Logo_v2Ship to Shore is yet another excellent album from a man whose work rarely falls below a very high threshold.

Longtime fans will need no second invitation and, as always, we would hope some who haven't heard him at all or in a while would find this.

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You can hear and buy this album at bandcamp here but it is also available on CD and vinyl at Southbound Records in Auckland.

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Elsewhere has many reviews of Thompson's albums and some interviews with him.

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