By DAN MACINTOSH
The album 13 Rivers finds Richard Thompson in a comfortable rock trio workspace, playing alongside drummer Michael Jerome and bassist Taras Prodaniuk. These two talented musicians also regularly tour with Thompson, so they already have musical rapport. Thompson, who produced the 13 Rivers himself, has created an enjoyably stripped-down – yet song-centric — work.
“The Storm Won’t Come,” the foreboding opening track, foreshadows that many of these songs came out of stormy emotional weather. Over a brooding, slowed-down Bo Diddley-esque rhythm, Thompson can be heard wishing for a semi-cataphoric solution to his problems. It’s as though Thompson is crying out for the elements to wipe everything away, so he can just start over. The track includes one of Thompson’s patented electric guitar solos, which creates its own kind of musical storm.
Many of these songs take on a subtle spiritual tone. “Rattle Within” speaks to man’s struggle to find inner peace, for example. Religion may save us from alcoholism, its lyric states, but Thompson wonders aloud about what will save us from that rattle within. Elsewhere, the herky-jerky “Bones of Gilead” references the Old Testament prophet Micah.
All the album’s seriousness is at the expense of Thompson’s wacky sense of humor, which many times helps lighten-up his heavy load albums. A silly exception is “O Cinderella,” which finds an unsophisticated guy with a crush on the pre-glass slipper Cinderella. “I’m not very house-trained, it’s true,” this guy admits, “But I want to make to make cupcakes with you.” This is not the Disney Cinderella story, but it’s both fun and fascinating and good for the imagination.
Most of these tracks feature Thompson and band taking on a muscular sonic tone, which is why the slight jangle guitar element incorporated into “Pride” is an appreciated slight change of pace. Granted, many of these songs focus attention upon the rattle within, so to speak, but it’s the rattle without that makes Thompson’s music so appealing. He’s a unique electric guitarist, with an unusual approach. Sometimes one hears Middle Eastern influences, while other times it sounds like Celtic music poured through a Marshall amp. It’s always like nobody else you’ve ever heard before, though. 13 Rivers is packed with 13 songs Thompson — the singer, songwriter and guitarist — can truly dig his teeth into. Do yourself a favor, and let this baby rattle your walls.