Richard Thompson: Ship to Shore review – another collection of beautifully gruelling material

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Is there a surer pair of hands than Richard Thompson’s? Leading light of the 1960s folk-rock boom, solo troubadour since, his 18th solo album proffers 12 new songs resonating with oaky assurance even as they gnash and churn through the human experience, Thompson’s customary thumb to the wound.

His containers, polished by his band, are never less than beautiful – jolly, even; their contents, mostly visceral. The Old Pack Mule describes with bleak relish the dismemberment of a faithful beast, during “hard” and “hungry” times. The Fear Never Leaves You, a sultry swish of a tune, considers the PTSD of a soldier, strongly recalling PJ Harvey’s war work. But its tenderly crooned portrait of trauma applies beyond the military zone. Life’s a Bloody Show, meanwhile, caricatures a jaded performer. Naturally, as one of the most eloquent guitarists of the modern era, Thompson’s fingers perform much exposition.

Women are often leaving him in these songs (2024 also marks the 50th anniversary of the brilliant I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight with Thompson’s first wife, Linda). But light and cheer come in the form of Singapore Sadie, a country-shanty love song, while Maybe is about as lighthearted as this famed artist gets here.


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