Music Review: British Guitarist Richard Thompson’s 'SHip To Shore' Is A Gem, With Dazzling Solos

This cover image released by New West Records shows "Ship to Shore" by Richard Thompson. (New West Records via AP)
This cover image released by New West Records shows "Ship to Shore" by Richard Thompson. (New West Records via AP)

For more than half a century, British guitarist Richard Thompson has created albums filled with curious characters, love laments, dark chords, dark humor and peerless guitar work.

That makes each release a cause for celebration, which is the case with his new album “Ship to Shore." It ends a five-year recording hiatus, the longest break of Thompson’s career. His typically prolific pace was slowed in part by the completion of his engaging 2021 memoir, “Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding My Voice 1967-1975.”

“Ship to Shore” has been worth the wait because the album meets his consistently high standard while sounding like no one else. He has never sung better, and his jagged solos are concise, constant marvels.

Thompson produced the set, recorded in Woodstock, New York. It includes his crack rhythm section of bassist Taras Prodaniuk and drummer Michael Jerome. David Mansfield provides occasional fiddle.

The mood is gloomy, as usual for Thompson, with much of the music in a minor key as he sings about demons and ghosts, fear and dread, hard times, PTSD and heartache – lots of heartache. Love blinds, causes confusion, goes wrong and melts away. “Romance,” he concludes, “is overrated" in the song “Trust.”

There are bits of Britishness, such as when Thompson rhymes flirty and dirty with shirt-y on “Maybe,” an uncharacteristically bouncy tune that evokes the 1965 pop charts until it veers into a wild bridge. He explores an interest in Renaissance music on “The Old Pack Mule,” a ditty with appropriately ghoulish guitar and a sing-along chorus.

Other highlights include “Turnstile Casanova,” driven by a bright guitar hook and jovial singing, and “Life’s a Bloody Show,” the tale of a dead soul who bears a resemblance to “Fergus Laing,” the clownish scoundrel in a 2015 Thompson song of the same name that was soon overtaken by actual events.

The set opens with “Freeze,” a shanty and a call to stay active. Thompson, 75, follows that advice, and on the closing “We Roll,” he reflects on suitcase living that’s a result of his still-busy concert schedule.

“I must be crazy,” the road warrior muses, but there are new songs to be sung.


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