When a musician is as good as Richard Thompson, he's going to stand out from his accompanists no matter who they happen to be. But one of the many pleasures of Thompson's albums from 2007's Sweet Warrior onward has been the way he's grown into the fruitful working relationship with his rhythm section of drummer Michael Jerome and bassist Taras Prodaniuk. They rarely do much to call undue attention to themselves, which is as it should be with a good rhythm section, but Jerome is a drummer who can add color, shade, and depth to a song while holding down the backbeat, and Prodaniuk defines "in the pocket," keeping the low end solid while filling out space that allows Thompson to take flight when he solos (and reminds us all that he is arguably the finest guitarist alive). If you want to fully appreciate the sound and feel of Thompson's electric trio at work, 2018's 13 Rivers captures the interaction between these players beautifully. Thompson produced the set himself, and he and engineer Clay Blair have done an unusually fine job of capturing the nuances of the performances, both as individuals and as a group. They know how to make use of the studio, but they also know this band can make its own magic and the effect here is crisp, natural, and transparent. Hearing Thompson and his band dig into these songs is truly satisfying, and as usual, he's left us no doubt that he's a master tunesmith, in particular in the troubled introspection of "The Storm Won't Come," the edgy contemplation of the unreliable inner voice in "The Rattle Within," the toxic certainty of "You Can't Reach Me," and the uncomfortable obsession of "She Was Meant for Me." The wit that usually dilutes the darker moments on a Thompson album is, for the most part, conspicuous in its absence on 13 Rivers (though it's briefly evident on "O Cinderella"), but it does give this set a thematic consistency that's effective, and Thompson's vocals are superb throughout, making the most of his dour but incisive stories. 13 Rivers isn't an unusual Richard Thompson album in most respects, but it is one that makes the most of his craft as a guitarist, songwriter, and bandleader. Not many artists continue to create bold, compelling work that doesn't sound like it's treading creative water after a half-century, but 50 years on from Fairport Convention's debut LP, 13 Rivers is striking music from a musician who remains fresh, contemporary, and peerless.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming