Linda Thompson albums are rarities, this is only the third since the turn of the millennium and there was only one before that, although there are a couple of compilations to add to the mix. This is from a singer who was certainly one of the pre-eminent and acclaimed female voices of the folk rock scene through the 70s and into the early 80s. The run of albums made as Richard & Linda Thompson are rightly highly regarded still, but were more critically successful than commercially so at the time. But the reason that she hasn’t really flourished as a solo artist since, at least in part dates back to that time. She was struck by ‘hysterical dysphonia‘, periodically robbing her of her voice.
The onset happened when she was pregnant with her first child in 73, but eventually became so bad around her break up with Richard Thompson, that she completely withdrew from making music for many years to pursue an alternative career buying and selling jewellery for a prestigious Bond Street outlet, later branching out into property development.
But radical treatment that included Botox injections directly into her throat has at least affected a cure. Even so, Linda has had to take things day by day, so there hasn’t been a recent flurry of releases to make up for lost time. It seems only fair, therefore, to treat the arrival of Won’t Be Long Now as an extra special event and in that respect it doesn’t disappoint.
Linda may have withdrawn from making music herself for some years, but she encouraged her son Teddy and daughter Kami into finding their own voices and both make telling contributions to this new CD. She also had a close friendship with Kate and Anna McGarrigle and the Wainwright clan, who also makes their presence felt through a couple of the key song choices. Eldest daughter Muna and grandson Zak Hobbs add to the dynastic roll call.
Even Richard gets a look in, adding some of his trademark acoustic guitar to the opener, Loves For Babies And For Fools. Tying up some of the strands mentioned above it’s a song that she wrote for Rufus Wainwright, being pushed to finish it by Kate McGarrigle shortly before she died. Linda’s voice immediately makes a nonsense of what must be a terribly debilitating condition, it’s strong and attention grabbing. I’m not sure you would ever say she has a gorgeous voice, rather it’s a great voice, commanding and unadorned but for the slightest, natural tremor of vibrato.
The opener is followed by one of several nautically themed songs, which is ironic given the sleeve notes admit she gets, “Sick on a mill pond.” Never Put To Sea Boys is co-written by John Doyle, the acclaimed Irish guitarist who can claim a founding role in the formation of Solas. With additional programming and production from The Flight the song fair rattles along as a love hate relationship with the sea is played out.
If I Were A Bluebird is a co-write with Ron Sexsmith, who Linda has become friends with via her son Teddy. It’s a reworking of the folk tropes of a young lass lamenting the departing of her lover off to sea. She wishes she was a bluebird that could follow him, only for their love to be undone when the faithless chap reaches the New World and falls for a Creole girl. It has a lovely lilting chorus and Linda gets assistance from another Folk Radio UK favourite Sam Amidon and Levon Helm’s daughter Amy. The multi-talented David Mansfield is also on hand to add some Weissenborn resonator guitar.
The McGarrigle factor comes into play again with As Fast As My Feet, a song written by Anna and Chain Tannenbaum. This is the song that unites the whole Thompson clan, with Kami’s voice as the lead, while Linda, Muna and Teddy add harmonies and backing vocals. The third generation is represented by Zak Hobbs, who was just 16 when he added lead guitar and mandolin and Richard’s younger son Jack plays bass. Amongst them is old stager Gerry Conway who can count folk rock pioneers Fotheringay and spells with Steeleye Span and Jethro Tull as well as Cat Steven’s band on his CV.
The first of two Teddy Thompson songs (he also gets two co-writer credits and shares one traditional arrangement with Linda) is the excellent Father Son Ballad. Once again John Doyle adds some guitar, and Dave Swarbrick appears on fiddle. A wry aside from Linda suggests Teddy “picked April as Waterson:Carthy had commandeered all of the other months.”
Speaking of whom Martin appears on the superb Nursery Rhyme Of Innocence And Experience, a poem written by Charles Causley, with a mystical slightly unsettling dream-like quality, set to music by Tony Callen. Martin’s also on the free wheeling Mr Tams, teaming with Dave Swarbrick and daughter Eliza in whose Glasgow home studio this was recorded. The song invests another of folk’s greats, John Tams, with some sort of mythical status. I don’t know what John’s wife makes of her “harpy” status, but Linda assures us it’s simply to suit the flow of the song, rather than any real disdain. Besides the good nature of the recording is evidence of a riotous old time being had by all. It’s great fun.
Paddy’s Lamentation is one of two songs plucked from the tradition and features in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs Of New York. The titular Irishman finds that America is far from being the promised land as he gets conscripted into Lincoln’s army. In typically self deprecating style, Linda’s notes refer to Martin asking, “Is she still alive?” on getting to hear of the recording. The other traditional arrangement is Blue Bleezin Blind Drunk, with a couple of extra pointed verses added. It’s a real rarity by current standards, as it’s Linda recorded live, something that she now cannot do, for fear of an attack of dysphonia leaving her audience in the lurch.
Sandwiched in between is another song written with Teddy, Never The Bride, which Linda admits is anything but autobiographical. John Kirkpatrick, another to feature here recently, guests as does James Walbourne, who Linda introduced to Kami and now claims as a son in law.
It’s another Teddy Thompson composition and the title track to close the album. Written with obvious affection for his mother the message is that life’s too short to be at odds, a fitting sentiment to conclude a very good CD. All things being considered it’s something we are lucky to have – very lucky indeed.
Review by: Simon Holland
Won’t Be Long Now is released 14 Oct 2013 via Topic Records
Order it here: Amazon