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Linda Thompson's "Won't Be Long Now" Reviewed

Linda Thompson near perfect

It’s not that Linda Thompson’s latest album is difficult, but I find it difficult to nail down. With children, grandchildren and ex-husbands all over the record and Linda as the center of gravity, it feels like a family get together and while you get worried that when it comes to the familial a woman who once knew her way around the hokey pokey might be doing a last whirl round the record player before signing off, and that is difficult and also, for all the gravity of the work you get the feeling of an ease in the English folk cowardice and that’s difficult. And the voice? Whither the voice… well, I’ve real where her contralto is missing some off the top but I can’t tell the difference.

So, yeah difficult, but not that difficult. The more I listen to Won’t be Long Now, the more I love it. It breaks down like this, a handful of pro pop, a handful of English folk and a handful of family sing-alongs. It is as though Linda is playing Kate to Richard’s Loudon, though that may be an oversimplification even with a breathtakingly brilliant take on “As Fast As My Feet Can carry Me”, which along with the title track and “Mr. Tammy” seems to be in the business of pulling its tongue out at the gods of folk while pushing the album a head above Versatile Heart from 2007, a great album in its own right, though maybe bot Fashionably Late, five years before even then. Meanwhile, four albums in nearly 30 years also tells you something else. Illness notwithstanding, that sort of production suggests the second half of her life stopped being about music. Raising three children, maybe she dropped out.

But with Linda everything feels like a life interrupted and while we can hear that voice we know from that brace of Richard and Linda albums from 1974 – 1982 which stand up as well as anything ever does, as well as Nick Drake, or REM, age hasn’t weakened it but changed it.

There is I guess a similarity there somewhere you know, story song and mixing Canterbury takes with modern folk pop all given further depth with voices that sound filled with thought and dreams of past and present when singing “I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight” so God knows what to make of  her voice now: of the family surrounding her on her latest album. Teddy we expected, but everything else, it is like a cocoon or it would be. Except that voice, that Linda she cuts too deep: it is so clever, it takes the curves, it channels the turns, it moves from pop to folk again and it pulls you in like a ballad singer or it denounces on a fighting song. On an a capella standard it is so horrifying and self loathing and then on the last song, written by her son, it belies imminent annihilation with stubborn fierceness.

“Love’s for Babies And Fools”, with Richard Thompson accompanying her on acoustic , is one of Linda’s signal songs, it is perhaps the one song here that HAD TO BE ADDED to her canon or her canon would be incomplete. It was written for other reasons but it is like the boarding up of a house, it let’s in nothing and it lives to end.

It is a great song but it isn’t the only great song. Writing with Ron Sexsmith, a man who knows his way round a melody, “If I Were A Blue Bird” isn’t her best vocal performance here, I would go with the devastating “Blue Bleezing Blind DrunK”, but it is one of the most pleasing, it is brimming with beauty and the image of the blue bird is timeless.

On the album “Drunk” is followed by the title track and brings the album to an end, and you gotta wonder about themes, I think that is where I am a bit confused. It feels very loose, much looser than you might think it would be. It coalesced  some ways, perhaps just in the pairing of family members in the playing. “As Fast As My Feet” is sung by Linda’s daughter Kami. This isn’t quite a question of transition, despite the albums title, more it is like a coaxing and persuading of Linda into a family affair.

So, OK, the album is less a thematic album and more a collection of stories told to her family and with her family and it is so great but, well, Linda is a great storyteller. To put it a different way: what is difficult is the ease of the album, of its consistent mood, even as the songs travel past you. The consistent greatness, the sheer overwhelming quality of the songs and the singing stops you dead; it is about itself as much as anything you will ever hear,  it is self-referencing and not past referencing: it circles itself in family and lives inside its own sound and feel and world. Despite a few folk song, it sounds more like itself than an idiom, or a form.

Within its own parameters, this is a perfect album.

Grade: A

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