In 1974, on an album that her record company of the time (Island) didn’t even want to release, Linda Thompson delivered what is arguably, but probably, the most perfect vocal of the rock’n’roll era.
“The Great Valerio,” written by and recorded with her then-husband Richard Thompson, closed I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight with such heartstopping drama, grandeur and sparseness that any discussion of its actual subject matter is itself subjective. It’s a song that you draw your own meanings from, and lessons as well, and no matter how magnificent the remainder of that album was (and it was), “The Great Valerio” remains such a highwater mark that neither Linda nor Richard has ever truly eclipsed it.
Ah, but they have come jolly close on occasion.
Six albums alongside RT, four more in her own right, Linda Thompson has scarcely been prolific in the decades since Bright Lights. Seventeen years separated her solo debut, 1985’s One Clear Moment, from its aptly titled Fashionably Late follow-up; five more preceded Versatile Heart, and now she delivers Won’t Be Long Now, a jewel of an album that...
Okay, a brief diversion. The last couple of years have seen the older folkies among us positively deluged by albums that we really had no business expecting to even hear, let alone be overwhelmed by. Alison O’Donnell (Mellow Candle, Flibbertigibbet) and Judy Dyble (Fairport Convention, Trader Horn) have both hit recent peaks that at least rival, but more accurately equal, the albums for which they were renowned. Shelagh McDonald, newly reborn after thirty years in obscurity, looks set to follow them. And we’re so grateful simply to have them back that the brilliance of their current wares could almost be regarded as a bonus.
And then there’s Linda, culturally the queen of the entire UK folk rock-and-beyond scene, who has already set the bar so high that anything short of pristine genius would be considered a disappointment. So what does she do? She makes an album that wipes the floor with everything.
Her voice has changed, of course it has. But unlike those hoary heritage artists who tour around the rock circuit, so breathless and battered that they no longer even sound like a bad impersonation of their former selves, all that means is, her range has expanded, her emotions sound deeper, and the heartbreaking sense of weariness which always underlay her earlier recordings is closer to the surface now - together with a bitter, black humor that can see the bright side of even the darkest situation.
A startling Ed Haber production isolates every instrument behind her, conjuring vast aching spaces in the air around her voice. Three songs towards the close of the album, the raw sparsity of “Paddy’s Lamentation” and the a cappella “Blue Bleezin’ Blind Drunk” bookending the liquid confessional “Never The Bride,” capture Won’t Be Long Now at its epochal best; Thompson sings with a conviction that doesn’t simply make the songs her own (no mean feat when you consider “Blue Bleezin’” has been around for 150 years at least), she effectively claims the listener’s heart for her own as well.
watch Won't Be Long Now on YouTube
Recorded with both family... Richard, son Teddy (who wrote the title track), daughters Kami and Muna all appear... and friends (Dave Swarbrick, Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick among them) on hand, Won’t Be Long Now was always going to be as precious an addition to the canon as every other album Linda has ever made, and played back-to-back with any of those past masters, it meets every expectation that could be thrown at it.
But it exceeds a lot of them as well, and to return to the anniversary mentioned at the outset of this review... yeah it’s unlikely we will ever again hear her sing “The Great Valerio” like she used to. Judging from the sheer magnificence of Won’t Be Long Now, she could probably do it even better.
That’s how great this album is.
A prodigious writer, fierce music lover and longtime record collector, Dave Thompson is the author of over 100 books, including Goldmine’s “Standard Catalog of American Records 1950-1990, 8th Edition” as well as Goldmine’s “Record Album Price Guide 7th Edition , both of which are published via Krause Publications and are available at www.krausebooks.com