Album Reviews

Linda Thompson – Proxy Music

(Storysound) UK release date: 21 June 2024

One of folk’s most talented figures has found her voice again, with a little help from a stellar cast of friends

Linda Thompson - Proxy Music. Linda Thompson‘s name is already guaranteed immortality in the folk-rock Hall of Fame for the classic albums she made with her then husband, Richard Thompson – especially I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight and Shoot Out The Lights. Yet we could have heard so much more from her if it hadn’t been for a cruel medical issue. Thompson suffers from a condition called spasmodic dysphonia, which has resulted in her being unable to sing. So, for the ingeniously titled Proxy Music (and featuring a brilliant cover parodying Roxy Music‘s debut album), Thompson has recruited a number of friends and family to sing the vocals for her. And, if you know anything about Linda Thompson’s friends and family, you’ll know that these are no ordinary names singing her songs.

Coming from an entire family of musicians, and being close friends with the mammoth Wainwright/McGarrigle/Roches dynasty, she’s been able to call on people like Rufus Wainwright and Martha Wainwright, The Proclaimers, The Unthanks, Eliza Carthy and her own children Teddy Thompson and Kami Thompson. This isn’t a tribute album though, as all the songs are brand new compositions by Linda, and each separate voice adds a new dimension to the tracks.

It could almost be Linda singing the opening autobiographical waltz The Solitary Traveller, but it’s her daughter Kami singing lines like “I had a voice clear and true, I chided and scolded and lied about you, never held my wicked tongue, and now that voice is gone”. It’s impossibly poignant, but it’s also a celebration of a life well lived: “I’m solvent and free boys, all my troubles are gone”. It’s a beautiful opener to a fascinating record.

Martha Wainwright would seem a natural stand-in for Thompson, which she proves on the beautiful piano piece Or Nothing At All, while brother Rufus is having the time of his life on the wickedly theatrical swinger Darling This Will Never Do. It’s an indication how talented Thompson is as a songwriter that both numbers sound like they’d fit easily into either Wainwright’s back catalogue.

There are guest spots from Linda’s ex-husband Richard Thompson, who provides guitar on several tracks, and lovers of the Thompsons’ traditional folk days will find much to swoon over on Bonny Lass, with Craig and Charlie Reid of The Proclaimers taking over vocal duties. With a co-writing credit for Teddy Thompson and some Scottish musicians playing, there’s a lovely Gaelic flavour to the track. Elsewhere, I Used To Be So Pretty (with Ren Harvieu guesting) has an engagingly barbed tone to it, while the breezy Mudlark, featuring Thompson herself on backing vocals to her daughter and son-in-law, sports a beautiful country lilt.

Despite the sad circumstances behind the album, there’s a wicked sense of humour snaking through these songs. Who else but John Grant could be recruited to sing a song called, well, John Grant which includes lines like “John Grant took my heart away to Reykjavik, hope he takes care of it,” which ends up becoming quite emotional when Grant sings, in Thompson’s words, of his own mother’s death. Eliza Carthy is also having a lot of fun on the boisterous That’s The Way The Polka Goes, and the album is brought to a close by the nicely self-referential Those Damn Roches, in which Teddy Thompson is joined by the entire family – “bound together in blood and song, who can break us when we are singing loud and strong” which could easily be a family motto for this impressive clan.

There’s no wallowing in self pity on Proxy Music. Instead it serves as a celebration of one of folk’s most talented figures, and it’s great to hear that Linda Thompson has found her voice again, with a little help from her friends.

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