Linda Thompson’s Proxy Music

cover, Proxy MusicWhat do you do when you have a heart (and a notebook) full of songs but can’t sing them yourself? Well, if you’re Linda Thompson and you have connections to (and are beloved by) several generations of musicians on both sides of the Atlantic, you sign up a bunch of them to play and sing them. By proxy, as it were.

Regular readers of GMR need no introduction to Linda Thompson. London born and Scotland raised, she and then-husband Richard Thompson created some of the most enduring and beloved of English folk rock music of the 1970s and early ’80s. Despite a longtime struggle with a condition called spasmodic dysphonia that makes it difficult or impossible to sing, she’s had a distinguished solo career, putting out three critically acclaimed albums since 2002: Fashionably Late, Versatile Heart, and Won’t Be Long Now, but it’s been over a decade since the latter’s release.

Her press material for Proxy Music claims she didn’t start out with a plan to make an album, just to record some songs she’d written that she felt suited certain singers. But once she had the title Proxy Music, “I jolly well had to use it!” she says. Not only is the title a tongue in cheek reference to the British rock band Roxy Music, but she’s re-created the cover of the band’s self-titled debut (which was released in 1972, the same year she backed Richard on his solo debut Henry the Human Fly), flouncy swimsuit and all.

In addition to the obvious step of having her own family members sing and play on the album, others she selected include Rufus and Martha Wainwright; Eliza Carthy; American country singer songwriter Dori Freeman; The Unthanks; Scottish folk-rockers Craig and Charlie Reid, better known as The Proclaimers; American born, Iceland based indie rocker John Grant; and Manchester singer songwriter Ren Harvieu.

Being of Scottish ancestry and having come up in the U.K. folk clubs (not to mention her long partnership with Mr. Doom & Gloom himself), Linda Thompson obviously loves a sad song, and there are some fine examples here. Martha Wainwright turns in a heartfelt reading of the elegiac “All These Things,” The Proclaimers tenderly remember a long gone love in “Bonnie Lass,” The Unthanks turn “Three Shaky Ships” into a dark, portentous power ballad the way only they can, and Dori Freeman with her banjo gives authentic voice to a young lass who’s heading overseas to escape heartbreak in “Shores Of America.” Ren Harvieu gives a tear-jerking performance on “I Used To Be So Pretty,” but … could the songwriter be rolling her eyes a bit at the vain protagonist?

Linda Thompson is one of the most wryly humorous writers around, and that spirit comes across here as well. The opening track and first single “The Solitary Traveler,” sung by daughter Kami Thompson, hides wicked dark humor within its waltz time tale of someone who’s content with an empty nest. It’s left to the listener to decide if she hastened those departures along by means fair or foul. Brother Teddy’s sibling harmonies push this one to the next level.

Rufus Wainwright gives just the right 1940s cabaret touch to the lush, ultimately creepy “Darling This Will Never Do,” in which a gentleman protests too much about what was then known as a May-December relationship. And Eliza Carthy turns in a foot-stomping, fiddling rendition of the very jaunty “That’s The Way The Polka Goes.” My goodness! It goes down easy.

Teddy and a cast of many cap the album off with the poignant and defiant “Those Damn Roches,” Linda’s tribute to some of her favorite folk singing families including many of the members assembled here. This one puts a lump in my throat every time, and it comes with a very clever video.

I miss Linda Thompson’s voice, as I’m sure we all do. But it comes through loud and clear in this collection of some of her best songs ever. With Proxy Music she continues to cement her legacy as one of the top folk musicians of the past half century.

(StorySound, 2024)

To celebrate the release of Proxy Music, there will be an album release concert (with Teddy Thompson, Martha Wainwright, and John Grant, along with Loudon Wainwright III, Jill Sobule, and Syd Straw, at City Winery in New York on June 30, with Linda Thompson in attendance. And a similar show with Teddy and Friends at Cadogan Hall in London on July 19. More on Linda Thompson’s website.

Gary Whitehouse

A fifth-generation Oregonian, Gary is a retired journalist and government communicator. Since the 1990s he has been covering music, books, food & drink and occasionally films, blogs and podcasts for Green Man Review. His main literary interests for GMR are science fiction, music lore, and food & cooking. A lifelong lover of music, his interests are wide ranging and include folk, folk rock, jazz, Americana, classic country, and roots based music from all over the world. He also enjoys dogs, birding, cooking, craft beer, and coffee.

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