The circumstances surrounding Linda Thompson's retirement from music in 1985 were as bizarre as they were unfortunate. One of the most important voices in British folk rock, Thompson had just moved on from her divorce from guitar hero Richard Thompson to release her first solo album, the mediocre One Clear Moment, when she began suffering from a rare psychological disorder known as hysterical dysphonia--a kind of stage fright so brutal that sometimes the affected can't even speak. Thompson remarried and spent most of the next two decades raising her three children; it seemed certain she would never perform again. But in 1999 Pere Ubu leader David Thomas convinced her to sing a song on his solo project Mirror Man, an experience that catalyzed a concerted and apparently successful battle against her condition. This past summer she released Fashionably Late (Rounder), a terrific comeback featuring vets like keyboardist Van Dyke Parks, bassist Danny Thompson, and guitarist Martin Carthy, as well as newer talents like fiddler Eliza Carthy, singer Kate Rusby, and Rufus Wainwright. Her voice has lost none of its austere assurance; today, when the breathy histrionics of female vocalists like Ani DiFranco and Tori Amos pass for power, Thompson's subtlety is refreshing. Her vocal adornments are minimal--she places her faith in the text and melody of the song--but she's no stoic. Thompson expresses her romantic longing on "All I See" by gently bending her pitch or subtly shifting her articulation from clipped to languorous. A good chunk of the album features her son Teddy, who passes respectably as a vocal surrogate for his father. He helps his mother nail down contemporary murder ballads, sordid tales of leaving home, and a long-delayed response to Richard's acrimonious postdivorce screeds, "Weary Life." Here lines like "And you want a young girl to carry you off into bed / But you still need me to scratch your wooden leg" cut the vitriol with light humor, and in the end she makes peace: the album's closer, "Dear Old Man of Mine," gracefully comes to terms with her failed marriage. For this sold-out show Thompson is supported by a quartet that includes Teddy and daughter Kamila on vocals and guitars. Friday, October 18, 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ken Schiles.