Music Review: Linda Thompson’s family and friends sing her songs on 'Proxy Music'

Linda Thompson, who ranks among the finest singers of her generation, hardly sings a note on “Proxy Music," her first album in over a decade. Instead, Thompson makes herself heard through her songwriting.

She’s often remembered for music she made with Richard Thompson, including several classic albums before their marriage ended in 1982. Linda has since released the occasional solo album, each excellent, but her ability to sing has been affected for decades by the vocal condition spasmodic dysphonia.

To sing a new batch of songs she has written, Thompson drafted proxies – hence the wonderful title. The talented cast of family and friends includes son Teddy Thompson, who produced the set; daughter Kami Thompson and son-in-law James Walbourne, who perform as the Rails; and Rufus and Martha Wainwright.

The album, which will be released Friday, is filled with lively lyrics and humor (a fabulously glam spoof of Roxy Music on the cover is reason enough to buy the LP). Thompson’s delightful language of love speaks of no-man’s land and “umpteen” paramours.

“Vicissitudes abound, life is ups and downs,” goes a couplet in “John Grant,” sung by (of course) John Grant.

The musical range is broad. Thompson’s Scottish roots show on “Bonnie Lass,” a ballad of lost love sung by the Proclaimers, while Grant explores the underappreciated genre of Icelandic-British-Americana with references to Reykjavik, London and the fictional town of Lake Woebegon.

Eliza Carthy performs “That’s the Way the Polka Goes” as a West End fiddle tune. Rufus Wainwright expresses a comical wariness of happiness while sinking his formidable tenor into the cabaret lament “Darling This Will Never Do.”

Among Thompson’s co-writers is ex-husband Richard on “Three Shaky Ships,” a beautiful ballad that would fit nicely on one of their 1970s albums. Instead, it’s sung by the Unthanks. The tune’s advice: Don’t give your heart away.

Richard Thompson, who recently released his own fine new album, also contributes instrumental support, as does their grandson, Zak Hobbs, and Walbourne, who is also the Pretenders' lead guitarist.

Linda is among the background vocalists on one cut, and the collaborative spirit reaches a zenith on the hilarious finale, “Those Damn Roches,” a waltz celebrating the bonds of blood and song. Teddy handles lead vocals, and he and a large supporting chorus ask, “When we are singing loud and strong, who can take us?”

It sounds just like Linda Thompson.


AP music reviews:

Steven Wine, The Associated Press