Linda Thompson “Proxy Music”

StorySound, 2024

A celebration of one artist’s songs by family and friends who just happen to be music icons.

You can easily make the case that Linda Thompson is one of the greatest British vocalists of the last sixty years, not just in the folk and folk rock genres.  She first came to the wider attention of folk rock fans when she featured on The Bunch’s “Rock On” in 1972, before recording six studio albums with her then-husband Richard Thompson. While their relationship may have been traumatic at times, her vocals lifted Richard Thompson’s songs to a new level, a level he has struggled to achieve since no matter the ongoing quality of his guitar playing and songwriting. In the forty years or more since her break up with Richard Thompson, she has only released four solo albums excluding “Proxy Music”, each one receiving critical praise and maintaining her reputation as an iconic singer and an increasingly interesting songwriter.

The limited number of solo albums is because Linda Thompson was unfortunately diagnosed with spasmodic dysphonia in the 1980s which prevented her from singing. She was only able to sing again periodically in the 21st Century with the help of medication. However, the difficulties with her singing voice meant that Linda Thompson was able to devote more effort to her songwriting, which leads very aptly to ‘Proxy Music’, an album of Linda Thompson songs sung by singers selected by her.  This is not a run of the mill tribute album, but a celebration of Linda Thompson through her songs sung by singers handpicked singers by her. Also, the singers are family and friends of Linda Thompson which means they can bring a personal aspect to their interpretation of the songs. If there was any doubt about the joyous nature of the album, the album title and album cover, a perfect pastiche of the debut Roxy Music album, dispels those thoughts immediately, particularly when you realise the album design was all Linda Thompson’s idea.

The opening track ‘The Solitary Traveller’ may be sung by daughter Kami Thompson accompanied by son Teddy Thompson, but the first line “I had a voice clear and true.. “ makes it still all Linda Thompson. Martha Wainwright is featured on ‘Or Nothing At All’  and brother Rufus on Darling This Will Never Do’. The Proclaimers repay their debt to Linda Thompson on their version of ‘Bonnie Lass’. Salford’s Ren Harvieu takes on the persona of the young Linda as ex-husband Richard Thompson plays guitar on ‘I Used To Be So Pretty’. Life’s ups and downs are covered in ‘John Grant’ which had to be sung by John Grant. Daughter Kami Thompson and her husband invoke Richard and Linda Thompson as the Rails perform  ‘Mudlark’  with the help of some background vocals by Linda Thompson herself. We cross the Atlantic on ‘Shores of America’  with Don Freeman bringing a touch of americana to a dark tale of desertion. Eliza Carthy does her own family traditions proud on the lively ‘That’s the Way the Polka Goes’. The Northumbria pipes of The Unthnks bring a special colour to ‘Three Shaky Ships’. Teddy Thompson is at the heart of ‘Proxy Music’ as producer and accompanist and he closes the album with ‘Those Damn Roches’ which celebrates the various folk family dynasties from the Coppers to the McGarrigle-Wainwrights by way of the Waterson-Carthys.

‘Proxy Music’ is a surprising album on many fronts, not least the fact there are no filler tracks. Linda Thompson made her reputation in the ‘60s and ‘70s as one of the great British female vocalists, and then fate conspired to gradually reduce her vocal capability. What could have been a life-changing trauma has meant that Linda Thompson has also become one of Britain’s best female songwriters who has pulled together a group of singers who have reset the bar for any tribute album. Linda Thompson’s reputation was forged singing the dark songs of then-husband Richard, but the concept and cover art of ‘Proxy Music’ give us a glimpse of the humorous side of Linda Thompson, something many listeners may not have known existed. A great Linda Thompson album despite the absence of her signature lead vocals, a sign that ‘Proxy Music’ is very special indeed.

9/10
9/10

About Martin Johnson 417 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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